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November 10, 2011
kinetic affect - they will move you
KINETIC AFFECT - THEY WILL MOVE YOU
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 10th, 2011
KINETIC AFFECT - THEY WILL MOVE YOU
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 10th, 2011
On a crisp fall day in October, 250 high school students gathered in Southfield at Hope United Methodist Church for the 2011 Youth Diversity Symposium. The event was hosted by the Youth Advisory Committee of the Southfield Community Foundation. There was an air of excitement in the room as young people from across greater Detroit assembled for the opening keynote to be presented by Kinetic Affect, a spoken word artistic duo from Kalamazoo.
This presentation was to be more than performance of poetry. It was clear that the two artists, Kirk Latimer and Gabriel Giron did their homework. They understood that on this day the students would be challenged to find common ground, break down walls, embrace their diversity and take away lessons from the day to their own schools and peers. The performers knew that to set the stage for their poetry performance and create a real kinetic affect would require becoming vulnerable and sharing their personal stories- sharing in a way that would create a connection for the students.
These guys are simply amazing. Together they have wrangled their emotions, experiences and energy into a performance style that is electrifying. They pride themselves in presenting themselves in a way guaranteed to dispel any stereotype. While Gabriel dresses and has the tattooed look of a hardened tough guy, beneath that exterior is an introspective and poetic soul. He has the wisdom and humility of someone that has faced a deadly disease and survived. Gabriel ended his teen years (which he describes as dangerous and turbulent) by joining the military in search of a new life. Early in his military career he was diagnosed with cancer and made a three-year journey to recovery. Every day he sees his stem-to-stern scar that runs the length of his mid-section as a reminder of his redemption.
Kirk’s buttoned down, shirt-and-tie look seems to match-up with his former profession as an English teacher – dig a little deeper and you find the invisible scars of an angry young man that, as a teen, lived a destructive life dealing drugs and acting on his anger. His story of redemption includes redirecting his anger into Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and eventually into creating laughter with his sharp wit. He went on to attend college and become an English teacher specializing in forensics (the art of formal speech and debate – not the ‘forensics’ we hear about on television shows like CSI). Knowing that writing and spoken word were pathways to healing, Kirk talked about and encouraged his students to find their voice through poetry. It was a student that catapulted him into a Slam Poetry performance by challenging him to "walk his talk."
In their presentation, Gabriel and Kirk make a vague reference to the meeting that brought them together. Based on their lives as they described them, it is easy to picture that their first meeting was in a competitive setting. Your mind goes to something physical - a fight perhaps. But no, it was a Poetry Slam competition. In 2006 Latimer showed up at a Kalamazoo poetry slam event to try his hand at competitive performance art. He was unaware that he was stepping on to Gabriel Giron’s home turf – where he was already well-known as a gifted spoken word performer. And, this particular night was a competition to select the finalists that would represent Kalamazoo at a national poetry slam competition. As it turned out Giron and Latimer placed first and second, and would become teammates not competitors.
It wasn’t long before the two were melding their styles into a unified performance. “We quickly realized that we were scrambling for three minutes of stage time when we could be creating a show of our own,” commented Giron. “We realized that we had more to say,” added Latimer. They started by putting on a show entitled Word Weavers that included themselves, a rhythm and blues singer, a musician and a dancer. In the summer of 2007, Latimer and Giron officially formed Kinetic Affect LLC, a for-profit business. “We quit our jobs and started taking on this work that we love full time,” continued Latimer.
Their art has taken them to performing on “America’s Got Talent” (a gig that they both say they are glad they didn’t win), to nurturing their business – Kinetic Affect. Spoken word is described as a performance art designed to move an audience. Since 2007, Kinetic Affect has been performing for foundations, corporations, youth organizations, and even for a prisoner re-entry program, as well as performing in bars, clubs and theaters. “We have found that our messages are resonating with all sorts of people,” said Giron.
In August of this year Kinetic Affect performed in Traverse City for a Grantee Conference put on by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The foundation approached them with a special challenge, create a poem inspired by the phrase “I believe in a Michigan where…” spawning the phenomenon that is The Michigan Poem which debuted at the Traverse City conference. The performance of The Michigan Poem at the Southfield Youth Diversity Symposium in October was only the second public presentation. Kinetic Affect and The Michigan Poem have been picked up to be promoted by Weber Shandwick, a global public relations firm. “While we would really like to hold out for a payday on The Michigan Poem – the truth is this poem belongs to Michigan,” said Giron. Latimer added “…and, it just needs to be out there touching the hearts of the people of Michigan.” On November 6th Kinetic Affect debuted The Michigan Poem in its first big public setting – it was ‘poetry on ice’ at the K-Wings hockey game in Kalamazoo.
With a repertoire of 40 completed pieces and the start on at least 30 other poems, it is clear that Kinetic Affect has the material to meet the needs of a broad variety of performance opportunities. In addition, they have created a collaborative performance space in Kalamazoo to encourage regular spoken word performances, and they have established a nonprofit called Speak It Forward which is focused on youth. Latimer designed the Speak It Forward logo and Giron proudly wears it on his forearm as a tattoo.
Latimer brings both a sense of humor and physicality to the performances that have morphed into a distinctive language of movement for both performers. “We don’t really choreograph our pieces,” said Latimer. “But we have created a style of movement that works with the poetry, and now it is a natural part of our performance.”
Reading poems written by Giron and Latimer will move you, but seeing them perform in person will move you to change – and that’s the Kinetic Affect.
SUCCESSFUL EMCEE MENTORS YOUNG MUSICIANS
WILLIAM E. KETCHUM III
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 10th, 2011
As the emcee Buff1, Ann Arbor native Jamall Bufford has built a career of recording critically acclaimed music and performing around the world. Now, as he takes a break from his usual full-time musician schedule, he’s working with an Ann Arbor teen center to help other young artists achieve whatever musical goals that are in their hearts.
"Some of these kids just want to rap and it’s a hobby, the same way it was for me when I was growing up," Bufford says. "I had no idea I'd be doing it full-time years later. But other kids really want to do this. I want to have something for everybody."
Jamall Bufford began earning his stripes in the Michigan hip-hop scene with Athletic Mic League, a seven-member collective of Ann Arbor emcees. After several mix tape and album releases built the group’s reputation in Michigan and online, Bufford’s group mates approached him to pursue a solo career. Bufford had two challenges: writing more material than he was used to, and standing out from other emcees in Michigan, which is one of the most competitive hip-hop scenes in the country.
"I knew I couldn’t talk about gunplay or hustling, because that’s not part of my life. Other cats are way doper [sic] than me with (rhyme) patterns, metaphors and wordplay. You don’t hear me talk about brands of clothes, alcohol brands, cars, nothing material," Bufford admits. "…I just make music about my family life, my relationships with women, how I was brought up, my perspective on hip-hop, and sports. To this day, I still don’t know how I was able to get by without doing all those popular things in hip-hop, but I’m thankful that people appreciate my voice and perspective."
The honest approach paid off. Teaming with the ASide Worldwide management and marketing company, Buff1 released two mix tapes in 2005 and 2006. His first two albums, Pure (2007) and There’s Only One (2008), garnered critical acclaim from top music publications, while being named Real Detroit Weekly’s "Best Solo Rap Artist of 2007" and a member of URB’s annual "Next 100" list of promising new artists. Bufford’s success enabled him to quit his day job and make a full-time living as a musician. He was recording and touring worldwide for much of 2009, including a tour with Mayer Hawthorne, a bubbling ASide artist signed to Universal Republic. But at the top of this year, after he had toured Europe with Los Angeles DJ Rhettmatic to promote their December 2010 album Crown Royale, he was ready for a change of pace from the full-time musician lifestyle.
"The fact that [people in foreign countries] like my music enough to talk to a promoter to say, 'Bring him to my city so I can see him live,' that's amazing to me," Bufford beams. "It was good money and all, but I never really concentrated on myself, solely and completely. I decided to cut down on the guest appearances and the touring, chill a little bit, focus on me, and see what I wanted to do with my next official solo album."
Once he settled back in Michigan, Bufford inquired about an opportunity to work with Neutral Zone, a youth-driven Ann Arbor teen center with the mission of promoting personal artistic expression, community leadership and the exchange of ideas. The center has been around since 1998, the year after Bufford graduated from high school. He had performed at the center with Athletic Mic League several times, so he had a relationship with the staff and admired their work.
Months after the center’s Emcee Workshop Coordinator left to pursue his music career in Seattle, Bufford was hired to fill the position. He officially began working there in September. Every Tuesday evening, Bufford heads a workshop at the center for two hours. He gives the more experienced kids advice on how to steer their careers, market their music and prepare for life on the road. For brand new artists he is helping them learn musical fundamentals like rhythm, timing and performance skills. Aside from tutoring middle school students years ago, this is Bufford’s first experience in this line of work.
"I had gotten into the rhythm of touring and recording, and I wanted a new challenge. I always thought that when I was done with music I could be a teacher or a social worker," Bufford says. "This was a good test to see if that’s even possible. I see what a teacher has to deal with; I respect it even more now."
Bufford’s goal is to have all of the students record a couple of songs together and perform in front of an audience. He says that even though many of them are talented writers, the largest area of improvement for the kids so far is delivering and performing their material. He makes them freestyle or recite verses among each other every week to build comfort. The biggest challenge for him has been keeping the kids’ attention for two hours every week, much less for a school year.
He insists that all is well so far, though. At the time of the interview, Bufford was six weeks into the new gig and days into listening to beats for his new album, which he'll release under his real name, Jamall Bufford, instead of his former Buff1 moniker. With a new crop of emcees under his wing and his own music in the future, Ann Arbor hip-hop appears to be in good hands.
DOUBLE LATTE WITH A DOODLE ON THE SIDE
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 10th, 2011
There's a story being told around these parts - something of a Lansing urban legend. It’s a story shared wherever people gather around the warm glow of a fire, or the steam rising from a hot mocha cappuccino with sprinkles. It’s the story of a man. Not just any man; a white-bearded bear of a man, who quietly slips into your presence while you’re distracted by your chai tea. With his ball cap pulled low over his eyes, he furtively and purposefully executes his work with a surgeon’s precision. While you are lost in your thoughts he escapes unnoticed into the dark of night. However; once he is gone and the fog in your brain lifts, you see the evidence of his existence. Your mouth gapes open as you gaze at the startling proof that he was here. There it is on the edge of the counter. You extend your hand to touch what might just be a mirage. Just as it is within your grasp, the barista snatches it away. You cry out in desperate angst, 'Who is this man?! Was he really here?' The barista smirks and calmly pins it to the bulletin board, a trophy for all to see. It’s a cocktail napkin revealing an ink drawing of a goofy face and a humorous caption.
Okay, so as far as urban legends go, this one isn’t all that scary. But at least it’s based in fact. Dennis Preston is a local artist and musician. He’s one of the lucky few who have been able to do what he loves for his entire life. As a way of sharing his gift while enriching others’ lives, he often "doodles" onto a napkin while relaxing at a Lansing area Biggby coffee shop (usually, he is found at the South Waverly or at the Elmwood location). These doodles are more than mere aimless scribbles, which is what you’d get if most of us were to doodle on a napkin. Our napkins would be whisked away as quickly as the empty coffee cups and torn Splenda packets. Instead, Preston’s "doodles" are pretty darned impressive and intricately drawn caricatures, meant to evoke a smile and perhaps a thought. He notes on them that they are property of Biggby’s coffee, and if anyone would like to have one of them, they must simply give a $10 tip to the barista on duty at the time. That seems like a pretty good price for an original piece of art. Why napkins? "Well, it beats toilet paper," Preston offers with a smile.
Understandably, the baristas love this. But so do the patrons; even those who just love reading them. The napkins are left posted on the bulletin board where the patrons will flip through them as they wait for their orders to be filled. At one point, one of the managers tried to remove them, supposedly because they weren’t really Biggby-related business. Some of the frequent customers demanded that the napkins be returned or they wouldn’t be returning as customers. Being a manager with discerning judgment, the napkins were returned, and all is right again in the world of coffeeshop napkin art. Nicole Maison, Director of Marketing at Biggby, said, "We love his creativity and how he uses our values of 'B happy, have fun, make friends, love people and drink great coffee' in the drawings that he does."
Preston began his career as an artist in the 1960's, at the age of 14. A cousin of a friend was in a Michigan garage band known as 'Tonto and the Renegades.' Given Preston's penchant for drawing, his classmate asked him to draw a logo for the band's drum head. Essentially, that's all it took to get him off and running. Other area bands began to clamor for his artwork on their drum heads, posters, and promo material. Eventually, his talents led him to a Detroit music promoter, who connected him with the Sherwood Forest music festivals, which were sort of Woodstock-type events near Flint, Michigan. From there, word got out and he ended up doing all sorts of artwork for well known rock bands of the 60's and 70's; The Byrds, Alice Cooper, The Steve Miller Band, Edgar Winter & Leon Russell, and The Guess Who, to name a few.
He once did a poster for the band 'America,' and was able to attend their concert. It happened to be the birthday of one of the members of the band and the band’s promoter asked him to draw a birthday card. So Preston spent most of the concert standing by the side of the stage, drawing a caricature of the musician sitting backward on a 'Horse with No Name.' Needless to say, that endeared him to the group.
Preston's napkin doodling began in the 60’s as well, when he was a bass player for his own band. The band would congregate at a place called 'Dogs 'N Suds' on Michigan Avenue. He would create drawings on napkins and leave them there. After a while, he noticed that they had saved all the napkins, and hung them all over one wall for everyone to enjoy. The tradition continued when Biggby (then Beaner's) opened their doors in the late 90's.
Preston said it is not always understood what he does. The caricatures are not of customers, but from his imagination. Sometimes customers may inspire a certain drawing, but they are never of anyone specific. However, he is also often hired to either entertain at functions by drawing caricatures of those attending, or commissioned to create a work of someone specific.
He recalls a time when he was contacted from his Yellow Pages ad under "Entertainment" (If you're under 25, ask your parents what the Yellow Pages are). "Someone called and asked if I could dress up like the purple dinosaur, Barney. And I explained that I drew caricatures; I didn’t dress up like characters. Those are different words," Preston said. "Then they asked if I could draw caricatures while dressed up like Barney."
Preston has also gone on to provide illustrations for a new upcoming line of clothing, as well as a book on conservative values, called Pointed Poems. The book's author, Craig Wieland, said he saw some of Preston’s work on postcards being mailed out by a local business. "I had written a handful of poems for my kids," said Wieland, "and as a gift one Christmas, I was going to create a little booklet of the poems." He found out how to reach Preston and proposed he illustrate what was then just an idea he had for homemade Christmas gifts. "We used to meet at Biggby and I would read the poems to him and perform all the characters as he frantically drew facial expressions and caricatures. I'm sure the other customers thought we were nuts," Wieland added.
What started out as ten poems for a Christmas gift turned into 31 poems and over 400 illustrations, and a published book which has gotten national attention. "Dennis was careful to provide a fairly balanced portrayal of both conservative and liberal characters, which is what we both wanted to do," said Wieland.
It seems that Preston's work always leads him to more work. His napkin art has lead to a lot of commissioned pieces as well as drawing caricatures at public events. He may be seen during Silver Bells in the City, Lansing's annual holiday parade and tree lighting, providing caricatures for anyone who asks. He has also done some work for Biggby Coffee in a more official capacity. "When we had to look for a caricaturist for our annual meeting with our franchisees last year," said Ms. Maison, "Dennis was our choice and brought his talent and love for drawing to all of our franchisees as well as our home office staff."
He also teaches "Humorous Illustration" at LCC, where he has been teaching since 1977. While he is completely self-taught, his track record is hard to argue with. "I like teaching," he said. "I like to see my students make a living with their artwork."
Preston has not ignored his musical abilities, either. He has a CD, "Songs and Inventions," coming out soon, on which he plays a number of the instruments and performs the vocals. You can find samples of his songs on his profile on ReverbNation.
So next time you find yourself at a Lansing area Biggby, waiting for your tall, skinny, half-caf, caramel latte, take a look around and see if you can spot the mysterious Napkin Guy. He’s the one not dressed as Barney.
GRAFFITI ART SERVES AS OUTLET
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 10th, 2011
In the 1980s, people in the Czech Republic started painting John Lennon lyrics on a concrete wall in a public space as a means to communicate justice and social change. The wall survived Communist suppression in the 1980s and has since been a moving piece of art activism.
Something similar is happening in Southwest Detroit. In 2004, community activist Erik Howard, 32, a group of young artists that identify themselves as Expressions, service providers and neighbors informally started The Alley Project (TAP), a community space that supports artistic expression, specifically graffiti or as Howard prefers to call it: "aerosol art."
"On the back of my garage there was a bunch of graffiti and obscenities," said Howard who lives in the TAP neighborhood, which is flanked by Carson and Pitt Streets. "I thought, I can either keep painting over this or let the kids paint over it."
Howard's neighbor agreed with his take on garage graffiti and both granted neighborhood kids permission to use their garages as a canvas. Howard's aunt, who also lives in the neighborhood, and another neighbor followed suit.
"Our approach was to attract young people who were already involved in it (graffiti) to help reduce their legal and physical risk," Howard said. "They wanted a place where they could paint and there was nothing like that. This (TAP) really breaks stereotypes and creates relationship building and social capital."
Eventually, an estimated 35 to 50 kids were painting and repainting the sides of the garages every month. The space-to-user ratio became unsustainable so individuals involved with the project started looking for additional space.
In 2008, GrafikJam, which is part of Young Nation, a group of kids and mentors that promote activities like TAP, received an $8,000 grant from the Skillman Foundation to create artists workshops in the alley. In 2010, TAP got a major boost from Community + Public Arts Detroit, which granted Youth Nation $38,000 toward the project. The space opened in July at 9233 Avis St. and includes a studio and exhibition space.
"As a result we have this beautiful environment that’s engaging to young and old, artists and non-artists, great students and poor students, young people involved in exploitative ventures and young people that are not," Howard said. "We have gardens and benches. It’s done an extraordinary amount of good for the community with a relatively small amount of money."
For a few years the 'Lennon wall' was a catalyst for rattling the cages of authority, something Young Nation and TAP certainly are not. When Howard started conceptualizing what would eventually become Young Nation, he didn’t want to rattle, he wanted to unite.
Howard grew up on Carson and Pitt Streets in southwest Detroit, moved to Wyandotte for part of high school, down to Spring Arbor to attend Spring Arbor University and back to southwest Detroit after college. His moves taught him that not everyone is open to other cultures. It also made him realize that many of those who are open to other cultures, lack exposure to those cultures.
Missing urban environments while studying at Spring Arbor, Howard spent a semester in Los Angeles in 1998. To quell his homesickness, he started collecting articles about the struggles and progress in southwest Detroit. He put them in a notebook titled "Inside Southwest Detroit." When he returned to Spring Arbor, he started a campus ministry, Hands on Detroit whose members prayed for southwest Detroit and got involved in community projects.
Next semester, he used the notebook, community resources and a photography course to launch Inside Southwest Detroit, a website designed to "give people visual access to the neighborhood" and breakdown stereotypes about southwest Detroit.
In 2002, he started Expressions, a youth group that was a response to the social conditions in the neighborhood. Expressions offered alternative activities to neighborhood kids, activities they would actually participate in. They started a lowrider club, hosting cruise nights that attracted riders, local youth and community members.
"We used the attention we got from the cars to build relationships with youth and through those relationships with youth we did an exploration of their passions and used those motivators toward personal development," Howard said.
As the mentoring network grew and they developed relationships with the kids, they learned more about street art and the fascination it held with area youth. Expressions found a safe, legal way to let kids act on that passion by creating TAP. Not only do the kids get a safe place to practice their art, they also have access to experienced, professional artists and art workshops.
"A lot of people in southwest Detroit are already involved with, or interested in, street art," Howard said. "We used it to attract young people and expose them to a wider world of art. That’s how we used it as a mentoring tool. It already has appeal. It’s already culturally relevant to the youth, and so it’s kind of us coming to them, instead of making them come to us."
2012: Social Change Though Media
All of the projects that evolved out of the Expressions group now fall under the umbrella of Young Nation, which seeks to promote initiatives like GraffikArt, groups like Expressions and projects like TAP.
"We believe that when you combine a cultural and developmental competency that the result is more than the sum of its parts," Howard said of Young Nation. "We try to inspire things without taking it by coercion or power."
Though positive social change has always been a goal of Young Nation’s, in 2012 the group will ramp up its efforts to give kids the tools to use media to create "positive social epidemics."
"We want to build their skills by engaging them in their passions and help them see where their passions intersect with community needs," Howard said.
This could include a physical expansion, though Howard said that will depend on the community's needs. Young Nation participants are also collaborating with Bronzeville, a southside Chicago neighborhood interested in doing something similar to Young Nation.
Though most Young Nation projects require little capital, the group hopes to secure funding in 2012 for human capital. Next steps include obtaining funds for a full-time director and the equivalent of approximately two full-time staff.
"The Alley Project is a place and a lot people who live on the street are using it on a regular basis," Howard said. "It used to be two empty lots and grass but now it's occupied. It's done a lot to change what was sometimes an unfriendly environment."