Making a Difference - Mustafa Music King Daniels Playing Around South Orange

By Gregory Burrus | Posted Wednesday, September 26, 2018

South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC)’s annual program, Playin’ Around South Orange, launches in the summer, bringing live music and art in the form of hand-painted pianos and outdoor performances to five separate South Orange locations. 

Playing Around South Orange - Artist, Piano, Musicians

Playing Around South Orange - Artist, Piano, Musicians

Kick-off day festivities include live performances by professional musicians at each of the piano locations. The visual artists will also be in attendance at their pianos. With simultaneous mini-concerts happening all over town, the day is sure to be music and art-inspired.

Each year, local artists complete an application process for the honor of transforming an old piano into a contemporary piece of art. On average, each artist donates 30 or more hours per piano to bring this musical event to life. Paint and supplies either come from the artists themselves or are donated by local businesses.

Pianos are donated by various individuals from throughout the community. Director of SOPAC Community Engagement, Linda Beard, keeps her eyes and ears open for possible donations all year long, sometimes asking people to “hold on to” their instruments for several months for lack of storage space until the summer comes around again. Her goal for the program is “to interrupt the humdrum day-to-day and allow people the opportunity to interact with different genres of art in a unique way.” She says with obvious enthusiasm, “It’s about bringing what we do inside the [SOPAC] building outside the building.”

Playing Around South Orange Pianos Community Music and Jam Open Mic Event

The pianos are deployed around South Orange, NJ for approximately 6 weeks. A wonderful part of this project is that anybody can play these pianos. 

2017 Playing Pianos Around South Orange Peacock Piano

2017 Playing Pianos Around South Orange Peacock Piano

In prior years, the community has come to expect them and in early June, residents start inquiring about their deployment around South Orange. As the normal deployment is usually the last week of August, community anticipation is built up about their arrival throughout the summer. When the pianos are finally deployed around South Orange, they stay out for 6 weeks or more, and folks from in and out-of-town come through and enjoy them all day and sometimes all night. These pianos are available for all to perform on, anytime someone feels the need to tickle the ivories. 

Weather is an obvious challenge for the instruments. SOPAC staff try to watch the forecast while the pianos are out, but occasionally a compassionate citizen will take notice of an impending storm and spontaneously pull a SOPAC-supplied blue tarp over the artwork, preserving it for a few more improvisational concerts. “That’s exactly the kind of behavior we are looking to ignite,” notes SOPAC’S Linda Beard. “We want the community to take ownership of this experience and realize that these instruments are not ‘ours;’ they belong to South Orange.”

A wonderful part of this season is a set of orchestrated community jam performances that are conducted on a weekly basis. This year, Gregory Burrus, a local community live music producer, promoter and photojournalist, is coordinating and curating the musicians that will perform. For 2 hours once a week, a musician is selected to perform on and around these pianos. The musicians are allowed free rein in what they want their event to consist of during their performance time. And anyone from the community can come on in and join in the fun. 

Mustafa Music Man Daniels

Mustafa Music Man Daniels

This year on Sept 27, Mustafa MusicKing Daniels takes the reins in this very special installment of SOPAC South Orange Performing Arts Center’s Playing Around South Orange Pianos.  Last year, he was great; this year even better, as he will be joined by his friends from Soul Xpressiion.

Who is Mustafa Music King Daniels?

Mustafa Daniels was born and raised in Newark, NJ.  Daniels first began to discover and play piano at the tender age of nine-years-old, under the direction of Lanie Turner at Belmont Runyon Elementary School in Newark, NJ.  From there, he went on to receive numerous music and performance awards throughout his grade school years, such as the Connie Woodruff Jazz Competition Award in 2001 and the Star Ledger Performing Arts Scholarship in 2002.  He is a proud and distinguished alumnus of Arts High School in Newark, NJ.  He is accredited for participating in Arts High School’s Jazz Band, Male Chorus, Advanced Chorus, Gospel Choir, and had a lead role in the 2001 Arts High School Production of Guys and Dolls.

Mustafa Daniels.jpg

Mustafa Daniels also had the pleasure and honor to perform at the 2001 VH1 televised Save the Music Foundation concert in the company of India.Arie, Mariah Carey, and former President Bill Clinton.

He was an active member in the United States Marine Corp Band, where he held an E3 rank of Lance Corporal. He spent three-and-a-half-years traveling and performing with the Corp as their pianist before he made his way back to New Jersey.

Daniels worked as a Music Consultant for Newark Public Schools for six years . He was also very active in community activities such as Newark Idol, the Lincoln Park Summer Series and, more recently, the Arts High School Latin Jazz Band.

Daniels works as a piano instructor, music producer, songwriter, composer, and director. He specializes in gospel, jazz, pop and R&B music. He is the current Minister of Music for Unity Freedom Baptist Church in Newark, NJ and has been an active member of the church’s music department for over ten years. In August of 2013, Daniels independently released his first gospel EP, Sounds of Praise and Worship that featured songs: “God Made Me a Promise,” “Lord I Give My All to You” and “Don’t Hold Back.” In January of 2014, he independently released his second gospel EP that featured songs: “Seek First, Are You Ready?,” and “Simply Beautiful".” In 2014, Daniels began to offer piano and music theory lessons to family, church members, and friends of all ages. In 2015, he joined Soul Xpressiion Performing Arts Studio out of Orange, New Jersey as their piano instructor.

Mustafa Daniels would ultimately like to advance in his music career as a songwriter, producer and instructor of great music to uplift and bring people closer to God and each other.

About Soul Xpressiion School of the Arts

Soul Xpressiion School of the Arts

Soul Xpressiion School of the Arts

“Our school aims to create a faith-based environment for children and adults, with and without disabilities, to learn and develop their skills within the arts.”

Who runs Soul Xpressiion School of the Arts? 
 Founder, Artistic Director Kenyani Shanai Henderson

Shanai is the owner and artistic director of Soul Xpressiion School of the Arts. She was born and raised in Linden, New Jersey with her loving family. She began her dance training within her church’s dance ministry, Judah, where she learned her foundation of ballet, modern, and liturgical dance. Shanai then continued her dance training as a dance major student in high school and a member of Linden High School’s Dance Company under the direction of Barbara Greco-Brady. Shanai was formally a company member of Work of Art (WOA) Dance Theater from 2010 to 2012 and was featured in the annual Christmas show Spellbound and production Deliver Us. Shanai also performed at Sisters Network, Inc.’s Women Empowerment program hosted by actress/dancer Victoria Rowell in 2011.

Kenyani Shanai Henderson.jpg

Shanai was also a member of Revelations Dance ministry out of Newark, NJ under the direction of Crystal Glass, and performed along with company at Newark Symphony Hall’s Christmas production and the 2014 McDonald’s Gospel Fest at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. In 2014, Shanai was the choreographer of the off-Broadway play, Life of an Addict, at the renowned Symphony Space Theater in NYC.

She received her Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy (OT) and holds a B.A. in Social and Behavioral Sciences with a concentration in Psychology, receiving both degrees from Seton Hall University. In conjunction with her academics, she was an instructor/choreographer for Touching Humanity Inc., a non-profit theatre/educational organization that creates services and opportunities for children/adults with various disabilities.

Combining her OT and dance skills, she is able to fulfill her dream in assisting those with disabilities, to help children and adults participate in performing arts despite their disabilities. Devoting her dance to Christ, Shanai was the Dance ministry leader at Abundant Life Family Worship Church in New Brunswick, NJ, the liturgical dance instructor for Inspira Performing Arts & Cultural Center, and is now the Director of Dance at Resting Place HOP in Woodland Park, NJ.

Filled with the love to teach, Shanai was also an educator at North Star Academy in Newark, NJ, teaching advance drill step to her after-school enrichment program and currently works as a school-based occupational therapist. She is also an Adjunct Professor for the Dance Fundamentals Course at Seton Hall University.

She loves to see others learn and find a joy in learning the arts. She plans to continue to inspire others through dance and all art forms, while creating an atmosphere where students can “Express themselves with all their Heart and Soul.” 

Mr. Mustafa and Friends, Soul Xpressiion, in Playing Around South Orange Pianos

Mustafa Daniels Sept 27 Pianos event.jpg

This Thursday 9/27, Mustafa MusicKing Daniels takes the reins in this very special installment of SOPAC South Orange Performing Arts Center’s Playing Around South Orange Pianos Project. Last year, he was great; this year even better as he will be joined by his friends from Soul Xpressiion. Kenyani Shanai Henderson of Soul Xpressiion School of the Arts stated, “Soul Xpressiion will be accompanying Mr. Mustafa in South Orange as he plays for Playing Around South Orange Pianos Project. Come out and watch our students and friends dance along to the numerous piano songs. All of our Thursday dance instructors will be present, conducting their classes and PERFORMING! You don’t want to miss this event.”

This event is free and open to the public and very kid-friendly. Spread the word, bring yourself, bring the kids and join in.

Learn more and join us: