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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‘Home at Last’: Interview in MSHALE MAGAZINE

5 February 2009 at 4:00 pm (Family, Film, Music, News, Press, Releases, Spoken Word, Theatre) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

eg-bailey-on-the-road-b-freshphoto by B Fresh Photography

Liberian-American Spoken-Word Artist is Home at Last
Justin Schell , Contributing Writer

“This is a year of completion for me,” e.g. bailey says in the office of Trú Rúts Endeavors, the multidisciplinary arts organization that he runs with his wife, Shá Cage.

His struggle to fit in America is not unlike that of many African immigrants. He attributes his success as an award-winning multidisciplinary artist and producer to this struggle of finding a home away from home.

bailey, who was born in Saclepea, Liberia, is the son of a white Peace Corps volunteer and a Liberian mother. His father, bailey says, “threw a dart, hit Liberia, and that’s where he got stationed.” His mother gave birth to him near the end of his father’s second term; and his parents lost touch after his father’s return to America.

Even as a child he loved music and theater: two memories stand out in particular from his life in Liberia.

“There was a record store and a movie theater,” he says. “I would spend hours in the record store listening to whatever they were playing.”

The owner of the mud-constructed movie theater, however, wasn’t particularly keen on offering free entertainment to they young movie revelers. “We would either sneak into the movie theater or we would drill holes in the side to watch the movie.” After the owner realized this, he would take blindingly-hot Liberian red peppers, soak them in water, and put the mixture in a spray bottle, and spray into the holes to temporarily prevent onlookers from watching the film without paying. “It would be this constant game of trying to outwit [him], as soon as you saw a shadow coming.”

One day, another Peace Corps volunteer came to his village and, after getting to know him, expressed interest in adopting him. Instead it was his father who ended up adopting the 10-year-old Bailey after she sought out his father through the Peace Corps database.

After landing in Chicago, he was driven to his new home in Crystal Lake, an hour-and-a-half from Chicago. There was a parade the day he arrived, with money thrown from the floats.

“I thought it was a parade for me!” he says with a laugh. “The next day, I wake up, I’m like ‘Ok, when are we going to the parade and when can we get more money?’ That was the start of my life in the US.”

Reality soon set in for bailey as he learned that life in America was not rosy for a new immigrant, “It was a struggle of trying to adapt and trying to fit in. Trying to figure out who I am and not fitting into any place, I always felt like I was running, that I couldn’t stop moving.”

Until he moved to Minneapolis, when he felt, “Ok, I can stop running now.”

bailey’s first connection to Minneapolis came not through the city itself, but through one of its most famous musicians. “I discovered Prince in [Crystal Lake’s] record store. I think it was “Little Red Corvette.” My ears just perked up, trying to find out who this person was, and I proceeded to get everything that he put out.”

After moving to Minneapolis, he started performing solo and with a number of music groups, and worked in the retail division of Prince’s famed Paisley Park complex, gaining crucial experience to navigate the shady mazes of the music industry when he formed Trú Rúts and its record label, Speakeasy Records.

He had a life-changing experience on a trip to the country of his birth after being gone for nearly 20 years. He returned to Liberia in 1999 as part of a four-month trip to Africa, the Middle East and East Asia. The trip, while crucial to his development as an artist as well as a person, was not what he expected.

“I realized that I could go back, but I could never live back home. I’d been away too long to be able to go back home and do what I’m supposed to do.”

An overwhelming and inane sense of homelessness hit him, he says, “going home displaces you. You’re no longer at home in either place. Home is what I had to create.”

Thus homelessness and travel inform all of bailey’s work, which symbolically channels his own experience through the larger histories of the African Diaspora. His album American African, scheduled for release in April, will appropriately feature a host of both American Africans and African Americans, including M.anifest, DJ Stage One, Mankwe Ndosi, IBé, and other international artists, including Germany’s Starskie and Dubai’s Abstrakt Collision.

“It’s a testament to where African Americans and American Africans are,” he says, encompassing the multitude of African, African American, and American African perspectives. “I want to avoid the idea of a monolithic Africa as much as possible.”

The first single off of American African, “America,” is a wide-ranging vision of the post-9/11 America that many immigrants find themselves in.

“America, I miss you,” bailey intones at its opening. He delivers his words atop a bed of rolling drums and cymbals, electric bass, disorienting electronic sounds, and wailing saxophone. From Katrina to Guantanamo, Hollywood to Baghdad, the poem subtly welds together the long histories of racism and murder that stain America’s past, yet without completely destroying the hope of something better. In the end, the music dies away as bailey softly, powerfully, declares “We’re waiting for your resurrection.”

bailey has an ambitious plan to release three more albums in 2009 that have been at various stages of completion throughout his work with Trú Rúts. Yet completion always breeds the start of something new, whether it be the release of new albums from other artists in the Trú Rúts family such as Quilombolas, TruthMaze, or El Guante. Or the birth of his first child with his wife Shá Cage.

Even though e.g. bailey has settled in one place after a long journey, his creative activity and poetic journeys show no signs of slowing down.

e.g bailey has produced “No Longer at Ease” (play), an adaption from the Chinua Achebe’s novel for the Pangea World Theatre in May 2001; “Village Blues” (film); and “Words Will Heal the Wound”, a spoken word radio series celebrating the diverse poetic traditions in Minnesota.

He received the Sarah Lawrence College International Film Festival (2001) Experimental Film award for Village Blues; the NFCB (National Federation of Community Broadcasters) award for Write On RaDio!; and the Worldstaff Houston International Festival (1999) Experimental Film award for Village Blues.

Visit his website for a full listing of productions, performances and awards: www.myspace.com/egbailey or www.egbailey.com.

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