Category Archives: Arts & Culture Articles

Good Vibes: The Art of Appreciation

I was observing a summer program middle school class in Baltimore last week, and the day’s theme was “appreciation”…what it looks like and how one shows it. The students’ answers varied greatly and many were hilarious. But the depth at which some of the students expressed appreciation for others was especially touching.

Shelly B Interviewing Carolina Music Award Nominee, Ryan Daniel

I began to think about what ways I show my appreciation. Not just to my loved ones and close friends, but to general people I come across. Like the driver who let me merge in front of her in traffic when no one else would, or the pedestrian who said ‘bless you’ in response to my startlingly loud sneeze. A simple wave of the hand or ‘thank you’ should suffice in those types of scenarios. But what about expressing appreciation for those people who actually go out of their way to do something extraordinary for the betterment of others?

And not just because it’s their job. But because it’s in their heart!

I received a big, ol’ hunk of that Saturday night as I hosted a Media and Business Networking Event in Raliegh, NC. The event was powered by DeVaNy Entertainment in conjunction with the 4th Annual Carolina Music Awards.

“4th Annual?!?!”, you say? Didn’t even know such a thing existed, didja?!?!

Well, it does…and what better way to show your appreciation for all of the independent artists that call the Carolina’s home than to have a special weekend celebrating their gifts, skills, passions, and talents. No one was left out. There were artists there representing Hiphop and R&B, of course. But there were country singers, rock bands, producers, and even models, who were nominated to receive an award, in attendance.

Part of my hosting duties was to bring each nominee to the front of the room and introduce them to the crowd…even give them a lil’ time to shine and explain what they were all about to the members of the audience. What struck me most, during these interactions, was how humble just about each artist was and how “grateful” they were to be nominated. Believe me, to an artist, there’s no greater feeling than to know that so many people appreciate what you do, and you come to appreciate those fans, in turn.

Remember, these are “indie” artists…people (like me) who sell their cd’s from the trunk of their car…or simply give their music away in the hopes that people will just listen. Even if what they do doesn’t necessarily feed their pockets, showing them how much their talent is appreciated definitely feeds their spirit.

And I appreciate my boy, Ted Moffatt (half of DeVaNy entertainment), for allowing me to take part in the festivities.

And I appreciate You for taking the time to read this…thank you!

Good Vibes: A Premiere with A Tribe…

 It’s not often that a kat like me (ahem…starving artist) gets to attend a movie premiere. Red carpets…flashing lights…impromptu interviews…photo ops…just doesn’t happen.

…until…

Grabbed from contactmusic.com

…I had the pleasure of attending the premiere of “Beats Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest” with one of my best friends, last week. We initially planned on going to see the documentary when it hit one of those small, art house theaters in DC, in mid-July. Then she sent me a note…AFI Silverdocs would be premiering the film at its annual film festival in Silver Spring in mid-June.

You think I didn’t buy the tickets that very night!?! There’s no way a film of this nature…of this magnitude, highlighting the career of one of Hiphop’s most cherished and beloved groups, would not be sold out.

And part one of our plan worked perfectly. When we arrived at the AFI Silver Theater and Cultural Center, in the heart of Downtown Silver Spring’s Arts District…two and a half hours early mind you, the line was half way down the block…for another film festival premiere. But “Beats…” was sold out, too!

After gettin’ it in at Fuddruckers, we returned to the theater about an hour before the movie was to begin. We were second in line, which meant we were going to have the best seats in the house…or so we thought. There were two lines…one for regular ticket holders like us…and another for the elite.

Nonetheless, we were there…at the premiere.

Ahh…the red carpet. No, we didn’t get to walk it. But it was near by!

As we stood there, watching the line fill up next to us and behind us, guess who walks in through the backdoor of the building?! None other than the film’s director, Michael Rapaport, and a member of the band at the core of the movie, The Five Foot Assassin himself, Phife Dawg!

Yo…we’re at a REAL PREMIERE!! All of my true-Hiphop fans will understand my excitement.

Lights started flashing, video cameras started rolling. The energy in the building shot through the plates in the glass roof! We tried, unsuccessfully, to snap our own pictures with our camera phones, but someone’s head always got in the way. Oh well, at least we can say we shared the same air for a moment.

The doors for the theater opened and the “elites” were ushered in first. There weren’t many of them. But they looked like movie going professionals. We knew they were going to take the seats that we arrived an hour early to obtain. All we could do was sigh. And then, our line was allowed to enter. Fortune continued to smile on us because all of those elites chose the wrong seats! Our seats…center row, center aisle…were there waiting for us, unencumbered by the heavy bottoms of those folks with the heavy pockets!!!

The theater filled up quickly. As a matter of fact, AFI over-sold their tickets. They created a row of seats by placing plastic chairs in front of the first row of second tier seats. I would have been mad if I were them…but I wasn’t. We had the perfect seats. Movie bootleggers would have been jealous!

After a brief welcome, Michael Rapaport was brought up to introduce the movie. The lights went down. The screen lit up. And…

…the documentary was absolutely AMAZING!!! It only lasted about an hour and a half. But it didn’t leave you wanting at all. As a fan of ATCQ and a fan of movies, you got exactly what you wanted. Having seen the group perform in 1996, the energy they displayed on stage came across perfectly on film. (In other words…GO SEE THIS FILM!!!)

At the conclusion of the film, Mr. Rapaport and Phife-Diggy graced us with a question and answer segment. (I had hoped to add some video footage, but my video had no sound…yeah, that sucks!)

Of course I didn’t think of any good questions to ask until I awoke the next morning…you know I can’t resist a microphone and a chance in the spotlight…I coulda kicked myself!! Nonetheless, the two were great and Phife was surprisingly funny.

It was a great night. Even some of the “Elites“, who weren’t Hiphop fans and never heard of A Tribe Called Quest said they loved the film! At a time when legislators are continuing to ax funding for the arts, we should all do a better job of supporting documentaries and independent films. There are so many stories to be told and so much to learn through mediums outside of the Hollywood factory system. Help give artists the opportunity to share their talents and voices.

And help give us a chance at more photo ops!

Thema, Phife, and Alison

 

 

Good Vibes: Defining Urban

 

The other day, while vending at Eastern Market, a middle-aged sista approached my table to look at my books. Simply from observing the images on the covers, she said to me, “Oh, I like these kinda books!”

The cover picture for my first novel, Broken

“What kind of books are those?” I asked.

“You know…street books…hood books!”

I had to quickly correct her. “I wouldn’t quite call my books street or hood. I’d say they were urban, but not necessarily street.”

Her response: “Is there a difference?”

When you hear the term “Urban“, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it concrete sidewalks, skyscrapers, dirty alleys, and ghettos? What about people hanging on the corner, the rumble of passing buses or trains, traffic congestion, and smog?

These are all popular details of most city landscapes. But do they accurately describe what it is to be “urban“? What about loose fitting clothes, caps turned backwards or cocked to the side, hoopties blasting Hiphop through sub-woofers more expensive than the cars themselves, and young people of color?

Today, many of these same entities can be found in the suburbs, as well as in the inner city.

What’s “Urban” is no longer confined to a geographic location or a particular ethnicity. When looked at through a wider lens, urban is reflective of what’s young and street, what’s young and professional, what’s older and established. It can be single and family oriented, ethnically diverse, and culturally integrated and/or separated.

Urban is less about a particular place than it is a particular attitude. I’d argue that thanks to cultural phenomena like Hiphop and Rock & Roll, an urban attitude, or frame of mind, can be found way out in rural areas, as well as in the cities; in the suburbs, as well as in the desert.

Many conservative politicians have stated that the rural heartland of our great nation is the “True America”. I’d like to think that when you look at an urban area, one can see the fabric of America. And, through traditionally youth oriented culture, that attitude that lays within has permeated our heartland. As a nation, and on a broader scale, as a world, we have come to identify with an urban attitude…an urban lifestyle…more than any other.

So, when people say to me that urban and street mean the same thing, I agree that at one time they might have shared a common zip code. But today, that’s no longer the case. To be street is to be largely limited to the city. To be urban is to be American!

 

Good Vibes: Where is the Soul-Inspired Music Pt.II

I had quite an adventurous night in the Historic U Street Corridor, yesterday evening. To avoid accumulating anymore parking tickets in front of poorly labeled and misleading meters, I took the subway into town. I love taking the train. I never felt more inspired than when I would travel the 2-train from White Plains and East Gun Hill Roads in the north Bronx to Downtown Brooklyn. Witnessing the changing demographics of the riders as you humped through Manhattan put you into a certain frame of mind. It connected you to the soul of the City.

And I often get a taste of that when I ride through DC’s own, much more limited yet cleaner, metro system. I never wear headphones on the short trip to U St. from College Park or Hyattsville. I want to soak in the urban ambiance (wow…I don’t think I’ve ever sounded more suburban in my life!!!), unfettered by technology blocking my senses. I’m in search of a new perspective and to be put into a certain frame of mind. I want my spirit lead by DC’s soul!

The plan for the evening was to attend a mini-concert by a local, independent artist, Jsoul. I was perplexed by what I saw when I entered the establishment a half hour after the show was to begin. People were dining and enjoying the conversation of others. You wouldn’t be able to hear each other speak if there was a concert going on! I pulled a waiter aside and asked him what was up. Apparently, the concert was held Tuesday night. It was now Wednesday!

Well, one thing DC does not lack is live music venues. I remembered that a wonderful artist performed every Wednesday night at a restaurant a few blocks away. So, I tightened my shoe laces and strolled down to my sure thing.

I could hear the muffled sound of her voice and the band rocking before I even got to the door. The singer’s name was Colie Williams, and she was backed by a father and son on bass and keys, in that order, and another brutha on the drums. A good friend hipped me to Ms. Williams when I first got back to the DMV. I was warned that Colie’s vocal style was a cross between Teena Marie, Billie Holiday, and Jill Scott, depending on what brand of music she was belting out. My friend hadn’t lied!

 

As I sat there sipping on a tall glass of Ginger Ale, nodding my head to some of Colie’s original tunes, I was struck by the answer to what perplexed me just last week…”Where is the Soul-Inspired Music?”

The music I sought to give me chills was right here! Yes, I found it in the lyrics and the composition of the music. But more than anything, it was the sound…the feeling…the intimacy of the live performance.

From my experience, there’s nothing like live music, especially in intimate settings. There’s something I find “Soul-Less” about watching a singer perform to a pre-recorded track. For one, there’s so little room for improvisation. But most of all, it lacks the interplay between the singer and the musicians that elevates the quality of the performance. The vibe they develop often leaps from the stage and engulfs the entire audience.

Records and radio stations have their place. For thousands of years, the only way you could hear music was to witness it live. But recorded music made its enjoyment more convenient and accessible. Now, though, most of us only get to experience music that is recorded.

But if you want to feel chills (I still feel mine), then you need to get a little live music in your life…

…just make sure you know the train schedule, so that you don’t find yourself standing in front of locked gates at your station, having missed the last train home. Then, you won’t have to be bothered by heroine addicts trying to sell you bootleg, Nigerian DVDs in the middle of their drug-induced nodding, snacking on a fresh fruit cup bought at the corner bodega at two in the morning, while you wait for your mommy to come pick you up!!!