‘American Afrikan’ article in African News Journal

8 February 2010 at 9:00 am (Music, News, Press, Recordings, Releases, Spoken Word) (, , , , , )

e g bailey
By Nneka Onyilofor

What does it mean to be an African…an African in America…an American Afrikan? The first solo album by multidisciplinary artist e.g. bailey sheds light on these questions and offers a personal look at a journey that began 400 years ago.

A native of Liberia who has made a life in America, reminds us in his new album titled, “American Afrikan,” that the double consciousness that W. E. B. Du bois discussed many years prior, continues to live on in all of us with hybrid identities. Those from the motherland of Africa who live in America know this challenge all too well.

“This album is a metaphor for the African experience in the U.S. Africans are moving more to the forefront. It’s a different experience than the African American experience. Part of the reason for making the album is to celebrate Africans and African culture in the Twin Cities,” stated e.g.

With tracks like, “American Afrikan” and “Oracles of Equiano,” e.g. deals with multiple perspectives in this project by weaving together an amalgamation of knowledge of “American Afrikan” history.

“I see it as reaching beyond the album. The tracks are woven together to intentionally follow each other. The transitions are important, the title is important…it’s using the vehicle of a recording but it’s intending to be a narrative or a story. It plays with different spaces…it moves fluidly. In some way’s it can be a soundtrack to a film. It’s a development of the African griot tradition. The “Africaness” should not be an after thought,” he stated.

Inspired by the likes of Toni Morrison and Amiri Baraka, e.g. likes to challenge traditional art forms and create something new by merging different genres of art into this project. Whether it’s the sound of a needle hitting a record, or the language of Igbo used in a track, everything in this project has a purpose.

“The album is dealing with, where are we today as Africans? How do you pay tribute to Africa even though you are so far away? You have to be true to the story.” This project is a merging of e.g’s experience as an American Afrikan. It started off simple, but became more complex and deeper as he went on, as historical events such as the election of Obama added value to his story.

As life experience between two continents has showed him, “there are many things that can cause you to forget the beauty of where you’re from…it’s just remembering that we are a strong people and we have survived and will continue to survive in the most difficult of places and circumstances. It’s important not to get too lost in the wilderness here. You have to remember your greatness.”

For more information on e.g. bailey and his album release party on Feb. 20th 2010, at the Bedlam Theater at 10pm go to: http://www.myspace.com/egbailey or http://www.egbailey.com. e.g. will also be one of the upcoming featured artist in a future African Global Roots (AGR) event. For more information about AGR, go to: http://www.agrmn.com.

Originally posted on African News Journal on 8 February 2010.

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Tru Ruts presents Free download of E.G. Bailey’s ‘Oracles of Equiano (Starskie’s Pushing Mix)’

21 January 2010 at 9:00 am (Music, News, Recordings, Releases, Spoken Word) (, , , , , )

More than any other performance art, spoken-word is subject to stereotypes.  Everyone knows that spoken-word is read only in dark clubs, only by beret-wearing neo-beatniks who rant and rave about the revolution with pre-programmed flows and unoriginal deliveries.  Everyone knows that spoken-word can be austere and preachy or screamingly emphatic…but never funky.

Enter e.g. bailey.  Over a fun, stuttering house beat produced by Germany’s Starskie, the Twin Cities poet and educator proves that you can indeed dance to spoken-word.  The piece itself refers to Olaudah Equiano, a former slave whose autobiography became a major piece of the abolitionist struggle, and touches on the continuing struggle for justice, the importance of the arts and what “freedom” means in the age of Obama and beyond, for both African-Americans and Africans.  It’s neither a typical club song nor a typical spoken-word track, but bailey has never been a typical artist.

The free download is available at these links: truruts.bandcamp.com

The original version of ‘Oracles of Equiano’, featuring a group of Igbo nuns, will be released on e.g. bailey’s debut album, AMERICAN AFRIKAN, in 2010 on Tru Ruts/Speakeasy Records.

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From Chains to Change: Spokesman Recorder MLK Commerative Issue

22 January 2009 at 9:00 am (Family, Press, Writings) (, , , , , , )

from-chains-to-change-spokesman-recorder-obama-special-600pxlIn the arch of Obama’s journey, unwavering faith
by e.g. bailey

After screams of joy at the news, the first thing I did when the election of President Obama was announced was to call my mother and my brother. They were both in South Dakota, where my brother lay in bed suffering from liver cancer. She had traveled from Atlanta to be by his side.

On this night, I felt a great urge to call my brother. Not to give him hope, because his case was terminal; they projected less than three months to live. On this night, I didn’t want to discuss the gravity of the situation, or medicine, or death. I simply wanted to share with him the overwhelming joy and relief, the poignancy of this moment in the lives of all Americans, but especially in the lives of African Americans, and likewise Africans in America.

In the face of his suffering, I wanted him to feel the pride in knowing the heights that an African had achieved in this country, to know that an African had “reached the mountaintop.” When I told him the news, he released a full-hearted laugh, saying, “Thank God, Brother Eric. This is a great thing. Thank you.”

Four hundred years ago an African would have been in bondage, toiling under slavery, his life and death balanced on the whim of his oppressors. And, less than 50 years ago, the descendants of that African could not vote, could not share the same bathroom, the same drinking fountain, or eat in the same restaurants with their fellow Americans. But here, in this moment, an African had achieved the highest office in this country, perhaps in the world.

And in the arc of that journey was embodied the faith, the determination, the wonder and the achievements of all who had paid the price of the ticket, including our shining princes, Martin and Malcolm.

At the annual Thanksgiving dinner with the Cage family, I was speaking with my young nephew Rashaan after he had recited the dinner grace. I asked him if he was going to be preacher like his father. He replied, without missing a beat, “Yes. And I’m also going to become president.”

I cannot remember the last time a Black child had claimed such a dream for himself or herself and thought it possible, a dream no longer the faith of struggle and imagination, but a dream now feasible and actual. And on January 20, standing in the shadow of not only Lincoln but also Martin, that dream will be commemorated.

published in Minneapolis Spokesman Recorder
22 January 2009

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‘Raw honesty’: Interview on MinnesotaPlaylist.com

21 October 2008 at 9:00 am (News, Press, Spoken Word, Theatre) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

eg-sha-back-to-back-b-fresh-700pxlRaw honesty
e.g. bailey + Shá Cage interview each other about the work they do.

SHÁ: Alan Berks called and wants us to write something on the function of the performing arts. I’m thinking maybe we interview each other. Talk about some of our ideas on theater, spoken word, and art in general.

E.G.: I’m down. I think that’d be an interesting process. Some of our best ideas come out of conversations. Where do you want to start?

SHÁ: Well… Why do we do what we do?

E.G.: For me, it’s easy. It’s as necessary as breathing. That’s on the personal level. I know that regardless of the obstacle, no matter how bleak the prospects, if I can create or facilitate art, I know I can endure almost anything. It is my daily bread. It is a life, a way to witness and endure. I find it as valuable and necessary as any other field of labor.

SHÁ: A couple of months ago I was invited to give a small lecture to a group of students, all aspiring to become artists. I found it difficult to articulate why I chose this particular path of performing arts or why and how one gets into it. Although I’m sure I’ll hate myself later for saying this, I told them, “It just happens.” The “it” that nudges you on the shoulder one day and demands that you tear off from whatever classical theater track you may have been on because something essential to the dialogue of art and humanity seems to be missing. That’s the purpose it serves for me. This—spoken word plus hip hop theater—is my weapon of choice.

E.G.: I feel like I came late to art. I fell in love with reading, with literature. Not knowing the language when I first came to the U.S. from Liberia, my first responsibility was to learn the language. So, for me, I came to art not for art’s sake but out of necessity. I had to learn how to read. I had to learn the language, learn how this country worked. Once I started learning I fell in love with the art, and eventually it was all I wanted to do.

I didn’t feel strong enough to perform my own work for some time. I disguised myself as an artist. I wrote under assumed names. Let other people perform my work. I didn’t feel I had a voice yet, much less an understanding of performance. I only performed when forced or among very close friends. I eventually stumbled into acting, but it was all play until the end of college when I knew that I didn’t want to be anything but an artist—ideally a writer, but really any field would have been fine with me.

It wasn’t until I came to Minneapolis and started working with the performance group Sirius B under the training of the Hittite Empire that I really began to understand how a person’s art could serve his or her community. That’s when I really started to understand how I could put into practice what I had been studying and reading. I also began to understand why I got a buzz when I read Gordon ParksA Choice of Weapon or what Amiri Baraka was talking about in Raise Race Rays Raze: Creating work that spoke to your community, about your community. What is the community suffering from or missing? Your work needs to address that. It was that work and that training that was instilled in us.

It’s art as necessity rather than art as commerce or art as entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, I think your art can be entertaining without it having to be entertainment. I think socially conscious artist or activist artists, artists that are saying something—or whatever you want to call them—they get pegged with being boring or too serious. You have to mix the message with the medium, but you also have to have fun.

SHÁ: Right. It’s like that Emma Goldman quote, “If I can’t dance, then I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Most of the time people just want to dance and not do the work. They think change just happens. You have to work for it, but at the same time, you have to enjoy yourself too. Which is the beauty of community-based performing arts. It’s ever-changing and always fresh. There’s an urgency to it that comes directly from what your community is dealing with, working through, and processing (both politically and socially) at the time. It keeps you on your toes and regardless of how serious the subject matter—or how deep you are in it—it also demands that you have a sense of humor.

Most of the ideas I get for plays and experimental performance projects are triggered from everyday happenings and bits of conversations. I might be at a town hall meeting at Sabathani or attending a school performance or standing in a crowd of thousands outside the Xcel Center in St. Paul as Obama gives a speech… The list goes on. There’s always been more of a sense of responsibility rather than satisfaction in the work I create for my community. There’s a campaign on the north side called Don’t Shoot… I Want to Live, which is a response to the staggering amount of shootings and senseless killing of African-American men. I was asked to create a performance art piece around this theme that speaks to the mothers and families who had lost their sons to violence. To know that your art is, in a way, “essential” means a lot.

It’s the check that doesn’t come in the mail. It’s rewarding beyond words.

E.G.: It reminds me of how Sirius B’s Monday Morning Body Count was created. One day I was having a conversation with Rene Ford, Ani Sabare, and a few other folks. And Rene was asking if I had heard from Marcus [Bracey, a.k.a. Messiah], Kurt [Washington, a.k.a. Bro’Sun] or Slim [a.k.a. St. Paul Slim]. I hadn’t. He told me that I needed to be sure that I called them on Mondays to make sure they were okay, to make sure that they had survived the weekend. This was 1996 when Minneapolis set a record with the number of homicides, most of them black men. He said that it was our responsibility as part of a community—whether the general community or the community that had been created through Sirius B—to look out for each other, to take care of each other. That conversation transformed into the idea of Monday Morning Body Count, making sure your community is still safe but also taking a toll, who had passed, acknowledging and recognizing them. What was their story and why? One morning shortly after that, I woke up, grabbed my minicassette recorder and spoke a majority of the stories that would become the performance piece. They all came to me in a flush. This happens to me often, a number of pieces will come fully embodied.

And also because I see performance art as a ground for experimentation. Where, like poetry and music, you have the most freedom to experiment with form and the juxtaposition of forms. As you mentioned there is the classical, or traditional, theater but that doesn’t always allow you, or easily allow you, to break or transform the form. Part of the reason it is classical or traditional is that it is in that prescribed form. Whereas performance art, in many ways, the core rule is freedom, openness, the lack of prescribed form. The form takes shape out of the story you’re compelled to tell.

The intention was not only to tell these stories but to use the work as a communal ritual to actively free the spirits that were trapped in the space between worlds until they were named and released. At the end of the performance each night, we named all the victims. It needed that release. We needed that release. Without it, it would have just been another play, just another form of “entertainment.”

Earlier I was talking about tradition and culture. Sometimes I feel like my engagement with culture is more conscious, or conscientious. Perhaps because I was separated from my culture so early and for so long. What I find fascinating about your work is that it’s so deeply rooted in the South. It seems so effortless. Do you consciously incorporate these elements into your work? Or is it just part of the fiber of the way you write and what you write?

SHÁ: I’d say the answer to that is both. Home for me is in the rural South—Natchez, Mississippi. It’s one of the smallest, poorest cities in the United States, but unique in its ability to retain a large percentage of its Africanisms, norms and practices as an African-American culture. The region represents a distinct fabric of people, relations, and a tangible texture that is so ingrained in my writing, my rhythm and even my way of seeing the world, that more often than not, that flavor is unintentional. Other times it’s very much a choice spearheaded with a particular focus or issue I’ve decided to confront. For years I’ve attempted in my work to produce art that talks about the ugly and the pretty of who we are, and that places value on women, elders, and ourselves. Works that are unafraid to openly and proudly retell those private stories our aunties and grandmamas shared with us. I’m particularly interested in poetry that somehow manages to challenge and criticize, holding a mirror up to our faces, while at the same time, uplifts.

My grandmother was the matriarch of the family. She was mother of fourteen children, and the central character that held the numerous parts of our history together. With her passing, I felt an immediacy to carry that tongue forward

I feel there is a rawness that is unabashedly honest that has emerged in this art form [spoken word plus hip hop theater]. That is what is most intriguing to me because, in many ways, that raw honesty is the essence of what art is intended to do. To not second guess or censor itself. These young kids and seasoned griots that have decided to own this art form take an extraordinary risk in this, and their communities rally around them because, despite popular belief and, even in cities that have the highest per capita amount of theater in the nation and every month a new company is developed, there are still key voices, stories, and histories that are not being told. There are masses of people, often those marginalized, who feel theater is not for them because it simply doesn’t speak to them or about them or what they know as life. But the performing arts can allow for those voices to be ushered in—many times on shoestring budgets, sometimes in church houses, or community centers, performed by a combination of trained and untrained actors. That’s my inspiration.

But how do you know your voice is important to the larger artistic conversation?

E.G.: I know I may not be as well-known as some of my peers in this art form, but I believe my work will stand the test of time. It may only be known to a few, or my immediate community, but I believe it influences those around me, those that engage with it. And also I believe it embodies and advances the art form. These are the things I focus on. There is a proverb that says, “The greatest master is not one with the largest flock but he who creates the most masters.” That is part of my personal artistic philosophy. It’s never been a popularity contest for me. I’ve had numerous opportunities to be in front of hundreds and thousands of people, sometimes I’ve taken those opportunities and other times I’ve opted out, giving other folks the opportunity. Part of my work, and where it may have the most influence, is creating the space for others to find and share their voice.

In the end, that may be my largest contribution to the art form, to the community, and perhaps to the larger artistic conversation. I think my work also strives to spread understanding of the art form, studying and articulating the history of it, teaching it to the next generation, supporting those that have a love for it. All this takes time, time that sometimes I wish I could invest more into my own personal work. But I feel compelled to do both. It makes my life very hectic, and constantly busy, but it’s essential to me because if the art form does not continue, does not flourish, does not evolve then what was the point of practicing it. I never wanted to see it just be a fad. So I’ve often said that my work may be for two to five generations down the line.

I think of Larry Neal and Dudley Randall. Neal helped to create the Black Arts Movement with Baraka, and also co-edited Black Fire. Randall—a quiet, unassuming figure—edited the Black Poets, one of my literary bibles, and was the founder of Broadside Press. Both were artists themselves, creating work not widely known, but the power and influence of their work is immeasurable. There would not be spoken word and hip hop, without the Black Arts Movement. Many poets, and works, would have remained unknown with out their efforts.

And I think lastly, I fell in love with art because it saved my life. It taught me how to read and understand the world, how to articulate how I saw this world, and gave me the tools to tell stories, mine and others. I decided early on in my artistic life, that if I could affect or change even just one person’s life the way all the artists I engaged with changed mine, then I will have accomplished my goal with art. Because I know that I have done this, from what those that have been affected have told me, anything else that I accomplish with my art is just icing on the cake.

SHÁ: Well that’s as good as place as any to stop.

Posted on MinnesotaPlaylist.com
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

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