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I think one of the highest forms of service for an artist is to employ his/her talents for the benefit of community uplift and progressive good, but let’s face it: Putting the word “conscious” together with the word “entertainment” in advertising can have an undesired effect on nightlife-seekers in any city. Most folks, after working all week long hiring out their “consciousness” to employers, shy away from entertainment where they think they will have to “think.” Ergo, going the route as a progressive or conscious entertainer to earn a living is a hard way to go—-let me tell you.
But it’s not impossible. There are a good many progressive institutions and organizations across country that employs progressive artists for entertainment, education, marketing, and various other jobs. To be in the stream (as I call it) of earning a living this way as an artist is the indie Holy Land. Let’s face it: Progressive, and certainly radical, artists don’t go platinum anymore. Oh, wait a minute, platinum aint shit nowadays, is it? What is? Double? Triple? Guess I’m out of touch with the current “industry” standards. But I’m not out of touch with simple math. For example, if an indie artist can organize a dedicated fan base as small as 10,000 they can earn a decent living. For example, drop two albums a year at $10 each and that’s $200,000 in earnings. Not bad at all…
The question is how does a progressive indie artist grow and maintain that kind of support? I think it starts at home and is dependent on how well the cogs in the wheels of the music scene contribute to its sustainable operation. Unless you are privileged with access to considerable resources that can be poured into maintaining your artist career (its not cheap, you know), as a D.I.Y indie artist, receiving recognition and promotion from the gatekeepers and tastemakers at home is of critical importance. The people in these positions understanding their roles and doing their jobs accordingly is a battle that must be won in order for noncommercial artists to remain independent and in business. Being credibly recommended and having credible places to perform is a crucial component—-even more so in this current environment, where venues and restaurants aren’t spending enough money to adequately promote themselves, but instead are relying on amateur, aspiring, and desperate artists to do promotions for them.
So when an individual steps up to the plate to produce and promote an event that not only benefits a conscious/progressive artist, but also is designed to generate the always needed capital resources to vetted and reputable organizations and groups doing work in Chocolate City communities of culture, it’s a mighty special thing indeed deserving of recognition and promotion.
The individual I speak of is Zach Mason, and for the better part of a year now he has been foretelling the arrival of new spot where progressive D.C. Artists will be able to connect with likeminded audiences here in Chocolate City. He is himself a longtime artists in the D.C. hip-hop community, an arts nurturer, and a community-empowerment-minded brother working on issues around social justice, and therefore understands the rigors of being a progressive artist. I’ve known Zach for years to make significant contributions of mind, time, and dime as a member of D.C. hip-hop culture despite the challenges, and his latest endeavor, working with other D.C. hip-hop community movers and shakers Bronx Lee and Marco, is nothing less than an impressive one.
In comes “Uptown Friday Nights” at RAS Hall. RAS Hall is a new restaurant and performance space located uptown on Georgia Ave NW that is owned and operated by the same good folks who ran the U Street institution The Kaffa House*. RAS Hall boasts a delicious Caribbean- and Ethiopian-fused menu for which they are scoring high marks in review—-as well it should be. Earlier this summer, I reunited with a friend of mine from back in the day when I lived on Capitol Hill named Ilee—-who turns out to be the creator of RAS’ menu. Brother Ilee comes from a rich tradition of great cooks. His people have been home cooked food vendors at Eastern Market for as long as I can remember. I have had their delicious meals firsthand, and so I know how tasty the food is at RAS Hall.
Zach’s inspiration and motivation behind producing “Uptown Friday Nights” is to “bring back the classic dining and edutainment experience”. Zach has enlisted the help of some local superstars, all working to bring the vision to fruition, on board that make the night’s magic happen. Hosting Uptown Friday Night is the accomplished D.C. indie playwright, activist, and Black L.U.V organizer Kymone Freeman, who always sets the mood just right. D.C. indie hip-hop/spoken word artist Tarica June, a sister I’ve been trying to check for a minute, is the resident artist at Uptown Friday Nights at RAS. She is making quite a name for herself representing Chocolate City on the national radar as a sister fully up on her game in the art of rhythm and rhyme. Working the system mix as chief engineer, when not out on tour playing drums with international star Kymani Marley, is a brother named Ragga Paul. Past Uptown Friday Night shows have featured locally based nationally renowned soul recording artists Courtney Dowe, and reggae/world music favorites Lucky Dub.
Tonight, I’m doing an hour-long set at Uptown Friday Nights at RAS Hall as the featured artist. I’ll be rocking a show set to showcase songs from my latest EP release, The “Empower DC” Project, plus other material I’ve been working on over the last year. RAS Hall’s location—-at Georgia Ave between Delafield Place and Decatur Street—- is pretty much in the same neighborhood where I spent my early childhood. After living in the suburbs for 10 years and coming back to D.C. at the age of 18, it’s the same area where my hip-hop performance career began—-near the legendary Ibex, later to be vilified and politically sabotaged out of existence. I’m looking forward to this show as somewhat of a return to my home turf, and I plan to show off for any of my old Truesdale Elementary School friends who might wanna show up to see old Vance Levy from around 7th and Ingraham Street NW way do his thing like in old times! Ha!
A portion of monies generated from the bar at Uptown Friday Nights will be donated to my favorite community organizing force in Chocolate City: Empower D.C. If you’re looking for a great place Friday night with great entertainment, food, and drink, away from the U Streetmadness, in a place where culture will reign supreme and the music will not require you to compromise your integrity to fully enjoy it, then I suggest you meet me at RAS Hall this week for “Uptown Friday Nights.”
The performance takes place tonight at RAS Hall, 4809 Georgia Ave. NW. 9 p.m.
*Side Note about Kaffa House:
So many great memories—-my fondest is when I had my 25th birthday party where it seemed like everyone in the DC hip-hop scene showed up. That’s back in the day when I was a Newport cigarette chain-smoking 315-pound Infinite Loop’n member in the D.C. hip-hop community. It was also the day when I decided to lose the weight to save my life because I could not enjoy the love I received after performing my set because I was too winded to focus on anything else but getting my next breath. Trenmonths later I was 130 pounds lighter and the rest, as they say, is history…