Staff Writer Jasmine Wright joined Morrisania Band Project for their tribute to Aretha Franklin last Monday night and found a reason to believe that Columbia does in fact have a soul after all.

Last Monday night, I attended Music Monday at the Forum and saw the Morrissania Band Project’s tribute to Aretha Franklin. The Forum’s monthly concert series is free, open to the public and located on the corner of 125th St. and Broadway at Columbia’s Manhattanville campus. 

Elissa Carmona fronts the Morrisania Band Project, which includes Kevin Belle on keyboards, Greg Daffin on bass, Roné Greaves on vocals, Wasi Moodie on drums, and last but not least Ameaga Roger on guitar. Hailing from South Bronx, they are an award-winning R&B soul collective formed back in 2016 and now frequent venues all over the city. Their mission is “to add vibrancy to the South Bronx through music, community engagement, and social initiatives” and their speciality is tributes such as these to “legendary funk, rock, and soul artists,” as well as also creating original music that promotes awareness of various issues at large in the community. Having played together for years they are a tight-knit group known for their love for live performance and for engaging with a crowd—whether that be tired undergraduates at Columbia or energetic seniors from the greater Harlem area in equal measure. 

The performance was centered around Aretha Franklin’s impressive career and was entitled “Natural Woman: A Queen of Soul Salute” and featured both her hits and some of her more deep cuts as well, which was thrilling to hear performed live. It was truly a fully realized celebration of Franklin’s musical legacy in addition to her activism for the rights of Black people in the States. The place was most definitely filled with soul!

When I arrived, people were chatting with students and striking up conversations. It was a particularly chilly night but the atmosphere was jovial inside and nice and cozy. There were even cookies, tea and coffee served by lovely ladies at the front upon entering the venue. Carmona performed a handful of covers of Franklin’s songs alongside her excellent band and threw in little tidbits about the songs in between. When I entered the atrium the band was in full swing performing an exuberant rendition of “Rock Steady”, a personal favorite of mine which was so fun to see performed live with a full backing band. The crowd seemed to share my sentiments exactly as everyone was smiling and bopping along.

The varying groups of people present created a real community vibe to the event. The fact that the Forum’s Music Monday’s programming is open to all is a huge plus, as it enables this kind of diversity. During my experience thus far at Columbia, there doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of overlap with the local neighboring residents. However—that could not be less of the case here as it seemed to be a good mix of students and residents—most appeared to be locals. I thought it was particularly nice that the space was glass from floor to ceiling and created great acoustics. Due to this, the event could be seen (and heard) from the street and over the hour many people flocked in from outside who just happened to be passing by!

Some standouts throughout the performance were when Carmona performed a slowed-down blues song (didn’t catch the name but it sounded a bit like “Natural Woman”) and then immediately followed this swoony number with “Think,” a decidedly non-romantic song. She said she wanted to confuse our emotions by performing “a nice song about falling in love” followed by “Think” to “change it up” she said, which I found amusing. 

She created an especially memorable moment when she asked the crowd what the one thing New Yorkers have in common no matter where they lived in the city. She cast the question out to us all—they “all demand one thing”. “What is it?” she cried. The crowd then yelled back in unison “Respect!” and she ended her set with a rousing performance of “Respect”. People were clapping and singing along and genuinely having fun. 

There was one woman in particular in a purple top who was singing along and calling out to Carmona up front and dancing in the aisle for the final song. An elderly local lady next to me tapped the shoulder of the purple-shirted lady in question and asked her what the name of the song was to which she answered and they chatted a bit, which was such an endearing little exchange to witness. 

From my view, the entire thing was very well executed and the musicians were all top-notch. Carmona had a beautiful, booming voice and a charismatic stage presence to boot. The drummer also was spectacular and had a remarkable solo moment in “Think.”

Afterwards, she was greeted by many enthused members of the community who had clearly had a great time. The other musicians were going off to other gigs that night but they stuck around for a bit to mingle with everyone. 

Overall it was all very wholesome. I gained perspective on the routine troubles facing me for the week ahead. I realised what an opportunity I, and Columbia, are missing out on in not engaging with our own local community as much as we could be. Events like this one could be a great model to build off of. It was a nice way to burst the Ivy/Columbia/academic/stress culture claustrophobic bubble. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and it even, dare I say it, restored my faith in humanity!

P.S. Immediately after I had to try to navigate the lines in Hewitt and my faith in humanity was decidedly less restored, but hey at least I got to see outside of the confines of campus life—if only for a brief interlude…

Performances take place in The Forum’s ground-floor Atrium on Monday evenings, once a month. RSVP is encouraged. Please visit The Forum’s website for the full calendar of events. Next up in the Music Mondays concert series is “The Harlem Chamber Players” on March 25th. You can keep up with the Morrisania Band Project via their website or Instagram here. Check them out, seriously, they’re a good time!

The band in question via CU Arts Initiative