Ursula Rucker at the Starbucks Salon

Friday, September 15th, 2006 | All Things, Events, Music

First visit to the Starbucks Salon — a pop-up salon, performance venue and gallery in SoHo that builds upon the heritage and intimacy of the traditional coffeehouse setting. Concerts, readings, comedy, fashion, art… all “Provocative Performances to Engage and Inspire Audiences in New York,” according to the company’s press release. For ten days, Starbucks took over the Corinthian-columned building (known as the King of Greene Street) that once housed an art gallery… and over the holidays, the UNIQLO pop-up store.

I can anticipate the haters coming out now to decry how the global behemoth banked $6.37 BILLION in revenue in 2005, while bankrupting hundreds of the very same independent coffeehouses they’re now mimicking.

Starbucks Salon


B and I met at Grand Central to head downtown together for the Ursula Rucker show, at his suggestion. Rucker was listed on the SBUX slate as a “spoken word” performer, and a couple of days before, B shared two of her tracks with me so that I would have some sense of what to expect.

Rucker is a Philadelphia-based wordsmith whose debut album, Supa Sista (2001), and follow-up album Silver or Lead (2003) were released to strong critical acclaim. Her social-political commentary – half-spoken, half-sung – was backed by guitarist/ songwriter/producer Timothy Motzer (who used a guitar synth to layer and live-loop music and sounds to interesting effect) and drummer/composer/producer Gintas Janusonis (who got some love from the Brooklyn contingent in the house.)


We snagged two of the last seats scattered around the floor, and settled in with our cappuccinos from the convenient kiosk set up inside. Most of the tracks this night were drawn from Rucker’s latest album, titled Ma’at Mama. “Ma’at” is the Egyptian goddess of balance and truth. Rucker’s performance was sprinkled with calls for just that and for awareness and “revolution.” In “Libations,” she extensively namechecked figures like Dorothy Dandridge, Tupac, Malcolm X and Gandhi; it was the one piece in the set for which she relied on notes. “Uh Uh” dealt with a woman asserting her value to an unappreciative man. And in between, there were rants about the increasing objectification of women in popular music and video. No Luda for Rucker’s four young sons!

In “Children’s Poem,” Rucker took on the plight of black youth and slavery being “alive and well.” One of the speakers blew out mid-performance, and after a couple of feedback-generating attempts to fix it, the background musicians drifted into silence, leaving Rucker’s voice unaccompanied, smooth and soulful.

Ursula Rucker

There's 1 comment so far ... Ursula Rucker at the Starbucks Salon

September 19, 2006

Any idea what will be in that space now that the Salon is closed?

Go for it ...