Heavenly Vocals are delivered via Michele Thomas’ “Messenger” By, Toianna Wika music is like for me too. His music was always there – in the background of the many stages in my life, and as a part of my growing up. It helped mold me in so many ways. One of my memories is of a warm spring day in high school and just sitting by myself on a hill right outside the classrooms with my little tape player (not a walkman, mind you!) just listening to “Superwoman” off of Stevie Wonder’s Original Musicquarium album. It sounds a little melancholy, but there was something that was so nourishing to my soul about that song! That was enough for me, just sitting there listening and ruminating over the one song. I actually ended up recording this song on my debut album, “I’ll Take Romance” in 1999.”
Michele performed on New Year’s eve with MTQ or the Michele Thomas Jazz Quartet at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana to promote her second, studio-produced album “Messenger,” which comes out as a digitally downloadable CD this spring. “Messenger” offers Michele’s interpretative rendition of some Stevie Wonder favorites that she believes “shed light on (his) introspective mind and spirit.” Of New Year’s eve, Michele said, “Anytime I get to work with my band, I’m happy wherever we are. And it just so happened that we hadn’t done any New Year’s Eve gigs in the past few years. A working musician in this economy is really fortunate to be able to play any special holiday events.” She added that “of that quartet (performing New Year’s eve), two of the three musicians were featured on ‘Messenger.’ Bob Lovecchio, my bass player and Darren Scorza, who is my husband, drummer, percussionist, co-arranger, producer, and engineer on the album. The guitarist and main music arranger on the album is my guitarist, Neal Alger, who also works as part of my quartet…but was not actually working with us on NYE.” When asked about “Messenger” going to CD now, Michele said, “we decided to experiment with “Messenger” and release the music digitally first. This way we could put the music out there for my fans sooner and help raise capital to eventually release the physical CD, due out later this winter.” She added that the digital download of “Messenger” is available exclusively on her website and that after the physical CD release, individual tracks will be available on iTunes and other major online retailers. Michele has said that she sees Stevie Wonder as “a messenger of social and political change in our world,” thus the
title of the album. When asked about the predominant social and political messages of Stevie’s she most wants heard, she responded, “Mostly I want people to stop and examine their beliefs and what they mean. And I’m simply using Stevie’s music as a catalyst to do so. I feel that Stevie Wonder had a way of presenting subjects that would get at the heart of our human connectedness and our ability to feel compassion and empathy. Yet he balanced those subjects with a call for personal accountability, especially regarding social justice. Some of his songs like, “Jesus Children Of America” and “Big Brother” address issues surrounding religion and society, or poverty and the systematic disenfranchisement of different minority groups in America. Stevie Wonder’s lyrics give us the opportunity to have open and honest dialogue about such significant human issues.” Regarding when Stevie Wonder first started to inspire her, Michele said, “Hard to say. This year when Stevie was presented with the Gershwin Prize for Lifetime Achievement award by the White House, Barack Obama described Stevie Wonder’s music as being the “soundtrack” to many of our lives. I thought that was a perfect way to describe what his
When asked whether or not she had ever seen him live in concert or met him, Michele said, “Surprisingly and sadly, no! At least, not yet I should say! Last summer, I had opportunity to see him live and for free at the Taste Of Chicago. But I was already booked to perform at two different private parties that evening! I had to hire a sub to sing at one of the parties. The sub I hired was a good friend of mine and is related to Stevie Wonder’s long time bass player, Nathan Watts. Nathan was supposed to perform with Stevie that night, which means my friend and maybe me could have met Stevie Wonder! Who knows? So not only did I miss the concert, but I feel responsible for my friend missing out, too. If I had it to do again, I think I would have gotten out of work, so me and my friend would’ve gone to see him in concert. Life’s too short to miss out on seeing a musical icon!” When asked whether or not Stevie Wonder has heard “Messenger” or any of her music and what he thinks about her interpretation, she said, “I’m pretty sure he hasn’t since it’s only been released since October 2009 and it’s not yet a CD.
(..Thomas continued below) Although once the CD is released, I pray, pray, PRAY I am able to get a copy in his hands somehow! And I would love the opportunity to meet him and tell him how much it meant to me to record the album.” When asked whether or not she planned to send him a copy of “Messenger,” she replied, “For sure! I hope he would listen to it! Because thousands of musicians have covered and arranged his music over the years…I’m just one of many.”
When asked what she sees next on the horizon for her now that “Messenger” is released and whether or not she has another CD in mind or in the works, she replied, “I am already thinking about my next project, but I am at the very beginning stages of the process.” She added,” As of right now, the next 12 months will be devoted to releasing the CD, promotions, live performances, marketing, and national distribution of “Messenger.” As an independent artist, I do everything that a record label or distribution company would do, only as a one-man operation or really more like two men because my husband shares those responsibilities with me. Recently we released a podcast called, “Michele Thomas’s JazzCast” in an effort to spread
the word about the album and get more information about the music out there. It is one of many things I do to self promote.” When asked about specific short or long term aspirations, goals, and dreams, she responded that she “would like to build up a significant national fan base in the next year and receive more exposure for my CDs. I am working towards eventually touring and singing at national and international jazz festivals. Beyond that, I have my teaching studio business and am working to expand. I dream of heading up a school of contemporary music in
Chicago one day.” When asked to describe her greatest difficulties doing her own production and marketing, she replied that “the upside of being an independent artist is that I am in the know about all aspects of my career and I am able to call the shots. The downside is that it’s an overwhelming amount of work. You have to be resourceful and creative. And it can still be very stressful. Eventually, I aim to partner up with other companies or agencies that will help distribute and market our music, once I’ve built a significant enough fan base. So it’s not as if being independent means you are all by yourself – you treat your career as a business and you work to build alliances and relationships with other businesses that can help you.”
When asked for any tips she could offer budding artists who consider producing and marketing their own work, Michele responded, “I would advise them to treat your talent as if it’s a product and your career as if you’re a small business owner. What you see happening today are artists going out and building up their own audiences, and sometimes it’s not until they’ve created a strong following for themselves that the record labels or big media conglomerates take notice because then they can see that an artist’s talent will be worth investing in. I think that’s the best position you want to be in; because even if the record
labels don’t come to you, you will have still built something for yourself that’s lasting.” To learn more about Michele, her quartet, and upcoming performances, visit her at www.michelethomas.net, www. michelethomasjazzquartet.com
Unwinding with Unearthed E.A. Bagby
Unearthed is nominally a jazz ensemble, but their music is a smooth, unusual blend of jazz, pop, soul, blues, funk, folk, and Afro-Caribbean sounds. The quintet-minus its bass player, Benny--recently took a break from rehearsal to talk about influences, guilty-pleasure pop songs, and plans for the future. Unearthed’s Wicker Park rehearsal space is the top floor of a three-flat. Steeply gabled ceilings are decked out with movie and concert posters. A dark upright bass lurks in one corner. As often seems to happen with talented people, there are at least twice as many instruments as there are musicians. Corinna, the main vocalist, sits behind two keyboards. Pete, the percussionist, has not only a drum kit but also a cajone--an Afro-Peruvian box drum (sometimes called a cajón)--and a variety of small hand-percussion instruments. Taylor, the backing guitarist, has a classical guitar on his lap and a matte black electric on a rack, and he occasionally picks up a trumpet as well. And Charles, the lead guitarist, has both an acoustic guitar and a secret weapon. “I guess you could call it mouth trumpet,” he says. He demonstrates, pursing his lips into a sort of embouchure. The sound--a combination of humming and blowing--uncannily evokes muted brass. Some bands thrive on creative agreement. Others seem to work better because of the disparity of bandmates, striking creative sparks from collisions of taste. Where does Unearthed fall on that
spectrum? “We respect all genres,” says Corinna. “I think we just appreciate music in general.” “I’d say [our taste] is pretty similar,” says Charles. As the band members reel off the names of favorite musicians, the others largely agree, but some individual preferences do stand out. Corinna loves “all the great jazz vocalists,” as well as pop, house, dance, and neo-soul; she names Feist, Adele, Jil Scott, and Erykah Badu as singers she currently loves. “John Denver?” suggests Charles. “That’s all you,” retorts Corinna, laughing. True, Charles is into rootsier styles--folk, fingerpicking, blues, and reggae. There’s also a decided Latin influence in some of his songs, such as “Here Am I?” Pete names Stevie Wonder’s drumbeats as an inspiration, to vocal approval from the others. “They’re the shit,” he says. “They’re sick. Pretty much everything he did . . . ” Taylor, by contrast, likes techno. He also names Toto’s “Africa” as a guilty pleasure. The others light up at the mention of it, and begin an impromptu jam session, falling easily into the harmonies of “Gonna take a lot to drag me away from you.” Impromptu covers seem to come easily to Unearthed. They kick off rehearsal with a swinging take on St. Vincent’s “Human Racing”--hardly an easy song, and one Taylor has only heard twice
before. But, though the band does perform some covers, about 90 percent of Unearthed’s material is original. They describe the genre as “nu jazz/folk/pop.” Corinna and Charles compose together, as they have for four years, ever since meeting at the auditions for another band. Their collaboration has grown organically from there, and they plan for it to grow more. “2010, we’re taking over the universe,” proclaims Corinna. Charles is slightly more modest. “We’ve been on the Chicago scene for a while. Time to branch out. I’d love to play a festival this year--Pitchfork would be amazing.” In the short term, they’re preparing to tour the south with Yo Soybean in late summer, and putting the finishing touches on their new EP, Remedies.
GBOY, NO LOOKING BACK BY, Chase Clark Music has the power to calm, to call to action, to lift the spirits and be a trusted confident in those darkest hours. There’s something about the power of it, the infectious power it has. Perhaps that is why we regard those in the industry with the esteem we do. This is one of the many reasons that the Chicago native GBOY, one of the rising stars of the Chicago music scene began making his music.
A rapper and producer, GBOY has been in the music industry since the tender age of thirteen. “I have always been into music. I used to play the drums and mess around with the piano, [but] I always loved to rhyme and it’s like there is nothing else in the world that I enjoy doing more. It feels as if I was born to do this and be the best at it.”
Of course to be the best, one must have blinders and a strong drive and venture to be different. This is not an industry for the weak- this is an industry that chews people up, spits them out and throws the scraps to the ravenous dogs waiting to devour them. The Chicago music scene is notorious for doing this and it has not gone unnoticed by GBOY. “I feel there is no unity at times. Every artist or industry person in Chicago worry[s] about themselves. If we were together and moved as one we would grow faster and more people would get their chance to shine.”
His part is of course producing and creating music that is a mélange of some of the most successful commercial artists of the moment: Busta Rhymes, Ludacris, 50 Cent, Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne, Timbaland, T.I., OutKast and Missy Elliot. Perfecting his sound will not happen as there is no such thing in this industry, if you aren’t constantly evolving then
you’re stagnated and becoming trite.
A force for motivation of course is usually a muse, however for GBOY he cites his fear of failure and the desire to be different than his parents, “ I want to be different and not follow the path of my mother, father, grandmother, etc. They never reached for the stars and did what they wanted. They did what they were told- I want to follow my own path and show them and the world that it is possible.”
Moving forward, GBOY leaves these words for all looking to make their mark in this industry, “Listen to no one that is not where you want to be. Keep going strong and remember that every second you waste, somebody else is out there going hard which puts you behind.” Check out GBOY on myspace at: www. myspace.com/selvick, on youtube at: www.youtube.com/GBOYVIDEOZ and at www.chitownrapstarz.ning.com/GBOY
THE FOKIS IS ON THE DJ
New York may be the place where dreams are made of for Jay-Z, Alicia Keys and DJ Kid Capri, but for this DJ his dream was made in the Windy City, the best of the Midwest-Chicago. He is the only online mix tape DJ who has taken music to higher heights online and on the streets.Introducing DJ FOKIS
BY, TAMARA ANDERSON Where It All Started From DJ Fokis’ passion for music began at the age of 8 when he use to sit at home with his stereo, turntable, amp and big speakers. As a child he often wondered what the musical equipment was that his relatives used in the basement. That’s when he decided to hang around other dj’s at block parties, just watching them and taking it all in. By the age of 16 he delayed his first event. His inspirational figures include the late DJ Jam Master Jay, DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Flare, DJ Hardcore and DJ Quik.
also known as “Tha Bull” a man of many musical and artistic talents, a jack-of-alltrades in the entertainment industry. He is a phenomenal hip-hop DJ and producer. He is also a consultant of his own music and marketing firm called PPEG (Pure Product Entertainment Group) and founder of a non-profit organization called The F.o.k.i.s Foundation.
DJ Fokis became mostly famous due to an album series he produced with Death Row artist Warlord, who reached out to Fokis for the successful series. In September 2006 “I Can Getcha Block Knocked Off, Vol. 1” produced by DJ Fokis and executive produced by Suge Knight and Big Los was released by Death Row Records. In less than 2 months the album was downloaded more than 200,000 times by fans from DJ Fokis website, www.djfokis.com. A year later in early August “Still Can Getcha Block Knocked Off, Vol. 2” was released, this time worldwide and globally distributed through Apple iTunes, Emusic, Yahoo and Sony. Online and offline publications gave the album extreme high ratings. Two years later Volume 2 was still being bootlegged and sold on the streets at the customers request. Because of the great feedback received from volumes 1 and 2, DJ Fokis is currently working on Volume 3, Lord of War. On this volume DJ Fokis plans to take a more artistic direction where he uses his creative skills to form a vision that will reflect on the action thriller movie, Lord of War, starring actor Nicholas Cage. Let The Music Begin Born and raised in Chicago DJ Fokis aka Randy Ellis began his career in the mid
90’s working as a DJ for local radio stations. During that time he ran dj battles; as well as, participated in dj battles, and in 1997-1998 he was a finalist in the Heavyweights DJ competition. As a member of a hip hop crew called Chi Rock Nation, Fokis considered himself a Triple Threat. He and his crew knew how to move a crowd and how to keep a party jumping. They produced great music by using their instrumental tools to compose unique and likable sounds. From 1999-2001 DJ Fokis was a finalist in two battle competitions, The Shure Blaze battle and The Disco Mix Club. He was first round advance winner at the Vestax Guitar Center. In 2007-2008 he won the Hard DJ Work award at the Midwest Category 2nd Annual Thermal Awards. Other than his great success from volumes 1 and 2 with rapper Warlord, Fokis produced other albums as well; DJ Fokis presents: Pure Product Vol 3.0 in January 1998; Reborn Hustler with Spree Isreal in December 2004, which was also reissued in January 2008. In September 2009 Fokis was signed to a booking agency called CEG (Central Entertainment Group) in New York City. CEG has recruited some of the world’s largest talent starting from Funkmaster Flex and Dj Woo Kid to Lil Kim and Fabolous.
als for a company called Clear Channel. Months later he used his consulting services for known celebrity clients such as rap group Crucial Conflict and multi-platinum artist Kanye West-both from Chicago. As the years moved on so did DJ Fokis success. He teamed up with Zazzle.com to create a merch store for his fans and PPEG. Some of the products include: Bull of Tha Industry mascot Tshirt, “I do it with 12 inches” poster, “The Corporate” T-shirt, Pure Product Rugged Hoodie and other great products. F.O.K.I.S (Finding Outstanding Kids In School) The F.o.k.i.s Foundation was founded by DJ Fokis and designed for inner city school kids with talents and skills. This program will help those kids become more experienced in their talents, and will provide them with the skills they need for further enhancement in specific areas, by older and experienced teachers and mentors. For example, a young girl who wants to be a singer may have an opportunity to do a live recording with a professional singer, songwriter or producer. A young boy who wants to be a dj may have an opportunity to work with dj’s like DJ Fokis himself. Tha Bull Of Tha Industry
Behind The Music Before DJ Fokis pursued his career in his passion for music, he attended the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati where he studied art and drama. By the time he made it to high school he continued studying art in Chicago. Later on he won second place in the Chicago Public Schools Newhouse Competition. He also earned a summer business internship with a Chicago downtown architecture firm. After completing the program he created a small sole proprietorship called Graphinheit Studios, a combination of the words Graphics and Fahrenheit that Fokis put together to translate the phrase “Hot Graphics.” In 2006 he put and end to Graphinheit Studios and then combined his graphical skills with PPEG, LLC to further his music career. As a consulting art director Fokis worked as a marketer for album covers and promoting materi
One of the best mix tape and tour dj’s is more than just a dj and consultant, he is a entertainment entrepreneur. He combined his multi artistic talents and created an empire. He is one of Midwest’s finest dj’s in the country. Fokis says he is always looking for independent artists in Chicago. In a recent interview with sixshot.com he says, “You can’t have a rapper without a dj and you can’t have a dj without a rapper.” His advice for those who have the same goals is to find the right people with the same vision as yours because you can’t do it by yourself. “You must have a 5-year plan, get education, get flexible and get smart”. Some of Fokis recent projects include an upcoming 2010 nationwide tour with Ruff Ryders Drag-On in April. Drag-On
will also be releasing Ruff Ryders Vol. 4 on his own record label and directed by DJ Rob. Fokis will be starring in a movie this summer and is working on projects with Red Bull. Last but not least he has been spending time in the studio working on his debut album called, “Bullacratic’, a politically themed but not political in meaning, 8 song EP which will be released on Sony iTunes and Yahoo! DJ Fokis is like no other mix tape dj and for more information about his music, contests, and events you can visit his website at www.djfokis.com, DJ Fokis: Bull of Tha Industry at Myspace.com, Zazzle online merchandise store at www. zazzle.com, www.textmarks.com/tha bull, and of course Twitter @DJ_Fokis. For other interviews and articles you can visit Rollingout.com, sixshot.com, streethop.com and Wildstyle Shop and Magazine, The hip hop culture online magazine.
NO SUCH THING AS “ONE SIZE FITS ALL “ IN BEAUTY BY, E.A. BAGBY There aren’t too many women who see modeling work as a social mission, but Teslyn Butler isn’t your typical model. To start with, there’s the matter of size. Teslyn is a plus-size model in an industry notorious for emaciated women. And she’s not just “plus-size.” She’s actually plus-size. She cheerfully volunteers that she’s a size 14. One glance at her portfolio and it’s evident she wears a 14 better than some people wear anything, but she’s still bigger than most “plussize” models. Remember Stanley Tucci, in The Devil Wears Prada, sniffing that 6 was the new 14? That’s not far off: Most “plus-size” models are likely to wear a size 10 or 12. In other words, they’re not plus-size at all. Because of that, says Teslyn, “it has been hard to find a top agency.”
Teslyn says, “and there should be more representation of that. We should see her. Teenagers . . . see a size 2, and that’s just not realistic.” That, in fact, is one of the main reasons she wants to become well known as a model: to encourage other plus-size women. “And you know,” she adds, “you don’t even have to be plus-size. Anybody that has a barrier” can benefit from seeing the real diversity of beauty. Of course, nearly everyone has some sort of barrier, and Teslyn’s approach seems to strike a chord. “I’ve got a lot of encouragement from women,” she says. “Not just plus-size women, but smaller women too.” In fact, Teslyn routinely gets e-mails from teenagers hoping to follow her example.
Hard—but not impossible. After just two years in the business, Teslyn is now with Status Model Management, and she books enough work to make a full-time living. And she already has her eyes on the next level: international modeling.
But she wants to help with more than modeling advice. Teslyn is also a graduate student in clinical psychology. She’ll complete her master’s degree in May. Young adults and teens are the group she most wants to serve.
Her ambitions extend far beyond her own career. Teslyn sees personal confidence and beauty as one of the ways the fashion industry could empower women—but usually doesn’t. She mentions a couple of labels she loves, Ashley Stuart Clothes and Chocolate Sushi, and notes that a woman “feels more confident when she has those clothes on.” But how many women will get up the nerve even to walk into the store, if the fashion industry continues to ignore curvy bodies? “The average size woman is a 14,”
You can’t talk to Teslyn—nor, for that matter, look at her picture—without being blown away by her confidence. Where does that come from? “My mom inspires me,” she says. Teslyn grew up hearing that anything was possible. And her mother’s example proved it: After dropping out of high school, she returned later for a GED, went on to get a bachelor’s degree, and then completed a master’s and embarked on a teaching career, in which one hopes she is teaching the same lesson to hundreds
of children. What is the one beauty secret most women don’t know? Teslyn does not hesitate. “A. Bra. A bra can make you look so much smaller and smoother. Get good-quality undergarments. They make the whole outfit look better.” “I mean,” she continues, laughing, “Spanx are my friend. Look at celebrities: Tyra Banks, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez—all of ‘em. They’re all wearing them.” Suddenly, gorgeous seems a lot more accessible.
MAKE-UP AND THE ARTIST BY, CHASE CLARK
Her infectious laugh resounds throughout the small hotel room where the photoshoot for the magazine is taking place. She easily moves between drinking her coffee, sharing a humorous story and creating a masterpiece upon the model's face which is her palette. As she laughs, a slash of perfect teeth contrast beautifully against her smooth ebony skin. The laughing woman is Evelyn Marshall, make up artist extraordinaire. Multi-tasking seems to be something that Evelyn is able to achieve as easily as most people breathe, and she doesn’t stop! With so many plans for this year, it’s enough to make any person’s head swim! Not content with just one medium, she pushes the envelope in every direction with modeling, fashion, makeup artistry and even a clothing line. Evelyn says, “Well this year I plan to reorganize my makeup artistry company (Faces of Destiny) and I’ve also picked up on my modeling path by doing more photoshoots with different themes from artistic to high fashion & really pushing the idea of what an "industry model" is supposed to be right out of the window. Also I’m looking to debut my clothing line this year.”
She is just doing so much, but
it seems that has always been a part of who she is as a person. Growing up in Milwaukee, her father was a pastor (and for those of you who are unfamiliar with the responsibilities and expectations attached with being a pastor’s child- it’s several jobs rolled up into one: You are expected to do anything, the words I can't, I won't, or I don't wanna had better not escape your lips.) “As a pastor's child we had to be able to do everything. I was the Sunday School teacher, the organ player, the drummer, the praise & worship leader, secretary........ you name it I did it. But it helped me to be able to adapt to change & any circumstance that was placed on me. It taught me a lot about responsibility & multi-tasking.” This has of course served her well as she continues on with her dreams and cultivating new challenges and succeeding against adversity. It has also served her well in regards to her company Faces of Destiny Make-up artistry- a boutique company catering to models, to brides and everyone in between who need to enhance their beauty for an event. Looking at how much her business has grown, Evelyn shares with us the humble beginnings of her business.
Starting with just ten pieces of make-up, a round red makeup sponge, three brushes and a plastic carrying case, her natural charm, some business cards and her own face as an example- Evelyn started this company and has watched it grow and shine. Of course as time marched on, she began acquiring more make-up, not the high end, but that's part of the art, making masterpieces with the tools you have, not with what you think you need. “ I was already pretty good at arching eyebrows so it was the makeup that I was promoting. I did tons of research and just prayed and asked God if this is what he wanted me to do to anoint my hands to do it. I've been through the ringer with some people telling me that I was wasting my money and time. Nobody really gets that stuff done. I didn't have a lot of support doing this. I've hit some really rough patches even to the point where people tried to drag my name through the mud in order to get me to stop or to have clients stop coming to me. But God fixed it so that even more people are coming now. And That's what FOD is about. It's more than a business, its a ministry.” They go one step further though, they go the extra mile to ensure their clients understand how to care for their skin and “ to live outside of the box face first.” People of all ages come to them and an avid believer in learning through listening, they are able to create that perfect look for their client, they know how that transformation should look. “It's almost like a dance between my hand, the brush & their face. And to be honest sometimes I get so caught up in what I'm doing that when I finish I stand back and look and it shocks me how it looks. And to see the happiness on the faces of these women lets me know that I'm right where I need to be.” To learn more about Evelyn Marshall and faces of destiny- you may go to their website: http://facesofdestiny.webs.com/
ANA MAR’E, ENTREPENUERISTICALLY MODELESQUE
BY, CHASE CLARK “ How about this pose? Should I do it like this or…?” All eyes are upon her as she is an absolute vision in pink and is working the designer gown from Darci Juliette. Humble, approachable and eager are harly words that usually accompany those that have achieved the level of success that Ana Comer has, however those are all words that accurately portray her. Standing nearly 6’0 in stocking feet, the native Chicago beauty laughs easily as the make-up artist relays an amusing story about her day, but once Ana is in front of that camera, she becomes another creature- graceful, powerful, strong, and elegant. The same can be said as she storms the runway, showcasing clothing from local designers in dozens of local shows- strutting down the runway with the lithe movements of a trained dancer and grace and poise of a gazelle. As if she was born for it, as if her first steps were taken on a raised platform, in front of bright lights and an adoring audience. If the past five years are any indication, she has everything it takes in droves. She names Iman, Grace Jones, and Tyra Banks and some of her more prominent influences in this industry. “ They succeeded in the industry despite the controversy and rejection that most African-American women face in the industry and made history and that is so awesome to me!”
model has established her own company, Pink Diamond inc., created to help other models. “Pink Diamond Inc., is a company I started back in 2006 because I wanted to help aspiring models in the industry. Most of this industry is about networking and resources. I wanted to be able to provide some of those resources that I didn’t have when I first started modeling to those [models] who are unsigned and fresh in the industry. [Once you] put them on the right track …the rest will follow! We create events that are fashion oriented and connect or give experience to those new in the industry because there are so many creeps and scammers out here!” With her drive,, intelligence and beauty- things can only go up for our featured model. With her company Pink Diamond, Inc. on the rise along with her personal career- 2010 is poised to be a breakout year for both. When asked if she had any advice for those just starting out in the modeling industry she had this to say, “ Only you can control your destiny, if you’re driven- go for it and don’t stop until you succeed!” Learn more about Pink Diamonds Inc. here: You can check out some of Ana’s work here: Born and raised on the Southside of Chicago, Ana started her love affair with modeling at the tender age of 11. “As a kid, I remember being eleven years old and being 5’7” and 110 lbs! Oh my gosh I was so skinny! People would always come up to me and say, ‘You know what, you should model.’ My mom was on a fixed income and I never had the money or the opportunity to take modeling classes and she never really thought that was something [that] I should do as a child. She wanted me to focus on school. As I got older, I still got the same compliments and so finally I was like, well, I’m grown now so let me see what I’d have to do at this point to make it in the modeling industry.”
scene can either be a boon or a cursejust like any other industry right now. It’s all about networking according to Ana, and she should know: Ana has the advantage of having worked with some of the most established and up and comers on the Chicago fashion scene: Suzette Opara of 828, Aaron Gray, J. Cherre, Mario Ink., DTLR, Sincere Apparel, Mide’ Fashions, and Fashion Fetish are just a few, and her ever expanding portfolio knows no boundaries in regards to type. Although she tends to stick to mostly high fashion runway, promotional and showroom modelingshe’s done a little of everything: runway, glamour, print, music videos, artistic nudes etc.
Now old enough to make her own decisions about her future, she has started her dominance of the Chicago market. A little underexposed and oversaturated the Chicago modeling
For a woman on the move though, achieving success in one medium is never enough. Following in the footsteps of her influences, the elegant
Also- turn the page and see her modeling our featured designer’s (Jules71) gown in a variety of ways! Think you have what it takes to be our featured model? Then email us at email@example.com.
Q &A with Andrew Honeywood by, Dave Ruthenburg
P. Andrew Honeywood is a University of Illinois educated former IT recruiter with a dream of bringing something new to television. He has been working in collaboration with a handful of bright young writers and performers to create Turntable, a politically themed talk show
aimed at the hip hop generation. Turntable hopes to fan the flames of political involvement among the youth that was sparked during president Obama's 2008 campaign. Honeywood's project has met with some obstacles, but he is still optimistic for the future. I sat down with him to discuss the show's past and future.
You say that Turntable is aimed at the hip hop generation. How does that affect your approach? How do you feel this generation is different politically than older generations? I suppose it doesn't impact my approach at all. Hip hop music and culture are inextricably linked to me, who I am,
and how I think. Therefore, in some way everything I tackle in life is impacted. The closest link I could come up with to a generational difference in a political context is the bluntness, boldness, and the instant gratification nature of those of us of the age of hip hop. The artform is built on the emcee battle and the hope of a quick dollar. We want what we want now. The hip hop generation is more likely to support candidates and ideals that produce quick and occasionally radical results. Other generations understood the value of ethnic and social tradition. Gen-Xers and beyond don't take these distinctions to heart as much. Do you feel hip hop artists will eventually have a more direct influence on politics? They certainly have a huge influence on fashion and the minds of middle American youth, as you observe. Could we be seeing actual political candidates? I can't imagine a circumstance by which hip hop artists run for office besides maybe Chuck D of Public Enemy fame. He has a big audience nationwide, and a passionate one in his home region (New York). If you want to talk about the next frontier in American politics, it's talking heads being plucked to run for office. When Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) announced his resignation, the Democratic party in ND asked Ed Schultz of MSNBC fame to run for the vacated seat. Even current TV analysts who are former elected officials (Harold Ford and Joe Scarborough in particular) have both been approached to run for the U.S. Senate in the last few years. They have a huge reach in the age of the 24 hour news cycle. But back to hip hop, I think most hip hop artists are smart enough to know their primary skill is in making music and influencing the world that way. They'll reach their audience better on iTunes than in Congress. What has been your biggest struggle in your attempts to get this project off the ground? Wow, it's difficult to just pick one. I suppose that I was in over my head a bit. Well, actually a lot. I had an idea. I had a premise. I had meetings with talent. I convinced my producer that it was a worthy project. He gathered a crew. He got a great location. He had access to the editing facilities. Everything was set.
But it's tough putting the right talent in place to fit the concept. I learned after 3 tapings that the idea I was so proud of, for lack of more eloquence, sucked. The problem with the idea is that you can't have intelligent discussions on camera among groups of people if only half of the group members prepare for that topic. People don't care about Hill Politics and matters of racial justice the way I do. So I was instructed to make the show less serious. I did that. I made the topics of discussion more comedic in nature, and people didn't prepare to be funny or be observant. Furthermore, most of the panel was liberal. So there wasn't a lot of the opposing viewpoint. That made having stimulating discussion difficult. How has the Chicago creative scene been treating your production? How readily available is the talent? I would honestly put the quality of talent in Chicago up against that of any big city. The people I've met are just as talented, bright, and ambitious as any talent I've met from New York or Los Angeles. The talent here is so hungry to make it big. None of them take it for granted that they'll be successful. They're willing to earn it. The city is definitely a great place for talent. Is there a model you're working from, or do you hope for something entirely new? Any shows out there you hope to emulate? My initial idea was to turn SNL inside out: to build a show around "Weekend Update" with a few topical comedy sketches. We had some good actors and writers work on the sketches, but only shot one. The sketch didn't go over as we had hoped, in large part because we didn't rehearse them well enough. And by well enough, I mean at all. What do you think can be gained for the community through this show? What do you think the community could lose if political apathy reclaims the youth? I think the community can gain a new voice. When you speak to someone in their intellectual language, they feel more intrinsically linked to the battle. Hip hop isn't the music of common ignorance, it's the poetry of urban America. It's the style of middle Amer-
ica. Parents know who Jay-Z is. Kids in Upstate New York wear as much Sean John as kids in Brooklyn. So to keep the discussion about issues that impact this generation and to speak to them like the coolest professors on the quad will keep the passion high in my view. If we revert to political indifference, then the status quo will persist. I don't mean in a left wing/right wing sense, I mean in the way that those who are active in the process will be those of the mindset that is less progressive, left change-based. It will lead to an era like the last 40 years where the by-the-book, traditional, party veterans always won. That is quite frankly unacceptable. In an era where problems and solutions involve technology and terrorism in contemporary ways, ways that the "old guard" may not be best equipped to handle, we need to keep forward thinking people in leadership positions to keep pace with the evolution of the 21st century world. Readers who are interested in contributing to Turntable should email Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org
A MOMENT WITH MARK HARRIS by, Chase Clark
Stories of love, Stories of passion, Stories of struggle. Stories that draw you in with their richness and vivacity. Stories that take place in Chicago, and stories for and about the Black community. Telling stories with some of these dimensions is rare, telling stories with all of them? There is only one, Mark Harris. Mark Harris is both director, and writer for all of his films, and his production company 1555 filmworks produces his own work as well as other promising projects. The author of several films, it's only been as of late people are starting to wake-up and take notice of this gem in our midst. A writer has the daunting task of sharing his vision for a film and praying that the director shares the same vision. A director has the daunting task of executing his vision for a film and praying that the writer agrees with that vision. When they are the same person, it would seem that it would be easier since the creator and executor are one and the same. Maybe in another world it would be, in this world it is exceedingly difficult because although the person would have entire creative control- they have the problem of having entire creative control. They are in charge of everything and they
are on display and on the 'critics block' if anything is not perfect. Due to the enormous pressure, there are not many writer/directors out there . Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, it was during his high school years that he discovered writing and soon began writing scripts for ideas he had and wanted to see on the big silver screen. Shortly afterward, he founded his own film company, 1555 Filmworks, which has had a plethora of successes, winning the Hip Hop Truth awards for their film,“Holla if ya hear me” - and being brought on to write reenactment scenes for Rick Ross: The Cocaine Campaign, the unparalleled success of “I used to love her” and most recently the great reception for his latest film “Black Butterfly”. Of course, no great success comes with out tremendous hard work and dedication. Mark Harris' though has been driving him strong for over a decade. While many of the “names” in Hollywood had connections or went to school- Mark had a vision, passion and hell of a lot of drive. “I never went to school or anything for this. I write, that's what I do, that's my gift and I never wanted to waste it.” In addition, he's an
outstanding marketing person. Every major event, party, screening, anything going on- he was there networking, and selling copies of his films. He has essentially cut out the middle man – the distributor. When asked about this he gave a mini lesson in film economics, “ Most of your money is made on DVD, not on the screens like many people think. Having your film in theaters is nice- but it's not a defining factor in the success of a film. That lies in the sales of the DVD's. That's a better measure of film quality because there is more effort put forth buying than just going to the show.” When asked if he had any advice for aspiring directors and filmmakers, he simply said, “Don't let somebody tell you that you can't do it. Work hard and prove them wrong and believe in yourself because nobody can do that for you.” Currently Mark is busy promoting his latest film Black Butterfly coming out March 17, and the tickets are selling like hotcakes. You can check out some of the trailers for Mark's films on our website, and remember- his stuff sells out FAST! Check him out on facebook at: www.facebook.com/1555filmworks.
An Actor’s Climb to the Top by, Chase Clark
The stage is dark and the actors quietly walk to their marks. Suddenly the blinding lights flood the stage- a rush of fear washes over the actors an instant before they begin their story. It’s that next instant though that makes the weeks of preparation, the countless hours memorizing lines, the berating by directors all worth it. It’s that inexplicable feeling of euphoria as you morph into your character and instantaneously the story is no longer a story- it’s real. This feeling and drive to be the best is what has brought newcomer Erik Abron to one of the most cut throat industries out there: acting. The Evanston native has been acting on and off since about the age of 10 but credits his mother for really pushing him to get started. “I’ve always had a passion to act and model. My mother told me when I was a little boy that she was going to look for modeling agencies so I could model. Her drive became entrusted into me and that’s really what motivates me.” Now coming into his own in acting he strives to be the best he can be, but is strongly influenced by his mentor Art Norman from NBC5 Chicago. “He always tells me that I am great at whatever I am doing and that I will succeed at anything. Those words of wisdom really stays with me.” In this industry being good isn’t acceptable, you must be the best of the best and in order to achieve that you must have strong foundation. According to Erik, Chicago is that strong foundation especially for acting but if you are serious about moving forward in acting, Los Angeles is the place to be. When asked if he had any words of wisdom for those looking to get into acting, he advises to, “Stay focused, determined, and have a hard shell. In this industry, you will have people who will feel you are not qualified enough to have certain roles or [will] even make it in the industry…take it as a learning lesson on what you can improve o and perform even harder at the next event.” Erik Abron has lot’s coming up this year and if you would like to learn more about him, check him out on myspace at: www.myspace.com/121479340 and on facebook under Erik Abron.
A TRUE “EMPIRE STATE OF MIND”
poetry workshop for African Americans), having a chapbook release party, being a poetry jam champion in high school and coaching poetry slams and being employed at 4 different schools and organizations.
When Ciara writes poetry her inspirations stems from consistent thoughts and conversations. Here is a short poem written by Ciara Miller. “Every Part of a Woman Ain’t Suppose To Be Pretty.”
I want rough ashen feet No lickable magenta nails, split tongues prohibited I want kickball feet
CIARA MILLER, Could she be the next Musiq Soulchild, the next Floetry or maybe the next infamous former Fugee star, Lauryn Hill? Born and raised on the west side of Chicago Ciara Miller made a name for herself as a poet/lyricist. However she is also a screenwriter who recently graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. She is currently a poetry teacher at selective schools throughout New York City. Although Ciara is mostly known as a poet, writing a novel has always been her first passion. At the age of 14 she began writing a book titled, “The Alley on 15th Street”, a mystery novel based on a case about rape and murder, which she is finishing up now; including a script for a television show called, “Jassy”. Jassy is about a college girl who gets lonely, afraid, disappointed and other things college students often experience. Immediately following elementary school in 2001, Ciara joined the Chicago Writing Community. She applied for a creative writing apprentice and to her surprise she was accepted. While attending the program she visited salons with performing poets, theater students and play writers, to see other poets perform their original poetry in front of an audience. She later became a performance poet and was offered a performance poetry job at Lane Tech during her freshman year. Throughout her high school years Ciara competed in poetry slams and coached poetry teams. She was a finalist for two years in a row and made it
to the Nationals in 2004 where her team ranked #6. While in New York she was apart of poetry collective called, “Collective 6.” In 2005 she enrolled in one of the most expensive schools in the country with a writing program. She entered the school as a theater student to pursue screen and play writing, but when she graduated she ended with Humanities. Ciara felt her knowledge of issues having various cultural groups would only make her stronger. For further knowledge she also studied African Diaspora in Ghana during her senior year. Ciara Miller 22 has made many achievements as a positive figure for African Americans and the new generation. In a recent interview she told us who some of her influences towards her career goals are; lyricist Lauryn Hill, Poet Anne Sexton, who committed suicide in her 40’s, and Walter Mosley, a mystery writer who Ciara considers a “most-know” writer. “Lauren makes me feel like women are indeed powerful and have a much needed voice in hip-hop.” Ciara comment about Lauryn Hill. “I like Anne’s poetry because it is real and relatable.” Ciara comment about Anne Sexton. Ciara told us that her greatest accomplishments are becoming a respected as a poet in Chicago and New York, graduating from Sarah Lawrence, becoming a Cave Canern Fellow (a prestigious
Nails uncured, cracking snorting choked in sneakers, black ankle socks feet I want unashamed womanly feet that aint too pretty to pick up and go, when he comes down to kiss them.
SOMETHING TO SAY IN CHICAGO BY, KATHLEEN DUBOIS Arnetta Randall is a writer born and raised in Chicago, of which she said, “I love my city, Chicago.” Arnetta grew up on Chicago’s south side in what she describes as a “not-so-good neighborhood.” Currently, she is getting her bachelor’s degree at the University of Illinois in Champaign and spends school breaks and weekends in Chicago. “I wanted to be a writer since I was young,” Arnetta confessed. “When I went to college, I decided to pursue journalism. I didn’t like journalism because I wasn’t good at interviewing people, and I felt it lacked freedom,” she said. “So I changed to English, then finally to Rhetoric with a focus in creative writing.” Arnetta said the best thing she has written so far is a short story entitled “I’m Ok,” which appears first in a book of short stories she wrote entitled Stereotypically Me. She is seeking to get this book published. Arnetta said the first story in this book is “my most personal story, and the story that inspired me to write. It started out as a way for me to get things off my mind. I’ve never had a journal, so I channeled my feelings into a short story.” “As time went on,” she recalled, “I would think about different things and make it into a story, or some life experiences would inspire me. The final product is 33 stories of social commentary with a story addressing everything from poverty to women’s rights.”
Arnetta is at work on a novel she’s entitled Have Sex like a Man, which she said deals with “gender roles and how they affect the way women date.” She explained the premise for this novel as being “four female friends with distinct personalities, who are challenged to have to sex like a man, or without feelings, as a way to gain control over their love lives.” Arnetta added, “Questions I want to look at here are, what happens when women don’t allow their feelings to become involved in a sexual relationship? What happens when the woman is the aggressor? How do people respond when gender roles are out the door? Can relationships exist without these roles? There are many relationship dynamics I want to explore in this novel.” Short stories and the novel are not the only forms of writing Arnetta has considered and explored. “I briefly attended Columbia College to pursue screenwriting,” she said. “I ordered books on screenwriting, and I still don’t feel like I grasped the concept. So I would like to take a class on screenwriting and go
from there.” Even so, in her college course work, Arnetta has written several film treatments or narrative summaries for short films not yet made, although, as she said, “There’s a possibility. These are a mystery, a dramatic piece, and a more romantic piece.” Arnetta said her taste in movies is “all over the place,” some of her favorites being The Fugitive, Love Actually, and Scary Movie 2. As for the kind of reading she enjoys most, Arnetta said, “The material I read often is the International Socialist Organization’s newspaper. The last book I read was about women in the civil rights movement. So I guess I enjoy political material.” Once she graduates in May, Arnetta said she wants to intern abroad for a year. Beyond that, she is planning to attend law school, and she added, “So I’ll be a lawyer who writes novels.”
NAMBI KELLEY JOINS THE CELEBRATION BY, E.A. BAGBY
A few lucky factors combined to help Nambi achieve that dream. Many budding artists face resistance from their families, but she came from a family of artists and creative people. Her father is the documentarian Don Quinn. Her cousin Keith Kelley is a spoken-word artist and a member of the respected spoken-word/hip-hop ensemble Funky Wordsmyths. Her stepmother is a professional dancer. “In fact,” Nambi adds, “she choreographed Joe Turner.” Nambi sat in on rehearsals--without any inkling of the privileged view she was getting of her own future. And, as is so often the case, one pivotal high school drama teacher helped Nambi forge ahead. Nambi auditioned for the Theatre School at DePaul. And she was accepted and everything was smooth sailing from there on out, right?
Nambi Kelley is that rarity: a theater artist who makes a full-time living from performance. Maybe that’s because she’s so dang busy; maybe she’s so dang busy because she’s so dang good. It’s hard to say. Chicago audiences already know her from productions at the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens, Pegasus Players, Fleetwood, ETA Creative Arts, City Lit, American Theatre Company, and others. With significant theatrical success, her byline on a half-dozen plays and books, and a handful of film and TV roles to her credit (including Soul Food, the A&E series “The Beast,” and ABC’s
“L.A. Dragnet”), Ms. Kelley is poised for widespread recognition.
Not quite. DePaul rejected her as an actor. But at the same time, the school offered her a scholarship for playwriting. Nambi seized her chance for a theatrical education. She already knew she was as much a writer as a performer. “I’m a poet,” she says. “Poetry is the backbone of my playwriting.” The DePaul program-a conservatory--immerses its students in theater, and playwrights get training in acting as well as in writing.
For nearly every stage performer, there’s a transformational moment of seeing a show and knowing: this is it. Nambi Kelley’s moment came in high school. Her aunt (the actress Glenda Kelley) was in a play at the Goodman, and her high school class went to see it. The production was August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. “I was like, Oh my God. That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life!” Nambi laughs. “And then I was like, Yeah, right.” As it happened, years later she would tackle the role of Mattie in that same play.
Some of her most challenging--and enlightening--moments came during a two-year stint with a touring company in Korea. “It was lots of work. They don’t believe in taking breaks,” she says with a laugh. “There’s no Equity there”-- the U.S. actors’ union that enforces strict rules regarding break time and rehearsal length. She had to sing and perform in Korean--a language she didn’t speak
Since graduating from DePaul, Nambi has kept her home base in Chicago. But she has worked in Los Angeles--and around the world.
at the beginning of the gig. Not being able to communicate, for a professional communicator, was “completely frustrating. I think eventually they just gave up on me. You know, ‘She’s American, she’s going to do it the way she does it.’” She also happened to arrive there just after the Iraq war had started. “They were pissed at me,” she says. “I was a black girl walking down the street, clearly not military. They were like, Why do you want to be here?” It could have gotten better. Instead, the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. “I was so ashamed. When Bush was reelected, they were like, What’s wrong with your country? They knew far more about it than the average person here.” But Nambi survived--and found acclaim on the Chicago stage fairly soon after. In 2006 she starred in Lynn Nottage’s Crumbs from the Table of Joy at the Goodman, eventually earning leadingactress nominations for a Jeff Award and the Black Theater Alliance’s Ruby Dee Award. Critical praise abounded. “It is an ideal showcase for Chicago-bred actress Nambi E. Kelley, who, with her mix of braininess, emotional depth and pure star quality, should be rich and famous by now,” said the Sun-Times’s Hedy Weiss.
Ironically, Nambi’s first response to being cast was fear. “That part’s gonna kick my butt,” she remembers thinking. Part of her wanted the smaller, sassy role-“which I could play in my sleep.” But that wasn’t an option. So she did what she does best: she worked. She immersed herself in reading and research. The character had a decidedly literary vocabulary, so she had to keep a dictionary by her side. With her mom, she watched the old movies and “Amos ‘n’ Andy” episodes that defined the play’s 1955 setting. The performance itself was exhausting. “Mondays”--when the theater was dark-“I would just go home and stay in bed. My mom said, ‘Nambi, you need to quit acting.’” Fortunately for all of us, parental advice rarely keeps a kid out of a theater once the transformational moment has happened. But Nambi’s mom can be forgiven for not wanting to see her daughter run ragged. Especially when there seemed to be an alternative. Around the same time, Nambi’s writing began to win accolades. In 2007, she was one of ten playwrights selected to attend a week-long symposium in Spoleto, Italy. “We came together and just wrote, got home-cooked meals.” Uninterrupted, unfettered creative time is a precious gift
for an artist. In that week, Nambi rewrote the entire second act of a play. Last year, she received a playwriting fellowship from Columbia and the Goodman. The fellowship included not just money but also a research assistant and an office. She’s in the process of completing that play, which will debut in the Goodman’s festival of new plays. And her play The Blue Shadow opens this spring with Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre. What inspiration sustains such tremendous, continuing effort? Nambi acknowledges the difficulty of creating, day after day--still more of finding inspiration in a medium with which one can sometimes become over-familiar. “You know,” she says, “we do it, and we see how it’s created, and we’re not inspired.” So she was thrilled, on a recent visit to the Court Theatre, to be reminded that “you can do anything on stage.” She saw a production she describes as “hands down, the funniest play I have ever seen in my entire life. I was crying. I got home and said, I have got to read that play.” That play was Charles Ludlam’s campy farce The Mystery of Irma Vep, directed by Sean Graney; the production won rave reviews and was on at least one critic’s year-end top-ten list. What won Nambi over wasn’t just the performances, although she thought they were wonderful: “Erik [Hellman] was so nuanced as a woman! I couldn’t believe it.” It was the pervasive spirit of fun. “You could see how much fun they had in rehearsal making that stuff up. The whole play was like a party, and that’s what theater should be. Theater should be a celebration.” Particularly when you have so much to celebrate.
HEALING IN ACRYLIC: The inspiration of painterpsychologist Yemonja Smalls by, Oryna Schiffman Yemonja Small’s patients wouldn’t believe it, but Dr Y, as they affectionately call her, often hangs up-side-down in front of her paintings. Colleagues of the clinical psychologist might be tempted to gossip if they saw her sprinting across her studio glimpsing a work-in-progress out of the corner of her eye. Why the acrobatics? To experience the perspective of a passer-by. “I want to see what pulls people back”, she explains, in the excitable tone of a little girl searching for just the right color crayon. The right combinations of color can “make my heart flutter,” says Smalls. On her canvases those bold colors become abstract human forms emanating highly charged emotions: soul-searching angst, victory’s glory, nurturing intimacy, unbridled exaltation. These figures in motion are so masterfully rendered they tell a story as emotionally succinct as a photographed facial expression. The rainbow of characters in “It Takes A Village” has just been selected by the Field Museum of Science and Industry’s Black Creativity competition jury to be displayed at the museum through March. Most viewers would assume these acrylics were created by a highly schooled painter. Though she has been drawing since she could hold a crayon, Smalls took her first art class at Penn State. When she barely passed, it became her last. The self-taught artist attributes her talent to her paint sets - perpetual childhood gifts from her parents, and her
visions – a gift bestowed by God on day she was born. Sharing her gift of empathy has always driven Dr Y’s psychological career. While studying the use of restraint on behavioral disordered patients for her dissertation, Smalls empathized so strongly with her subjects she developed severe headaches. In the end, her intense attachment paid off. Smalls’ behavioral programs, which proved superior to traditional restraining practices, were implemented in multiple facilities. During her six years of graduate training and psychological service administration Smalls utilized her analytical skill on the job, then retreated to her creative impulse in front of the canvas. “I often joke that I have a schizophrenic brain…Analytical, observant of behavior, rule-governed – a clinician on one side, and creative, imaginative, unfettered and artsy on the other.” When told that best-selling author of “A Whole New Mind” Daniel Pink would call her dualfunction mind a prerequisite for twenty first century success, Smalls laughs knowingly. Dual-function has always been a way of life for her: as an African– American, who habitually exists in two different worlds, and as a woman, who
innately absorbs disparate elements to keep the peace. It wasn’t until she lost her day job six months ago, however, that Smalls began painting full time, and bridging her life’s dual purposes: healing others and expressing herself. “When I’m working on a painting I’m praying about how it’s going to impact the person who sees it,” says Smalls, confiding that she strives to portray exclusively images of healthy relationships, without being preachy. Collectors of her art have repeatedly reported that their cherished pieces elicit a sense of healing and inspiration. Smalls’ Penn State classmate Tif Saleem, for example, is a manager of Chicago poets, and a chronic insomniac. Each night when he gazes up at the vivid yet cool spectrum of blues in Smalls’ “Cool Slumber” he says it soothes him instantly. “It puts me in a mode to curl up and relax.” Dr. Daniel Moran, Director of the MidAmerican Psychological Institute, owns what he feels is Smalls’ most famous piece, “Manchild” - an image of a toddler nestled in the nape of his father’s neck. “He trusts his father and is oblivious to his strength and probably can't fathom his father's dedication to him. The baby can't know how much his father loves him... the son probably has some
implicit belief that he is hanging onto his dad... but it's actually the dad holding his son. It inspires me to be a better father.” Cornell University professor Shorna Broussard-Allred calls Smalls “a spiritually gifted artist and scientist.” The print that inspires description for this collector is “One”, which depicts the serene but purposeful stride of a woman and a man painted from behind. “For me it really symbolizes the partnership of a marriage and how you are always looking forward and doing so together,“ says BroussardAllred. It’s easy to envision this strong, supple, confident, multi-colored female figure as an incarnation of Dr Y – enjoying her culture’s support as she leads the way into that era of a whole new mind. To view more of Yemonja Smalls’ work go to: www.YemonjaSmalls.com
FAIE’ AFRICAN ART: Faye Edwards’ daily celebration of the soul and the senses BY, Oryna Schiffman When people ask Faye Edwards what incense she burns in her Bronzeville art gallery she chuckles. The social workerturned-art dealer has never burned incense in her gallery. “It’s the scent of the wood!” she exclaims with impish amusement. “We don’t even know the scent of wood anymore!” It is this handicap of our civilization, this ever-widening rift between the natural and the cultural, and her desire to mend it, that inspired Faye to open Faie African Art Gallery two years ago. At a time when more African-Americans are seeking a portal to their ancestral spirituality, her decision is starting to pay off.Although it has yet to catch up with national and international trends, demand for African Art is growing in Chicago. The recent increase in global demand was spawned largely by record sales in Parisian auction houses. Once pieces started selling for a million dollars, the buzz began, explains Linda Tuggle, owner of one of Chicago’s largest African art collections. “African art is getting to be very desirable. Though prices for other art went down, African art has not. It has held its own,” says Tuggle. Last spring Sotheby’s sold a Baga serpent from a prominent collection for over 3 million dollars. Another Teke male power figure from the Congo doubled its high estimate to sell for $300,000. That grand Parisian demand quickly spread to New York and Los Angeles, and is trickling into Chicago, which has been recently visited by Kellum Brown, student of renowned Brusselsbased African art dealer Mark Felix.
Thanks to galleries like Faie African Art, tribal art collecting is no longer exclusively for wealthy elites, who seek provenance (pieces with distinguished ownership lineage.) Faye Edwards has made authentically aged art accessible to a more diverse clientele. “She has a great eye for unique artistic expression, and the knowledge behind the art,” says founder and president of the Bronzeville Area Resident Commerce Council Mell Monroe, who owns a diverse collection of Faie masks. “And the environment is so relaxing, not at all hard sell,” adds Mell, who greatly appreciates Ms. Edwards’ outreach at community meetings and events. Faie has become known not just as a place to buy African art, but as a haven of education about tribal treasures, which Edwards says are slowly disappearing from the American marketplace. “You used to see those Guinea Baga serpents everywhere. Now it’s difficult to find a traditional tribal serpent!” As they sell out their hard-won pieces in the States, Edwards sees major African dealers moving back to the continent, where demand for tribal art is also growing. It may very well be that someday, in order to see the last existing twenty Tanzanian matrilineal thrones you’ll have to fly to Tanzania. That wouldn’t concern Edwards in the least - she recommends that everyone visit Africa.
Faye’s own trip to Mali and Guinea in 1995 rekindled her passion for African art and changed her life’s course. As a child growing up in rural Arkansas, Faye used to watch her grandmother and her neighbors beautifying their yards. In the late fall, they would sweep designs into the dirt with rakes, designs whose beauty was imprinted upon her memory. Thirty years later, while traversing Mali’s countryside she suddenly called for her driver to stop, and ran out of the car to a house on the edge of the village. There, in the dirt of the front yard, she discovered the same designs her grandmother used to rake! That kernel of genetic memory illuminated for Faye her own generation’s trend for beautifying home and body. It dawned on her that her wardrobe and home décor may very well be incarnations of that ancestral aesthetic. The connection she felt to the land of Mali spawned a comfort level that imbued Faye’s art hunt with an aura of adventure - both physical and spiritual. What impressed her most was the functionality of the art. Whether it was a stool (she calls herself a stool fanatic), or a fertility-enhancing power figure, these works of art were created with users in mind. They require empathy and connectedness between artisan and patron. She explains on her website: “This art is not created as art for arts’ sake; it speaks of the connections to tradition, family, ancestor and the belief in the Omnipres-
ence of Spirit.” It is those connections to spiritual functions that Faye is trying to nurture not only in Bronzeville, where 23% of her clients reside, but on the South Side (25%) and South Suburbs (about 14%.) Patrons come from various neighborhoods to hear speakers like Chief Khalilu (the practitioner of the Ifa spiritual tradition featured on ABC’s “190 North”) and University of Chicago genealogist Dr Rick Kittles. Workshops on the history of mask-making and age-detecting skills are offered regularly, as well as intimate Kwanzaa celebrations. Even the casual window shopper will not leave uninformed. As you admire the Banda mask from Guinea, with its human face, crocodile jaw, antelope horns and serpent body Faye will tell you it has been warding away disaster for decades. If you’re considering tribal bride and groom stools for your wedding, she’ll inform you which have stood the test of time.
As these artifacts become less accessible Faye will be marketing more and more contemporary artists influenced by tribal art, like Mamady Sidime, a sixth generation carver from Conakry Guinea, whose father carved a mahogany head for JFK. Also featured is Felicia Grant Preston whose work hangs in the prestigious collection of Paul R Jones, hailed by “Art & Antiques” magazine as “one of the top art collectors in the U.S.” The gallery also markets the works of artist and civil rights activist, Arlene Turner Crawford, who was the first AfricanAmerican to hold a Masters in Art Education from Indiana University. Crawford calls art “a ritual, an attempt to interpret higher expressions of life.” Anyone who steps into Faie Art Gallery will experience just that, as they reacquaint themselves with the scent of wood…