For those who miss the iconic "Express Yourself" open mic nights that Nadine Brown used to host, get ready for her latest venture, "Art Is", the new low-key performance and visual arts forum which kicks off Wednesday July 20th at 8pm at The Hilton.
"Even though I want it to be a little similar to 'Express Yourself' by saying, you know, 'Art Is', art is whatever you want it to be, at the same time I want it to be a little more structured," explains Nadine, who has immersed herself in local talent through her TV show "Roots & Culture."
"Express Yourself", which she founded in 2004, came out of a desire to provide a venue for performance artists to share their work with one another -- with the spontaneous structure of these nights, often times the amount of eager talent displayed would continue for hours. It moved location several times as attendance grew every year, reflecting the need for such a community meeting space in The Bahamas for performance artists.
"I didn't make any money, it was never about making money, but it was something I felt was needed," Nadine says. "Because I love the arts so much, I wanted somewhere to go and share. My mother always said, 'If there's nothing happening, make something happen, don't sit around and complain.'"
Even though personal tragedy led her to take a break from hosting, which eventually led to its fading away, "Express Yourself" has earned its place in Bahamian performance art history, providing inspiration for other performance venues, creating concerts to give local talent exposure and acting as the meeting place for like-minded artistic individuals to share each other's work.
"I was glad 'Express Yourself' was able to influence people because I feel like that was needed. It actually opened up people's eyes to the talent here," she says. This time around, with "Art Is", Nadine is pairing up with Daria Delancey, a local talented Bahamian performer who supported "Express Yourself" throughout the years. With "Art Is" they are aiming for a less spontaneous and intense experience and a more focused and acoustic vibe.
"I was thinking about how I wanted 'Express Yourself' to come back. I was thinking about how 'Express Yourself' was always so raw and I wanted this one to be more structured, a little more upscale, just have it be a sensible thing that like-minded artists come out to and share, low key," adds Nadine.
One of the ways in which "Art Is" will be different is by giving only one hour to open mic performers, encouraging them to prepare and sign up beforehand to share their work. They will then have featured artists perform each week. On July 20th, playwright and poet Ian Strachan will be their featured guest, along with performers Bodine Johnson, Dominique Brown, and Jah Voyce.
Since "Art Is" encompasses and embraces all art, each week there will also be a featured guest who is a visual artist, kicking off with Carla Campbell. The idea behind this, they explain, is to move visual art into the public performance arena, as the artist will be working on their pieces live before the audience, allowing their work to draw inspiration and energy from the performers until the night ends with their finished piece.
Nadine hopes these pieces will be on display week after week, so the participants can perform surrounded by art inspired by their words. But the major change will be the acoustic vibe, carried along consistently by the centerpiece of the "Art Is" band, Daria explains. The band, for now, consists of her on guitar and soulful jazz singer Zee Thompson on the jimbay drums, though they'd like to add a double bass player and are open to guest musicians.
"We want a jazzy feel," explains Daria. "We want the music to be easy on the ear, but also to be complicated. We don't want it to be simple music." The idea, she says, came from "Raw Form", an event she hosted last year which featured performers from all backgrounds -- rappers, poets, singers, songwriters -- performing with the same band ensemble, lending the event a continuity and laid-back vibe that she hopes to achieve in a more intimate setting.
"When it comes to playing behind performers, we'll do dub rhythms or simple love rhythms so any poet or reader can perform on top of it if they want to, so it can add another dimension to their artwork," says Daria. "We can work on opening them up to a new sound since a lot of poets never put their work to music, if they want to."
But it isn't just poets they're thinking of performing with -- singers should come out and perform too. "We want singers to come out too, but singers with a more lyrical side," says Nadine. "If you're a rapper, come out, but you won't be rapping to no track. You'll be citing your stuff. That's what we want and that's what we'll encourage."
Indeed, "Art Is" will be a major collaborative space for the arts, allowing those from different genres and expressions to come together and hold conversations with their art every week.
But "Art Is" will be more than a performance venue -- every Wednesday night they hope to form a community of like-minded individuals moving each other forward by encouraging feedback to performers in the form of constructive criticism.
"Typically for spoken word poets and poets in general, their work happens in isolation. I think this is a forum where you can be comfortable with your work in any stage that it's at, a place where you can grow," says Daria. "We want to instill confidence in artists, because the more you perform, the more you grow."
Overall, "Art Is" will be a welcome environment for performers at all stages to come and share and develop their work in a laid-back atmosphere, or for viewers to simply enjoy local talent in a chill and inspirational space. "People can expect to be blown away by the talent," says Nadine. "People not used to spoken word poetry can see that it's performance poetry. People can come out to laugh, to be inspired, and be shocked by the talent in this country. It's a nice way to pass the evening with like-minded artistic friends."
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