The musical savant Bilal made a welcome return to the world-famous Kennedy Center, for a two night Valentine’s Day residency. I had the pleasure of attending the opening show on Thursday, February 13th. Bilal isn’t a stranger to the venue, as he made an appearance in D.C. last year. However his 2020 Valentine’s Day residency show took place inside one of the Kennedy Center’s smaller and more intimate sites, The Club at Studio K.
My relationship with Bilal’s music goes back to my senior year of high school while listening to rapper Common’s fourth album, Like Water for Chocolate. The lead single “The 6th Sense”, from that album featured a funky soul singer singing the hook, who I would later discover was Bilal. A few months later, saw the release of Bilal’s own debut solo single, “Soul Sista,” with his debut album following in 2001. Throughout a twenty-year career, Bilal has released four solo albums. However, my motivation to see Bilal live arrived with his cover of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones” at the 2016 BET Awards.
Gracing the stage in a long trench with the backing of a three-man band, Bilal intimately took the quaint performance stage. The moment Bilal sang his first note, it was clear he was going to cater to two types of ears, his fans, and eccentric tastes. A far cry from his BET Awards appearance, Bilal’s stage show is one for those who appreciate the art of music.
During his seventy-minute set, Bilal served as a musical guide through a catalyst of emotions. Spirituality, self-love, and sensuality were some of the themes of the night. Were the concert inside a bigger auditorium of The Kennedy Center, I don’t think the reception of music would’ve been the same. Case in point, the soul, baring “Sometimes” was given a gospel feel, and I found myself realizing that no matter what, my flaws are beautiful. I don’t think I would have had the same experience in a larger venue.
While Bilal didn’t perform “The Beautiful Ones,” his vocal ability was highlighted in back to back performance of the slow jams “White Turns to Grey and “Soul Sista.” The song “White Turns to Grey is an intoxicating listening experience that defines sensuality. At the same time, “Soul Sista” still sounds fresh twenty years later. The night closed out with the inspirational and soul-stirring “All Matter.”
Despite a near flawless performance, I would’ve loved to hear a medley of some of the work Bilal has done with Hip Hop artists over the years. Nevertheless, Bilal is an exceptional stage performer who I highly recommend experiencing live anytime he’s in town,
Final Grade B