Wonder UNCOVERED: Reinterpreting 'Songs in the Key of Life'

Apr 13, 2017

Pastime Paradise, As, I Wish. Many are familiar with the original versions of these songs by music legend Stevie Wonder. He put together these tracks in 1976 for his groundbreaking album Songs in the Key of Life, a creative mixture of funk, jazz, pop and soul.

Those songs will be getting a new look in Wonder UNCOVERED, the latest in a series of performances that unite local musicians and producers to reinterpret the songs of distinguished artists.

The series, now run through the Pabst Theater Group, is showcased at Turner Hall Ballroom. Dave Wake, of music groups De La Buena and Aluar Pearls, and Tarik Moody, of 88Nine Milwaukee, are the curators behind this show.

Both Wake and Moody were eager to tackle a full album this time around, and Songs in the Key of Life was a natural choice. "My dad was a huge Stevie Wonder fan," says Wake, "and this album in particular was always on at our house."

Moody, who also grew up with the album, was impacted by both its music and its songwriting. "Each song was so different lyrically," he says, "and now, some of those lyrics even more represent what's going on in our culture right now."

In re-envisioning the lyrics for the song Black Manfor instance, "we tried to bring it to a local element, so instead of some of the figures that Stevie Wonder mentioned, you might hear a shout-out to Vel Phillips or Father Groppi, or to even some national current people," Moody says.

He also says of Village Ghetto Land"you know, what's going on with Black Lives Matter and all that, those lyrics are very current, even though they came out in 1976."

The two have spent the past two years putting together the event and have invited more than 40 musicians to participate, including younger musicians, older musicians and kids. "The multigenerational thing was really important to us," says Wake.

"This is bigger than just the show," he continues. "We want to connect the scene. Milwaukee is obviously known as a very segregated place in more ways than one, and it does play through in the art scene...so we're trying to find people from all sides of town, all genres, different age ranges who can work together and discover new relationships with each other."

Additionally, the show has been planned to be taken in from start to finish. "When it becomes a nice, sensitive, quiet song, we want people to be listening," notes Wake. "In our society, there's a lot based on visuals, and obviously Stevie Wonder has honed his other senses, and we want to pay homage to that."

"We're asking more of the listener than just going to a concert," he says.

Wonder UNCOVERED is Friday April 14, 2017 at 8pm at Turner Hall Ballroom. Doors open at 7 pm.