The Oberlin Review

Mourning [A] BLKstar Impresses With Soulful Orientation Show at the Cat in the Cream

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The Cat in the Cream hosted Mourning [A] BLKstar, a future-soul band from Cleveland, on the first Friday night after orientation. Not sure what to expect, students slowly trickled into the cozy coffeehouse and hesitantly sat on couches near the walls.

Although the show started with no line and tentative entries, soon about 250 people were dancing around the stage, while dozens of others sat enjoying tea and cookies. One of the three lead vocalists, Kyle Kidd, had remarked earlier that he was excited for the performance because there would be a lot of first-years. He wanted to make sure everyone felt welcome, given that his own college experience wasn’t always a great time.

Mourning [A] BLKstar was created by writer and musician Ra Washington. Washington translates “iconic symbols and concepts that have historically sustained marginalized people,” according to the group’s Facebook page, and socially-conscious themes into lyrics, seductive beats, and instrumental compositions. Lead singers James Longs, Kyle Kidd, and LaToya Kent add vocal arrangements.

“It sounds like a little bit of everything,” Kent said. “Space and ether and soul, a little trashiness and elegance all mixed in together.” The Cat in the Cream Manager and College senior Hanne Williams-Baron described the group’s sound as “supernatural gospel soul” that creates an “atmospheric, entrancing, funk experience.”

While the alluring sounds and musicality made for a wonderful show, the fun, welcoming environment came from the diversity, accessibility, and inclusivity of the band and venue.

As Kidd put it, “everybody who is in the band — from the instrumentalists to the vocalists to the production — represents somebody else. We are different and a community.”

The band’s intentions were accentuated by the Cat in the Cream’s warm vibe, where “there’s almost always an atmosphere that you feel comfortable dancing in and you don’t feel judged,” as College sophomore Zimmy Chu put it. First-year Sylvie Weinstein proclaimed that the Cat in the Cream felt “welcoming to everybody.”

“The Cat is a really important space because we strive so much to make sure that every single person here is comfortable,” Williams-Baron said. “The venue achieves this by offering wheelchair accessible seating, ensuring that all shows are free, and [by] not serving alcohol.

“It’s a nice space for people to just chill and be themselves,” Butler said. The combination of accessibility and joyful energy created the perfect opening orientation show.

The concert was lively and full, and previously-nervous first-years danced without hesitation after the music started. The audience remained attentive and supportive. Concert attendees clapped along with the band with gleeful smiles on their faces through fun horn solos, infectious beats, a somber and soulful set supporting Black Lives Matter, and mind-blowing high notes hit by Kidd.

Most were quite impressed with the group’s distinctive, emotive voices and incredible ranges, arrangements, and artistry. Second-year Conservatory Jazz vocalist Georgia Heers voiced her astonishment at the “full-bodied harmonies” and collaborative musicianship, gawking at James Longs’ “incredible middle range” and “technical and pristine” voice, even in high registers.

“There was a lot of power, there was a lot of energy, and the musicality was really strong,” first-year Riley Davis said. Weinstein chimed in: “They are passionate and you can tell. They are an amazing gig.”

The inherent trust between the performers, the concert attendees, and the staff of the Cat in the Cream fostered a space that celebrated pioneering artistry, mutual support, and inclusivity: the perfect environment for new students. Kyle Kidd mentioned that a lot of the band’s original followers were Oberlin alumni.

“We come back because of the relationships,” vocalist James Longs said. “We relate with and enjoy the people here, so it’s easy to come back.” This appreciation was reciprocated when Mourning [A] BLKstar performed for Live from Studio B, Oberlin’s weekly live performance broadcast.

The concert’s success is another example of the symbiotic connection between the artistry of Mourning [A] BLKstar and the quirky, earnest arts community at Oberlin College.

“The base of it is community, the base of it is about relationship, the foundation of it is something more than ourselves,” Kidd said. Undoubtedly, this local connection and shared vision will continue to cultivate a community of equity, friendship, and excellence going forward.

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