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Founded in the summer of 2003 by Alma Davila-Toro and Atiba T. Edwards, F.O.K.U.S. was created to form diverse communities and support the arts in various ways, including concerts, workshops, art shows, film screenings and our magazine, INSIGHT. We believe the arts enable people to rise above barriers in society as evidenced in the diverse audiences that attend our events. F.O.K.U.S. brings together art forms, both traditional and non-traditional, to expand the views on what is considered art.




Atiba is a perpetual visionary that likes to do art in the dark since it is easier to see the true light.


Maya is an Oakland, California native that moved to New York last year to pursue her Master of Arts degree in journalism. She's a story teller of things unseen and voices unheard.


Jeff is a creative type whose favorite questions are Why? and What if...? In that order.


All rights reserved on entire contents. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. Opinions expressed in articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of F.O.K.U.S. or its subsidaries.

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR Volume II | Issue 2 Art is…what we love. But it’s also hard work. In the time that it took to bring together the content of Volume II Issue 2, Jeff created an entire website and did some other freelance design, Atiba helped to launch a new photo website and worked hard on F.O.K.U.S. related events like The Stoop, and I was busy with the demands of an intense grad program, an internship, and a job. With all these demands, it was difficult for all of us to find the hours necessary to produce another great issue of INSIGHT. But we made the time. We would organize contributor submissions during a “working” lunch, edit articles in-between classes and lay it all out during the wee-hours of the night. From the INSIGHT team to the contributors, we all found the time because Art is…what we love. In this issue, Martin F. Jackson interviews the crazed lead singer of Renfield, a theatrical band who performs more than just music; Silvia Laserna seeks, finds, and captures the Ghanaian community in the Bronx; members of F.O.K.U.S. satisfy their appetite for Solefood in an exclusive interview with the creators of the custom design sneaker boutique; and much more. As always, we welcome your feedback, thoughts, and suggestions so drop a line at

Maya Pope-Chappell


Photo taken at 53rd St. between 5th and 6th Aves., NY by Maya Pope-Chappell


combination between the winter SEASONAL CUSP "A and the spring" — Andrew Bell, 24

KWAK'S CORNER: POLITICKING WITH MY MUSIQUE Kwaku Opoku Sarpong-Agyeman My first taste of political music were the sounds of Fela Kuti. The Nigerian musician would fuse African jazz and funk with West African highlife, incorporated with lyrics that attacked the chaotic nature of African political institutions. His song “Zombie” sparked riots and he was banished from my native country of Ghana in 1978. Music’s role in politics has always been important to its process. The use of anthems and marching/parade songs are seen throughout history: Hitler’s Germany and the bonfire marches, the returning of a U.S. soldier from combat, and various rallies for world peace speak to its prominence. The music is usually implemented to increase the climatic feeling of the event and provide one voice for which the crowd adheres to. 04 | INSIGHT

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin used “Bararcuda” by Heart, while Obama pumped Stevie Wonder’s “Sign Seal Delivered.” Both songs served a musical purpose of giving the supporter a song to recognize their candidate with. Do you politick with your music and flow with the lyrics? Do you allow music to sway your ideas? Does music open your mind to the thoughts of others? Does a message in a song provide you with the means to debate and formalize your political stance? Maybe even reinforce your own political ideology? When you hear such songs as "Heal the World" by Michael Jackson or "Fight the Power" by Public Enemy, is there a stir in your heart to “Get Up Stand up” as Bob Marley foretold?

Kwak's Corner

The ability to politick means to promote oneself or one’s policies. Music gives an individual possession of an activity that can be undertaken for political means. It is fascinating how well music and politics work in unison. Both use voice as the primary mode of communication to reach the masses, whether it is manifested in written or speech form. It is clear that the two share a special connection.

an emotional response. Politics (in speech form) has a function of creating an ideal or position for the listener. It introduces possibilities for the future and enables a sense of shared duty. When bridged together, the two can create a strong devotion to a candidate or leader. The ability of artists to fuse their views within a rhythmic

THE ABILITY OF ARTISTS TO FUSE THEIR VIEWS WITHIN A RHYTHMIC FLOW PROVIDES AN ADDED EFFECT TO THEIR STANCE... This special relationship is something Kwak thinks is worth exploring. MY VIEW: Music involves a process of creating a joyful and pleasant sound for the listener with words and rhythms that enable

flow provides an added effect to their stance, serving as an excellent tool for spreading an ideal. When mixed with the lyrics, its appeal may enhance the listener’s capability to emotionally embrace and internalize the song. Of course one must ensure that those listening actually appreciate the music, but even without INSIGHT | 05

Kwak's Corner

likability, the message can still resonate and serve its purpose. Combining the two together also changes the characteristics of these forms of voice. The free form of music becomes constructed, while rigid political speech becomes pliable. Both unite to create an

evident in the rapid downfall of famed country group the Dixie Chicks. In 2003, singer Natalie Maines expressed her feelings about the Iraq invasion during the group's Top of the World Tour. Before starting their song "Travelin’ Solider," she vented

THE DIXIE CHICK DOWNFALL IS AN EXAMPLE OF HOW THE RIGIDNESS OF POLITICS DOES NOT ALWAYS ALLOW SAFE PASSAGE FOR THE MUSICIAN WHO DECIDES TO EXPRESS AND PROMOTE THEIR THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL DOCTRINE overall message while simultaneously developing a special connection with the listener. This bond is different from the artists approach to their respective followers. Because of the specificity of political music and its direct message, a musician does not have the luxury to remove themselves from their words. This was 06 | INSIGHT

her frustrations to the London crowd proclaiming her opposition to the war in Iraq and her shame of former President George W. Bush, a fellow Texan. Maines comments were deemed un-American and its impact on the group was devastating financially. The remarks caused backlash among their country music fan base, which prompted many to

Kwak's Corner

boycott the group's music and publicly burn their albums. The Dixie Chick downfall is an example of how the rigidness of politics does not always allow safe passage for the musician who decides to express and promote their thoughts on political doctrine. As entertainers, their music was not political. They did not truly know or care about the ideals and thoughts of their fans. The backlash was harsh and nearly ruined them as a viable country music group.

end, it is an issue of the message and knowing your audience. An individual can always do what they feel and be what they like, but when politicking with musique they should be mindful of its effects. Kwaku is a graduate of the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor. Kwaku currently works in Market Research. Reach out and tell him your thoughts at

On the other hand, it also showed that the right of free speech and freedom as an artist can be used to one's benefit. This event sparked a debate on the right of an individual to politick. Ultimately, the Dixie Chicks were able to recover from this event with their dignity in tact. Fela Kuti was not as lucky, forever angering his government and some of his fan base. In the INSIGHT | 7


(above) No. 2 subway line painted in 1976 by Chain3 (Ash) and REE-2 MTA (Opel)


Fred “REE-2 MTA” Vilomar is a grocery store manager by day and an aerosol artist on weekends. The New York City native now resides in Jersey City, NJ.

(below) This wall was painted in 2008 with MTR crew from PR at 5Pointz


PRIZ TS5 started “solo-bombing” above ground in the late 70’s as a novice street writer. By the 1980’s, he was tagging subway train exterior panels and the IRT Broadway No. 1 line. Influenced by letter flow movement and arrow connections, PRIZ TS5 whose name is based on the Prima Font, describes his style as “old school.” He continues to paint legally commissioned murals throughout the five boroughs along side long-time friend and partner STAN-ONE TSF, the current and long time President of The Spanish Five graffiti crew. STAN-ONE TSF tagged and painted walls, subway cars and stations on the Broadway IRT No. 1 line in 1979. By the 80’s, he was President of The Spanish Five graffiti crew, also known as TSF/ TS5. STAN-ONE TSF, whose name originates from former WWF wrestler “Stan The Man,” disappeared from the graffiti scene in the late 80’s until PRIZ TS5 brought him out of retirement in 2001. 10 | INSIGHT


As told by PRIZ TS5: This wall was painted in the fall of 2008 in an undisclosed spot in Brooklyn adjacent to several freight tracks. On Saturday, STAN-ONE TSF and I met at the location. I carried two gallons of black rolling paint and rollers and we had a good amount of spray paint between us. We both came with outlines and two different sketched versions of the Green Goblin but we agreed to do STAN-ONE TSF's sketched version. STAN-ONE TSF and I began improvising as we painted the wall, which took six hours to complete. It took one hour just for the black paint to completely dry on the wall's concrete surface. It’s no longer visible there because it has been painted over on numerous occasions.


As told by PRIZ TS5: STAN-ONE TSF and I painted this wall in the winte this spot from other writers who had painted there in 2007. I asked aroun it. He said come down! It was a little chilly up there but we threw someth abbreviation for our crew TS5 (The Spanish Five ) as a final touch. We w wouldn't paint at.



er of 2008 at the "Rooftop Legends" in Manhattan. We had heard about nd, got a name and then contacted Jesse, the cat who was running hing together. The walls soaked up the paint nicely. We added the wanted to let people know that there wasn't a place that we couldn't or



As told by PRIZ TS5: This was a graffiti jam thrown together in May of 20 207th street across from the Ghost Yard. A lot of writers attended. STAN vided to us. We just got very colorfully creative. We improvised on the m face said it all."Oh no, it's the The Spanish Five again!" Yes, here we wer



009 by our writer friend CRANE TMT crew (The Magnificent Team) at N-ONE TSF and I rolled the wall with left over gallon paint that was promiddle character at the very last minute. I thought the worried look on his re again!



"Let's Be Honest About What Came Before" — Quote by Kevin Coval Jozi Zwerdling

I. Blood hardens like tar beneath this highway like cement. My eyes slanted peripheral I glance and see stretchersII. The visceral devouring of body by metal The concavity of a stomach punch/ rib crack. The air bag’s sacrifice to its own heroism. My sister went unconscious on a road built for the ones who look like us. Road tripped from Ann Arbor, suburban, fortressed with ridged columns university endowments expensive Amtrak trainsBecause there are no public buses to Detroit or Bridgesno Rubyin the rough-

where a black family livednow there’s a highway. IV. Dear Mr. Mayor, I got a letter from the housing secretary the other day. He say the city is fitting to pave a road through my home? It may only be littleI know it leaks and there are ratsbut what about my five children? The bed they sharewhat about them? We got nowhere to go. Sincerely, Irma Stallings Dear Irma, “That’s the price of progress.”

III. In 1950 there was a house 16 | INSIGHT

Jozi Zwerdling

V. In 2005, I wear sweatpants. Watch cable from my sunroom sofa. Barbara Bush strolls through the Superdome, lined with Hurricane Katrina survivors and casualties, sweats underneath her pantsuit, chuckling underneath her breath, “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--- this is working very well for them.” By underprivileged she means the sweat underneath her pantsuit belongs to them. She means what works very well for the poor and black would never work for us, Barbara and I: We wear soft clothes and take breaks from the summer heat in our air conditioning, our homes, protected by security systems and private healthcare. We drive downtown in cars

with leather seats, on highways built for our convenience. Katrina survivors walk miles on expressways when FEMA forgets about them. Reach interstate bridges only to face the mouths of rifles, Jefferson Parish police ordering them to go back where they came from. When New Orleans is awash in pollutants and blood. When the levees didn’t protect their homes. When they got nowhere to go. VI. Don’t say Black Say blight Say slum Say urban Say thug Say looter Say underprivileged Say Say “the price of progress” Say demolition Don’t say black. VII. We all called it a tragedy. And it was. INSIGHT | 17

Jozi Zwerdling

Celia was only 18. Her friend was driving under the speed limit. They wore seatbelts. Laden with ski gear and day passes, they were just trying to have fun, take a vacation, Get away from it all. Spinning on the concrete, black ice, an SUV and a van, window colliding with temple, no side impact airbags -yet: A tragic accident. But there’s nothing accidental about the highways that pave over homes, the police who won’t let the survivors get away from it all, the cars that Barbara and I use to pass through the rough parts the urban parts the black parts. My sister had a tragic accident. But I am not an innocent 18 | INSIGHT

bystander. I might as well commit drive bys every day. I cannot call my sister’s blood a battlefield when it is stains on a highway passing over what little they left with my money in my name. writing Jozi Zwerdling is a senior at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and a core member of F.O.K.U.S. She’s looking for more ways to engage as a community activist. Contact her at jolillian88@gmail. com

Photo by Emma Raynor


Spain 2009, when the flowers start blooming.

Running boy along the beach. Morning of Carnival. The port city of Cadiz, Spain is world famous for their annual Carnival, a weeklong celebration leading up to Lent. My sister and her friend brought me along for the five-hour car ride to the city, arriving in time for Saturday’s festivities. The old part of the city was sectioned off, a fairytale place of grandiose cathedrals, cobbled streets, city squares, and warm ocean air. Kids showed off their costumes during the day and following with tradi22 | INSIGHT

tion, threw bags of confetti. Young people coordinated elaborate outfits with friends (we dressed as pirates), and the old came to take it all in. We sat along the breaker wall and watched the sunset against the brightly colored apartment fronts behind us. As the streetlights turned on and the sun dipped into the ocean, the sounds of revelry inside the walls of the old city began to overpower the waves crashing into the rocks.

Homes in the hillside outside Granada. A poem was written on the side of a wall: Granada: The City of Drunkards, Gypsies, Poets, and Fountains. The San Nicholas courtyard was full of life. Teenagers drank bottled wine in brown paper bags, children ran with water balloons and an old man smoked a pipe. Another man played flamenco next to me as a boy slept on the cobbled stone with a jacket over his eyes. Tourists snapped photographs of the spectacular view of the city. I left San Nicholas courtyard late that afternoon and traveled further up the hill, until I was able to walk around the high terraced wall that ran along the city edge. Below was a small valley with homes built into the caves on the hillside. INSIGHT | 23

Name of Author



clockwise from top left: Cadiz waterfront, a mustache child, The Plaza la Catedral (Cadiz), and the untraditional nuns. In the late afternoon. 24 |de INSIGHT

Name of Author




Alex O'Dell

As the night progressed and the chants echoing off the walls swelled, the laugh from a cross dressing Carmen Miranda turned sinister, and the streets packed tighter. But there is something charming about the drunken debauchery: the man in the chicken costume defacing a beautiful 18th century marble monument with his urine; the young men donning mock police uniforms handing out violations and directing traffic; women in devil costumes posing for a picture behind nuns. I tip toed around the broken glass and trash with a smile on my face, the same smile that everyone seemed to have. Daybreak was approaching when we made our way through the swarms of people pushing and shoving for taxis. As we left behind the glow of Cadiz, I was relived to have escaped from the city before it swallowed itself whole, but ready to someday return. When we drove into the town, I saw this statue and I knew I wanted a photograph of it. As we walked along the boardwalk looking for a place to eat, I saw the boy climbing up to the statue. I had my camera at my side and knew I only had a moment to take off my lens cap and snap a picture. I snapped the shot and forgot about it until the roll was processed. Alex O'Dell is from Frankenmuth, Michigan. He is currently a sophomore at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Find more of Alex's photos at or email him at


Mother and child. A small beach town in Costal de Sol.


Aneicka Bookal If I were sunshine Would you let me inside so I could light you up? Every crevice, every dark corner of your mind Exposed like rich soil Roots deep, twisted Anchoring your soul to this earth Would your secrets bloom for me As my rays lovingly caress your face Would you bask in my warmth stand naked before me Unashamed, no pretense of false masculinity Not threatened by my radiance Face lifted to the sky Thanking God that I continued to shine Would you drink my sunlight if you could cup it in your hands Sip delicately or take great swallows As if you knew that I could 28 | INSIGHT

quench your thirst The one you’ve experienced since birth If I were sunshine Could you bear the heat of my gaze? Or would you run for the shade? Aneicka is a grad student at NYU and resides in Brooklyn, NY. Contact her at

Photo collage by Jeff Albert

100% AUTHENTIC FOOD FOR YOUR SOLES An Interview with Solefood NYC

F.O.K.U.S. sat down with the creators of Solefood to talk about sneakers, customization culture and what Solefood NYC is all about. (Photos by Jeff Albert, Atiba T. Edwards, and Russell Stewart) Lispenard Street once was a refuge spot for Fredrick Douglas along the Underground Railroad. Now, hundreds of years later, it’s the home of Solefood NYC, a restaurant themed art gallery, apparel and custom design sneaker boutique. This history along with its discreet location tucked off of Broadway and Canal St., in the TriBeCa area of Manhattan, NY, is what drew owners Mike Cole and Matt Murphy to set up shop. “As a New Yorker, one of the things you hate is going shopping and seeing your friends shopping in what you thought was your spot,” Mike said. Steadily expanding their culinary skills of cooking up unique custom sneakers, partners Matt and Mike also work with a roster of over 40 talented artists, including the most recent addition, Andre 32 | INSIGHT

Trenier from Tangible Thoughts, who are responsible for creating the sneaker and apparel designs on display throughout the store. “Often times you would go somewhere and feel like you are not being helped in a certain way or being duped into buying a product,” Mike said. “We want you to come in here and feel relaxed instead of the typical boutique feeling where you walk in and think ‘damn I gotta buy something’ because people are looking at you over their shoulders and out the corners of their eyes.” The ever-evolving layout features restaurant booths and bakery display cases with sneakers and customized apparel in place of desserts and pastries. There are also plans to expand the release of Solefood’s organic iced tea and introduce Candy Yam flavored

Solefood NYC

ice cream. “We didn't want to step on anyone's toes or be a regular custom sneaker shop so we went with customs [shoes] that also give artists a voice,” Mike said. “All of that is part of the whole lifestyle incorporation that we provide. We provide memories.”

implementation, which these guys do to create a sneaker. I fell in love with the shoe game when I was about 12 years old. Back in the day when you seen Mike [Jordan] just bang it on somebody; you’d play in a pair of Jordans and thought you were going to the NBA. After I figured out I wasn’t going to the NBA I realized ‘damn,

HONESTLY I COULDN'T EVEN GET SOME OF THE SHOES I WANTED. MY MOM AND POP WOULD SAY HELL NO, TAKE THE $60 JUMP-OFFS When did you both fall in love with art? Mike Cole: I’ve liked art since I was a little kid but not art like this. I couldn’t do all this [pointing to Josh Peter’s canvases of African American Superheroes on display around the store]. I fell in love with the art form of a shoe — because the sneaker is an art. Just look at the work, from design to 34 | INSIGHT

I guess I just like these things.’ Honestly I couldn’t even get some of the shoes I wanted. My mom and pop would say hell no, take the $60 jumpoffs. I saved up my money and finally bought my first pair of Jordans, and then I was on to something. That’s how it started and when I fell in love. Matt Murphy: I had no artistic talent what so ever. I couldn’t draw a straight line or circle. I

Solefood NYC

started to like art when I went to an art history course and it just evolved from there. If you hadn’t started Solefood, what would do you think you would be doing?

Where does your inspiration come from? Mike: We don’t look at another sneaker store to figure out what they are thinking of creating. We sit with our artists to


Mike: I would probably be an attorney at a law firm. I was studying to be a paralegal at Lipseg Shapey. I thought I was going to be Matlock and ended up being Kojack. I was running all around for the firm and realized ‘this is whack.’ So if I wasn’t doing Solefood, I would be doing that but I’d go to work in a suit and a pair of Jordans with a leather hat; looking like Shyne [former Bad Boy artist] going to court. Matt: I went to college for physical therapy so I’d probably be a doing that — maybe a trainer somewhere.

figure something out. Things come from a brainstorming session where the group would come up with a thought then draw it out. After looking at it on the screen, we would say ‘you know what I’m feeling that. Let’s call our printer.’ We would tweak it and then go with it. The possibilities are endless since we are contracted by you guys [the customers]. What would you say is the mission of Solefood? Mike: The mission is to touch people. We get mothers who call for past loved ones and INSIGHT | 35

Mike Cole

Solefood NYC

want an image done on a hat or other product and it gets done. We get call backs saying ‘Thank you, I couldn’t even imagine it like that.’ We create memories. You come here and have a good time. When you leave here, even if you don’t buy

out. We did a shirt and a pair of shoes for Nelson Mandela for his 90th birthday. Mike: After they [the people overseeing the process of Mandela getting the gift] got over initial misconceptions that we were trying to capitalize off of his name, the people


anything, you would tell someone ‘I saw something there for you.’ We want to touch people directly. I could care less if the masses know what we do. Right now we are working on donating 20,000 pairs of shoes to kids in Africa. Things like that are what we try to do on the side and once it can happen then we are happy. Matt: We are launching a charity. If you buy one pair of sneakers we would give one away for free. Once a year we will go to Africa and hand them

we worked with in Africa really understood what we were doing and started tying us into other charitable networks. Fortunately my uncle and pops run an organization that talks to virtually every diplomat and ambassador in Africa. Now we are working on bringing solar power to Africa. Different things as long as we can do it, it is not just about a sneaker sale at the end of the day. Sneaker sales are great, that is what we focus on, but our main thing is to also let you know that behind the scenes we are doing things that other INSIGHT | 37

Solefood NYC

stores are not on. That is the lifestyle we try to incorporate. Describe the customization process and how you work with customers. Mike: We generally do ‘one-ofones’ or ‘two-of-twos’. People see these shoes [Catfish dunks] and want a certain size but need to understand when Revive [Solefood artist] went shopping he found a size 11.5 and that is why there is only one and it is an 11.5. We try to break it down to the customers that he only did one of these but if you want something similar he can do that for you. [Generally,] someone comes in here and gives direction for the custom sneakers they want and the artist creates off of that direction — we create exactly what you request. Matt: What we don’t like doing is taking a regular sneaker and making it into an already existing limited run custom. So for example we don’t like taking an Air Force One and making it 40 | INSIGHT

into the Tiffany Nike Dunks. Jose Batilo (Solefood Staff): We are surrounded by bootleggers being located close to Canal St. but we let everyone know we only work with authentic products. What was the craziest custom job you ever did? Matt: One crazy job was the Ostrich customs. From the concept to the people we had to deal with to get the synthetic ostrich and the people we had to deal with to do the customs. Mike: On this project, we worked with Eric and Aladdin from Remix Da Kicks — the first non-athletes to get shoes ran off of Nike’s presses and the creators/influences for Nike ID. We had to do some ostrich customs with them and that job got so complex due to miscommunication. Also, we turned a pair of Jordan 11s into heels for Mariah Carey when she sang at the 2003

Solefood NYC

All Star Game for the Michael Jordan Tribute. Describe how you work with the artists.

Atlanta, etc. We hope to work with more artists and do more projects to increase everyone’s visibility. Any way that we can influence you on a whole


Mike: Similar to how you can see the cooks at Benihana's restaurant working in front of you, we want people to see the art done first hand and what goes on behind the scenes. You come in and you see people working on a shoe and you may feel inclined to get a shoe. What are you hoping to accomplish with Solefood NYC? Mike: Have customers support our products. We have artists that are not just here locally, we have artists in London, Australia, Scotland,

lifestyle perspective is what we are about. Also we are helping on the brand of our artists, such as Revive. He has put on a tremendous idea on a sneaker [Catfish Nike Dunks] and we have taken 585 orders to date on this sneaker — and no one really knows him. We are also focused on working with women. We have a shoe deal coming with Calvin Klein where we are doing a line of women’s customs. When you get women to come in here it is totally different — y’all fight over shoes! You can’t just have small t-shirts and size 6 sneakers. Women will INSIGHT | 41

Solefood NYC

say what are you really trying to do? So we have smaller cuts and women’s shoes. So that is part of our way to cater to our female customers. We have a lady, Miss Angelina, who makes custom leggings. We also have ladies night the last Thursday of the month where everything is setup

be rocking a pair of customs. The world is small and we keep meeting other people. This is the way in which we hope to keep building and growing with one another. Every time we put a stamp on something, we just want to come correct.

WHEN YOU GET WOMEN TO COME IN HERE IT IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT — Y'ALL FIGHT OVER SHOES! to cater to the females from drinks, hairstylist and women’s shoes on display. We want females to come here, network and have a good time. We are working on a couple of other things right now, including a TV show, to highlight what goes on behind the scenes. Also we are working on a calendar featuring 12 different cuisines of the world. The waitresses will be dressed in the traditional garment of that respective culture and will 42 | INSIGHT


After spending six months studying abroad in Ghana in 2006, I was haunted by the most wonderful memories of the country and the Ghanaian people. I set out to find the Ghanaian communities in New York and what I found were a host of organizations and a thriving community in the Bronx. I hung out in the area and talked with people about their experience migrating to the U.S., and their dreams and expectations. What emerged were a collection of portraits and a set of insightful interviews of Ghanaian people living in the Bronx.

BERIMA (right) Uncle Berima Mensah is one of the members of the Asanteman Ghanaian Association. When I arrived at his home to take some photographs, another man peered out the window and said Uncle Berima was sleeping; he was not expecting anyone. I insisted. Uncle Berima finally came out in his slippers, eyes half shut, smiling and laughing because he forgot I was coming. Once he was ready to be photographed, we went outside to find a good location. Uncle Berima was not very happy to stand in the sun at the time but loved the outcome of the photograph. 44 | INSIGHT

Silvia Laserna

FOOTBALL PLAYERS (pgs. 46-47) Tracy Towers are two very tall, surreal-looking towers in the Bronx where a large Ghanaian community lives. One day I was there looking to gain INSIGHT into the different immigration experiences of Ghanaian people. I ended up at Clinton High School where I met Kofi Isaac Adusei, a very handsome young man, wearing a Ghana t-shirt that his father gave him. His dream is to be a doctor and if he follows his father’s advice, “Eat and learn,” he will reach his goal. When the interview was over, Isaac joined the football team in their practice, but the team was more interested in joining Isaac’s photo shoot. Before I knew it, I had a team of Ghanaian football players posing for my photo.

BENJAMIN (right) Benjamin Owusu used to work at the Wet Seal clothing store on 14th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan. I met him on a random occasion and asked if I could interview him. We met at The New School library and had a long conversation about his experience immigrating to the US. When the moment to take the portrait came, I tried to photograph him in front of his job but he said, “The store is too nice. If my friends in Ghana see that it is a nice place, they will expect me to send them more money.” So I took his portrait on a rainy day on 5th Avenue. 48 | INSIGHT


Silvia Laserna

ADOPTIVE FAMILy (left) This is my adoptive Ghanaian Family: Benedicta, Michael and Angelina. When I met them, Angelina and Benedicta had just arrived from Ghana and were adapting to their new environment. In this photograph they are dressed in traditional Ghanaian clothes, waiting for a Taxi to go to church on a Sunday afternoon.

MOSQUE (pgs. 52-53) A Mosque is a hard place for a foreign, nonMuslim girl to get access. I had the fortune of finding a community of Muslims who did not mind my presence or the camera. This photo was taken outside of the Yankasa Mosque following Sunday service. Pictured in the foreground is Haji Mohamet Toure and in back is a Ghanaian family. Toure is concerned with increasing corruption in Ghana and is waiting for the right moment to get involved in politics and help his country. INSIGHT | 51


I am the life that proceeds the lifetimes that supersede my ams and my futures again I am the life that still lives, lying like lions, smoke grey eyes set heavy upon horizons seeking zion Swindling the dying light that creeps before crying nights The aloe for the sunburn, the sun’s burns, the world turns I am the world that still wonders What wonders wait beyond my future’s blunders What whispers of swirling vistas my mother’s sacred summers yeah I miss her silent son rises I am the man afraid for others to believe in me The pressures of the infinite precautions The cool winds of history blown straight in off of Boston Pushing against the door waiting beneath my building’s 54 | INSIGHT

awning The soul gives birth to satan’s dawning And I am the mute child in the corner with the crayon drawing In need of love to feel right But unable to crack the code of what love feels like They run and hide with Saul’s children of the night I am the trampled doormat when they are called in at supper time I am the wind that blows the hands of time Honestly wound to be infinitely east-bound until I’m set down I am the school yard bully I am the west wind I am the child I am the kin And I am the mind with muscle to muster the dusted lusts of crusted doves I am the olive branch stuck in the sand I am the last squeeze of a falling hand I am the child’s vision of him-

Mike Rosen

self as an old man I am the man that will forget his wedding I am he who cannot be defined, thus choosing to find my mind through spoken swollen and rhymes Turned golden in sunshine but molded by my own lies I am open for business and for interpretation and I am done fighting to define that which cannot be mine for in your mind’s eye you already know exactly how I dot my I in real world games of I spy I cry

A reflection of my forgotten self But damn if I ain’t beautiful I am…found. Michael is a student at Wesleyan University where he works as a concert and event coordinator. You can check him out at areyouheretoconfuseme.

I am the weeping willow withering beneath the shadeless dorm room window Growing up but everywhere falling down Looking in the mirror as if I wasn’t there, But then, I am I am there, In the mirror, INSIGHT | 55


An Interview with Renfield's Marz Richards

Marz Richards says he’s Batman and his band, they’re the Rock Justice League. The Los Angeles based group known as Renfield is a live performance band that commands the stage with their colorful costumes and theatrical stage show. Their songs cover themes from sci-fi and horror, to comics and a drunk’s plan for a meal. Established in 1995, Renfield’s founding members include Brain “Buddha” Dolan (bassist), James Robinson, (Drums), and Marz Richards, the lead singer, songwriter and actor. “Brian is the Martian Manhunter and I’m Batman,” Richards said. “Jim [James] would have to be Flash.” The other members include Kat Cahill (eclectic guitar), Ryan Johnson (keyboards, banjo, harmonium) and Travis Thomas (trombone). The jazzcore, progressive-punk sextet recently recorded their first album, Why Aren’t You Laughing? Martin Jackson caught up with Richards at Meltdown, a comic book store in L.A soon after he curated an art show called Physical Nostalgia. Martin Jackson: What made you decide to become a singer/song writer? Marz Richards: I really like music and I really like figuring out what makes people tick. I like music because I was exposed early to a lot of different kinds of music and had to learn how to speak about what I liked even though I couldn’t read or write music. I like bands, I like live performance, I like the ter58 | INSIGHT

ror of it all for both band and audience — it could all go so horribly wrong! EVERYTHING could suck! When it doesn’t, it’s glorious. I saw my friends who were in bands experiencing this and it looked like too much fun to stay on the sidelines. It’s all theatre. If you have two bricks and you set a board across them, that’s a stage and the person standing on it is a performer. The bands that suck generally ignore the

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idea that they have to deliver something resembling a show. What effects do you think music and creative arts in general have had on your life?

fund art or we will die ugly. Can you just give us the bare bones basic of Renfield. You know, a rundown of the members and when and why the band formed?

IF YOU HAVE TWO BRICKS AND SET A BOARD ACROSS THEM, THAT'S A STAGE AND THE PERSON STANDING ON IT IS A PERFORMER Participating in the fine arts saved my life. As a kid in Bakersfield, CA there is little to do other than drink and fuck. I could have fallen down the well into the trap that is anti-life right away if not for a drama coach who was looking for kids who could act and making certain they ended up at her high school in her program. I met my best friend in that class and we both remain working actors to this day. The slashed budget for arts funding in public education is a nightmare scenario that dumbs down all classrooms. We must

The band formed because I wanted to have a nutty band in which I could use Fishbone and Primus polyrhythms with Boingo horns and drums like Mr. Bungle and I could sing Matt Johnson/Tom Waits huggermugger mixed with carny banter. Brian answered an ad I placed for Vocalist Available and he and Samantha Blake, Renfield’s former saxophonist and Mitch Lewis, our first violist taught me a couple songs that were very hard and asked me to sing them. I did OK and we began our work together. We were joined by Oliver May INSIGHT | 59

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on trombone and eventually Jim on drums. We had a fun set of early shows with different drummers including a great


first Halloween show our friend Rob behind the kit as Stu Vader, used Bantha salesman. Over the years my friends in Renfield have always taken my worst ideas and extracted best parts and made great music from very nerdy ideas. Our peculiar dedication to our art and the odd forms it takes has kept us inoculated from wasteful spending and unproductive behavior. As the record business collapses and radio dies we exist as the Omega Band — The Last Show on Earth. For those who haven't heard Renfield, can you describe your sound? Renfield is best experienced live, but our new album Why 62 | INSIGHT

Aren’t You Laughing? is a great effort at bringing what we have to offer into your home, vehicle or reality-distorting device.

We refer to our current output as progressive punk rock or prog-punk, but Renfield does not remain in place for very long at any time. We are archly theatrical and we cover a lot of ground in each song. We tend to play longer songs than most bands but we are wising up and playing shorter sets with our newer material. What will people see at a Renfield performance that they wouldn't get if they just listen to your songs via download/ CD/MP3? Our live act burns and mutates before your eyes. The prodigious effort required to play a Renfield song results in atmospheric changes and you have

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an involuntary reaction, as an animal on Earth, to the smell of sweat and loud noise. We are funnier and more terrifying live. The subject matter of a Renfield song is rather unique. It's much more nerd-centric then the subjects covered by most groups. Why did you decide to go that route rather than covering the same ground that countless other acts have found success (and failure) with?

than could be sourced through traditional marketing. I hoped that there would be an audience within greater nerdom for what we set out to produce and that would cover our production costs for whatever we might do. At the same time, the musicians who comprise Renfield through each of our nine iterations are doing their best to write the most interesting music, often for our own enter-


I think the simple answer is myself and the bass player are two of the biggest nerds you might ever meet. I’m a comics, movie and TV geek and Brian is math, science and D&D [Dungeons & Dragons]. As a nerd, I was convinced that many more people liked comic books and heavy genre fiction

tainment in the room. Sometimes these songs mutate and coalesce into a tune that makes it to the stage. That is no promise that it will live long. We’ve killed many songs after playing them a few times and we usually strip the sucker for parts and work them into new songs. INSIGHT | 63

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I expressly avoid writing about mundane subjects. Lyrical Kryptonite is Jesus, crack and your ex-girlfriend. It is much more fun to write a song about a giant, people-eating robot attacking Los Angeles or how happy a zombie is to be a zombie. The idea of the comic book song was probably implanted in my young mind by hearing my aunt’s Frank Zappa albums after listening to my

drunk’s plans for dinner called “Chicken & Peas," so it isn’t all monsters and explosions with us all the time. In March, Renfield released a limited edition single of their song “Rorschach” based on a character from the 80's comic book Maxiseries Watchmen, which was recently turned into a film. How did that come about?

THE NERD SUBJECTS SUCH AS SUPERVILLAIN WORLD DOMINATION OR TIME-LOST SPIES WORK VERY WELL WITH OUR BOMBASTIC AND OPERATIC STYLE own records like Rock Reflections of a Super-Hero and the amazing Power Records catalog of book & record sets. The nerd subjects such as super-villain world domination or time-lost spies work very well with our bombastic and operatic style. Although we have recently written a new song in record time that is about a 66 | INSIGHT

The song “Rorschach” was written early in our career and became a staple set closer very quickly. At the time we were doing a much scarier show compared to today’s whackjob kung fu pirate antics and I would work myself into a frothing frenzy and take the audience on a six minute ride through Rorschach’s

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story arc. The first half of the song is journal entries and Rorschach’s purest and most terrifying moment, his prison cafeteria attack, is the apex of the song and carries a beautiful melody that is a sick counterpoint to how screwed up Walter Kovacs is. And the song ends with me screaming ‘Do it!’ The song is a belligerent cocktail that is meant to scare you as bad as Rorschach should. The song is also meant to be as deviously attractive as the monomaniacal psychopath in the interesting mask and trenchcoat. I was asked to curate a Watchmen-themed art show and I knew that this would be the perfect opportunity to provide a permanent record of the tune [since] it draws from the literary source material and plays on the themes detailed by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. That same idea was what allowed me to get so many amazing artists involved in the show.

Renfield charged nothing for the few copies of “Rorschach” that were handed out to attendees at the free gallery show and the song won’t be on the new album, but if you want to see the art created for Physical Nostalgia, you can check it out in the Gallery section at Since you and the folks of Renfield have been performing for a while do you have any advice for those who want to start bands of their own, especially those who want to blaze their own unique trail? Never stop rehearsing. Set up a band agreement on how to make important changes in the band. Share all copyrights with everyone in the room. Don’t be cheap on recording. Play every single show you get asked to play if it works for your band’s schedule. Figure out who in your band is the booking agent, who is person who might be lucky enough to handle the INSIGHT | 67

money if there is any, who is security and who is the sound person. If you don’t have these people in your act, and one

person can play multiple roles, you need to get smart quick. Put together a trunk for stage essentials and take it with you

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to every single show — included in this should be a first aid kit, a sewing kit, batteries of all types, power log, extension cord, guitar strings, bass strings, drum sticks, glow sticks, a flashlight, tape, scissors, a good non-folding knife, a legal-in-your-state blunt instrument of protection and a towel. Don’t pay money to play a venue anywhere ever. I repeat: Do not pay anyone money to get you a show. Do not pay anyone money to reserve a slot on a bill. Do not pay anyone money in advance of ticket sales that you must do yourself. Now, this does not mean that as a showman you are absolved of promotional duties. You are the key component to the show’s success. You and your friends must come up with a plan as to how you will build your initial audience and then work your ass off to bring that audience to your show. But you are the artist, not the

box office. I am in no way qualified to tell someone what to write other than I would hope that it was interesting to them first and that they did everything they could to show me why it was so interesting in their live performance or recording. Is there any thing else you would like to add? I encourage everyone to go to more live performances of all stripes or the shows you’ve been getting is all that you’ll get. If there isn’t enough happening near you, that is now officially your fault and you need to get to work. Check out Renfield’s music at Martin F. Jackson is a freelance writer who lives in Pontiac, MI, a city that is located on a mud ball currently traveling the cosmos. Email him at



I got more beef than broccoli these days. My timbs is all muddy. They used to be bloody, but in my neighborhood there’s a lot less meat packing these days. More packaging of clothing, packed lines through the streets. Even the mafia’s movin’ outward, no one left to mix the human innards with the cow’s blood. But new blood seeps in, transitions like a funnel; It’s an island with little space Now everyone’s bridge and tunnel. So I got more beef than broccoli these days, and these Inn’s that comin’ in, Man, they ain’t no Holidays. Were talking five start hotel, fuck it, it’s a moon. I thought it was bright enough before, and summer’s coming soon, we would take it to the court 70 | INSIGHT

and play under the moon, until your moon status hotel blocked the fuckin’ view. I hate to be rude, but this is what I do, I sit back with a crew, kick it on a stoop, and watch the people walk by who just haven’t got a clue. “I heard it was dirty before.” (Voice of a rich lady) I think its dirtier now, but prostitutes never bothered me, until they became trendy and drew a crowd. So I got more beef than broccoli these days. My timbs is all muddy. And I’m slippin’ trying to study if this gentrification is nutrition or a give in, but you wanna know something that can really complicate? In order for me to stay, I gotta get paid. Check it, my sister and her husband

Ely Key

moved to Bed Stuy, now they’re creatin’ change. To top it off, they got a baby on the way. This is my solution to date: when I see my little niece you know what ima say: “You live in Bed Stuy. Keep ya head high and bump B.I.G. every day.”

Photo by Atiba T. Edwards

Ely is a freelance sustainability consultant and Co-Founder of art project and company, Dialogue? Projects. He was born and raised in New York City but currently resides in Southern California. Contact him at or visit



Medium: Markers Size: 8.5 x 11 Within my blackbooks I always try to expand on thoughts and creativity. Abandoned Thoughts was just that‌New York is the city of dreams and sometimes we let those dreams and thoughts fade. 72 | INSIGHT



INSIGHT | Volume II | Issue 2  

This issue features interviews with custom-sneaker creators Solefood NYC, as well as Marz Richards of the band Renfield. Additionally, we ha...