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Arts + CultureMusicUnder the Stars: Sylvester shall sing again

Under the Stars: Sylvester shall sing again

Plus: Carlos Niño's collab album with Andre3000 and friends, Arooj Aftab returns, Sis channels Sri Aurobindo. New music!


At one point in time, if you, as a recording artist, didn’t cut a live record in San Francisco, well, you were considered small potatoes. I’m serious. There are just under 100 live records from major labels that emanated from SF in the 1960s and ’70s: 36 recordings at The Fillmore, eight from the Black Hawk in the Tenderloin, seven were recorded at the Great American Music Hall, eight at The Jazz Workshop, and 27 at The Keystone Korner in North Beach.

Now, you can add to that number.

On the evening of March 11, 1979, thousands of people lined up outside of the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House to catch Sylvester. It was a pivotal moment in the career of the pioneering singer, songwriter, disco diva, and queer icon, but also a historic moment for the city’s LGBTQ+ community: one of their own was to be immortalized live at last.

“I have no real projections except I want to play the San Francisco Opera House,” predicted the singer in an interview with The Advocate in 1977. “I am—and I’m saying this—I am going to play the opera house! It will be a fabulous show with a full orchestra, lots of costumes, lots of lighting, and lots of everything. Lots! And whenever you think you have too much, you should put on more, just to be safe.” 

Live at the Opera House, Sylvester’s legendary concert will be released on September 6 by Craft Recordings on 3-LP, 2-CD, HD, and standard digital formats. This concert can now be experienced in its entirety. Previously, only edited excerpts were available (through 1979’s Living Proof). The new album features over two hours of AAA-mastered audio, including all 13 songs from the performance. Some of the notable songs include “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and “Dance (Disco Heat).” Additionally, the album includes a recording of the mid-concert ceremony where Sylvester was presented with the Key to San Francisco.

As the curtain rose, according to the liner notes, the 26-piece orchestra launched into an overture of recent hits as Sylvester, dressed in a sequined red robe, made his grand entrance in a tornado of glitter. Befitting the venue, the show was presented in three parts: “An elaborate overture and opening act; a quieter, bluesier center; and a high-energy, allegro third act, ending on a quiet, bittersweet hymn,” as Joshua Gamson, author of The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music, the Seventies in San Francisco, describes it. The setlist—a blend of covers and originals—showcased the breadth of Sylvester’s abilities, as he moved seamlessly between pulsating dance numbers and soulful balladry with his powerful, falsetto vocals.

Pre-order here.

But in the meantime

It’s Under The Stars, babe: a quasi-weekly column that presents new music releases, upcoming shows, opinions, and other adjacent items. We keep moving with the changes and thinking outside the margins.

We want to play in the sunshine

We want to be free



“The night,” Arooj Aftab confesses, “is my biggest source of inspiration.” With her fourth solo record, Night Reign, it also proves to be vast with great-sounding dream pools, flush with frequencies. With collaborative moves that include Moor Mother adding striking enunciations over the moody structure of “Bolo Na,” a languid version of Sade’s endless-sounding calmness on “Raat Ki Rani,” and complete jazz structures that never feel rushed or showy, “Saaqi” gets the timelessness correct. Night Reign extends this masterful streak of classical-meets-jazz and its modern incarnations.

Purchase it here.


Jenny Gillespie Mason, this Berkeley musician who produces under the name Sis, always pushes forward for a fusion of new age, instrumental, synth-pop, jazz, and world music textures that reach beyond convention, speak to spiritual awakenings, and maintain this nouveau chic zeal that always keeps your ears tingling with wonder.

As for “Pregnant in Bhutan,” according to the artist: “This was the first song I wrote for the album at the piano. At that point, I had no idea where the music or ideas for the album were going to take me. I had just re-read an old journal, from when I first found out I was pregnant with my first son and was traveling through Southeast Asia. I wanted to capture that super tender emotional terrain of longing and excitement, opposed by the worry and fear that I’d lose my artistic life–all happening within a place that was mystical but so foreign to me, and not quite the ideal of what I thought it was going to be.” 

Vibhuti, whose most recent long player came to her through a series of healing dreams, continues down a path of polyrhythmic grooves accompanied by claps, harmonium, and ideas from the books of 20th century Indian mystic Sri Aurobindo and his partner, the Mother. 

If this is Zen, I’m in.

Pick up Vibhuti here.


Last February, while chatting with Jacob Guillermo Peña, also known as DJ Guillermo, I mentioned that I was going to see Carlos Niño at SF Jazz. He was performing with Nate Merceau and Idris Ackamoor.

Without missing a beat, Peña, originally from Long Beach, CA chimed in, “Whoa, Carlos is in town? That cat has been around for a minute.”

Careers don’t just happen overnight. They grow, morph, detach, re-attach, take detours, and then maybe, just maybe smolder for almost a decade and come into focus.

With the Andre 3000 tour of New Blue Sun—the record co-produced by Carlos Niño, a Los Angeles percussionist, producer, and spiritual jazz musician, crowds are getting a dose of something not usually reserved for the mainstream.

New Blue Sun, which I reviewed for Resident Advisor, “is an enjoyable experience wherever you register on the spectrum of being familiar with ambient music. I have a difficult time calling this jazz. New Age is a better fit. The instruments he and his collaborators play here—contrabass flutes, Mayan flutes, bamboo flutes—are powered by human breath”.

But more importantly, it’s a collaborative effort, which is the way Niño works best. There is a track called “Birthworkers Magic, and how we get hear” from his most recent album Placenta that showcases Carlos’ ability to summon spirits at the beginning of the song. He does this by giving shouts and gibberish, allowing flutes to zip and chimes to resonate.

This creates an organic chaos that eventually leads the group to find a groove, a chakra perhaps, around four minutes into the song. At this point, everyone playing is hyper-listening, adding or subtracting from the arrangement to give it more texture. Andre 3000 plays the flute on this particular track, along with Maia and Jesse Peterson. This is how Carlos has been inspiring musicians in the experimental scene in LA for the past 17 years or so. 

As André 3000 said in a New York Times feature on Carlos “I always like to meet people that are crazier than me. People that say ideas and it’s like, ‘Oh hell yeah. Let’s go.’”

Carlos Niño has found his time and it’s shimmering.

Pick up Placenta here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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