Open Mic Nights

Retro microphone on stage in restaurant. Blurred background

That’s a pretty mic… I would like to sing into a mic like that…

A steady heartbeat turns into the bass for a new song as I walk down the street. The wind transforms into a melody as it whispers through my hair and across my face. I love music. It’s crazy, like, for me, music is the answer. Every calling I have heard, every urge forward I have felt and every true accomplishment I have reached was rooted in music. Everyone likes music; some even speak it, that’s me. It’s everywhere I go and in every breath I take.

One problem, I have horrible stage fright. When I was attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan, I was required to participate… clearly. They were basically just class presentations, but, I kid you not, I had an anxiety attack before every single entrance onto the makeshift stage at the front of the classroom. I’m talking tears and lightheaded vertigo from hyperventilation recuperation. It’s a lot.

Over the summer, I was determined to fix that. After not making the cut for acting school, I focused my attentions on my first love: music. I knew that in order for me to grow from my first failed acting experience and to continue cultivating my voice in music, I would have to start getting used to performing on stage without dying. I was urged to start participating in open mic events and well… I did that. Living in Manhattan’s East Village made it a lot easier to transition from potato status to involved-young-adult-on-the-brink-of-career-entrapment status.

As a whole, the open mic scene is amazing. There is something so transformative about baring your craft for a room full of strangers. You take a break from your school and work lives to enter a room, prepared to perform… anything. When I first started, avoiding any sudden urge to stop breathing, it was just a matter of me sitting in a chair with my head down, my legs and voice shaking. Now, actually, it’s the same, but with the added entertainment of hearing me fumble for ways to engage the audience. Most of my stage banter is just, me, apologizing to the audience for not being able to give anyone eye contact (not a good approach by the way, mine tends to be a cautionary tale more than naught).

After a while, I began to understand the journey open mic events could take me on, or rather are already taking me on. I love playing music… playing music while expecting a reaction, however, brings new stakes into the picture and makes me excessively uncomfortable on stage. What open mic has taught me, however, is that I am focusing on all the wrong things. What open mic does for an artist, especially an artist like me, is give them a platform to perform free of judgment. Seriously! Isn’t that, like, almost impossible to accept as real and possible. You. Will. Not. Fail. It’s not a concert, you didn’t ask people to show up and support you (I mean maybe you did, that’s a different story…super advanced in the training program).

What I’m trying to say is, you don’t go to Open Mic to give the performance of your life and start a music career, instead, go to Open Mic to explore your comfort zone. To perform beyond your set list and carefully constructed musical numbers and guitar riffs. It’s about trying out that chord progression that you couldn’t get the hang of in your room. Out loud in front of people. It’s about giving yourself a moment to be okay with seeing your own progress. It’s about being okay with not being perfect. It’s about being able to go on stage and pat yourself on the back even if what you had envisioned for the night didn’t include the back-up musicians at the venue to continue to play your song in the wrong key with the wrong vibe while you play through like a soldier – sorry, I had an interesting experience. It’s okay. That should, in fact, be the slogan for every open mic event: It’s okay. It’s okay to mess up and be free and be amazing.

I was given a real experience over summer performing at random venues. I met great musicians from around the world. I learned a lot about artists and how hard we work just to be heard. I learned a lot about myself and my music and my voice and about how to get out of the West Village if I’ve gotten lost. But most importantly, I learned that it’s okay. I actually crave the adrenaline rush of being on stage and coming off breathless. I dream about that moment when I get to bathe in the triumph of having braved mass judgment, one of my biggest fears.

Music heals. It brings nations, cultures, and people of all backgrounds together. It defies language and color and national borders, the miles of ocean that separate countries. It flies above and around us, in the wind, in the slapping of rubber on a busy Manhattan sidewalk, the splash of water on concrete on a hot summer day, it’s in the laughter of pedestrian life. I encourage everyone to stop and listen to their world and later, maybe draw from the music of that moment and come to an open mic event and tell everyone about what you heard, what you saw. Tell someone how you heard the world. If you can’t sing it or play it, speak about it. Ever heard of a Capella? Just, bro, Open Mic is awesome and one more thing, it’s okay.

 

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Race and Music

What I Learned About Race Through Rap Feuds in 2015Azalea vs Azealia 750

Remember Azealia Banks? I had, admittedly, forgotten. She’d rubbed me in a similar manner as how Kanye West makes me react. Let me explain, while, I often disagree with Kanye’s tactics and like his whole presence, honestly, he has often spit pure truth on numerous occasions… like the VMAs. There is a huge struggle for minorities to be fully taken in as equals. The same way women, Black Lives Matter, and, the LGBT rights movements’ fight for equal representation and opportunity.

When Azealia Banks rolled up and blasted Iggy for not fully committing to her appropriated culture, Iggy was off the scene for a little bit but Azealia Banks was pushed in the media as the antagonist. She was portrayed as an angry black woman and a hater and when her album finally dropped, I didn’t even hear about it, I had to go and find it. It had to put in extra effort to be exposed to her music, meanwhile, people continue to talk about Iggy, she still has a media presence that doesn’t tag her name with the accusations Banks brought to attention, however, last time I heard about Azealia, it was about twitter and Eminem… the mention of her music was secondary and vague. Can we agree that that’s just, I mean, come on, that’s a little “sus.”

Sometimes, with movements like this, smaller communities of people are trying to force the heads of the larger communities to look back and notice how far behind we are, how unequal the quality of life seems to be for people. It’s very difficult, 2015 has been a series of excruciatingly frustrating denials of a problem generations of racially segregated societies have been facing. So yeah, sometimes we get loud. Sometimes the intensity doesn’t match the venue and so it’s overwhelming and off putting. However I offer a challenge, one I also give myself, not to let the discomfort in the volume of someone’s injustice make you turn the volume down on the issue. Instead, it should make you listen; it should prompt you to do what you can to end that pain.

Let me just say, I started listening to rap music when Nicki Minaj started rocking’ out with a fake British accent. I was like, okay, this girl does not care. She took into account all the tools she had picked up on her way and implemented them into her craft. She likes accents and voices; it helps her assume character, which helps her to tell the story of her song better. It was with Nicki that I understood that beautiful story telling nature of rap music. It’s complete freedom of expression. I wanted to be able to do that, but felt I couldn’t. Nicki was a female rapper changing the game, yes, but she still fit in. She was like a female perspective of the rap game.

Now, Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks entered my life at around the same time, right when I was just starting to understand rap’s importance and appreciate where I fit into the hip-hop culture. It’s something I’m still learning about-and people should really take the time to understand it because it’s really beautiful. Hip-hop was born for a culture of people who were not being heard as equals. Not that much has changed as far as public perception, but the black community was being stifled, since their origin in America. Our talents were taken for granted while our music was stolen, and our contributions ignored. Hip-hop came along and it was loud, and expressive. It was angry and colorful… so colorful. What’s awesome about the hip-hop culture is that it’s all-inclusive. It’s political and social. It’s fashion and music and art. It’s history and a cry for a better tomorrow, a promise of not giving up the fight for equality and acknowledgement. The only requirement to be accepted in the hip-hop culture is accepting hip-hop’s validity.

As I was coming to these conclusions, I was listening to this girl (Iggy) who everybody thought had no business being in the rap business. Well, she made it her business. I always felt like if I tried to be a rapper, I would be laughed at because people would immediately recognize that I’m super lame. I couldn’t be aggressive (really doesn’t work) and my sexy face is not lit, it is very dim and makes people uncomfortable, including myself. But Iggy taught me that it doesn’t matter where you come from, or what you sound like, when you’re drawn to something roll with it until you find your footing. I truly appreciated that she was from Australia and this blonde white girl had found passion in rap music.

I think that appropriation is beautiful. It pretty much feels like society is telling people that they can’t look at a different culture, and if they do find it appealing well, just forget about it because they weren’t born into it. That’s bologna, not kosher. HOWEVER, I will say that because culture is so closely ingrained in certain communities, if you don’t understand the culture from which you’re sampling, you can’t just get up and pretend like you’re involved. If you’re going to be a part of the hip-hop culture and start influencing people to get there with you, you have to really be involved. Otherwise it’s plagiarism, you just copy and pasted someone’s passion and put your name on it. And now, the original owner of that swag has been overlooked.

Being in a position of cultural appropriation presents people with several options moving forward. It’s not just about learning about a culture, it’s about caring about that culture. For Iggy, rap is her career and it doesn’t seem like it’s much more than that, which is fine but for many others, rap is their entire struggle, their entire history and cries for change. Rap touches on the disappointments and hopes of a people that are constantly overlooked and prejudiced against in a society within which they have been fighting for acknowledgement beyond their skin color since they were forced from their native land. Hip-hop was born in battle. It’s a war cry and a victory song; it’s a freedom chant and a national anthem. It’s pride and acceptance and if you can’t grasp that, you have no business getting involved, and if you do get that, then you’ve already adopted that fight and we thank you. Privilege is not a bad thing if you utilize it in the name of progress. Your white privilege automatically makes your voice a little louder than ours and that is okay right now. Change isn’t immediate, but you can call it out so that maybe down the road, years from now, everyone’s voices will be the same volume.

 

The thing that is upsetting about Iggy isn’t even upsetting in a way that Iggy, herself, enrages me. It’s just reality. It’s hard to find representation of black women beyond the generalized stereotype that genuinely doesn’t go away, no matter how much of a boss she is: Fat ass, attitude, dope hair, and nothing but style and sex to contribute to society. Sex sells, even if what you’re selling is an entire group of people. The problem with Iggy being a rapper and using a southern accent to slip into her performance persona isn’t that she is white, however, it is because she’s not about the #BlackStruggle. She’s not advocating on behalf of black rights and progress towards our equal representation. There is no fight on behalf of white society that needs to shut down the airwaves to be heard. State law is white law; all protests are simply demands for the rights we, as a people, were denied in our artificial insemination as citizens of this country. I cannot speak on behalf of all black people, but to me, it’s like I’m still waiting for our official adoption papers to be signed, and until then, I’ll still feel like we’re the kids you took in to cop that check every month.

Music brings people, cultures and hearts together. It can easily be employed as a tool for cultural change. It’s up to this generation to start taking these strides by coming together and casting out the separation, but we can’t do that until we recognize it, until we all see it. You have to listen to some problems that aren’t your own. You have to look at some consequences of racism and intolerance that are hard to look at. Sometimes, even when you don’t like who’s talking, you just have to listen; listen to what everyone has to say, consider another perspective. Listen to people like Kanye, Azealia, Nicki, and Miley. That even goes for Donald Trump, but, and I beg of you, don’t get out of hand on that slippery slope to Hell.