‘IMMORTAL’: Percussion icon Bashiri Johnson comes to Toledo with Cirque du Soleil tribute to Michael JacksonWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s a match made in pop culture heaven. The song and dance of the King of Pop merged with the beautiful performance stylings of the world-famous Canadian troupe Cirque du Soleil, creating a multimedia celebration in honor of one of music’s most enduring figures. “Michael Jackson: The IMMORTAL World Tour” has already been on the road for more than two years, playing to over 3 million people in venues across the United States and Canada. The show makes its debut in the Glass City on April 29-30 with a performance at the Huntington Center.
Despite all the pageantry and spectacle, it is music at the core of “IMMORTAL” — a live performance of the songs that made Jackson one of the most celebrated performers of his era. And at the center of that sound is a man uniquely qualified to represent a connection between the performer that Jackson was and the memory that this show represents today.
For decades, Bashiri Johnson has been one of the most celebrated and sought-after percussionists in the music industry. His résumé reads like a who’s who of pop history, with names like the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Duran Duran and many, many more among his collaborators. Johnson has first-hand knowledge of how special Jackson was onstage.
“Michael Jackson, he exists in his own planetary orbit,” Johnson said in an interview with Toledo Free Press. “I mean, I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to work with a lot of great artists that are in their own orbits, as well. But Michael Jackson sort of has his own constellation, in terms of his level of talent and his level of being able to reach and touch audiences.
“I haven’t seen too many people who have that kind of power, and that kind of reach, to be able to touch so many people across so many races and creeds and ages. That’s why Michael Jackson is so loved.”
Johnson was the percussionist for Jackson’s planned farewell tour, “This is It,” in 2009. Though the production never saw an audience, Johnson clearly still has fond memories of the rehearsal experience, as captured in the celebrated documentary of the same name. It was a position, Johnson said, that he garnered through sheer force of will.
“It was an amazing process. For me, coming into that situation, when I first got the call, I had already made up my mind that this is what I was going to do. I wasn’t going to audition, I was just going to show up and start working. And that’s how it panned out for me. I showed up with a high enthusiasm, and I was prepared. And I said, I was just going to play with passion and give it my all, and see what happens.
“So for me, it was just an incredible journey to be a part of.”
Now, five years later, Johnson is getting the chance to relive those days and share the impact they had with a whole new audience. He got the call almost exactly one year ago to replace the percussionist on the “IMMORTAL” tour.
“It took me a month to totally wrap my head around my station, my rig, so to speak. I had studied and rehearsed a few weeks at home, and then when I came out I had a few weeks to prep and get myself ready to replace them and perform in the show.”
It might seem a little daunting for a musician used to a traditional rock show to adapt to a Cirque du Soleil experience — between the remarkable acrobatics and multimedia flourishes taking place, one could get the impression a Cirque production is a world apart from what even an experienced rocker like Johnson has seen. But Johnson insists that, as far as he’s concerned, the gig isn’t all that far removed from what he’s used to.
“This show, for me, is still rock ’n’ roll. I’m doing what I normally do in any rock show. I’m up there, I’m playing full out, I’m playing to packed audiences, and I’m sweating and I’m giving it my full 100 percent every night. So it is rock ’n’ roll for me. The only thing that’s different is, all the other stuff that’s going on around me. And that’s exciting for me. Every night, I have to stay focused.”
As Johnson prepares to rock the Glass City in memory of the magical performer he once shared a stage with, it’s clear he feels some of the same awe he felt then in this new production. “IMMORTAL” is more than a celebration of Jackson’s work; it’s a happening in its own right.
“Cirque du Soleil, what they’ve done is create an amazing spectacle, and an amazing display of human talent, all from the acrobatics, to the dancing, to the musicians, to the music videos, the sets, the staging —it’s really a fully immersive experience for anyone who comes to the show, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Tags: Bashiri Johnson, Beyoncé, Bob Dylan, Canada, Cirque du Soleil, Duran Duran, Huntington Center, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson: The IMMORTAL World Tour, Music, Ray Charles, Rolling Stones, Whitney Houston