NIKARA presents Black Wall Street – Ms. Warren’s Jazz Album


Just recently, one of our jazz band teachers here at Friends Academy, Ms. Nikara Warren, released her first album, NIKARA presents Black Wall Street. While her album is mainly jazz and R&B, her style bleeds into genres of soul, funk, rap, and rock. Although her principal instrument is the vibraphone, she composed and arranged the music for all of the instrumental parts of her album. 

“It started off as a set of songs,” Warren told Jack Jervis and me. At the time of her life when she was producing the album, there were many examples of prejudice against black people and culture, including examples of systemic racism like the killing of Trayvon Martin. She posed

the rhetorical question: “Why does it feel like black music tends to be pushed away?” In response, the purpose of the album, she described, was to “take pieces of black music and give it a platform to show black musical beauty.” 

As she explained in one of our jazz band classes, her choice of title for the album is also significant. She directly alludes to the historical event of “Black Wall Street,” or the Tulsa race massacre, in which white mobs, many of which were supported by police officials, looted and vandalized black-owned businesses, shops, and houses. Reports declare that tens, if not hundreds of African-Americans had died in this event, with thousands more having been left homeless. In contrast, her album ironically juxtaposes this horrific event with a celebration of black culture, music, and voice.

In many ways, Warren seeks to redefine the genre of jazz in her new album. “I grew up in a house with music. I listened to a lot of Charles Mingus, Thundercat, and Kamasi Washington,” she told us regarding her inspirations for her album. In addition to these artists, she was heavily influenced by her grandfather, legendary jazz pianist Kenny Baron, with whom she had lived as a kid. 

Having taken inspiration from these artists, Warren sought to implement a new style of avante-garde electronics into her music as a vibraphonist. An example of this is her popular track “Mona Lisa,” featuring her sister Be.Be on vocals. 

Be.Be delivers smooth and creamy vocals on top of a lush instrumental full of clapping drums and electronic swells. The instrumentals are cozy and comforting, creating a wonderful track that we return to often. The alternate version of this track, with guest vocalist Melanie Charles, is a live take that is just as warm, while providing another perspective on the track that focuses on horns rather than synths in the background. As a more R&B oriented cut, Warren commented that this is one of many songs that “does not necessarily fit into the jazz mold.” 

Another highlight is “Womb Woes”. This track is a multiphased emotional climax to the album, with fiery saxophone and electric guitar solos providing much energy. The song switches time signatures to ¾ for a brief period towards the latter half, slightly descending away from the urgent tone established in the first few minutes. 

The wide variety of tones and instruments truly demonstrates Warren’s creativity as an artist. From electron guitar on “Womb Woes,” to whistling on “Persistence,” to, of course, the incredible vibraphone musicality, Warren creates songs that stand out and effortlessly morph between genre definitions and boundaries. The vocals from featured artists, speech excerpts, and passages from Warren herself help the album focus on the themes of politics and social justice, as well as an appreciation of black music and the many styles it encompasses. This album is wonderful, and we cannot recommend it enough.