Mwenso and the Shakes showcases a unique combination of funk, jazz, and more


Mwenso & the Shakes and Dagmar will perform at the Mill on Thursday, meshing several genres together in one night.

By Natalie Betz

Instead of keeping a simple sound, Mwenso & the Shakes and Dagmar separately mix several uncommon genres together in their music including jazz, R&B, rock, folk, funk, and more. On June 21, the two bands will perform at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St.

Michael Mwenso, the leader of the Shakes, immigrated to London from Sierra Leone as a young boy; as an only child, he turned to music as a tool to express himself, and that, he said, took over his life.

“It became a guide,” Mwenso said. “I needed something as a foundation to help spark my creativity.”

He was heavily into jazz, funk, soul, reggae, and such artists as Ray Charles and James Brown, he said. His love for music “grew and grew and grew,” so instead of choosing one genre to focus on with his band, the musicians collectively agreed to combine several styles.

When Mwenso was around 16 years old, he said, he primarily identified himself as a trombone player until he was 23, when he decided to form a band.

According to a review by Giovanni Russonello in The New York Times, “The Shakes is his rotating cast of musicians and associates, often including other vocalists and even tap dancers.”

The Shakes members are from all around the world, according to Mwenso’s website.

When writing songs, he incorporates his struggles and experience, he said.

“I’m intrigued by messages we can hear in music. We want to imprint positivity in mind and spirit,” Mwenso said. “Our main message is to inspire and provide a unique musical experience. We are a unique hybrid of music.”

The group is in the midst of putting the finishing touches on previously recorded songs with the hope to release new music sometime in September.

Similar to Mwenso & the Shakes, Iowa-based duo Dagmar is recording new songs in hopes of releasing them later this year or early next year.

Dagmar consists of singer, guitarist, and keyboardist Miranda Mallard, along with bassist and occasional drum-pad player Gemma Cohen.

When writing songs, the two ponder the themes they want to convey before writing. Those themes typically include heartbreak, divorce, and even the stresses of day jobs, Mallard said. She is also a nurse. The two also focus heavily on perfecting harmonies.

“We’ve been singing separately our whole lives,” Mallard said.

Even though they both attended the same schools since middle school, they both were involved in choir, and they were both classically trained, they did not become close friends until college.

The two are University of Iowa alumnae, and they’re excited to return to Iowa City and the Mill, Mallard said.

“It’s going to be an incredible night,” Mwenso said. “We can’t wait.”

When: 8-11p.m. June 21

Where: Mill, 120 E. Burlington

Cost: $10

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