3 Films Meant To Bring About Change At The Roxbury International Film Festival

For 19 years, the Roxbury International Film Festival (RIFF) has brought buried voices to the forefront to entertain, to educate and, whenever possible, to spur viewers into action. The festival — for, by and about people of color — boasts over 60 films from a variety of genres this year.

“We have so many films that tell stories that people don’t even know about. I love when people come out of a movie thinking, ‘I had no idea,’ ” says Lisa Simmons, founder and president of the Color of Film Collaborative and director of RIFF.

She talks animatedly about the history of RIFF (which starts Thursday, June 22) and her passion for film, but it’s obvious that the festival’s audience holds a special place in her heart.

“They want to be entertained, but they also want to be moved and they want to, I think, be educated. They’re really passionate about things that they might learn from a particular film, which is what I think draws people to the festival,” she says.

One film that does just that is “Mixed Match.” An emotionally-charged, partially animated documentary written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Jeff Chiba Stearns, “Mixed Match” follows the lives of multiracial blood cancer patients in a desperate search to find mixed-race bone marrow or blood cell donors. Read more.

Curtis Harding: The Performer Cover Story

The Soul Powerhouse on Shitty Guitars, Bum Notes and Being a Control Freak in the Studio

Curtis Harding is no stranger to spreading the good news through music. Born in Saginaw, MI, the guitar playing vocalist (whose aptly-named Soul Power album just dropped on Burger Records) spent his childhood touring with his evangelist mom. But while she was singing for Jesus, he was writing rhymes as he and his family moved from town to town.

From the outside looking in, the lives of the Hardings may have seemed like a great adventure. “You don’t think about it that way when you’re in elementary school and you have to leave your friends,” says Harding. But the family’s nomadic lifestyle afforded him a different kind of education. The kind of education that might be partly responsible for the quiet confidence/borderline arrogance he embodies. It’s that can’t-put-your-finger-on-it something that makes him intriguing and powerful, yet approachable.

Instead of fostering long-lasting friendships in every town his family lived in, Curtis picked up the guitar and taught himself to play. He started a love affair with music and shows no signs of letting up on that good loving. In junior high he played the trombone for a hot minute and admits to tinkering around with anything he could get a sound out of. He’s also a bit of a control freak, and he owns it. He once walked away from a record deal because he didn’t like the direction it was leading him in. But he kept at it. Finally, his dedication to music is paying off.

On his debut album, he’s taken everything he’s learned – from old school gospel artists such as The Williams Brothers and The Consolers – and peppered it with rock, blues and alternative influences. There’s a ribbon of sadness on “Castaway.” “Keep on Shining” is a revved up (and glossier) version of the Spinners’ hit “I’ll Be Around,” and on “Surf,” his carefree vocal calls are irresistibly nestled within a ’60s-era beach party. He expertly breathes emotion into his music and brings the listener right to him, wherever he stands. It’s a wild, genre-bending ride that illustrates soul is not about color or a range of categories by which to define something. It’s about taking everything that life gives, soaking it up and sharing it. All of it. And Curtis does not hold back.

Fresh off a trip from Cali doing album prep, the seasoned musician and songwriter – who used to sing background for CeeLo and who is also currently in a garage band called Night Sun (featuring fellow gospel lover Cole Alexander of The Black Keys and singer/songwriter Danny Lee) – chopped it up about his earliest musical memory, songwriting and his love of Johnny Depp.

Did your mom try to keep you from doing secular music?

She tried, but she couldn’t stop me; I’m very head strong. I come by it honestly.

Now she gets it, now she understands. It’s all the same. I’m still spreading the word, whatever that great concept of God is. I would call it good energy. Music can be a great spiritual experience. Whatever the artist is trying to get across…whether the artist is sad or had a bad day, [that] can come through on an album or record.

Tell me your earliest musical memory.

Well, I remember my mom singing in church when I was four or five years old like it was yesterday. My godfather was the bass player. I remember looking at them and thinking, ‘I want to do this.’

What’s your songwriting process?

It just depends on how I am feeling. There’s no particular way I approach it. Sometimes I come up with phrases. Sometimes I start with a melody. I could be at a bar and be in mid-conversation. Or be at home. When it’s there you go with it. If I’m in mid-conversation and something comes to me, I will definitely say, ‘Hold on a second’ or pretend to make a call. You don’t want to lose it.

Have you ever had writer’s block, and if so what do you do to overcome it?

I just stop and do something else. I will go to the guitar. I wouldn’t call it writer’s block; I just leave it and come back.

I read that you mainly use a Stratocaster. Do you have more than one guitar and are you loyal to the brand?

I have more than one. My friends and me sometimes we trade off.  I’m not particular. Some people are particular about tones. I’m also a fan of taking a shitty guitar and trying to make it sound better.

What do you like to do outside of music?

I like to go to the desert, I like women, I like bars, I like movies, and music, I like to hang out with my nieces and nephews. I have a huge family. I go to the movies by myself. It’s like a mental break to get lost in pictures. The last movie I saw was Transcendence with Johnny Depp. I like Johnny Depp, He’s a great character actor. One of my dreams is to hang out with Johnny Depp. I also read a lot. I like books and stories. Music is more than a hobby now. The world needs that.

I read that you moved to Toronto in 2008 to restore your musical energies, what happened there and how did you know that it was time to return to the States?

I started working on a project and it was not going the way I wanted it to go. I finished the record and had a conflict of interest with some guys in the group…personal stuff. So, I just moved to Toronto and became a regular person. But I knew it was time to come back when my uncle passed away. My mom said the funeral was in Michigan. I told everyone I was going to the funeral, and I might not be back. My father is up in age, he’s 84 years old. That was the turning point.

What was the music scene in Toronto like?

They have a great music scene. Lot of clubs and bands. The people in Toronto or Canada in general, don’t lock their doors.  They have amazing gun laws. People aren’t as stressed out as we are here, which opens doors for creative energy.  Conversely, what we deal with here [in the U.S.] adds to the grit of our music.

How did you meet CeeLo and start singing background for him?

Just being in Atlanta. Working for LaFace [Records] doing street promotion. I got on his first record as he was starting to tour.

If you had to describe what making music feels like, what would you say?

Aww man, that’s a good question. Writing it or recording it?


It can be relieving at times; it can be releasing, healing, and fun. There’s a melting pot of emotions, depending on what song you’re writing and how you’re feeling. There’s no one word [to describe it]. It’s a universal language. It’s the only thing [that everyone understands] when you go to another country. When you’re playing songs it can cross boundaries. It’s the only thing I can think of other than sex that can do that.

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So far, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

To be myself.

Is that hard to do?

Not for me, maybe for other people. You have to be comfortable in your own skin.

Out of all the places you’ve lived, which is your favorite?

I like them all for different things. The weather in LA is amazing, and the beaches, Atlanta and the South has good food and good people. The public transportation in Toronto is the best. Can’t really call a favorite. It’s like trying to pick a favorite child or song.

Which do you like better, recording or touring?

I like them both, but I’m a studio rat. I’m always producing and writing songs. I also love performing live. If you hit a bad note, you just have to bend it till it’s right. Plus, I like the energy of the crowd.

Describe the making of a Night Sun album and how it’s different than making your solo record. Are you pulling from different places?

It’s the same. We’re all friends. We hang out in the same spots. First, we all have ideas we bring to the table. We sit and talk about them with booze. We let loose and chill and have some marijuana. Then we start playing. We like to take our time.

How long did it take to record Soul Power?

Two weeks…I mixed the record. I recorded it at the Living Room Studios in Atlanta. I let them master it. The sounds they get are amazing. They know their shit. I’m a control freak, but you have to be able to let go.

Why soul music? Or was there a choice in the matter?

I don’t think there was choice in the matter. That’s how I grew up. Listening to gospel, that’s where it comes from. To me at least; it’s in my DNA.

This article was originally published on Performermag.com http://performermag.com/new-music-and-video/interviews-and-features/curtis-harding-the-performer-cover-story/

KIM EDWARDS: The November Cover Story PLUS New Video

On Songwriting Techniques, Knowing Your Legalese & Allowing For Creative Maturity

by Jacquinn Sinclair – Published in Performer Magazine

Wisdom and experience have helped shape singer/songwriter Kim Edwards’ Lovers and Loners EP, which was released September 25, into a soul-bearing listen on unrequited love, broken hearts and determination. Her first album, Wanderlust, was funded through Kickstarter dollars and was a little brighter and bit more cheerful. But her new EP cuts through tough subject matter with clean, clear vocals, beautiful production and a dash of whimsy. One of the most vibrant moments is the end of “The Sweetest Sound,” with a dizzying array of strings urgently warning listeners to let their guards down and give in to love’s tug.

Time has passed between her releases, but Edwards’ music remains relatable and well, her. She’s been compared to Regina Spektor, one of her favorite artists, but her music is uniquely her own. She is unapologetic about what she has to offer and her stick-to-my-guns sentiment is refreshing. There’s no sci-fi sounding pop or gimmicky synth sounds to distract, just pure music.

The young artist has been busy promoting the new EP with performances at festivals and media tours. Just ten days before Lovers and Loners became available to the public, Edwards chatted with Performer about songwriting, family and relationships.

Growing up, did your parents always support your pursuit of music?

They did. They’ve been really great. [Growing up] I was always the one that was practical. In high school I thought maybe I should be a doctor. They said, ‘This is the time to do it. See how far you can get.’ It’s meant so much to have their support and encouragement. What they think matters. I couldn’t do this without them.

Do you come from a musical family?

I was actually adopted. I grew up in a house where my mom played the piano, and my dad sang. I do have a brother who plays drums. I have another brother who can’t carry a tune but loves music. I don’t think he knows that he can’t carry a tune! He turns me on to a lot of new music.

Tell me about your songwriting process.

I’ve been experimenting with creativity. Some people say sit down and do it every day. Some say wait until you feel it. Every January I attempt to write a song a day. This past January has been the best so far. It’s a surprise to see what comes out. I’ve been doing this for three or four years. It’s surprising how many songs end up on my record or got their start [using this technique]. But, I like to write when the mood hits me really. I’m more prone to write after something emotional like a book or music.

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Which comes first? Lyrics or the melody?

Music comes first. Words are tough. I’m picky. I tend not to do a lot of revising. I’ve thought about it so much, by the time it goes on the paper, that’s it. I’ve tried to start with words first.  This isn’t’ conducive to co-writing. When I do that, I’m sitting in the corner and the other person is sharing all of these ideas!

Are you loyal to certain music apps and or equipment?

As far as writing goes, I use the B-Rhymes Dictionary all the time. It’s a great app for mirror rhymes.  It [gives me ideas for] things that aren’t such a perfect match.

Who are you listening to right now?

Oh, man! So many. I try to listen to a bunch of different things. I was just listening to Regina Spektor, she’s always on rotation, Ingrid Michaelson…mostly singer/songwriter types. The Struts, Beach Boys, Lana Del Rey, I like all sorts of music.

What do you hope people say about your music?

I hope that ultimately it’s relatable. For me, the ones [performers] that impact me the most, I think: I know exactly what they’re singing about it.  All the songs on the new EP go through the different stages of relationships. I hope it meets people wherever they are at.

Tell me something you learned about yourself and about the world since Wanderlust?

Since Wanderlust, it’s been a journey. I think I’ve grown up since then. Three to four years ago I was traveling across the country a lot. I had a lot more hunger to see the world. I still love to travel, but I feel more settled in some ways. I hope there’s a maturity that comes with that. I don’t feel like I’m striving all the time. I’m learning to be a little more at peace. A couple of years can make all the difference. That’s probably the biggest change – being okay with where I’m at. 

You have been taking piano lessons since you were four; are the keys the only thing you play?

Well, I play the ukulele. I’m not a pro at it, but I can play enough to play my own songs. I got into playing acoustic guitar but I don’t have the biggest hands. I got two new guitars. I’m amassing a collection of instruments [laughs]. I have one semi-hollow thinline Telecaster.  I’m debating whether or not to sell my short-scale Telecaster, which is smaller than your average sized guitar.

Favorite composers?

I really love W.C. Handy. He’s got these wonderful impressionist tones. He can play all of these crazy sharps and flats. I also like Tchaikovsky and Gershwin. Pretty much anything that’s symphonic, I’m all about it.

Kim Edwards_5-17-14-061

Have you been in love?

[Laughing] You know…I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ve ever been truly all out. I’ve been close. It’s always been one-sided for me or the other person. Not at the same time. So, I don’t think so. Honestly, I think I’ve come close, [but] not quite. I’ve always been a very cautious person with my emotions…

Which do you prefer, the studio or the stage and why?

Both are great and both are stressful at the same time. I prefer the stage in some ways. In the studio I stress myself out. Essentially you don’t want to waste time. So you have to decide ‘this is the right sound.’ I tend to be a perfectionist.

I think I enjoy performing. I can have more fun with it. There’s the audience interaction. Although there are moments in the studio when you hear things come together and it’s really magical. It’s really gratifying. If I had to choose, I’d choose the stage.

How do make sure that you continue to grow as an artist?

Part of that for me is listening to other music. Being challenged. Being with other musicians. Just talking with and being in a community and conversation. Iron sharpens iron. There’s so much that blows my mind, so the bar always gets raised.

Describe a good day.

I feel like you’re asking the wrong person for this. I just had a conversation with a friend about this. You can go on Facebook and a post might say, ‘I got a parking spot in front of my building and I have freshly baked donuts. Today is a good day.’ A good day for me is something crazy like I won a Grammy! There are nice days with good weather, but a good day for me is something monumental.

What advice would you give other independent artists?

So many things. It seems very basic 101, but I have friends who do this. People sign agreements without running it past anyone in the music industry. I feel most musicians don’t know all the legalese. Do you know if you’re giving all your publishing rights away? Is this exclusive or nonexclusive? Be educated. Get agreements and contracts looked at. My friends and my uncle will ask, ‘When are you going to get signed by a label?’ I’m not sure if I want to. It would have to be the right deal. I have friends who have been shelved and dropped, and went the indie way after all.

I wondered if you would you prefer the backing of a major label.

I think if it’s the right situation, great. It’s hard to say. I think the biggest thing for me is creative control. That would be very important to me. Mainstream pop is not important to me. I really just want to write the music I want to write and hopefully people will like it.

Ingrid Michaelson is on a label but still considered independent. I think it’s cool that she’s been able to do what she’s done mostly independently. It’s funny, Regina [Spektor] is signed to major label. Major label execs will say you need this kind of personality, you need to be active on social media. Regina has a loyal following because she is who she is.

Are you ready for love? In one of your songs you say, “Give me wedding rings.”

You know what? I’m starting to become more ready for it. The timing of this interview is funny. I was thinking last night that I’m more ready to be in a relationship than before. I’ve always had a long-term perspective on life. How would that affect my career? So, I mean now, I think while music is still a high priority, I’m more open to the idea of being in a relationship. Right guy, right timing.

Photography by Bruce Kite

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Kim Edwards

Lovers and Loners

Standout Track: “The Book of Love”

LISTEN NOW at http://www.kimedwardsmusic.com

Follow on Twitter @kimedwardsmusic


Emily King switches things up on new CD


photo courtesy of Hassle Publicity

by Jacquinn Sinclair – July 24, 2015; published by The Philadelphia Tribune

“I’m trying to a be a star, baby!” said Grammy-nominated singer Emily King. “I ain’t got time for this, we got to pump out these hits!” she joked, when talking about working with her perfectionist producer Jeremy Most.

But King, who won the hearts of fans on her R&B/hip-hop tinged debut album “East Side Story” (J Records) in 2006, spends a significant amount of time working on her craft with Most, even when she’s ready to be finished. “He’s very much a perfectionist in the best way. He has the most integrity of anyone I know and nothing else matters to him but making quality music,” she shared.

The duo’s painstaking dedication is paying off.

King has been gearing up for her tour to promote her latest effort, “The Switch,” released June 26 on her label, Making Music Records. This is her second full-length album (she released an EP called “Seven” in 2011) in almost 10 years and it’s worth the wait. When listening to the track “The Animals,” with it’s Prince-esque perimeter, it’s evident that King is moving in a different artistic direction. But, the soul woven throughout her warm, fluffy vocals is still intact.

There are some heart-achingly beautiful songs on “The Switch” such as the love song “Distance” and “Out of the Clouds,” with it’s carousel-like instrumentation and slow bounce. “Aya” is an eerie, lush, chant of an interlude and the skinny, bright harmonies on “Already There,” are where King’s talent shines brightest.

The New York native is the daughter of jazz musicians Marion Cowings and Kim Kalesti and has toured the world with John Legend, Alicia Keys, Nas, Maroon 5 and Sara Bareilles. On a warm Thursday afternoon, a little over a week before she performs at Underground Arts here in Philadelphia, King opened up to The Philadelphia Tribune about her music, her growth and her passion outside of performing.

Philadelphia Tribune: Why did you choose ‘The Switch’ as the album name?

Emily King: I started writing the song last summer. And, it came really naturally. When I had to come with a title for the album. … I hate coming up with titles for things. I thought ‘The Switch,’ that’s good. It [the title] also could have so many meanings that could be true to my life, mood, people or moments.

PT: What have you learned about yourself and your craft since your last album?

EK: I think I’m more serious now in some ways. It could definitely be because I’m older. [In the past] I took things for granted in a naïve way. I could have spent a little more time. I think I appreciate things in a different way.

PT: During the writing and recording, did you find yourself drawn to certain artists, music or particular places? What inspires you?

EK: I knew that I wanted to have more grooves on this album. One of my inspirations is Michael Jackson. I’m totally different than he is. [But when making music] I think: I really want to be like Michael Jackson.

PT: There’s an ethereal dream-like quality throughout ‘The Switch.’ Was that intentional?

EK: Yeah, a lot of that is my producer Jeremy Most. He’s really magical. He takes it to a different place; subtle and unexpected.

PT: When you can’t write, what do you do to relax?

EK: Eat! (she laughs). That’s pretty much my favorite thing to do. I’m in Whole Foods right now. I love grocery shopping and cruising the aisles. I like to imagine that I ate everything.

PT: I’ve read that this is your second independent release, how does it feel to be the boss?

EK: Oh wow! Well, I’m a control freak in some ways, for better or worse. It’s cool. More recently, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. I’m doing things I shouldn’t be doing. But every time I train someone to do something, I feel like I could have just done it! It feels good to know everything that’s happening. I was in the dark back in the day. But now I know what’s going on and if something is messed up, it’s my fault.

PT: What are some of the challenges you face as a label owner?

EK: It’s hard to stay focused. I sing, I do social media, and then I realize, I’m not practicing. That doesn’t make sense. Staying focused while multitasking is a challenge. Going forward, I’m definitely going to change that. I need to have more time.

PT: Yes, I see that you’re active on social media, which seems to have leveled the playing field for independent artists.

EK: I feel lucky to have been in both worlds. There were everyday keepers-of-your-life at J records. Everyone was behind closed doors. It’s the opposite now. It’s better. There are so many connections to be made [with fans]. So to do that without putting on airs is great. You remember Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz? I ran into Peter Gunz when I was 11 on the street and he was like the president to me. Back then, people became these figures you couldn’t touch. He made us feel like he was a god. Now, I have a different feeling.

PT: Tell me about your writing process, do the lyrics come first or the feeling or the melody?

EK: It starts with a feeling, then the rhythm and melody. Usually the words peek through here and there, and I have to put the puzzle together to get her. It’s like filling in a crossword puzzle.

Don’t miss Emily King at Underground Arts, Saturday, July 25, at 8 p.m.

Esperanza Spalding to tour for ‘Emily’s D+Evolution’


by Jacquinn Sinclair – published in The Philadelphia Tribune

Grammy-award winning singer and instrumentalist Esperanza Spalding is the queen of cool, cloaked in a bit of mystery. Her fifth and latest venture, “Emily’s D+Evolution” came to her during a full moon, in a dream-like sequence of sketches; a musical story unraveling before her.

“It wasn’t actually a dream. I was awake. It was a night close to my birthday, and I couldn’t sleep between gigs. It just kept getting more intriguing to me as I played with it. A year and a half later, here we are,” she said.

During her tour to promote the album, 30-year-old Spalding — whose middle name is Emily — hopes to “create a world around each song.” She says, “There are a lot of juicy themes and stories in the music. We will be staging the songs as much as we play them, using characters, video and the movement of our bodies.”

Those juicy themes are not something she can easily explain.

“I don’t like to talk about sound and movement, I don’t think you can. It would be inaccurate. I can show you better than I can tell you,” said Spalding.

Whatever it is that she is eager to share with fans during her performances this summer, it’s sure to be a testament of her growth as an artist and as a person. From her first album, “Junjo,” to “Esperanza, Chamber Music Society” and “Radio Music Society,” Spalding has stretched as an artist, exploring different feelings and musical realms. The silky-voiced celebrity’s concerts are joyous dalliances through complicated chords. She’s dazzled listeners at the White House, collaborated with a number of artists including Janelle Monae on “Electric Lady,” Bobby McFerrin, Herbie Hancock and Terri Lyne Carrington for “The Mosaic Project” and also released “We Are America,” urging for the close of Guantanamo.

The young starlet has had a whirlwind career, but she’s always open to, and up for doing and learning more. Spalding soaks up life’s lessons from everyone. Scores of knowledgeable advisers and friends have helped keep her on track throughout her journey.

She counts the late, legendary Philadelphia guitarist Jef Lee Johnson as one of her mentors.

“I loved him very much. I learned about not getting caught up in that superficial bull—t [that comes along with] being an artist and being somebody. He was very unattached to hype. [It was] really all about the music and letting it speak for itself. He was a beautiful spirit. A no-nonsense, funky soul and a brilliant, great mind,” she shared.

The incredibly busy talent, who loves to meditate, read and clean (believe it or not), almost forgot that lesson from Johnson about staying grounded. During a year off, Spalding took time reevaluate herself and get centered.

“I think I had to get off a high horse that I didn’t know I was on. [I felt like] I hadn’t seen my instrument in forever. I needed to think about my sense of self and worth. I had a self-revelation: I gotta work on myself! A lot has changed, and it’s ongoing. Things have changed with my band and how I run my business. Musically I don’t think anything has changed, it’s an evolution. The ‘D+Evolution’ of change and that’s the nature of the climate; the universe. Direction isn’t absolutely forward or absolutely back.”

Move with Spalding at the Theatre of the Living Arts, this Sunday, May 17, at 8 p.m.

Foreign Exchange talks hip-hop, creative control, fatherhood


April 24, 2014
Written by Jacquinn Williams
Published in Entertainment

The hip-hop/electronica/R&B duo, The Foreign Exchange, comprised of Phonte (rapper, vocalist and former member of Grammy-winning hip-hop group Little Brother) and Netherlands-born Nicolay (producer) will be at World Café Live on May 3 at 8 p.m. for their “Love in Flying Colors” tour.

The two talented music heads met on the website Okayplayer.com more than 10 years ago when Phonte heard a beat by the Dutch producer and asked if he could lay some vocals over it. Nicolay agreed, and the song, “Light It Up,” appeared shortly after as the B-side to Little Brother’s 2002 single, “Whatever You Say.” The two continued to work together — relying on instant messages and email — sending beats and vocals back and forth until they had enough content for their first album, “Connected,” which was released in 2004.

The album’s success spurred the two to keep making music and has resulted in four more albums including: “Love in Flying Colors” which they released last year, “Dear Friends: An Evening With The Foreign Exchange” (2011), “Authenticity” (2010) and “Leave It All Behind” (2008).

Despite critical acclaim, a cult-like following and Grammy nominations, Phonte, a divorced father, claims he’s “always looking for his next score.” Between working on albums together, Phonte, who hails from North Carolina and is wildly funny, released a dope solo album, Charity Starts at Home,” did another album with Little Brother in 2010 and joined forces with musician Zo! for “Zo! and Tigallo Love the 80’s.” Nicolay released a number of albums including, “City Lights Vol. 1.5,” “Nicolay – The Dutch Masters Vol. 1” and more recently the “Shibuya Session EP” with jazz trio The Hot At Nights.

Phonte and Nicolay recently opened up to The Philadelphia Tribune about their creative process and being able to pay bills doing what they love.

Philadelphia Tribune (PT): For those who’ve never seen a  Foreign Exchange show, describe what it’s like.

Phonte: A lot of fun! Spontaneity. It’s very much a family atmosphere. It’s like a family reunion.

PT: I’m not sure if you guys get to spend much time in the cities you visit on tour, but if you’ve had the chance to hang out in Philly, what are your favorite spots?

Nicolay: Wow, Philly. The truth of that matter is we don’t really. Our tour routing is from one city to the next. But, Philly is a special place for us. A lot of our videos were shot in Philly.

PT: Phonte, I saw earlier today on Twitter (4/16) that you said going on tour is a pain in the ass. It seems that fans romanticize the industry. What would you tell them about the industry that you don’t think they know?

P: (Laughs) I think the whole idea of touring the world [seems grand]. They see our tour schedule they think: you’re going to South Africa [or other places], but after a while it’s the same in every city. We only see the hotel, the venue … it’s one continuous experience. The only real fun is the stage. I’m still thankful, [but] it’s not a luxury. It’s not glamorous. [It’s hard] Being away from home and family. It’s fun at first, but then it’s like, enough of this, I’m cool.

PT: When you were putting together your first album, did you know there was magic happening? Did you know it would change your lives?

N: Yeah, I think so. At the very least, we had some very interesting moments from jump. We have something beyond a good match. I don’t know how to explain it. There was a lot more going on. We didn’t set out with a specific plan.

PT: You’ve both been in music for a while now, grinding. Have the goals for your music changed with age? And if so, how?

N: That’s a good question. I think maybe not the goals, but we have changed. We’ve learned a lot over the last 10 years. A lot more savvy than we used to be. Our approach, our strategy has changed.

PT: Phonte, how do you balance fatherhood with music?

(Laughing) I get too little-to-no personal time to myself. I don’t get to do what I really want to do. I just get to go to the gym when I feel that primitive ball in my chest. Real man time. I tried the treadmill, but it’s not crude enough. … I have to remember that I am making an investment. The investment doesn’t pay off for like 30 years. No one cares about daddies’ struggles. It’s a thankless job.

PT: Nicolay, how did you start making beats, and when did you decide you couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything else?

N: Um, I think it’s something I gradually got into. I was a musician playing the guitar and keyboards. At first, it was straight up production. Beat-making came with listening to hip hop in the ’90s.

PT: Nicolay, what’s your creative process? Are you inspired by sounds or emotions and then you run to lay something down, or does it just come to you?

N: No set way for me. There’s a lot of different ways. Sometimes [something comes to me] as is — start to finish. Sometimes I struggle. It will be weeks before they take shape. I just go with it and follow the music. I always give everything a chance no matter how weird it is.

PT: Phonte, What about you? Do you wait for beats, or do you come armed with lyrics for songs?

P: I wait for the sound. That’s what I write about. If it’s a bright and shiny record I go that way, or if it’s dark and introspective I go that way. It always starts with the music.

PT: Have you ever gotten a beat and thought: what is this?

P: We’ve been together so long, [that] doing something bad, is just not possible. That’s not the question. The question is: is it gonna be great or good?

Sometimes, I have to ask: “Does this work for me?” Sometimes it’s dope, but it doesn’t work for me. It might work for City Lights. Can I bring something to it?

PT: Do you guys feel like you made it?

P: In some aspect. Some [people] say: is this it? [I say to them] Are you making music and paying your bills? Then yeah nigga that’s it. Once you make it, then you always have to do more. I’m always looking for my next score.

PT: Phonte, producer Illmind (who has produced albums for Kanye, 50 Cent, Eminem and more) tweeted that along with Cam’ron and Mase you (Phonte) birthed a lot of rappers today. How does that make you feel?

P: It’s cool. I’m glad to have some influence.

PT: Did either of you ever want to give up?

P: Everybody has!

N: I have. That’s how I got started. I consider this my second life. One life I lived as a musician trying to pay bills. I tried to do a 9-to-5 and live a slightly more comfortable life. That was my life before “Connected.” I felt like, screw it, and threw in the towel. The only reason we haven’t so far is because we set up this structure for ourselves. We are in control of everything.

PT: Phonte, I saw you were interviewed for the documentary, “The Hip Hop Fellow” with 9th Wonder (Formerly of Little Brother). A commenter by the name of David Goldberg said: “don’t see it, DO IT YOURSELF. I’m absolutely proud of 9th Wonder, but the truth is that hip hop will forever only thrive outside of formal institutions.” Do you think that’s true? Do you think you can teach hip-hop?

P: Teaching the art and craft…I don’t think that’s possible. I can teach a writing class… I can teach you the mechanics but the creativity has to come from within. I don’t think it’s possible to teach the craft. You can learn about the history. I think it’s important for someone from (9th Wonder) and a contributor to hip hop to tell that story. Otherwise our kids will think Eminem is the greatest rapper ever or that hip hop started with Macklemore! Nothing against Macklemore.

PT: What’s your greatest fear?

P: I don’t know. Not raising good kids. That’s every parent’s fear. You can do whatever you want. You can start a war with another country. You can be with strippers. But if I don’t raise my kids right, I’m horrible forever. Everyone will say where your parents at? Oh, he was on tour. I want to set a good example. Legacy is really what your kids say about you because they knew you best.

PT: Tell me something you wish your fans knew, but no one asks?

N: Wow. I think that we’re really excited to go back out on the road. And getting in front of everybody, that direct contact never gets old.

For tickets to The Foreign Exchange show visit: http://tickets.worldcafelive.com/event/462071

The Genki Spark – Exhale Magazine

The Genki Spark—an all-female Asian taiko troupe—is smashing stereotypes and building bonds of sisterhood for Asian women in Boston.

Taiko is the Japanese word for drum, and these women are not afraid to use it.

“Asian women are taught to be quiet, to think of others first and not take up a lot of space . . . so I fight for space for others,” says The Genki Spark founder Karen Young.

In rehearsal and while performing, Karen encourages the group to be genki. Genki is a Japanese word that means healthy, happy and energetic.  And, it’s working.

Their exuberant performances with dancing and spoken word pleases crowds in their videos posted on YouTube, but the ladies of the troupe are doing much more than just beating a drum. They’re listening to each other closely, on and off stage.

“We’ve gotten comments like ‘Y’all don’t play for us, you play for each other,’ ” shares troupe member Trisha Mah.

Their bond runs deep.

“This is the first time in quite a few years that I have women I can talk to,” Trisha adds. “There’s a mob of women behind me to back me up. We’ve built this sisterhood. Internalized sexism and racism makes it hard [for women] to be close.”

With initial funding from the Boston Women’s Fund and fiscal sponsorship from ASPIRE (Asian Sisters Participating in Reaching Excellence), The Genki Spark was founded in 2010 as a result of a performance at the Boston Asian American Film Festival. They have since performed for various organizations, schools and corporations, including Boston Latin Academy, the Boston Children’s Museum and TEDxMassArt.

Karen was a founding member of Odaiko New England (ONE), New England’s premier performing taiko group. She performed with ONE for more than 10 years and conducted dozens of educational programs in schools across the state. She helped launch advocacy projects such as Youth on Board at YouthBuild USA, The Corporation for National Service and MAP for Health.

She received her BA in Human Ecology at Humboldt State University in California and relocated to Boston in 1993. Karen uses her skills as a trainer, counselor and facilitator to shape the women of The Genki Spark.

Here she chats with Exhale about why The Genki Spark is so special.

Why is The Genki Spark important to the Asian community?
I think we need more models of us taking leadership, being visible, telling our stories and sharing information. It’s misinformation that creates stereotypes.

Why taiko and not something else?
For me it was really about being introduced to it and having a visceral reaction to it. Twenty years ago I didn’t have the vocabulary to express how I felt. I didn’t know how to talk about issues of race or gender. I just knew when I saw people on stage that looked like me, I felt proud to be me. When I saw people playing taiko. . . it shattered something inside of me. Some mold I had been trying to fit into broke.

What are the things that you have done to ensure that women feel empowered and respected?
I’ve been really intentional about respect. Also, I’ve been very clear that as women we’re vulnerable to being catty toward one another and not treating ourselves or each other well as a result of societal mistreatment we’ve faced as women. I try to contradict the onslaught of negative messages by asking questions like: ‘What do you like about yourself today?’ . . . If someone is doing something well, I ask for some concrete appreciation.

What do you wish for The Genki Spark’s legacy?
That’s a good one. Ultimately, I want to leave behind a space where Asian women and girls can see who they are and who they can be.

What are some of the challenges you encounter as a Pan-Asian group and how can you be sensitive to other cultures?
I think we’re still learning how to do that. You have this honeymoon period in the beginning and then the hard stuff happens. The hurts and divisions between groups surface. It’s not just intercultural, it’s intergenerational too. So, I try to slow things down and address issues as they surface.

How do you share the mission with strangers who come in for one class?
Every performance, workshop or class, we talk about the genki spirit. Before we play taiko for the first time, we start with the genki attitude. When we invite members of the audience on stage, I ask them to say their name on the mic. You can jump, shout [or] explode! When you say your name, it has to be YOU times 10! That spirit shows in all of our work.

Can you pinpoint the moment you realized you created something special?
Oh gosh, our very first performance. The moment we finished, we hit the lobby, and there was such a feeling of: We did it! We were on fire. I had never led a group of Asian women before. I told them I didn’t care if they made a mistake, just be proud of yourself, be proud of what we’ve done. All of us held hands. I knew we couldn’t stop.

For more information on The Genki Spark, visit www.thegenkispark.org.

PDF version The Genki Spark Exhale Magazine