As the lights went up and the melting pot of a well-dressed crowd cheered, three artists took their turns putting on transcendent performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House for Solange Knowles’ of Saint Heron’s Eldorado Ballroom.
Knowles, Brooklyn Academy of Music curator-at-large created Saint Heron, a multidisciplinary institution to bring esteemed artists to the forefront of her artistic vision of preserving and expressing Black art. Eldorado Ballroom explores intergenerational expressions through performative art, music, and spirituality. The name Eldorado Ballroom comes from a historic Black music hall in Knowles’ hometown in Houston’s Third Ward.
Eldorado Ballroom debuted its first night with moving and empowering performances by KeiyaA, Res, and Kelela. The multifaceted musicians who opened the ensemble have reshaped musical production through their experimental sounds and boundary-pushing expressions.
The show began with a performance by Chakeiya Richmond, also known as KeiyaA. The Chicago-native musician performed her 2020 debut album “Forever, Ya Girl” all while playing each beat and sound on her Roland beat machine.
“I came to know a genuine appreciation of music,” Richmond said. “My family plays a lot of music and loves music in a very intimate and spiritual way that most people do. I just felt a natural connection to it growing up. I’ve been making it in some form since I was a kid.”
In addition to vocals, Richmond is a multi-instrumentalist. She has played piano since she was in elementary school and said it’s similar to that of every instrument in one. Richmond also has a connection to the alto saxophone as she admires the full-body techniques needed to achieve the sound of the instrument.
When it came to Eldorado Ballroom, Richmond said she was more eager to see Res and Kelela perform than her own performance.
“I was super honored and excited to perform, but I think something I’ve come to learn is that when I’m performing, I don’t really know what’s happening,” she said. “It’s not really an experiential experience for me, so I was looking forward to seeing them and the space. I also hope to see the Clark Sisters perform.”
As Richmond continues to break the mold for Black femme musicians, she wants to help eliminate the standards by which Black musicians are meant to present. Whether it’s gestures, emotions, or sounds, she hopes to break down the barriers meant to hold Black women back from expressing themselves.
“When I perform, I’m not just standing there and singing, you’re going to see me performing through the productions that I make and the compositions that I make,” Richmond said. “I’m following a line of a tradition of boundary-pushers about speaking honestly about my experiences, my work, and the emotional consequences of not being people-pleasing–a path and trajectory that a lot of fans, especially Black fans and Black women, have to deal with in life.”
Shareese Ballard, who goes by Res, gave the crowd an uplifting performance and kept everyone on their feet. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Ballard has been making music since the early 2000s. She sang tracks from her 2001 debut album “How I Do” and fans belted out every word as if the album had just been released.
“I have been in the music game for 20 years,” Ballard said. “I had a really great intro to it. I was signed to a major label and I was ‘on.’ Then I had a long period of time when I was independent, not signed to any label and I had my career in my hands where everything depended on me. For me, that was paying my dues…I was able to stay in the music industry by morphing into a chameleon–settling for things I never would’ve settled for when I first started, doing that I would have never done. Some things were good and I accepted the challenges, and some things were not good.”
Since Knowles tapped Ballard for Eldorado Ballroom, she said she’s felt reawakened. She felt she’s finally been given the opportunity she deserved and the environment she was always meant to be in.
“I’m naturally a person who doesn’t like to do what everyone’s doing,” Ballard said. “I press the boundaries just by being authentic. It’s 2023–how many people are really authentically themselves? It’s my style, my genre, my everything.”
The show ended with an ethereal performance by hit singer Kelela who recently released her first project in five years, “Raven.” She sang some of her classic songs, as well as some new ones. And even BAM’s president Gina Duncan said she had never heard the theater that loud.
While KeiyaA, Res, and Kelela started Eldorado Ballroom off on high note, this was just the beginning. Eldorado Ballroom will continue throughout April and a fall show in September. Saint Heron will present more Eldorado Ballroom shows involving theater, poetry, art installations, opera performances, dance, gospel choirs, and photography. They will acknowledge revolution, storytelling, different cultures, Black history, and more.