Berkeley’s “The Back Room” features the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble – Celebrating Black History Month

Vince at Berkeley's The Back Room celebrating the beginning of Black History Month waiting to hear the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble in their 47th year

By Vince Hall

It is Black History Month, and Splash Magazines Worldwide is celebrating by paying homage to a most honored black history tradition, sharing a Jazz experience.

Forty seven years ago in Berkely

I had the distinct pleasure of visiting one of the coolest, intimate music venues I could imagine. Berkeley, California has a long-storied history of providing some of the most authentic and hip music environments. I visited, The Back Room  which did not disappoint. 

In many black communities across the nation, there is a tradition, a special gathering that still takes place to this day, called sugar shacks or juke joints! These sites have been the backbone of poor folks, allow them to let their hair down and release some of the stress and pressure of life.

The featured group Ethnic Heritage Ensemble was absolutely fantastic and most certainly accomplished the goal of allowing us to let our hair down and forget the pressures of life.

Their first song didn’t have words just sounds. Let me tell you people, you could feel the story of those sounds without the words. The connection with the audience was evident and you could feel the audience getting into the flow from the start.

Vince, Sam and Kahil

Their music just permeates inside your body to the cellular level. They held us all captive. There is nothing like seeing a band having fun while playing their music! Their sounds, clear  and concise and took me on a journey!

The music told the story way more than the words. My friends, that is called talent! You could tell they played for the pure pleasure of making music, but not to the exclusion of the audience! That is a rare thing.

The lead Kahil El Zabar is not only a talented musician but also a fantastic showman. He was such a gracious leader acknowledging not only his band members but the wonderful mentors of his life and the genre itself. While most musicians cannot tell a story without words, Kahil El Zabar is a rare individual who transcends words with his musical talent.

Vince and Kahil

His ability to connect with the audience and teach the history of black music was, without a doubt, an incredible contribution. His musicality is truly a blessing to behold.

The history of black music is the ability to take anything and make music. In some of the songs, I had no idea what instrument Khalil was playing. And, let me tell you, it didn’t matter. It was captivating.

Sam Rudin is the owner of The Back Room. His Venue provides a warm and comfortable atmosphere. Three of the walls are brick which gives you that French quarter New Orleans feel. The ceilings are high and wooden with beautiful beams and a sky light that allows for a wonderfully cool atmosphere so I didn’t overheat and was not distracted from the music. There is nothing worse than being at a venue like this and overheating!

If any of you are like me in that I don’t want to be in an environment where the sound of music overwhelms you so that you can’t enjoy the experience. Sam got it right!

Sam Rudin and Vince Hall

Even in the back of the room the view was great, but still intimate. There is a strong feeling that you are in a backyard of some of your close friends who have some uncles that are musically talented and just having some fun. There was a real “sugar shack “ feel in that it is a BYOB place. This is a basic staple of sugar shacks or juke joints, the ability of poor folks to bring their own drink of choice.

Once the music starts you can almost feel the history of black folks!

The sound quality was impeccable. Sam has done a wonderful job of creating a space with excellent acoustics. One of the very special features of a fantastic venue like this is the people you meet. Though originally from Georgia, I grew up in Wisconsin. What are the chances that I would meet two other people from Wisconsin in any walk of life? Not very high, but there I was with two other Wisconsinites sharing an amazing experience! 

Approaching The Back Room

I felt, at times, like I was I the heyday of great jazz musicians, in those glory days of Harlem. I could feel Malcom X kicking it with Reed Foxx listening to Billie Holiday and having a grand ole time!  It was truly a blessing to be able to kickstart Black History Month this way!

A great performance by the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble

Sometimes in life one needs to step outside oneself. The Back Room is an amazing place to experience that, ,even if you don’t particularly like Jazz music! This place is worth your valuable time! If you do nothing else for black history month, give yourself the glory of experiencing

Words could never describe their impact on your soul! Happy Black History Month from your brother, Vince E!

More Information about the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble tour

Photos are courtesy of Vince Hall

1 Comment

  1. I really Enjoyed this article, I was so reminded or visualize that Hole in wall, juke joint feeling that felt as you could truly LOL, god feeling place.

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