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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Jordan Vaslekey Bliss Bailey

13 April 2009 at 11:53 pm (Family) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Friends and Family,

As promised, we are sending photos and news about our newest arrival. We want to welcome Jordan Vaslekey Bliss Bailey to you, and the community. Born April 6th, 2009 at 11:54am, at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, he was 7lbs 15oz. He is beautiful and healthy, and so is Mama Sha.

Being artists, there is always a story to tell. As I was saying towards the end of the pregnancy, the baby was not only a good listener but was also already learning about his parents’ busy lives and schedules, and decided to wait until after April 3rd (the Urban Griots Awards show) before his arrival. On Saturday, as we were resting from the work intensive and incredible Urban Griots Awards, we received an email from our Doula about how to naturally induce labor. Even though we wanted him to wait until after April 3rd, we didn’t want him to wait too long, also the doctor advised that if the baby did not arrive by Monday (April 6th) we’d have to induce. So Saturday night, we ordered Eggplant Parmesan from Bucas (which Sha ate twice) and watched movies. On Sunday, we went to a doctors appointment, to make sure the baby was doing okay, and to also figure out if we’d need to induce on Monday. On the way back from the hospital, we stopped at the Village Wok and ordered a very spicy plate of Udon noodles (Sha’s favorite) and took it home, for more rest and a movie night. Less than 2 hours after eating the noodles, Sha looked at me and said, ‘I think my water broke.’ We gathered our pre-packed bags and headed to the hospital. Once they confirmed the water had broken, we couldn’t leave the hospital and the adventure of birth began. After a night of contractions, breathing, tears and laughter, the little man arrived mid-day on Monday. We prayed for a natural and safe delivery and quick, and all of our prayers were answered. We left the hospital on Wednesday, and have been home adjusting and taking care of baby since. Before we left the hospital we were lucky enough to have B Fresh come down and take some photos. They are beautiful as always. We hope you enjoy them too.

In honor of tradition, we wanted to wait 7 days before naming, and introducing, the newborn. We raise up Jordan Vaslekey Bliss Bailey.

Jordan is a name that both Sha and I have always wanted for our child. It’s a beautiful name, and has a number of powerful meanings.

Vaslekey was the name by which my African grandfather was called. A traveling Mandinka merchant from Guinea, he settled in Saclepea (Nimba County, Liberia) and built a farm. There he met and married my grandmother, Mayamu, from the Mano tribe of Liberia. The Mandinka people (also known as Mandingo or Malinke) are descendants of the Empire of Mali and the great king Sundiata Keita. They have rich oral, spiritual and musical tradition, and carry on the griot tradition. They are also part of the Mande linguistic group, of which the Mano people are also a part. The Mano people are believed to have migrated to Liberia from northern savannas in the 15th century. My grandfather’s surname was Slekey, and Va mean Father. So he was called Vaslekey, meaning Father Slekey. Because that is what he was so commonly known as, Vaslekey, was listed for my African mother’s (Massa) surname when my birth certificate was filled out. She is now known as Massa Sirleaf. My grandfather was a very tall and powerful man, with ‘hands the circled the world’ as I have often described. His strength and exploits are still told to this day. During my life here in the U.S., he has often visited me in my dreams, usually as I am preparing for a new journey or a major life change, such as during college, and as I was preparing to return home to Africa in 1999. He visited me several times during the pregnancy.

Bliss is the family name of my American mother, part of the Bliss/Cook family line. They are the family that nurtured and raised me in the U.S. Several sons of the family fought in the Civil War. Her grandfather went to the University of Virginia, and came North with one of Katherine Hepburn’s uncles, because there were no jobs in the area in the post Civil War era. Lines of the family have roots in Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Bailey is my paternal family name. It is not Irish as most people think, but rather Old English, from the the Old French ‘bailiff’ and/or Scottish ‘bailie’. From my Uncle’s research on our family history, he discovered that members of our family arrived in the U.S. on the Mayflower. My father was born in Rochester, New York; attended Colgate University; served in the Peace Corps in Liberia, during which time I was born; and returned to the U.S. and became a teacher.

I wanted to have a Cage family name but Sha felt that four names was quite enough. Lol. Of course, all this is not to put any pressure on the new one, but to celebrate the histories and traditions that are part of his lineage; and so that you may know him a little better. We will celebrate whoever and whatever he becomes.

We are so excited and blessed. And we thank you all once again for your prayers and support.


e.g. (and Sha)

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