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

esperanza-emily-project

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.

Advertisements

Foreign Exchange talks hip-hop, creative control, fatherhood

PhillyTriblogo

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

Ballet Hispanico – Exhale Magazine

Eduardo Patino photo

Eduardo Vilaro’s love of dance reaches far back into his childhood. A Cuban immigrant who came to America when he was 6 years old, he remembers music being a huge part of his life.

“Music was so connected to our culture,” he says. “For a lot of Latin music there are dances that go along with songs. Mambo has the Mambo, Tango the Tango, Rumba the Rumba.”

Vilaro is the artistic director for Ballet Hispanico in New York, where dance and culture go hand-in-hand. According to its mission, they explore, preserve and celebrate Latino cultures through dance. Through collaborations with composers and outreach in the community, the organization has grown since its founding by Tina Ramirez in 1970 into a multi-faceted educational institution.

Growing up in the South Bronx, Vilaro traveled to the New York Botanical Garden to escape the daily pressures of life. There, he began paying attention to the seasonal shifting of migrating birds. Their synchronized movements, precise and graceful, like the pirouettes and balançoires of skilled dancers, intrigued him.

He was hooked — on bird watching and on dance.

“I’ve always loved movement,” he explains. “Movement or gesture is a language we all share and can connect to.”

While in junior high, Vilaro vowed to make dancing his life. The music and drama from theater productions in school proved irresistible for him and sealed his fate as a performer. But, he wasn’t sure if he could share his newfound love just yet. For years, Vilaro kept his dancing a secret from his family using capoeira classes as his cover, while he indulged in ballet.

“It was kind of hard being a Latino boy who wanted to dance,” he shares. “I was hiding. I hid it until I graduated from high school.”

He began his dance training at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. He has also studied at the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance. After years of studying and performing, Vilaro — who has a BFA in dance from Adelphia University and a master’s in interdisciplinary art from Columbia College — founded Luna Negra Dance Theater in 1999 in Chicago.

Vilaro served as the artistic director for 10 years and created more than 20 original pieces of choreography at Luna Negra. Two years ago he joined Ballet Hispanico.

“Luna Negra was a labor of love,” he says. “As artists we are always giving labors of love to the community. I wanted Luna Negra to live beyond me, so I gave it to Chicago.”

Now, Vilaro — who loves to cook when he’s not dancing or teaching — labors to make sure Ballet Hispanico stays true to its mission while remaining artfully innovative. As the company gears up to tour this spring with a stop here in Boston, March 9-11, at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, he’s hoping to create moments that move people and affect them in a profound way.

“I think institutions like Ailey and Ballet Hispanico are important because both companies use their cultures and the evolution of their traditions to create a dialogue in the community and the world at large,” he says. “We are the beacons.”

PDF version: Ballet Hispanico – Exhale Magazine