Working Artists Lab: Michael Mwenso

For our Fall 2021 Working Artists Lab, the Arts Collaboratory welcomed musician, performer and activist Michael Mwenso, leader of the internationally acclaimed Mwenso & the Shakes. In collaboration with UB’s departments of Music, and Theater and Dance, Mwenso’s course Protest, Hope and Resilience Through the Black Arts led students on a fascinating journey through the history of African and African American art—and revealed the ways in which Black artists have always propelled cultural and political change. 

michael menswo in front of a red cushioned wall.

“Through my curriculum, ‘Protest, Hope and Resilience through the Black Arts,’ I’m leading students on an exploration of the ways in which people of color have always propelled change in the US. This is an opportunity for me to help re-form and re-craft how Black art is being taught in institutions.”

— Michael Mwenso

Grandmaster flash with people sitting on stage.

Mwenso & The Shakes

A unique ensemble of Juilliard-trained musicians with global backgrounds, The Shakes have been collaborating with Mwenso for close to a decade. Together, they present music that merges entertainment and artistry with a formidable timeline of jazz and blues through African and Afro-American music, incorporating the styling of American musical legends such as Fats Waller, Muddy Waters, and James Brown.

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Vuyo Sotashe

a person wearing a backpack holding a cymbal.

Kyle Poole

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Russell Hall

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Mathis Picard

The Classes

In association with UB music and dance professors, including renowned musicians George Caldwell and Thomas Kolor, Mwenso’s Working Artist Lab combined instruction and mentoring to give UB students an understanding of how professional artists create and collaborate in the real world. Mwenso’s own unique form of musical code-switching brings together the great American songbook, African beats, funk, modern jazz, dance pop, Delta blues and cabaret theater. Students were able to witness these disparate influences coming together to produce art intended to build hope and inspire change.


Grandmaster flash with people sitting on stage.
portrait of a person wearing round glasses.

Guest Lecturer, Art: Frank Stewart

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Guest Lecturer, Drama: Shariffa Ali

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Guest Lecturer, Literature: Simeon Marsalis

The Playlist

A remarkable collection of the protest songs, this playlist inspired Mwenso’s Protest, Hope and Resilience Through Black Arts. The playlist was central to each of the three classes Mwenso taught at UB and was later presented on NPR’s renowned program, World Cafe.

The Performance at Silo City

The UB and Buffalo communities were invited to join the UB Arts Collaboratory for a special performance of Mwenso and the Shakes at Silo City.

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The Press

person wearing colorful clothes and sitting in a dressing room.