Sep 17th 2016

The Museum of Contemporary Art presents Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber for their Chicago debut. The revisionist ensemble performs the soundtrack to Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, the film odyssey by actor/director/composer Melvin Van Peebles. Shot in 1971, the film grew to be one of the top-grossing releases of the year, kick-starting the 1970s genre known as Blaxploitation. The soundtrack, recorded by the then-unknown Earth, Wind & Fire, and composed by Van Peebles, alternates hymn-based vocals and jazz rhythms, creating a sound that prefigured sampling in hip hop. Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber is curated by Yolanda Cesta Cursach and takes place September 17 in the MCA’s Edlis Neeson Theater.

Burnt Sugar Arkestra was conceived in 1999 by Greg Tate as a forum for improvisational musicians to compose, record, and perform materials that reflect the breadth and depth of American diaspora music in the twenty-first century. Co-led by bassist Jared Michael Nickerson, the group employs Butch Morris’s revolutionary conduction system, described as an improvised duet for ensemble and conductor. They use a vocabulary of gestures and signals to exchange tempo and musical ideas. The resulting performance is a new interpretation of its constituted parts.

MCA presents the concert of Melvin Van Peebles’ soundtrack in conjunction with Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, informed by a shared mission to address black culture in America. Van Peebles was a Chicago native and prolific director, screenwriter, playwright, novelist, and composer. His acclaimed independent film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, about the life of an African-American man on the run from white authority, heralded a new era of black films.
The performance of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song runs 120 minutes, with one intermission. Chicago soul singer Jamila Woods opens the concert.

Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song takes place September 17 at 7:30 pm on the MCA Stage. Tickets are $20, and they are available at the MCA Box Office at 312.397.4010 or

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Image: Burnt Sugar, Photo: Shelley Nicole & Paula Henderson, Collage & Color Tinting: Amy Gail.

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