Cabaret Review: TAWANDA IN MANHATTAN (Tawanda celebrates debut album “Smile” at Chelsea Table & Stage)

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by Paulanne Simmons on April 21, 2023

in CD-DVD,Concerts / Events,Theater-New York


Tawanda, who just won the 2023 Bistro Award for Jazz Vocalist, celebrated her debut album, Smile, at Chelsea Table & Stage on April 20. The accomplished vocalist is only 26, but she told the audience she “feels like an old soul.”

Indeed she began the evening with a sizzling rendition of a Cole Porter jazz standard from 1948, “Too Darn Hot.” And she went on to Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” and Harry Woods’ “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” bravely following in the footsteps of Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin, Billie Holliday and Tony Bennett.

But Tawanda is as versatile as she is skilled. Her repertoire also included Bill Withers’ tribute to his own grandmother, “Grandma’s Hands,” which is inflected with the rhythms of gospel and soul, and one of the first blues standards, Fats Waller’s  “Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do

Tawanda knows how to embrace the lyrical, as well.

Her interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” is filled with the passion of his words: “Oh, let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone/Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon. And her rendition of David Bowie’s “Wild Is the Wind” reflects the compassion of his verse: “Like a leaf clings/To the tree/Oh my darling/Cling to me.”

Of course, Tawanda has her own story. With a mother from Germany and a father from Mozambique, she is a first-generation American, raised in New Mexico. While at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, she fell in love with the show tunes of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin. Still, it is the tradition of female vocalists such as Anita O’Day that she honors.

But Tawanda, reflecting her name, which means “we are more’” in the Bantu dialect Shona, goes beyond tradition to make her music uniquely her own.

photos by Tracey Yarad

played April 20, 2023 at Chelsea Table & Stage
for more info, visit Tawanda

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