Friday February 24th, 2017. A huge milestone in my progression as an artist… My first ever concert! Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to gain experience and perform my poetry and music in various settings: open mics, classrooms, school assemblies, conferences, etc. But all of them were on other people’s turf. This program was different. This was MY show! Or so I thought…
To backtrack a bit… over the past year, I had been working on my 2nd hip hop album, titled Wizdome. After successfully raising funds to have the album professionally recorded and produced, I spent several months collaborating with a multitude of artists and music professionals to bring the album to fruition.
Once the album was finally complete, I had to make an important decision: how to release it to the world! I thought about a few potential options and questions… Should I do a live show? Or just release it digitally through social media? What’s the purpose of a live show? Does it increase my legitimacy as a artist? Would anyone even want to come and see me perform? Where would/could I perform?
As I was in the midst of grappling with these questions, I happened upon my neighbor, and my recently completed album came up in our discussion. She was very excited to hear about it, and strongly encouraged me to host a local music show in a formal art space in the community. Anything less would be “selling myself short.” I took her words to heart, and also took them as a sign for what I was supposed to do.
I then began looking into venues around Phoenix, and eventually decided to utilize the Phoenix Center for the Arts. I was fairly familiar with the space, as I had performed at a few open mics held there in the past. I also wanted to make sure that the location I performed at aligned well with my musical mission. A community center dedicated to promoting the arts was a great fit. I booked the venue and began selling tickets about 3 to 4 weeks in advance. As has often been the case in my musical journey, I was FLOORED with the level of support I received from my family and friends, selling out all of my pre-sale tickets a few days before the event!
Next came my favorite part of the experience: putting together the program! Something I’ve noticed about myself is that whenever I’m experiencing something new, I’m constantly analyzing, thinking about the aspects I enjoy and the aspects I would change. Attending a few concerts/music shows in the past, I reflected on what I had experienced. Of course, I really enjoyed hearing the performers’ music, however, one thing I always felt was lacking was more engagement and interaction from the attendees of the event. I was determined to change that up!
I decided that the purpose of my album debut event was to showcase my music, but also to create a space for elevated discussions, community building, and a collective expression of the arts. I decided that I did not want it to simply be MY show, but rather, a space for the community.
I’m SOOO happy with how the event turned out! It was a lovely gathering of family, friends, and friends of friends, so the atmosphere was super loving and positive. The program began with DJ Muchacho Mike (who was INCREDIBLE!) gathering all of the attendees near the stage. The space was blessed with a Baha’i prayer for gatherings recited by my amazing Aunt Lollie (who drove all the way from California with my cousin Taylor for the event). My good friend Ivan complemented the prayer with the peaceful sounds of the Native American flute.
Following the prayer, I facilitated an ice-breaker activity to help people build connections with each other, which then led into small discussion circles centered around themes connected to the songs I would be performing. Some of the discussion questions included: What types of music do you like to listen to? What is a piece of wisdom that has protected you in your life? What is an art or craft that you are passionate about? This activity got everyone comfortable with each other, and also helped heighten the collective consciousness of the crowd.
Then came the big moment. The performance! Admittedly, I was a bit nervous, but once the beats started bumping and the rhymes started flowing, it was smooth sailing. I performed a few songs from the Wizdome album, including a few tracks with other artists I’d collaborated with. Many of them are aspiring/up-and-coming artists themselves, so I was really happy to help provide a space where they could also perform for a sizable audience.
The other unique activity I implemented into the event was a mini rap writing & performance workshop. In the spirit of engaging all of the attendees, I also had a desire to help everyone build their own artistic capacity, especially because the art of poetry and rap has been such an empowering form of expression for me in my life.
Based on some feedback from one of my mentors, Karim Rushdy, and his Rap Camp program, I started the activity by giving everyone a writing prompt: If you could impart wisdom on a young person of today, what would it be? Then I gave everyone 10 minutes to freestyle write whatever came to their mind (time constraints can help us to channel our creative energies). I then opened up the microphone to anyone who wanted to share their rhymes, and was promptly BLOWN AWAY!
Person after person came up to the microphone and spit some fire! As DJ Muchacho Mike laid down some fresh instrumentals, youth to adults, beginners to veterans, shared their amazing words of wisdom through the art form of rap. It was such a beautiful and inspiring sight to see, and really tied the whole event together. I also asked the audience to focus on and praise the COURAGE each individual displayed by performing their rap, rather than solely focusing on their talent (which our society generally tends to do). This ensured that everyone felt encouraged and that confidence was built.
I closed out the concert with a few more songs from the Wizdome album, and then DJ Muchacho Mike bumped some dance music for those that wanted to stick around until closing time. After the show, I was showered with tons of love and support by all those that attended and I felt so encouraged. It was definitely a glimpse into how music and the arts can be used to build community and elevate our discourse. Can’t wait for the next opportunity!
I hope you enjoyed reading my reflections and that this narrative of my album debut event provides some insights you find helpful. Maybe it will even inspire you to create a similar space in your community!
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