Back in 1986 the City Parks Foundation created Summerstage in the spirt of Central Park’s original purpose — to serve as a free, public resource to help culturally enrich the lives of New Yorkers. The first season of the program had some relatively humble beginnings, as it’s first shows were at the Naumberg Bandshell in Central Park, but with the artists such as the Sun Ra Arkestra and legendary South African act Ladysmith Black Mambazo, among others performing in the first couple of seasons of Summerstage, Summerstage started and has continued a reputation for presenting a diverse array of artists across different cultures and genres. And the great thing about it, is that most, if not all of the shows are free (and/or extremely cheap) to the public. Last year, Summerstage paid homage to hip-hop’s 40th anniversary, as they hosted the likes of Big Daddy Kane; Das EFX; the godfather of hip hop himself, DJ Kool Herc; influential soul and rock musician, Shuggie Otis, the incredible Joshua Nelson, known for what he’s coined Jewish Gospel; Femi Kuti, the son of Afrobeat’s legendary godfather, Fela Kuti; and countless others.
Over 25 years since it’s initial founding, Summerstage has expanded to parks, bandshells and makeshift stages all across the city’s five boroughs and from experience I can tell you that it’s a great way to spend an afternoon or summer evening – especially if you want to catch music you may be familiar with, as well as artists performing in genres that you’d likely not even know (and should know).
Naturally, within the first few week of the New Year, we all feel hopeful about the seemingly endless possibilities of the year; however, over the last few years, the second week of January has also been the week that Summerstage, along with Santa Monica Pier Curators hosts a preview showcase, featuring some of the artists that will be performing at venues across the city through the upcoming summer.
Malaysian singer/songwriter Yuna is one of the artists who will be playing at Summerstage this year, and at this year’s Summerstage Preview Showcase at the Highline Ballroom next Thursday. With an airy sound that manages to adeptly and mesh contemporary pop, acoustic folk and R&B in a way that sounds reminiscent to the likes of TECLA, Phia, and even Vampire Weekend, Yuna is one of the first Malaysian artists to achieve Stateside success after the release of her self-titled debut and “Live Your LIfe,” produced by Pharrell Williams – thanks to critical praise from the likes of the New York Times, Rolling Stone and others after the release.
Check out “Rescue” off Yuna’s sophomore effort Nocturnal. As I mentioned previously, the song is airy and manages to adeptly mesh several different genres with a playful, coquettish charm while having an infectious hook punctuated with handclaps, warm synths and sinuous guitar. It’s remarkably summery but underneath the surface, it’s actually thoughtful and sophisticated.