At an intensely beautiful show about love, freedom, beauty and radio, I found myself proud to be in Indianapolis at such an amazing musical experience. I was sitting second row, smack in the middle of the historic theatre, watching and listening to a young, black female play an acoustic upright bass that was bigger than she was. Small frame, modest clothing, huge wild hair, she couldn't have been a second over 32. She stands in front of two saxophones, a set of drums, a trumpet, a male and female singer and to the right of an organ and a piano. She's young. She's black. She's the youngest on faculty at Berkley and she's trained in classical music.
She was articulate. And funny. She talked about issues like race and incarceration, innocence and even cheating in such a thoughtful and stylish way that people haven't experienced from an African American musician before. She sang alone for the majority of the show. Her sound was very soft but intense in moments. It was like a sweet opera; you know what's happening and you know what she's expressing but some of the verses aren't even in English. She scatted, she belted, and spoke to us in between songs to give a glimpse of her personality, her diverse background and her humor.
People in Indy aren't used to this. Her songs aren't played on the radio here so people just don't know her. The concert wasn't sold out. The crowd was very mixed. I didn't see anyone at the show who appeared to be in their twenties and the black audience was definitely the minority. She doesn't have Kanye doing any of her remixes so our YP's just don't know of her. How can this sort of gritty, really good music become normal and even expected here?
One of her backup singers (Chris Turner) was amazing. He started her most popular song, Black Gold, by posing the question "Was Trayvon's life so dispensable?" in a very soulful, almost gospel-choir voice. Because the music and voices were so good, it made it very easy to listen to. And because that was easy and enjoyable, it made the classical music and unfamiliar instruments more comfortable to receive. It was a great way to understand this kind of artist.
I feel like she surprised the audience and I don't know how I feel about that. I listened very closely. People laughed almost unexpectedly - as if she was special, like she wasn't normal. Do you know what I mean? It shouldn't be unusual to see a smart, witty and sultry black artist. But here in Indy, it's almost phenomenal. Why is that? Because we don't have the density of artists like other cities, so we aren't exposed to it as much? Or because our promoters and venues just don't bring artists like her here? Why not?
Don't get me wrong. The show was amazing. But it left me wondering why we were surprised to see an artist like her. Isn't Indy cultured enough? Aren't our audiences developed enough? Why isn't this sold out?
I think Indy has some work to do on the cultural awareness front. I want us to not only appreciate phenomenal artists but to expect them. I want us to realize that young, black gifted artists are right here in our city! Right here in our schools and in our churches. Once we discover and develop what we have, we won't be as amazed by what comes to town.