A young, guitar case-toting musician wearing baggy blue jeans, Adidas sneakers and a worn-out T-shirt then walks in and plops down in an easy chair. He pulls out his guitar and begins strumming to himself, experimenting with a gumbo of jazz, funk, hip-hop and gospel sounds. This prompts a young man who has been stretched out napping on the couch to roll over and prop himself up on an elbow. "Hey, man. I like what you're doing," he says, and starts humming to the music.
A string of intrigued, urban artists, who go by names like Rock Baby and Judah the Black Rose, proceed to trickle into the "living room." Soon they're vibing, as they like to say when they all get on the same creative wavelength. Streetwise verse, like that of local poet/performance artist Jonathan "GNO" White, begins to flow with the music. The energized twentysomething spits out the words to "Street Poet," pacing the dimly lit stage and gesturing with clenched fists: "While some poets are on street corners slangin' amethyst rock/I hold twin ink filled glocks/Pop, pop two shots in the night scream freedom/Don't let my people go/Let my people flow/From the esophagus/Greasy and wet/Lips licked wet beget this ballad of blaring black boy blues."
Welcome to the Second Annual Sankofa Café Bash, a segment of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters Literary Voices Series. "Wine, Watermelon, The Word" brings together local young African-American artists for a few evenings of spoken-word poetry performances with a twist. The show is typical of spoken-word performances in that it's a fusion of poetry, storytelling, rap, singing, diatribes and various schools of music. But the experience is unique in that it unfolds "in real time," says writer/poet Camika "Emotion Brown" Spencer, the show's producer as well as its emcee and one if its performers. "We just vibe, and whatever's created in that moment we capture. It's almost like taking pictures."
Opening Juneteenth, celebrated June 19, the day the last slaves in America were freed in 1865, the event is partially a celebration of the literary contributions of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement of the '60s. This helps explain where the name Sankofa Bash comes from. Originating in West Africa, the term sankofa refers to the process of going back to the past in order to build the future.
Spoken word has roots in these creative periods, as well as the Beat poetry of the '50s and the Bronx hip-hop movement of the '70s. But "Wine, Watermelon, The Word" is also a tribute to the young artists of the contemporary spoken-word genre, which in recent years has thrived in a number of the nation's multicultural, urban areas, including Dallas. Performers are all members of the Artists' One Project, a creative collaboration of local black artists of all types.
Unlike the politically charged poetry the artists of spoken word's earlier influences generated, the new genre is much more an expression of self.
"We're recognizing the legacy of being young, gifted and black," Spencer says. "We're celebrating the ability to choose to be creative from the beginning--from it being thought, to spoken, to existing."