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I first met brother Franko at a Tip the Band event featuring my band Godisheus last spring. But I had no clue then that Franko, who leads the group Frankojazz, is a champion-warrior arts advocate in the battle to preserve the playing of live music in Mount Pleasant.
Over the last 20 years or so, the Mount Pleasant community has gone through the latest incarnation of that sociopolitical/economic meat-grinder known as gentrification. Surviving some of the social and economic upheavals, Mount Pleasant is still a fairly mixed-income and multiethnic neighborhood. On the political front, however, certain neighborhood traditions were literally legislated away thanks to the efforts of a small but effectively organized (we gotta get organized, y’all!) group of politically savvy longtime and new residents. Playing live music in places where live music had been played for decades was one of the traditions persecuted in the passionate pursuit to clean-up Mount Pleasant streets. Well, as a guitarist, singer, and member of the Mount Pleasant community, brother Franko took exception to the not-so-neighborly behavior that is a hallmark of the gentrification process.
You see, like most mixed-income neighborhoods packed with people of culture, Mount Pleasant has its challenges. There are two ways to deal with the issues that challenge your community–as family or as an adversary. Brother Franko, aka Frank Agbro, has spent numerous years on the ground trying to deal with his neighborhood’s challenges the family way. So, after others in the Mount Pleasant community took the adversarial route, here’s few a things Franko’s family did:
Franko and his family started Fam Jam at Lamont Park, complete with a kid’s corner to entertain the youngins. The Frankojazz crew set up sound and music gear for everyone to play, and they extended invitations throughout the neighborhood so that everyone could interact through music.
The Nigerian-born Franko got together with local Salvadorian mariachi legend Tito Torres to entertain passersby in front of the Best Way Food Market on Mount Pleasant Street. They called it “Combinacion Culturales”–a combining of cultures. Tito, Franko, and Franko’s son Julian became fixtures on the Mount Pleasant Street strip as they created, blended, and crooned out melodies and rhythms in the Afro-Latin style. I hear seeing them was a spectacle to behold. I also hear that working together, these cross-cultural ambassadors helped ease tensions in the neighborhood and bring people together. Brother Tito recently passed away to the big stage in sky, and brother Franko organized an event at Lamont Park that raised money to send him back home for his final rest.
For the past five years, Franko has organized the Kilbourne Place Block Party in Mount Pleasant. Franko lives on Kilbourne Place, and one day every fall the street is blocked off for a massive, community-nurturing event with music, food, and entertainment for the kids. It’s my understanding that the Kilbourne Place Block Party is now the most anticipated come-together event in Mount Pleasant. Late last summer, I moved into the neighborhood, played my cards wrong, and missed it. This year I’m playing my cards right for sure: I’ll be there with my little one.
And now, he’s leading Francojazz Open Mic Fridays at Don Jaime in Mount Pleasant. Conceived as a “community jam,” the event promises a chance for neighborhood musicians and artists to try out what they practice in their basements. “It’s also a place where one can travel to, have a good time amongst friends and family, and enjoy the spirit of a neighborhood,” Franco says. I attended one a few weeks back. When I arrived, Franko, Julian, and another cat on keys were playing. Minutes later, more musicians came into the house, unpacked their instruments, and joined the groove.
The next Frankojazz Open Mic is this Friday 8 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Don Jaime Restaurant, 3209 Mount Pleasant Street. $5 suggested cover/donation.