e.g. bailey: Behind the scenes with the spoken word innovator

24 February 2010 at 12:15 pm (Music, News, Press, Releases, Spoken Word, Theatre) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

e.g. bailey: Behind the scenes with the spoken word innovator
By Rebecca McDonald (B Fresh), City Pages

The Twin Cities would not be the same without e.g. bailey. Even if you’ve never met him, you’ve most likely heard his voice on the radio, experienced one of his many theatrical productions or concerts and albums he has produced through Tru Ruts Endeavors/Speakeasy Records. He is co-owner of these organizations with his wife, Sha Cage, another staple poet in the community. There is never a lack of excitement in e.g.’s life, so Gimme Noise went behind the scenes to share in his journey to the release of his debut full-length album American Afrikan this past Saturday (pics here).

Gimme Noise: What has your journey in the Twin Cities poet’s scene been like since you moved here many years ago?

e.g. bailey: You end up in a place by circumstance and sometimes you realize that it was where you were meant to be. I had been here once as a kid but only remembered that after I had moved here. Like any good romantic, I was following my heart across the Midwest, and ended up in Fargo then Minneapolis. I dove into acting classes, worked in a warehouse and debated the eternal question of ‘L.A. or not L.A.’ and a job working for Prince sealed the deal. Prince had just released a book of poetry, so I used it as an excuse to start an open mic at the New Power Generation store. It was my first connection with the poetry scene here. All kinds of folks used to come through. It was a Prince store so there were some wild moments, but I met some folks I’d later work with in the spoken word community, like Anika and Yolanda ‘Right On’ Jackson.

Finally, I had to make a decision. I could keep making Prince the best artist he could be (which obviously he didn’t need much help with) or be the artist I needed to be. So I resigned, paid two months rent, and by a stroke of luck ended up with Sirius B. It’s a long story since then but that connection with Sirius B has made all the difference in doing what I do now. I connected with with folks like J. Otis Powell!, Ani Sabare, Rene Ford, Carolyn Holbrook (S.A.S.E.), Patrick Scully, and organizations like the Walker Art Center, Pillsbury, and Intermedia Arts. I couldn’t have found a better community to be doing art. I was embraced beyond what I could have imagined. Without it I probably would have L.A. or busted. And I’m not sure I would being doing spoken word.

GN: Describe your new project, “American Afrikan,” which you celebrated the release of on Saturday?

eg: ‘American Afrikan’ is a historical and symbolic experience of being an Afrikan in America, using the medium of spoken word. Sometimes I use spoken word to create non-linear narratives, like I did with ‘Blues for Nina,’ a spoken word theatre piece about Nina Simone; or the 20 minute short film ‘village blues’ about returning to Afrika; or ‘Patriot Acts,’ merging the different disciplines of theatre, dance and film with spoken word to present post-9/11 views of America. I am always looking at ways to push the boundaries of spoken word, and trying to innovate the art form. With this project, I wanted to see if it was possible to create a spoken word album that would present the many different forms of spoken word, and ways of experiencing spoken word, but still be able to engage the audience in some kind of a story.

GN: Why is this project special to you and others who performed with you on Saturday?

eg: I’ve fallen in love with this project the way you fall in love with your first child. You’re just amazed at how it has grown from a little seed of an idea. It’s so much a part of you but at the same time it becomes something larger than you. It’s a tribute not only to this amazing tradition of spoken word and the artists that laid the foundation, like Baraka, the Last Poets, Ginsberg, but also a tribute to my family and my history. That’s why you see images of my family throughout, and hear their voices on the album. And why it’s dedicated to my brother who died while I was making the album. I also wanted to celebrate the abundance of Afrikan talent in the community, and tell our story through this medium which is part of our griot tradition. I received a call yesterday from one of the artists, and after hearing the album, thanked me for creating it. You can’t ask for anything more special than that.

GN: You are very well known nationally and travel frequently with your poetry. In comparison to other cities, what have you seen as a unique element of the Twin Cities scene?

eg: I’ve said for years that the spoken word community in Minnesota is one of the top five in the nation. Though we’re relatively small and haven’t received the kind of attention other communities have, it is one of richest, most diverse and innovative spoken word communities in the country. I’ve also always felt that we’re one of the most musical spoken word communities because of our close relationship with the music scene here. A number of artists have explored and are exploring spoken word with music, but we have a long history of spoken word bands and collectives here from Ancestor Energy to NOW! to Arkology to Poet Tree to Trektah Beam Express to FIRE. We’ve also frequently merged it with performance art and theatre. That’s why it’s possible to make an album like this. Without all those experiences working with musicians, and experiments with different disciplines it wouldn’t be possible to synthesize all of it. I think that Minnesota is finally starting to get the respect it deserves in spoken word, especially with how well the Slam community is doing and winning the National Poetry Slam [this past year]. It shows that we haven’t just been paying lip service to the talent here.

GN: What advice do you have for artists who want to be career artists, to pursue their dreams in music/poetry?

eg: Create your art and don’t be deterred, even if you don’t get the response or support at first. But make sure you love what you do. The career will come, for better or for worse. Sometimes it’s not what we dream it to be. I thought I would be more of an actor or a writer. I never expected to be a spoken word artist. It’s just something I always loved, poetry with music, even when I was in high school listening to Jim Morrison, then discovering the Last Poets, then the Beats, then Amiri and so on. I didn’t know it was actually still being done, that you could do it as a career, or even that it was called spoken word. That was much later, after I had already fallen in love with it. Stick with what you do, if it’s meant to be your work, it will happen. If it’s not, you’ll still be rewarded by doing it.

Originally posted on City Pages on 24 February 2010.

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Spoken Word takes root in MN

26 November 2003 at 9:00 am (News, Press, Spoken Word) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

spokesman recorder article - eg + sha - cover 1 (700pxl)

Spoken Word takes root in MN
By: Shannon Gibney
Managing Editor

Local ‘master plan’ helps new art form flourish

Spoken Word: An artistic form that accentuates the rhythmic (musical, percussive, vocal) elements inherent in a poem. (Definition of spoken word created by e.g. bailey.)

Perhaps the primary paradox of being an artist is constantly pushing the envelope of existing expression without having a space or an audience to receive it (think Kahlo, Hurston, Van Gogh). Most of the time, artistic genres have to evolve over a long period of time, and artists even have to die, before many of us realize their value.

Thank goodness we didn’t have to wait a whole lifetime for spoken word to come of age in the Twin Cities; the efforts of interdisciplinary artists and spoken word advocates Sha Cage and e.g. bailey have ensured that the relatively new genre has firmly taken root in Minnesota in just three years.

The duo credits mentors such as J. Otis Powell!, Alexs Pate, Laurie Carolos, Louis Alemayou, and Ancestor Energy with laying the groundwork for the form.

“What defines an artist?” asks bailey. “An artist is somebody who makes choices about what they’re going to do. Somebody can wave their hand, and that’s not really art. But when you make choices, when you have intention, and you have a philosophy and a foundation behind what you’re doing, then you’re moving into the realm of articulating an art, an artistic work.”

And intention is something that bailey and Cage have in abundance.

In July 2000, the duo sat down and created a “master plan” for the next five years of spoken word in the Cities. The plan included everything from the formation of the Singers of Daybreak spoken word conference [which led to the now-flourishing Minnesota Spoken Word Association (MNSWA)] to various tentacles of Trú Rúts Endeavors — a film, visual arts, spoken word, and theater production entity.

Says Cage, “We mapped out everything — all the tentacles and everything that’s in place — which is just kind of wild. We’re on track for the five years.”

Cage and bailey were spurred to create the plan because of the disorganization of spoken word artists at the time, and the widespread lack of understanding many encountered from other artists, club owners, funders and the community at-large.

“The concept of spoken word artists at the time was, ‘Well, they’re just getting up and reading their journals. They’re just getting up and reading poems — what’s the art?,’” says bailey. “But there’s certain decisions that go into [spoken word]. It’s not just reading the words on a paper; you have to take it to the performative level.”

One of MNSWA’s main goals is to inspire dialogue about and between practitioners of the art form. A key question that had to be hammered out was, “What is spoken word?”

“There was confusion [among artists] — am I a poet or am I a spoken word artist? What makes me which one?” says Cage. Through discussion, the group was eventually able to agree on a definition they could all live with.

“Spoken word is accentuating the rhythmic elements inherent in a poem. That rhythm can be music, it can be percussion, it can be your own voice,” says bailey.

“There’s all these decisions that have to go into how you best exemplify that poem — to take it beyond just the reading of it, so you understand the meaning of the poem. Because meaning can come through other ways — it can come through a jazz rhythm that you use. [Amiri] Baraka will use a minute and a half rhythm from a Thelonius Monk piece, and then read a piece about Thelonius Monk. Where, if you were just reading the poem, you wouldn’t get that. And you get a deeper understanding because you’re actually hearing Monk’s music,” he continues.

Although bailey has been searching for spoken word’s roots for some time, he says he has not been able to pin them down. However, he sees a clear lineage from the African griot tradition.

Says bailey, “It’s not to say that that’s the only thing that makes up spoken word, because it’s not. I call spoken word the American prodigy of the oral tradition, because it’s a distinct art form and it’s an American-originated form. Out of it evolves the verbal dexterity of hip hop.”

bailey and Cage look towards Generation Y to take the art form to the next level.

The duo helped organize and judge the Walker Art Center and MNSWA’s “Below the Belt: Battle of the Underage Finals” hip hop and spoken word competition this summer, and were stunned by the work they heard.

“A lot of the youth that were practicing we’d been mentors to,” says Cage. “But also, some of the references that they were making showed that they were knowledgeable not about just what’s happening nationally, but just locally. They were grabbing words that Truthmaze would use in his poetry, or Arkology or Edupo, and it was like, ‘Wow, they’re making the connection, and they understand.’”

She adds, “They were like, ‘We realize that this is the platform to talk about our lives and what’s going on with us.’ That was the consciousness that many of them that we were talking to were coming with, and they feel like spoken word is really a forum that allows them to have voice.”

For more information on MNSWA, or to find out about upcoming spoken word events, visit [www.mnspokenword.wordpress.com] or call [612-288-9491]. For more information on Tru Ruts, visit http://www.truruts.com, write info@truruts.com or call 612-288-9491.

Catch the duo’s radio show Tehuti Sundays on KFAI from 11 pm to midnight, or tune into MNSWA’s spoken word show on KMOJ every [Saturday at 10:00pm].

Shannon Gibney welcomes reader responses to sgibney@spokesman-recorder.com.

Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
Originally posted 11/26/2003

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