Risikat Okedeyi has been nurturing the D.C. indie-music community for as long as I can remember. Kat, as many of us call her, is the visionary founder of Lil SoSo Productions, which specializes in event-concept development as well as artist management. Through her consistent grind and an obvious ability to visualize, strategize, and bring to fruition quality functions, Kat has produced some of the most talked about arts-based social events and mixers in the city—-events you’ve most likely been to at one point or another.
For the past two years, Kat has been creating one of the most innovatively artistic cultural-awareness and education affairs in Chocolate City. It’s called “When Harlem Came to Paris” and this Saturday it will take place at the Alliance Française de Washington. The event re-creates a time when black artists of the Harlem Renaissance, dealing with discrimination in America, traveled to Paris, establishing culture-based connections that provided outlets for their work and expressions. Being a black artist dealing with issues of who is granted access to what in my hometown, when I realized that’s what WHCTP was commemorating, I put the date on my calendar and committed myself to attending this event dedicated to those who paved the way.
Wanting to know more, and not wanting to get it wrong (I know as an artist how frustrating it is when a writer doesn’t get your main “thang” right), I decided to ask sister Kat some very direct questions about Lil SoSo Productions’ signature event.
Washington City Paper: What is the vision and mission behind producing your event, “When Harlem Came To Paris”?
Risikat Okedeyi: One of the goals of “When Harlem Came to Paris” is to highlight known and unknown figures about a time when the world begins to experience the cultural landscape of African Americans as told by them. Another goal is to humanize those that we celebrate as icons today and to remember those that have been lost in the shuffle. The cast “becomes” the artists and writers they portray. There is no script. We are set in a specific time frame—-1926 for this year—-and the cast goes from there. My mission ultimately is to make the history of black people accessible by looking back and asking the question “What if?” The attendees are just as much part of the night. People come dressed in their best 1920s look and get a chance to interact and take in the culture of Paris as influenced by its “Negro” American visitors.
WCP: What is Alliance Française de Washington and how did it become involved?
RO: The Alliance is a French language and cultural organization that offers numerous classes in French and hosts a variety of events that focus on the diasporic French language culture. I was introduced to them via a mutual friend, who felt that my concepts and their events were a good match. Sylvain Corneveaux the cultural director had a meeting one day in June of 2007 and as I was waiting for him at the Alliance headquarters, I began browsing their library. They had a well-known text book called The Harlem Renaissance Reader on one of the shelves and it was in French. That sparked the question that led to “When Harlem Came to Paris”. When I asked Sylvain about partnering, he was more than willing and three years later, here we are. In addition to the theatrics, food and music, we also raise money for the Alliance’s ABEI program, with a silent auction of works that this year, have all been created by James Terrell. It’s the ultimate win/win.
WCP: How do you incorporate and coordinate the active local artists into the program, and how you do feel it support their careers? Also, please name some of the artists that will be participating.
RO: All of the artists with one exception are based in D.C. I think the support comes in allowing them to portray their figures as they see fit and also featuring them in the promotion and marketing planes. There are photo shoots and press releases that constantly refer to their participation and they are highlighted in as many press opportunities as possible. The Web site is also a place where they are featured, once we have all of the necessary information. This year the cast is as follows:
Dorothy Tene Redmond as Mamie Mason
Richard Davis as Wallace Thurman
Risikat I. Okedeyi as Zora Neale Hurston
John Murph as R. Bruce Nugent
Michele Lee Gray as Dorothy West
Roger Bonair-Agard as Claude McKay
Dana Kristina-Joi Morgan as Lillian Hardin-Armstrong
Dr. William E. Smith as W.C. Handy
Ne’a Posey as Ma Rainey
With the exception of Roger Bonair-Agard, everyone else is based in D.C. and has an affinity for the person they portray in terms of their creative path.
WCP: Is there a cultural impact that you can measure from paying tribute to the movers and shakers of the Harlem Renaissance period?
RO: Absolutely! Everyone that attends and participates learns a little more each year. People have told me that in just trying to figure out what to wear, they have been led back to the Harlem Renaissance, only to discover more wrtiters and artists that they had never heard of. This event is divinely inspired and many ways we are serving as mediums for those that have come before us. It’s a celebration of culture, but more importantly history. Paris is forever changed because of the influence of African and African American artists, musicians and writers. With “When Harlem Came to Paris”, we are able to bring to light just some of that energy and in the end it has been one of the most rewarding concepts for me to date.
Guess I need to hit the vintage thrift store and try to find some 1920s-era Harlem Renaissance attire for this weekend’s show! You know me when I’m in the house: I’ll be the one hollering “Black Broadway!”
“When Harlem Came to Paris” takes place at the Alliance Francaise de Washington this Saturday ay 8 p.m. $55 for members, $65 for nonmembers (must be 21)