by Cherisse Riviera
After seeing a previous weekend’s events that made up part of the 5th Annual “Can A “Sista Rock a Mic” (CASRAM) Festival, I have no doubt that DC is experiencing a true arts and music renaissance.
“Can A Sister Rock a Mic” is a music and visual arts festival consisting of various performances and exhibitions by female creators. CASRAM, according to its website, is a positive event to counterbalance the current negative images of women in music and media. For this author, CASRAM did, indeed portray female artists in a strong, powerful, creative light, free of the misogyny that is pervasive in a good number of mainstream music productions and print media. However the festival, was by no means one that had a preachy, stereotypically feminist agenda, but rather, celebrated the woman as a being that is dynamic, who feels the range of emotions associated with sexuality and flaunting that sexuality, and as a being that is simply fun to be around.
CASRAM started out as the brainchild of founder Kimani Anku, when he was inspired to create CASRAM by a segment that featured all female musicians on his old internet radio show. The resulting showcase, called B-Girl Manifesto–a collective of artists that mainly performed hip-hop, neo-soul, spoken word, and R&B artists–ran in Washington, DC from 2000 to 2002,and catered to a largely underground base of hip-hop fans. A year later, Brandon Felton became his Anku’s business partner, and the festival had its official debut.
The first weekend of CASRAM started with “Lady X” in a “pop-up” venue known as Sol Space, located on Fenton Avenue in downtown Silver Spring, MD. Lady X was a night of graphic design, djs, fashion vendors, and live music. The transformation of the cavernous space from its former use as a child care center to an art gallery and impromptu stage, demonstrated how much true, raw talent came from all those involved, from the behind-the-scenes crew, to the artists with works on display, to the two vocalists that were chosen to perform. The event also allowed the audience to experience something that is not always available in Washington DC area venues, a sort of concert ‘in the round”, where an audience is able to be on the same physical plane as the artist, where no formal stage exists, thus giving that audience a sense of kinship and intimacy with the performer.
The evening’s songs were performed by two artists with surprisingly different styles. Megan Livingston came to the stage and sang in a slow, sultry manner, and wore a very casual t-shirt with cotton lounge pants. While her songs and style evoked a sense of quiet, chill, relaxation session, the next performer, Carolyn Malachi, came to the stage wearing a gauzy sundress, and a smile, and engaged with her audience, talking to them in a rather, lighthearted, jovial manner. She seemed to bring the audience to a place inside of them that was more high energy, and somewhat naughtier than her predecessor on stage. (Nothing gets a crowd to listen better then telling them that one of yours songs is called, “Labia”, it appears).
Malachi also claimed that the appearance at Lady X marked the first time that her band was able to perform as a unit. This audience member saw a band that appeared to be cohesive, professional, diverse, and was a welcome change of pace for the rather quiet tone of the beginning of the evening. Malachi’s song, “Organic Soul”, provided welcome little hints of jazz and funk. It seemed as though her set was the turning point for the evening and many audience members spurned the part of sedate, cool art patrons and started dancing. They continued to dance to the DJ sets till the wee hours of the morning, much to the delight and curiosity of onlookers on Fenton Street who asked if a “new club” had just opened for business.
The following day, Saturday, June 12, was the highlight of the Can A Sista Rock a Mic festival, the “Summer Love Fest”, which was also held on an outdoor stage in downtown Silver Spring, this time during a blazing, hot afternoon in the main public square on Ellsworth Avenue. The lineup consisted of: Ra the MC, Princess of Controversy, Deborah Bond, Alison Carney, Yahzarah, Shae Fiol, Kimberly Nichole and other artists. The summer sun early in the day allowed for a good shopping crowd to be near the festival stage. Alison Carney, a local songstress who has performed local and internationally with her band and with several well-known artists including Raheem Devaughn, Dwele, and Slum Village, got on stage and gave a rousing performance, followed by Princess of Controversy, a self-described “artivist” who gave the audience a little sampling of her rhyming skills, but clearly demonstrated she also had the pipes to hit the high notes. Shae Fiol stands out to this author as the surprise of the festival. She got on stage and stunned the audience with her powerful vocals and had such a “different” sound that the crowd response was very enthusiastic, resulting the rapid sale of her cds. Fiol’s sound is characterized as acoustic soul, with Latin and jazz influence, and she’s been compared to Sade, Nelly Furtado, and Esthero, among others.
“Can A Sista Rock a Mic” Festival’s first weekend was indicative of the fact that the Washington, DC metropolitan area is extremely fertile when it comes to free, quality, art –related events. Here’s to hoping the “sistas continue to “rock the mic” for years to come.