City Pages’ Artist of the Year: Sirius B

27 December 1995 at 9:00 am (Press, Theatre) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

sirius b photo 1 (600pxl)Note: Sirius B was not my first artistic endeavor in the Twin Cities, but it was my first entrée into the artistic community that would later become my home. This ensemble of Black men, all under 25 at the time, mentored by an even stronger group of Black men, included Bro’Sun (Kirk Washington), Baraka de Soleil, Marcus Bracey (Messiah), Jeff Bailey, Meyer Warren (St. Paul Slim), Ahanti Young, Billy X and myself. Our mentors included Ani Sabare (James Bradley), J. Otis Powell!, Rene Ford, Juan Jackson and others. The project, of which we were a part, was produced by Pillsbury House Theatre, Intermedia Arts and the Walker Art Center, and was facilitated by Keith Antar Mason and the Hittite Empire. Many of the artists from Sirius B have gone on to become powerful artists in the Twin Cities and beyond. St. Paul Slim is a stalworth in the Twin Cities hip hop scene; Jeff Bailey, was touring as a jazz musician even back then, continues to expand his horizons; Baraka is in NY making waves in the dance scene there; Messiah is a music producer; Ahanti is one of the most respected young actors in the community; Bro’Sun traveled several times to the Europe with the Hittites, recorded a project with rising jazz vocalist Jose James, and recently created the controversial art project on the North Side with Ernest Bryant; and me, still here, doing my thing.

by Caroline Palmer

Representing a panorama of dance, music, theater, poetry, visual artistry and philosophy, the members of Sirius B have pooled their considerable talents to achieve empowerment through collaborative action. In creating a venue to respond to a country which judges by demographic, the group has found one way to give voice to African American men. While October’s Million Man March brought this issue to the national table, collectives like Sirius B hope to inspire a continuing awareness–and change–in their own communities and beyond.

Organized by Keith Antar Mason, cofounder of Los Angeles’s Hittite Empire performance group, Sirius B sprang to life this year through a residency sponsored by Intermedia Arts, Walker Art Center, and Pillsbury House. Its namesake is the companion star to the brilliant Sirius, a celestial body whose appearance every 50 years is celebrated in several African cultures. Sirius B took this reverence for ritual as a starting point in constructing a context for the past, present and future of the African American community. They found profound encouragement not only from Mason and the Hittites, but also local elders who continue to lend their help to this day.

Out of these efforts came a gripping saga performed on the Walker stage. The Punic Wars evoked the rites of passage both endured and engendered by African American men, from the opening montage in the bowels of a slave ship, through the racially biased court system presided over by “Judge Remus Turnus Thomas,” to the climactic chants of “We have to stop killing ourselves” and “No Justice. No Peace. Freedom.”

Mason returned home, but the process he began continues. Sirius B is currently headquartered at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis, and finished out the year with a residency in Northfield. To quote GambaHondo’s parting words from The Punic Wars, “Rise up Black Man and make what is wrong in this world right…” Sirius B’s work has only just begun.

Caroline Palmer is a Minneapolis writer.

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