PORTSMOUTH — Persistence and connections saved the much-loved “Set the House on Fire Gospel Concert: Celebrating The Life and Legacy of Rev Martin Luther King Jr.”
Per tradition, on Monday, Jan. 18, the official state Martin Luther King Day, Jukwaa Mazoa will produce its 21st event, delivered differently, but perhaps with greater passion, thoughtfulness and intent than all its previous years.
“There’s so much negativity right now – dealing with COVID, people out of work, not knowing if you have a job … worried about rent, and the whole realm of things happening to the country,” Jukwaa Mazoa producer and “House” Director Sandi Clark Kaddy said. “Absolutely, it’s more important to hold it now given the climate in the U.S. today.”
Like all else, its presentation was in question, Clark Kaddy says. But the idea of cancelling, while seriously floated, was a last resort.
“People know there’s going to be a Martin Luther King event, and on that day. The only thing they’re waiting for is to know where it will be located,” Clark Kaddy said. “I’m just happy to be able to present this, that we found another way.”
The solution was a collaboration between Jukwaa Mazoa, Seacoast NAACP and Seacoast Repertory Theatre’s “Najee Brown’s Sol Series.”
Together they will present a virtual event, produced by Jukwaa Mazoa, as part of the Seacoast Repertory Theatre’s “Sol Series.” It will be taped at the Rep, the venue that hosted the first House on Fire Concert the year New Hampshire recognized the holiday.
Traditionally, the Seacoast NAACP holds a Pancake Breakfast on MLK Day, Clark Kaddy said. This year it was cancelled of course. Clark Kaddy had determined a live concert could not be held safely. Najee Brown suggested joining forces, and presenting as a single event, noting the Rep already had filming capability.
“We’re getting together for the same cause,” Clark Kaddy said. “We’ll be in people’s living rooms, (with) gospel music setting the soul on fire, and keeping them heated up.”
The event is hosted by the Rev. Robert Thompson and Clark Kaddy. The music roster includes The Funky Divas of Gospel, Reverend Jeff, Ms. Vee and the Right Now Choir and Band. It also features a spoken word set by Jarrett Daniels and a Martin Luther King Jr. reading by Kevin Wade Mitchel.
“60 Seconds of Hope,” the NAACP contribution, is a mere minute but a major component, featuring pre-recorded comments by various people from the community.
“It was first suggested by a committee member as a Gratitude Minute,” Clark Kaddy said. “But we needed to rethink the meaning of a gratitude minute with all that’s going on. We needed to rethink what our plan was, what it was supposed to be within the program.”
The consensus was it was a time to offer words of inspiration, hope and positivity.
“We needed to think about what Martin Luther King would do, what he would say or think, and that would be to inspire, and encourage people. There is a light at the end of this tunnel,” she says. “This is a very important piece, very much so. … It’s keeping all of what he stood for in mind.”
The House on Fire Concert’s final component is an excerpt of “Stokely and Martin,” an original play by Brown, directed by Clark Kaddy.
“This is the first time it’s performed on any stage,” Brown, who performs as King, said. “But it’s going to open SRT’s MainStage season (Jan. 28).”
Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. is more important during this trying, “crazy” time, Clark Kaddy said
“When you think about Dr. King, 1967, and then here it is 2021 and we’re still discussing and dealing with the same issues. It doesn’t give you a good feeling. It gives you an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach,” Clark Kaddy said. “You have to turn the TV off, you’d be a wreck all day if you don’t. Your brain can’t settle with COVID-19 and the hatred. And so that’s why this concert is especially important now. We need something positive.”
Go & View
What: Set the House on Fire Gospel Concert; Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
When: Monday, Jan. 18
Where: Broadcast online from the Seacoast Repertory Theatre in Portsmouth and can be seen free on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/seacoastrep.