Jamie Lidell

We met Jamie and the Qkidz in downtime before Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park, there were many cartwheels.

Safety in Numbers

It's been nearly 20 years since Jamie Lidell laid down his first recordings, launching a career that would evolve from quirky techno into reverent soul and back to his electronic roots with the '80s funk celebration of his self-titled sixth studio album. Now almost 40 years old, with a youthful spirit that betrays his salt-and-pepper hair, the Nashville-based UK native is confronting the cynicism of daily routine. "I've been doing it long enough that I could get jaded," he reflects from a shady bench in Brooklyn's sprawling Prospect Park.

“Sometimes you can get onstage and realize that you’re not really there. You turn up to another venue, another sound check, and although it's a great life and I’m living the dream, it’s hard to ignore the repetition of it.”

Stars aligned when Lidell joined the legendary Bootsy Collins in his hometown of Cincinnati to film an episode of the European documentary series Into the Night. "Everyone loves Bootsy because he's left such a good karmic trail behind him," says Lidell. "Nowadays he's like a big, cuddly bear. Kids just go crazy for Bootsy." Through Collins' crew, Jamie was introduced to the Qkidz—an all-girl dance team from inner-city Cincinnati ranging from age six to 15. "The majority of the people I meet are kind of in the business. It's all deals and people competing, other musicians, clothes and snazzy shit," Lidell remarks. "These girls have got a lot of soul, for real. Just their bright eyes and their smiles—they're kids."

Founded 28 years ago by Ms. Quicy—a maternal leader who safeguards the troupe with tough love and a watchful eye—the Qkidz began as an earnest humanitarian project.

“I wanted to be able to give them an outlet, somewhere they can go and just have a safe haven for a little while,” she says.”

We actually started out painting rocks and mailboxes to try and beautify the neighborhood, since it was inner-city public housing. The dance is just the extra-curricular part. I make sure that they have good grades. I check on them, try to be there for whatever they need. I'm like the little old lady in the shoe, I've just got so many kids."

Charmed by the Qkidz' sense of community and passion for music, Lidell returned to Cincinnati to feature them in his video for "Big Love." "He fit right in and they were comfortable with him," says Ms. Quicy. "He let them know that dreams do come true, and they can feel it because he made it real." When Lidell found out their second annual trip to New York would overlap with his performance for Celebrate Brooklyn in the park, he seized the opportunity to showcase the team.

During the late afternoon hours between sound check and their New York debut, the girls rehearse “Big Love” in an open meadow, then disperse into a flurry of splits and handsprings. When asked about her ambitions, team captain Makyla says she’ll either be a performer or forensic scientist, and foreshadows the latter with a remarkable a cappella verse from Beyonce’s “Halo.” Their easy rapport with Lidell is playful and endearing.

“It's just brilliant, because they look into your soul,” he says. “If you're not rooted, they just know. They feel it, but there's this inherent love. They're not looking at you trying to judge.”

There’s no notion of cynicism when he welcomes the girls to the stage that evening; their smiles are just as radiant as their sequined costumes and shiny white boots. The crowd is elated and Lidell is visibly refreshed by this lively break from his usual routine.

“The energy they bring and their love of music gives me crazy love of music again,” he notes. “When I was growing up, I just wanted to feel something, [and] they make me feel connected to that rush again. I wanna make music that makes them dance. That's a good motive for me.”