Wednesday, April 15, 2015

City Pages' 2015 "Best of the Twin Cities" Observation

I hate to make other people's accomplishments about me, but this was too funny. Every year, City Pages runs a "Best of the Twin Cities" feature, honoring different local artists and establishments. I've been in it before, as have lots of people. This year, I noticed something cool; not sure if anyone else has made this connection yet:

Best hip hop artist: deM atlaS

Best female vocalist: Claire de Lune

Best producer: Big Cats

Now, aside from these artists being phenomenally talented and wonderful people whom everyone should know about and support, does anyone see the connection between the three of them? I'll give you a hint:

Me and deM atlaS made an album with Rube under the name Sifu Hotman. Me and Claire made an album called A Loud Heart. And me and Big Cats made two albums together, the most recent being You Better Weaponize. Click the links to listen to and/or buy them.

ALSO, the Re-Verb open mic, organized by TruArtSpeaks (the organization I work with as comm director and as a roster artist), was awarded best open mic!

All of this is less about how much impact and influence I have, and more about how good I am at latching onto talented people before they blow up, haha. Congratulations to everyone!

Friday, April 03, 2015

Power Youth Voice with #7UpForSocialChange and TruArtSpeaks

1,429 donations of $7.00 will raise $10,000 towards the sustained programming, mentorship and artistic spaces for Twin Cities youth to engage with in with quality artistic practices that challenge them to view themselves and the world differently. Be part of the change in our community by changing the lives of the youth who shape it - Donate by July 1st, 2015 and Power the Movement.

I got to host the Finals slam this year (which was sold out), and just last night hosted our weekly open mic (which is free, all-ages, and routinely packed). From the big events, to the small events, to the workshops and in-school residencies-- this has already been an incredible year for us, and we are just getting started.

This is about grassroots support for youth voice and youth power. We appreciate big grants and wealthy patrons, but a thousand people each donating a little something means much more. This is about more than just raising money; it's about claiming our collective power and building something that matters together.

Donate $7 at the link. Spread the word!

Also, you can get TruArtSpeaks shirts and chapbooks here!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

New Video for "Starfish" + What a Week in My Life Looks Like

NEW VIDEO for an older poem of mine, courtesy of Button Poetry. Here's the commentary I posted on it:

This is a poem I wrote about the tension that can sometimes exist between doing face-to-face activist/educational/service work that you know is good and that you know has an impact... while not seeing the larger systems/trends change.

As much as we might know on an intellectual level that we need BOTH (for example: we need people who volunteer at the homeless shelter AND people who organize around pushing policies that can end homelessness), it can be a challenge to figure how you fit in, where you should expend your energy. This poem is a reminder for me to continue developing more nuanced frameworks for how I think about change, to value and honor individual contributions while never losing sight of the larger goals of sustainable, institutional transformation.

In that spirit, aside from posting the new video, I thought I'd use this post to kind of walk through my week up to when the video went up. Part of being a multidisciplinary artist/person is that a lot of people don't seem to really understand what it is that I actually do. So what follows is a pretty standard slice of what my life looks like these days, for anyone who might care.

My life is an endless series of whiteboards.
Wednesday 3/4: I teach a class at the U of MN on intersections of hip hop, spoken-word and youth work philosophy. It's more a space for all of us in the class to build with each other, share thoughts, and strategies, etc. At this session, we listened to Heems' "Flag Shopping" and did a guided critical analysis, focusing on form, content, delivery and context. We then analyzed the analysis exercise, pointing out what practices and techniques were used.

Thursday 3/5: In the afternoon, I stopped by Hamline University to guest lecture in a "diversity and education" class. I shared a couple of my poems, did more critical analysis stuff, and then we had a discussion making connections between what those students are studying and the issues and themes that come up in my work. After that, I drove to Golden Thyme Cafe in St. Paul to facilitate a youth spoken-word workshop, focusing on odes. We watched Alvin Lau's "For the Breakdancers" and talked about what we look for in an ode, how an ode can be challenging, the pros and cons of "preaching to the choir," etc. After that, I hosted the weekly Re-Verb open mic. We had about 15 poets share their work, and the cool thing about that space is that we also engage in some workshopping and constructive feedback.

photo by Hieu Nguyen
Friday 3/6: This was the first semifinal bout in the 2015 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam series, organized by TruArtSpeaks. It was at Intermedia Arts in MPLS, and I had the honor of co-hosting alongside up-and-coming MC (and former Be Heard participant) Lucien Parker. It was one of the best poetry slams I've ever witnessed. Completely sold out (including a packed overflow room where people watched the slam on a live feed), incredible energy the whole night, and some really powerful, beautifully-crafted poetry. By the way, FINALS are coming up Saturday, 3/28 at the Capri Theater in MPLS, 6pm. Everyone should be there.

Saturday 3/7: I co-keynoted (along with Jessica Valenti) the annual Building Bridges conference at Gustavus Adolphus College. The conference, which has an annual attendance of about 900, has a different theme every year, and this year's was disrupting and dismantling rape culture. I did an hour-long keynote that included some poems as well as some speechifying, and then did a combined Q&A with Jessica Valenti.

Sunday 3/8: Homework, grocery shopping, real-life stuff. Might have played some Hearthstone.

Monday 3/9: I'm a grad student, and I have my Arts and Cultural Leadership class on Mondays with Tom Borrup. We've had guest presentations from Fres Thao, DeAnna Cummings, and others. Learning a lot.

I like to leave important notes in my books.
Tuesday 3/10: This afternoon, I got to go to Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids to do a presentation for teachers and staff on identity and positionality in terms of student-teacher relationships. With just two hours, it was more of an introduction to some intersectionality stuff, but we also got to dig a little deeper and have a robust discussion. After that, I drove straight to campus to catch the last hour of my Critical Pedagogy class at the U. Reading Patti Lather's "Getting Smart: Feminist Research and Pedagogy With/In the Postmodern" right now.

Wednesday 3/11: Writing. I'm not the most disciplined writer in the world, but I try to find days to set aside to work on new songs, new poems, etc. It happened to work out this week.

Thursday 3/12: I traveled to UW-Madison for the Multicultural Student Center's annual Symposium on Race. I facilitated a workshop on how spoken-word can be a useful tool for illuminating narratives that are so often erased by mainstream discourse, and then did an interactive performance later in the evening, focusing on the relationship between knowing and doing, between theory and action, between acknowledging privilege and concretely shifting practice, especially with regards to race and racism. Bringing us full circle, this is also the day the new video dropped, and since I am also my own publicist/manager/agent, I had to use my phone to manage the poem's journey through Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.

So yeah, that's a peek into my life. It was a busy week, but not necessarily more or less busy than any other week. Some weeks are more music-focused, with rap shows, rehearsals, and studio time, and other weeks are more like this one. I am very grateful for all of the people who make my being able to do all this possible. Lots more to come.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

TruArtSpeaks, Youth Poetry, and the Future

(A haunting, powerful poem from Tamera Larkins during prelims)

A lot of my time and energy these days is going toward TruArtSpeaks, the organization here in Minnesota that organizes the annual youth poetry slams, as well as a bunch of other programs based around critical literacy, youth leadership, and social justice through spoken-word and hip hop. We've got some big news, but I wanted to add to that big news with a more personal note.

I really believe in this work.

I was a late bloomer in many ways, and credit spoken-word and poetry slam culture with helping me develop as a critical thinker, an educator, an activist, as well as a public speaker/performance artist. None of that came naturally to me. But as I grew up in this culture, surrounded by other artists and activists-- mentors, peers, and the next generation-- a lot of stuff kind of clicked into place for me. I get to see those "click" moments all the time now, doing this work in schools and other spaces. I get to witness the power of this practice and culture to literally change people's lives, to frame ideas in more powerful and immediate ways, and to push back against all of the intertwined oppressions that face so many of us, not just youth.

I could ramble on about all that (and probably will at some point), but for now, I just want to encourage everyone to SEE what is happening, to listen to these brilliant young people, and to stay engaged. A few thoughts on doing that:

YOUTH: Be Heard prelims are over, but will start again next January. If you want to slam, mark your calendars. In the meantime, there are a few other ways to get down:
  • The Re-Verb all-ages open mic happens every Thursday at Golden Thyme Cafe in St. Paul at 6pm. Come and share your work, or just watch. It's a beautiful space with a very supportive community.
  • The Flip the Script conference is coming up on 2/22; it's free and will put you in touch with tons of other people interested in all this.
  • Apply to the TruArtSpeaks Youth Advisory Board and help plan the future of the organization.
  • Connect on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.
ADULTS: A few ways to get involved:
  • DONATE. I actually give money monthly to this organization, because I have first-hand knowledge of how that money gets spent, and how worthwhile it is. Donate here.
  • VOLUNTEER. Email for volunteer opportunities at our events.
  • NETWORK. If you are a teacher, youth worker, parent, conference organizer, nonprofit worker, or anyone who comes into contact with youth, please spread the word. Bring us into your spaces. Get in touch about potential programs or organizational collaborations:
  • SHOW UP. For real. The five prelims so far have been absolutely unbelievable, and semifinals and finals are this March. Show up, be loud, support these youth, and have an experience.

Feel free to get in touch with any questions. Hope to see you at the events.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Report-Back on Performing and Speaking at the United Nations

So that was something I've never done before. This past week, Iceland and Suriname co-sponsored (along with other partners) a two-day event at the United Nations called the Barbershop Conference, aimed at "changing the discourse among men on gender equality." I was invited to perform and say a few words.

The concept was that it was a space to engage men (particularly men at the UN) around men's roles in the struggle; unfortunately, that's a pretty easy thing to misinterpret, and some of the early coverage presented that as "all the men are going to get together to solve gender inequity." I'm happy to say that from what I saw, this definitely wasn't the case. It was more about the importance of meaningful solidarity, and about bringing the conversation into spaces to which men have disproportionate access (while also challenging why that is in the first place).

As for a report-back, it's really making me think about the different spaces in which the struggle for gender equity manifests. As some of my social justice-minded friends probably expect, the conference (from what I saw of it) was not perfect-- it was pretty binary-centric, and while this was the UN, an even more intersectional lens would have been nice; all in all, it was fairly surface-level stuff, and like so many things, I find myself torn between critiquing that for being surface-y and applauding that for being a continuation and validation of the work that so many are doing in their communities on such a public, far-reaching stage.

There was some really good stuff, too. Phumzile Mlambo, Executive Director of UN Women, gave a powerful closing speech on how "achieving gender equality is about disrupting the status quo, not negotiating it," and it was cool to see that kind of framework reflected at such a high policy-making level. The conference also made me reflect on how much impact more radical voices are having, and how the conversations being had on Twitter and in feminist spaces are definitely bleeding into this larger movement and shaping the larger narrative... sometimes slowly, but surely.

The key will be what happens next, obviously, in terms of concrete change, but it does really seem like the conversation-- and the culture(s)-- are shifting. I heard lots of mention of the importance of both dismantling/challenging our thinking about masculinity on an individual level, and the importance of challenging systems, structures, and institutional practices that silence, exclude, and harm women and gender-nonconforming people. I think that both/and framework is key. The host/moderator, Al Jazeera's Femi Oke, also did a great job making sure that people spoke in concrete terms rather than platitudes. Again, we'll see what happens next. I'm grateful to the Permanent Mission of Iceland to the UN for allowing me to take part.

You can watch the second day's program here.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Guante: "A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry" Free Sampler Mix Available Now, New Video Too

I wanted to kick off 2015 with something special. That's the new video for "You Say Millionaire Like It's a Good Thing," one of two new Ganzobean-produced tracks on this new album. Adam J. Dunn made it.

The new album is a mix of some old songs, some new songs, some exclusive remixes and re-recordings, and some live poetry recordings. It also features design work by Rogue Citizen. Since I travel so much to perform but don't exactly "tour" in the traditional sense, I wanted to be able to sell something that captured the best of what I've made, and I think this album does that. If you don't know much about me or my work, it's the perfect place to start. If you've been following me, there are a few surprises (listen for new verses, lyrical change-ups, and more). Either way, it's free.

Here's the official press release with a little more info:

Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 Guante Year in Review

As always, this is kind of a journaling space for me. I'm not here to break down everything that was important in 2014, just sharing some of the stuff that I got a chance to be a part of this past year. It's a way to both celebrate some victories and be accountable to myself and others.

(photo by Monica Rivera)

Most of my time and energy this year was spent performing at colleges, conferences and other spaces in every corner of the country. I feel honored to have been able to connect with so many people in so many different places this year. And that's all on top of local shows like the "Shut it Down" night of speaking out against street harassment, the "Let the Bars Breathe" poetry-of-rap show, the "Page, Stage, Engage" show which sold out the Whole at the U of MN, and other shows I organized or helped organize. Booking for 2015 now.

2. SIFU HOTMAN (Guante, deM atlaS & Rube): EMBRACE THE SUN
My last year-in-review also kicks off with Sifu Hotman. But where last year's three-song suite was a fun little side project, this extended version is one of the best full albums I've ever helped create. With support from BBC Radio, Ego Trip, Amazing Radio, Bandcamp's "New and Notable" feature, and more blog write-ups than I usually get, it also became one of my more successful projects. And with Josh's new success as part of the Rhymesayers family, I'm hoping even more people discover it; get it here.