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.


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

Raphael Saadiq set to play Electric Factory

Soul singer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Raphael Saadiq is coming to the Electric Factory May 26.  Saadiq — who made us feel good as one third of ’80s group Tony! Toni! Toné! and made us dance with Lucy Pearl—is back with a new album Stone Rollin.’

Released May 10, Stone Rollin’ is a musical nod to Muddy Waters’ Rollin’ Stone. He took funk, blues and rock and mixed it with contemporary soul to create his masterpiece. As an artist Saadiq has always made good music, but lately he’s seems, well, better.

Reminiscent of times when music making consisted of string sections and doo-wop singers instead of auto tune and drum machines, “Stone Rollin’” sounds familiar, but not common. Lush instrumentation, strong vocals and variety of genres make listening to it a treat. Some standout tracks are “Go to Hell,” “Over You” and “Movin’ Down the Line.”

Saadiq’s talents along with his musical knowledge make him somewhat of a living legend. He’s worked as a producer and/or collaborator with a number of groups from D’Angelo to The Roots to the Bee Gees and is an executive producer of hit TV show Love that Girl starring Tatiana Ali.

Despite his talent and his remarkable fashion sense, Saadiq — born Charles Ray Wiggins — is humble. He readily learns whatever he can from anyone around him and infuses it into his music. In between touring and photo shoots the Tribune had a chance to talk to Saadiq about what he likes to do to relax and what separates the good from the great.

Philadelphia Tribune: Tell me about the Esquire Live in Detroit Fashion shoot. I know you had to write a song for it. Where did your inspiration come from? The song sounded eerie.

Rafael Saadiq: Being inside Motown always makes me feel like that. There are so many great musicians who walked those halls that are dead now. Every time I am there, it feels eerie and creepy. That’s what I was going for.

PT: I know you’ve worked with The Roots before, where do you like to hang out when you come to Philly?

RS: I never really get a chance to. But, I’ve been to that soul food restaurant Ms. Tootsies.

PT: What are some things you try to do everyday?

RS: Go for a walk or run, check out an exhibit at a museum, look at cameras and look at fashion.

PT: I’ve read that you’re a horse lover. Do you take care of them yourself or do you have help?

RS:  Yeah, yeah I do when I’m home. I do everything. I got into them because of my cousin Lamont. He was really into horses. We used to ride them in the summer.

PT:  What music is in heavy rotation for you right now?

RS: Patrice Rushen and Marvin Gaye Live. We have these iPod wars on the tour bus. I am NOT winning! My bass player has everything. He’s like you ever heard of this dude Red? I’m like, I’ve never heard of him. He’s got everything.

PT:  Where’s your favorite place in the world?

RS:  I haven’t been to South Asia or Africa yet so I don’t know. But, I really like Barcelona. It’s one of a few places I can get a healthy breakfast like egg whites, yogurt and fruit.

PT: You recently tweeted that you were paying dues in Germany, but now it’s time for dues to start paying Saadiq. What did you mean by that?

RS: It was just one of those frustrating moments. Like, I gotta get up and go all the time. I was just tired. I haven’t been in my bed with the exception of two to three times since February. As soon as I typed it I thought: Aww hell no. Did I just type that for the whole world to see?

PT: Would you ever revisit Lucy Pearl or put another band together?

RS: Right now, I’m in the middle of so much stuff. I would explore playing with other people, but I’m not sure about completing records together.

PT: What separates the good from the great?

RS:  You can always tell who’s just good. The person who does something good starts to celebrate too soon. The person that’s great is too busy making another move.

Read the interview: Philadelphia Tribune – Raphael Saadiq set to play Electric Factory.pdf

Gary Clark travels with music’s royalty – Philadelphia Tribune

Bathed in purple light, Gary Clark Jr. is a rock god in the making, and hundreds of excited fans got to witness the power of his music recently at TLA.

The Austin, Texas guitarist,who started playing at age 12, roared and rumbled onstage with “When My Train Pulls In.” He tore into a number of hits from his recently released Blak and Blu album on Warner Bros Music.

He churned out “Don’t Owe You a Thang” from his “Bright Lights” EP that spurred the kind of foot-stomping and hand-clapping found in the churches of the Deep South. As the crowd chanted “Gary, Gary!” and tweeted its adoration in real-time, Clark ripped up the stage with long guitar solos and boundless energy.

Charged with saving the blues, he is striving to be more than just a flash-in-the-pan success.

“I was really inspired all at once to do all kinds of different things,” he told his hometown newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, citing an array of inspirations including Skip James, OutKast, Green Day, Nirvana, The Strokes and Marvin Gaye.

He wants to make an indelible mark on the industry, and if he keeps going at this feverish pace, he just might do it. The Prince-like “You Saved Me,” his gleaming falsetto on the emotional “Please Come Home” and the R&B-esque title track are moments of real beauty on Blak and Blu. But on stage, it’s undeniable that blues and rock is where he lives and thrives.

Hailed as the next Hendrix by the New York Times, Clark has big shoes to fill and he’s working his way in them. He’s collaborated onstage and in-studio with some of today’s hottest entertainers, including Nas, Alicia Keys, The Roots and Eric Clapton, and he performed at the White House for the Obamas alongside Mick Jagger, B.B. King, Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy.

Couples writhed and hips gyrated as Clark, who oozes cool, and his band performed the 1960s sounding “Ain’t Messin’ `Round.” When he attempted to address the crowd, his voice was lost over the din of screaming fans. But Clark cut through the noise and communicated everything he needed to say with his guitar before ending on a high note with the raucous rock and roll of “Numb.”

PDF version: Gary Clark travels with music’s royalty – Philadelphia Tribune

Ameriville captures soul, humanity post-Katrina

Astrid Lium photo

The foot stomping and harmonizing quartet, Universes, took theatergoers on a wild ride through some of the nation’s most daunting social ills in “Ameriville” last week at the Paramount Theatre.

Presented by ArtsEmerson, Universes, comprised of Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, William “Ninja’’ Ruiz, Gamal Abdel Chasten and Steven Sapp, started off the show gaily singing renditions of popular American songs such as “Papa was a Rolling Stone,” “Buffalo Soldier” and “Rolling on a River.”

Suddenly, they thrust the audience into a much darker place.

The play uses FEMA’s slow response to hurricane Katrina as a lens through which to view issues of race, being poor in America, homosexuality and religion. They sing, “right there was a house” and point out where houses stood prior to Katrina and give snapshots of the people who lived there.

One story is about a young man who remembers watching his father getting ready for Mardi Gras. His recalls his daddy dancing in full regalia with feathers flowing and how magical it all was. But after the storm his happy memories are as muddied as what’s left of his old house.

Another poignant tale was about an old man who wakes up every night at 11:11p.m. unable to find rest since the storm tore apart the city. Images of large clocks behind him spin out of control. He tells the crowd that with all the bodies and stagnant water, “it smells worse than regular death.”

Universes begs audiences to look a little closer at the things that separate us. Ruiz-Sapp shined when she sang the song of a poor immigrant mother who works two jobs to provide for her family. She works and works, but doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere. “Is this what I came here for,” she laments.

At the end of her beautiful ballad she decides to put on her uniform and smile. As her song winds down a statistic pops up above her head that claims illegal immigrants pay $7.2 million dollars in federal taxes each year.

Sapp and Chasten touch on stereotypes with black jokes, Ruiz recites a poem about the twisting up of religion and the whole quartet performs a moving piece on handguns in the form of a commercial. The nation’s callousness about the death of urban teenagers is explored and the commercial urges people to call 1-800-shoot.

FEMA faux pas and a homeless former entrepreneur are just the tip of the iceberg in “Ameriville.” Urban Renewal is depicted with the “Choke a Nigga Out Investment Group” knocking on inner-city doors and urging city dwellers to sell their houses for much less than it’s worth. Over time, those who weren’t willing to sell are pushed out in the name of gentrification.

“Ameriville” found a way to talk about the most uncomfortable issues in America without being preachy. The performances elicited laughs, and dismayed sighs with a perfectly placed musical modulation or a harrowing statistic underscored by silence.

They revealed the story behind each situation, which made the characters human, not just black, white, gay, old or homeless. It’s their humanity that the performers urged theatergoers to see.

PDF version: Bay State Banner – ‘Ameriville’ captures soul, humanity post-Katrina

*published in The Bay State Banner 3/22/2012