Salt City Market kicks off Black History Month with live concert

Salt City Market kicks off BHM with live concert

The downtown food hall is hosting Black musicians as well as cooking demos this month.
Published: February 16, 2023 | Updated: February 17th, 2023 at 12:28 pm
The Brownskin Band performing at Salt City Market in Syracuse, New York on Wednesday, Feb. 1.
The Brownskin Band performing at Salt City Market in downtown Syracuse on Feb. 1.

In between the familiar chatter of dinner conversations and the unacquainted scents of various international cuisines, a soulful R&B medley started to fill the market.

Diners nodded their heads to the dynamic music played by the Brownskin Band on Wednesday night, kicking off Salt City Market’s Black History Month celebrations. Throughout the month of February, Salt City Market will be hosting events to showcase Black talent in the Syracuse community. Concerts and cooking demos by Black community members will allow the community to engage in Black culture and history.

The “Music in the Market” series will showcase both the Brownskin Band and the Blacklites Lite, two local soul bands with a majority of Black members. Cooking demonstrations in the “Taste of Cultures” series will allow ticket holders to watch Black community members demonstrate how to make dishes such as Rattlesnake Stew, Hausa Koko (spiced porridge) and Nigerian Peanut Soup. Tickets are just $10 and can be purchased in advance on Salt City Market’s website.

“Syracuse is breathtakingly diverse, but we rarely get an opportunity to get out of our tight little bubbles and explore other cultures,” said Adam Sudmann, the Salt City Market manager. “Salt City Market exists in large part to show off Syracuse’s wealth of cultures.”

“Black-owned businesses are a pillar of this place, bringing us cuisines from Ethiopia, Jamaica and the American South,” Sudmann said. “February is a great chance to show off even more foodways – from West Africa to the Gullah Islands off South Carolina – and have some great live music, too.

The Brownskin Band’s set on Wednesday was just the first of four live music performances at the market this month. Black History Month reminds the band members of how music has been integral in the history of Black people in the U.S.

“Music is important! They sent signals through music, music was a way for them to get away and express themselves and feel like they were free,” said Ekwan Brooks, the Brownskin Band’s keyboardist. “Music is soul. It can make you happy, it can make you cry, it can make you sad, it can lift your spirits. Music is life!”

Starting in the 17th century, African people were kidnapped from their homes and forced into slavery in America. While enslaved, they sang a type of religious folk song called spirituals, which were especially popular in the American South. Slaves would gather in groups and sing, chant and dance along to these spirituals. White slave owners considered this way of worship as wild and inappropriate, many of them banning the practice. Still, the slaves met secretly and expressed their faith in Christianity through these spirituals.

“The old Negro spirituals – It seemed like there was a time when, you know, there was a connection between them and God, and the trials and tribulations that they were going through. Music helped them get through some of the things that they were going through,” said Nate Brown, the founder of the Brownskin Band.

Salt City Market’s diners enjoy a performance by the Brownskin Band, the first of the market’s events for Black History Month.
Salt City Market’s diners enjoy a performance by the Brownskin Band, the first of the market’s events for Black History Month.

The band has been led by Brown, known as “Peanut” to those close to him, for over 15 years now. The name of the band was formed by combining his last name with the instrument Brown plays, the drums, also affectionately known as the “skins”.

Black History Month is not only about looking back on the past, but also about celebrating the present. The Brownskin Band regards itself as more of a family than just a band. They hope that people from all different backgrounds and cultures can come together and have a great time listening to their music.

“If you come to any Brownskins show, you’ll see all different cultures and backgrounds at our show dancing with each other and just having a good time. Everybody is not worried about each other, they are just here to have a good time and enjoy themselves,” Brooks said.

Salt City Market has a similar goal for its Black History Month events. The market staff hopes that community members in attendance have fun at these events, above anything else.

“Representation is important. Education is important. Pride in our diversity is important. But I’m a big believer that in a place such as ours, fun and pleasure gotta be the precursors to all that important work,” said Sudmann.

In addition to the events this month, Syracuse community members can enjoy food from several Black-owned vendors at the market year-round. The options include Jamaican food at Erma’s Island, Ethiopian food at Habiba’s Ethiopian Kitchen and soul food at Miss Prissy’s or Soulutions Southern Cuisine.

Salt City Market’s staff work to highlight every culture under the market’s roof throughout the year. Currently, weekly cooking demonstrations are being planned for Arab American Heritage Month in April and Asian Pacific Islander Month in May.