1. Bassem Youssef
Kennedy Center, February 1
A surgeon turned satirist, Bassem Youssef started a news/comedy show in Egypt just months after the country’s Arab Spring uprising. Three years, an arrest, and tens of millions of viewers later, he decided to end the hugely popular program and move to LA, where he has launched a podcast (Remade in America), a book (Revolution for Dummies), and this touring show. Given his reputation as an astute political humorist, we wondered what he thinks about the current state of American democracy.
“I think politics is ridiculous everywhere. Because at the end of the day, politics is about a power grab. People basically sell their souls to the devil in order to get to that power. The mind gymnastics that they do in order to get power—I find it very amusing. It’s not very different from where I come from. Nationalism, religion, and identity politics are the same everywhere. It’s the way that it’s executed that’s different. I just make fun of [politicians]—that’s my only weapon. Whether that will eliminate nationalism, that’s not really my place. I just make fun of them and hope I don’t get into trouble.” $39 to $99.
2. Toni Braxton and SWV
MGM National Harbor, February 1
Why we’re excited: Though she released a solid album last year, we’ll always think of Braxton (above) as a creature of the ’90s, when songs like “Breathe Again” and “Un-Break My Heart” made us all misty. Plus “Weak” trio SWV! Song to get you in the mood: “You’re Makin’ Me High,” her slinky ’96 smash. $266 to $500.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, February 4–March 3
This raw comedy opens with a sex scene, a genital mole, and an accusation of cheating . . . and only gets more boisterous from there. The play by poet Aziza Barnes chronicles one day in the lives of four millennial black women as they try to deal with their sorrows via clever banter, copious alcohol, and the enduring power of their friendship. $20 to $69.
4. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Sixth & I, February 6
The Jamaica-born author’s last book was a literary novel about a conspiracy to assassinate Bob Marley. It won the Man Booker Prize and made James a star. Come hear him explain why the follow-up, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, is an unexpected swerve into genre fiction—the first part of a fantasy trilogy he has described as “an African Game of Thrones.” $18 to $45.
5. Sharon Van Etten
9:30 Club, February 6
Why did this grittily hypnotic singer virtually disappear after her fantastic 2014 album, Are We There? Well, she was pretty busy: pursuing a psychology degree, having a kid, acting on Netflix’s The OA. Don’t miss this return performance as she promotes—finally!—her new album. The name of the first single? “Comeback Kid.” $30.
6. Archie Shepp’s All-Star Tribute to John Coltrane
Kennedy Center, February 10
Jazz cats paying tribute to Trane could seem a bit routine. (There aren’t many musicians less in need of reputation enhancement.) But this concert has the potential for fireworks due to the guiding presence of saxophonist Archie Shepp, who was friends with Coltrane and played on his transformative 1966 album Ascension. Perhaps for this gig, Shepp will look to the experimental late-period work as a foundation for some more out-there explorations? $20 to $59.
7. “Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms”
George Washington University Textile Museum, February 13–April 29
In 1941, FDR made a speech to Congress laying out four basic American freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Norman Rockwell then used that idea as the basis for four paintings that depicted his Vermont neighbors tucking their children into bed, eating Thanksgiving dinner, and so forth. A powerful depiction of our core values? Or a cornball fantasy that underplays the tough reality many face? Judge for yourself at this exhibit of the quartet along with 36 other artists’ interpretations of the freedoms. Free.
8. “Zilia Sánchez: Soy Isla”
Phillips Collection, February 16–May 19
With a title that means “I am an island,” this is the first-ever museum show devoted to the work of Cuba-raised, Puerto Rico–based artist Zilia Sánchez. Born in Havana in the 1920s, she got her start designing sets for an anti-Batista theater group. But the pieces in this exhibit are less overtly political. Instead, they’re often subtly erotic, as with “Lunar con Tatuaje (Moon With Tattoo),” above. $12.
9. Tyrese, Ginuwine, Avant, and More
Eagle Bank Arena, February 16
Why we’re excited: Prepare to sweat with this (six-)packed lineup of soulful gentlemen hitting the stage for the aptly named Valentine’s Love Jam 2019. Song to get you in the mood: The gloriously unsubtle 1996 sex ode “Pony,” by Ginuwine (above), recently revived by the movie Magic Mike XXL. $59 to $176.
10. Boyz II Men
MGM National Harbor, February 17
Why we’re excited: These days, they’re down to three members, so no more four-part harmonies. But we’re still glad the end of the road hasn’t yet come for the undisputed leading soul men of the ’90s (above in 1997). Song to get you in the mood: The 1991 new jack swing anthem “Motownphilly.” $77 to $298.
11. Jacob Banks
9:30 Club, February 19
If you walked out of Fifty Shades Freed humming that song “Diddy Bop” (come on, we saw you there), you’re already a fan of this British-Nigerian singer. The smoky-voiced baritone will be belting out songs from his major-label debut, Village, which came out in November. $20.
12. Anderson .Paak
MGM National Harbor, February 20
Anderson .Paak is many things: a lover of unusual punctuation, a protégé of Dr. Dre, a soulful singer and rapper, a versatile producer, a nimble musician (did you see him behind the drum set during his riveting recent SNL appearance?), and—as you’ll discover when he hits National Harbor—a rousing performer. Last year, he also released a fine new album, Oxnard, which features guests such as Kendrick Lamar and Pusha T. $65 to $182.
13. Intersections Festival
Atlas Performing Arts Center, February 21–March 3
Now celebrating its tenth year, this gathering of local performers will take over the Atlas for two weeks. There will be plenty of dancing, of course—ballet, tap, flamenco, and other styles—but also music, theater, and more. Audience interaction is a focus this year, so prepare to get involved. Free to $35.
14. Them Goon Rules: Fugitive Essays on Radical Black Feminism by Marquis Bey
Politics and Prose at Union Market, February 23
In an essay not included in this collection, the writer Marquis Bey once explained that “when one thinks ‘feminist’ the image that conjures up is certainly not me—a powerlifting, tattooed, Black dude from Philly.” Hear more of his thoughts on what it means to be black, queer, and feminist—and about his new critical memoir—at this sure-to-be-provocative reading. Free.
15. Vanity Fair
Shakespeare Theatre Company, February 26–March 31
Adapted by playwright Kate Hamill, who previously reworked Sense & Sensibility for the stage, this take on William Thackeray’s novel features ideas—female agency, the defying of gender roles—that feel especially relevant in the era of #MeToo and Handmaid’s Taleprotests. $44 to $102.
16. “Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths”
National Museum of African Art, February 27–October 20
From a 17th-century Congolese figurine to a short-handled hoe made in Burkina Faso in 2010, this collection of some 225 metal objects adds up to a carefully forged look at the entire African continent (free). The museum’s chief curator, Christine Mullen Kreamer, takes us through a few of the offerings.
A. Ritual Sickle
This looks like a farming implement, but it’s actually a dance staff used by Nigeria’s Ga’anda people. “It was held above the head during pre-burial rituals, marking the final passage to death,” says Kreamer. The crown of spikes protected the deceased as they passed into the world of the ancestors, while the inscriptions mimic body scarifications.
Cut from scrap metal, this was held aloft in battle by followers of the Mahdī, a religious leader in late-19th-century Sudan. The decorative script was etched into the metal with acid. “These blades have power through the inscribed surfaces that link to Arabic and to Islam and the word of God,” Kreamer says.
Made by a blacksmith in Congo, these blades were prized possessions of the Nkutshu and Ndengese elite. “It’s in the shape of a throwing knife, but it’s too large and delicate to ever have been put to that use,” says Kreamer. “It would have been traded as a currency, like money, with neighboring peoples.”
This article appears in our February 2019 issue.