e.g. bailey: Behind the scenes with the spoken word innovator
By Rebecca McDonald (B Fresh), City Pages
The Twin Cities would not be the same without e.g. bailey. Even if you’ve never met him, you’ve most likely heard his voice on the radio, experienced one of his many theatrical productions or concerts and albums he has produced through Tru Ruts Endeavors/Speakeasy Records. He is co-owner of these organizations with his wife, Sha Cage, another staple poet in the community. There is never a lack of excitement in e.g.’s life, so Gimme Noise went behind the scenes to share in his journey to the release of his debut full-length album American Afrikan this past Saturday (pics here).
Gimme Noise: What has your journey in the Twin Cities poet’s scene been like since you moved here many years ago?
e.g. bailey: You end up in a place by circumstance and sometimes you realize that it was where you were meant to be. I had been here once as a kid but only remembered that after I had moved here. Like any good romantic, I was following my heart across the Midwest, and ended up in Fargo then Minneapolis. I dove into acting classes, worked in a warehouse and debated the eternal question of ‘L.A. or not L.A.’ and a job working for Prince sealed the deal. Prince had just released a book of poetry, so I used it as an excuse to start an open mic at the New Power Generation store. It was my first connection with the poetry scene here. All kinds of folks used to come through. It was a Prince store so there were some wild moments, but I met some folks I’d later work with in the spoken word community, like Anika and Yolanda ‘Right On’ Jackson.
Finally, I had to make a decision. I could keep making Prince the best artist he could be (which obviously he didn’t need much help with) or be the artist I needed to be. So I resigned, paid two months rent, and by a stroke of luck ended up with Sirius B. It’s a long story since then but that connection with Sirius B has made all the difference in doing what I do now. I connected with with folks like J. Otis Powell!, Ani Sabare, Rene Ford, Carolyn Holbrook (S.A.S.E.), Patrick Scully, and organizations like the Walker Art Center, Pillsbury, and Intermedia Arts. I couldn’t have found a better community to be doing art. I was embraced beyond what I could have imagined. Without it I probably would have L.A. or busted. And I’m not sure I would being doing spoken word.
GN: Describe your new project, “American Afrikan,” which you celebrated the release of on Saturday?
eg: ‘American Afrikan’ is a historical and symbolic experience of being an Afrikan in America, using the medium of spoken word. Sometimes I use spoken word to create non-linear narratives, like I did with ‘Blues for Nina,’ a spoken word theatre piece about Nina Simone; or the 20 minute short film ‘village blues’ about returning to Afrika; or ‘Patriot Acts,’ merging the different disciplines of theatre, dance and film with spoken word to present post-9/11 views of America. I am always looking at ways to push the boundaries of spoken word, and trying to innovate the art form. With this project, I wanted to see if it was possible to create a spoken word album that would present the many different forms of spoken word, and ways of experiencing spoken word, but still be able to engage the audience in some kind of a story.
GN: Why is this project special to you and others who performed with you on Saturday?
eg: I’ve fallen in love with this project the way you fall in love with your first child. You’re just amazed at how it has grown from a little seed of an idea. It’s so much a part of you but at the same time it becomes something larger than you. It’s a tribute not only to this amazing tradition of spoken word and the artists that laid the foundation, like Baraka, the Last Poets, Ginsberg, but also a tribute to my family and my history. That’s why you see images of my family throughout, and hear their voices on the album. And why it’s dedicated to my brother who died while I was making the album. I also wanted to celebrate the abundance of Afrikan talent in the community, and tell our story through this medium which is part of our griot tradition. I received a call yesterday from one of the artists, and after hearing the album, thanked me for creating it. You can’t ask for anything more special than that.
GN: You are very well known nationally and travel frequently with your poetry. In comparison to other cities, what have you seen as a unique element of the Twin Cities scene?
eg: I’ve said for years that the spoken word community in Minnesota is one of the top five in the nation. Though we’re relatively small and haven’t received the kind of attention other communities have, it is one of richest, most diverse and innovative spoken word communities in the country. I’ve also always felt that we’re one of the most musical spoken word communities because of our close relationship with the music scene here. A number of artists have explored and are exploring spoken word with music, but we have a long history of spoken word bands and collectives here from Ancestor Energy to NOW! to Arkology to Poet Tree to Trektah Beam Express to FIRE. We’ve also frequently merged it with performance art and theatre. That’s why it’s possible to make an album like this. Without all those experiences working with musicians, and experiments with different disciplines it wouldn’t be possible to synthesize all of it. I think that Minnesota is finally starting to get the respect it deserves in spoken word, especially with how well the Slam community is doing and winning the National Poetry Slam [this past year]. It shows that we haven’t just been paying lip service to the talent here.
GN: What advice do you have for artists who want to be career artists, to pursue their dreams in music/poetry?
eg: Create your art and don’t be deterred, even if you don’t get the response or support at first. But make sure you love what you do. The career will come, for better or for worse. Sometimes it’s not what we dream it to be. I thought I would be more of an actor or a writer. I never expected to be a spoken word artist. It’s just something I always loved, poetry with music, even when I was in high school listening to Jim Morrison, then discovering the Last Poets, then the Beats, then Amiri and so on. I didn’t know it was actually still being done, that you could do it as a career, or even that it was called spoken word. That was much later, after I had already fallen in love with it. Stick with what you do, if it’s meant to be your work, it will happen. If it’s not, you’ll still be rewarded by doing it.
Originally posted on City Pages on 24 February 2010.