The thing that has marked Seattle musician Om Johari's music career has been the successful execution of very good ideas. For example, back in 2000, she and Amy Stolzenbach came up with the great idea of an all-female AC/DC tribute band—and they made it happen, and it was a great success. (Johari was Hell's Belles' singer until 2005.) More recently, Johari, who describes herself as an Afro-punk and feminist activist, helped bring to life the great idea of a Bad Brains tribute band, called Re-Ignition.
One of Johari's best ideas, however, was performed on May 19, 2017, at the Royal Room. It was a tribute to a 1972 album by the soul icon Roberta Flack and the mostly forgotten but much-troubled genius singer and arranger Donny Hathaway. The show was called "Soliloquies of Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway," and it featured 10 singers, most of whom I had never heard of, and all of whom, including Riz Rollins, were amazing. That night was just magical. The band, which was led by Joe Doria and included drums, sax, and trumpet, rocked the soul hard for two solid hours.
Johari is also on a mission to produce great shows in places that she believes black people can visit. And indeed, the Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway tribute show had a very integrated crowd because lots of black people showed up. You just don't see that kind of thing in the North End, which is hard to access by car or public transportation. Columbia City might be becoming more white, but it's still not far from Renton, a very mixed city with a relatively large black population (10,000).
Johari's latest good idea, which she did not come up with, but which she is certainly coproducing, is a tribute to the R&B singer Mary J. Blige. The idea first came to one of the show's featured singers, Ashanti Proctor, who wanted to do a kind of musical play about Blige. But Johari encouraged her to just make it a tribute. Also, they only had a three-month window to organize the event.
But why Blige? Well, she has an impressive track record. Her career began in the early 1990s, when she brought the street cred of hiphop to the R&B world without sacrificing its apolitical and black- elegant principles. She has more hits than you can remember. She is still making hits. Lastly, she's been in the game so long, that, like Bill Murray or Snoop Dogg or Martha Stewart, she's won the honor of just being cool. It will be fascinating to see what Proctor, Johari, and the rest of the lineup do with her work.