Vibraphonist, composer, arranger, and educator Nikara Warren is excited to announce her debut album Nikara Presents Black Wall Street, due out November 12, 2021. To ring in the announcement, Warren has shared the jazzy, rap-centered single “Run Ricky.” Stream it on Spotify HERE and Apple Music HERE. Warren has several performances slated through the rest of the year, not least among them the Nikara Presents Black Wall Street album release show at NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall (Stage 2) on Saturday, November 13. See below for the full list of upcoming performances.
The granddaughter of towering piano legend Kenny Barron, Warren has labored to solidify the album as a celebration of Black excellence in music, a joyous celebration of cultures, genres, identities, and resilience. While she is an accomplished vibraphonist and a true student of jazz, Warren’s music is an ecstatic celebration of many musical styles, from soul and funk to rock and rap, and everything in between.
Nikara Warren is a true Brooklynite. Born and bred in the eclectic and electric enclave, her family, her friends, her band, and her musical pedigree are a microcosm of the county at large. Her grandfather is world-renowned jazz pianist Kenny Barron, and she’s the daughter of a half Trinidadian soca/dancehall lover father, and a classic 1990s “Brooklyn Round the Way” girl mother.
“I would wake up hearing Dizzy Gillespie; get in the car with my mom and listen to TLC; be dropped off at school and listen to System of a Down or The Who; play Charles Mingus in band; hear Biggie on the way home, and listen to Trio de Paz or some Brazilian music while eating dinner. Rhythm was always key,” she explains.
Today, Nikara celebrates Black excellence in music with her triumphant debut album, Nikara Presents Black Wall Street, out November 12. The provocative and evocative title commemorates the horrific Tulsa massacre when white mobs in Tulsa, Oklahoma attacked Black residents and their destroyed homes and businesses. It’s a day that has cast a dark shadow on Black achievement, though Nikara prefers to honor her Black ancestries’ splendor with a joyous celebration of cultures, genres, identities, and resilience.
“Back in 2012, when Trayvon Martin was killed, there was a lot happening in the news. I grew up in Brooklyn so it wasn’t uncommon to hear about people being assaulted and killed by cops, but it was uncommon for it to be televised,” Nikara recalls. She continues: “Around this time, I learned about Black Wall Street, and I started to understand the greatness of being Black through music. With my album, I wanted to get across the excellence of our heritage and create something new and modern from the Black Diaspora music culture in the West.”
As a composer, a musician, and an educator, Nikara is reimagining vibes. She is taking the instrument to the people with her infectious compositional sense, her post-modern patchwork of influences and cultural signposts, and her fearless musicality. Her bold quest comes from being well-versed in the vibraphone lineage, but seeking to adventure beyond it.
Nikara earned a scholarship to the esteemed Berklee College of Music, and she was selected for the prestigious Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program for original composition in 2013 and 2014. Nikara has performed as a part of SF Jazz’s “Women on The Rise” program, highlighting notable upcoming women in the jazz industry. In addition, Nikara has performed Black Wall Street compositions at NYC Winter Jazz Fest and at The Kennedy Center.
Nikara grew up with her grandfather in the house, so naturally piano was her first instrument. Around the age of 14 Nikara switched to bass. She first heard vibes being played at the legendary Village Vanguard in her grandpa’s jazz ensemble, featuring the masterful Stefon Harris. Nikara was always a percussive person, and the vibes percussive and melodic capabilities instantly appealed to her.
Despite her passion for the vibes, Nikara had her sights set on being a music business mogul. She landed a promising job after college, but soon found she craved more creativity than the 9-5 grind offered. In 2012, Nikara started shedding the vibes relentlessly, and by 2015 left her job to dedicate her life to becoming a composer and an artist. That fateful year was the dawn of the Black Wall Street music and artistic perspective.
All of Nikara’s personal, cultural, familial, and musical journeys converge on Black Wall Street. Here, she explores an abstract sound-collage: hip-hop, jazz, neo-soul, Afro-Latino and Afro-Caribbean rhythms, and more. Her vision is cohesive but eclectic, just like how people’s identities are a product of their various heritages and associations.
Black Wall Street, the album and the musical vision, has become synonymous with the band, in fact, Nikara performs under the Black Wall Street moniker. The musicians are bonded together mainly by being Brooklynites, and what a Brooklyn upbringing represents in terms of cultural references and musical pedigrees. The album features Nikara Warren on vibes, Kenny Barron on piano, Paul “bae.bro” Wilson on keys, Hailey Niswanger on tenor sax, Stephen “Khemestry” Fowler on trumpet, Parker McAllister on bass, Corey Sanchez on guitar, and David Frazier, Jr. on drums and spd (sampling pad demo).
The 10-album explores topics of race, gender, body positivity, personal-revelation, and acceptance. These weighty subjects are contextualized within a feel-good sensibility. “There is so much pain associated with the Black experience and within Black music. It was important to me to offset this by expressing joy, and making the music fun,” Nikara notes.
Select album standouts include “Heather Gray,” featuring Kenny Barron, “Run Ricky,” “Mona Lisa,” featuring Nikara’s sister Be.Be, and “Womb Woes.” “Heather Gray” is the closest thing on the album to a jazz composition. It features an infectious groove and a spare chord change so the players can have fun blowing over it. “Run Ricky” is a politically-charged, dancehall-tinged hip-hop joint with a stinging narrative. The story arc is a modern tragedy of a Black artist unjustly killed by police. “Run Ricky” feels all too real, and it features glowering lines such as: Looked into his pocket they figured his vision/Blood stained fist with an eye drawn on some loose leaf/Photo went viral on Newsweek.
Nikara explores smoldering neo-soul on “Mona Lisa.” This is a love lost ballad of, and it features cinematic lyrics such as: She can never be like me/I’ll give it time for love to end/My solitary cigarette/Is all I have us have/Is this me? The track is sung by Nikara’s younger sister, Be.Be, a promising artist in her own right, and it gets a satiny reworking later on in the record with vocalist Melanie JB Charles. On the ensemble jazz piece, “Womb Woes,” Nikara addresses womanhood, female identity, and gender struggles. The song is made that much more potent by its screaming tenor sax solo courtesy of Hailey Niswanger.
It took 6 years to realize the vision of Black Wall Street. Nikara says: “It felt like it was important to take my time and get everything right. When it was finished, I remember I was super amped up and screaming in my room listening to it. It felt like it came out so purely with a momentum all its own.” Up next, Nikara is raring to get back in the studio and flex her arrangement chops, possibly on a repertoire of classic R&B.