Following on the heels of the earlier “Rock Like a Girl” concert, the inaugural Black Girls Rock festival kicked off a three-day celebration of Black women in music of all genres.
The brainchild of Beverly Bond, a renowned DJ, cultural curator, television producer and author, the festival opened with a free dance party featuring Bond and MC Lyte for the weekend event and ended with a marathon “Rock Like a Girl” concert bookending the event with a book talk for Bond’s book “Black Girls Rock!: Owning Our Magic. Rocking Our Truth,” and panel discussion in between.
BGR! is the brand that Bond began originally as an awards show, which continues to air on Centric TV.
Hundreds of Black girls and women streamed into the Kennedy Center’s Atrium for the kickoff party on International Women’s Day readying themselves for the grand finale, a more than three-hour concert featuring local girl band Be’la Dona, which backed the first artists making cameo appearances on the stage.
Led off by Nonchalant of “5 O’Clock” fame, the crowd was pumped and sang along to familiar songs, followed by special guests Elle Varner, Leela James and Rapsody. While several of the performers were chanteuses and rappers, the final guest, James, truly rocked it out, allowing Be’la Dona to flex its rock muscles for a headbanging end to the first segment.
The show was headlined by Mumu Fresh, a local artist also known by her given name of Maimouna Yousef, and Jazmine Sullivan. But before they came on, the concert allowed ample — maybe too much — time to rapper LeiKeli47, whose masked persona and bold rap lyrics attracted the attention of the producers of Issa Rae’s HBO series “Insecure,” which features her music regularly.
Mumu Fresh, who didn’t really fit the label of a “rocker,” nevertheless brought her sophisticated and substantial social justice rap lyrics, along with some incredible wide-range vocals with a touch of jazz. Dressed resplendently in a bright blue caped pantsuit, she stole the show from a late and lackluster Sullivan, who seemed almost sedated after Yousef’s fiery and diverse set.
Closing out the night heading into the midnight hour, Sullivan raced through her hit songs, including “Need You Bad” and “Bust Your Windows” and “#HoodLove.”
“I am thrilled to be launching the BGR!FEST with the prestigious Kennedy Center, a true pillar of artistic excellence, and to expand the Black Girls Rock brand to the nation’s capital, home to one of the most vibrant communities of color in the country,” Bond said of the festival, which will make a return next year. “This relationship furthers our mission to build platforms that advance black women’s contributions to the world, and highlight how women of color use art as a tool to drive feminist thought, personal empowerment, and civic engagement.”