Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Word of Art: Tha Artivist and Brotha's Keepa

Word of Art!

By Tim Butler | Published 07/27/2006 | Arts & Leisure

(This article appears courtesy of the Memphis Tri-State Defender the official Black newspaper of Memphis, Tennessee)
A multi-layered cultural event will take place Saturday, July 29 at MO’s Memphis Originals, 3521 Walker (off of Highland near the University of Memphis). Running from 1-4 p.m., artist (or rather “artivist”) Ron Herd will present “Words, Beat, & Pics,” a unique offering of art, spoken word, music, and more.
Though some have called Brotha’s Keepa aggressive, they are on a mission to enlighten Black people through their spoken word and more.

Featured on the bill will be Herd, Sisters Nineties Literary Group of St. Louis, civil rights movement pioneer and veteran Bernice Sims, and Memphis’ Brotha’s Keepa.

Ronald Herd is a Memphis artist, who is deeply affected by a mission to enlighten people through his artwork, which is influenced heavily by history. With Herd’s hand at the brush, he sees what he does as mixing art with activism. The result comes through in his paintings, which looks at pop culture but through a definite political magnifying glass.

Using his mom, Callie Herd, as another inspiration, Herd has been featured in one-man shows in a variety of locations, including: FedEx World Corporate Headquarters, St. Louis Urban League, Theatre Works, Tennessee Arts Commission, and Christian Brothers University. He has been featured in group shows at Grambling State University, Art St. Louis XVII Exhibition, Washington University School of Art (his alma mater), and Prairie View A&M University, among other venues.
Ron Herd calls himself an “artivist,” inspiring and enlightening others through history.

History is everything for artist Herd, who infuses his work with the lessons of the past. “It’s very important that we don’t repeat some of some of the past mistakes,” says artivist Herd. “Knowledge is power!”

History through art is one way of reaching the masses to deliver important messages. “It’s very important to reach the person on the street,” he advises. “People don’t realize how important they are.” Knowing our history is one way of helping others to know their own worth – based on what has come before.

The way he looks at it, Herd is all about “creating venues and opportunities for others to latch onto. You have to enlist the help of other people,” he explains. “It does take a village…”

In addition to history, this is an artist who is also inspired by music, and learning about people in general. “You can tell a lot of stories through music.”

Herd believes he is called to do what he does. “I think God gives everybody a calling.” The thing is that not everybody chooses to act on their calling and pursue it to the fullest. “Basically, I’m picking up the torch out of some dead man’s hands and running with it.”

He has a message to young people. You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: “Stay true to yourself and you’ll never go wrong.” The people who run the world, he believes, are the ones who have taken a liability and turned it into a positive. Learn from them and chart your own course – no matter what anyone else says!

On Friday, July 28 Herd will open a showing at Memphis College of Art’s On the Street Gallery, 431 South Main. There he will be showing works created as part of a Black artist collective called Nia. The reception is from 6-9 p.m.

Spoken word duo J’malo Torriel and Ed Brittenum are Brotha’s Keepa. The Memphis twosome have dedicated themselves to enlightening Black people, especially young Black men. Like Herd, they get their inspiration from the lessons of the past. It forms the background of what they do. In fact, it was Herd’s mom who told her son of this talented duo. Convinced, he decided to add them to Saturday’s bill at MO’s Memphis Originals.

Though some view Brotha’s Keepa as controversial, J’malo explains that “what we do is mix politics and social ills concerning Africans in America. We use song, spoken word and theater. It’s very different what we do. The closest thing to us is The Last Poets, who are our mentors.”

“A lot of people are afraid of what we say,” admits J’malo. “But we research what we say and put it into poetic form and put it out to people.” Though people say it comes off as aggressive, he prefers to think of Brotha’s Keepa as merely “quoting history in a poetic form.”

Those who hear Brotha’s Keepa are likely to leave with their mouths hanging open; but what’s really important for them is that a dialogue will have been created.

“There is a need for change,” says the spoken word artist. “We have a blood duty and a historical duty that our children not sing the same sad songs we have sung. We owe it to them.” With this as their guiding light, Brotha’s Keepa has addressed the topics of Rosewood, Black Wall Street, political prisoners, our government, and more. Knowledge is power, but we also must act upon that knowledge if we are to affect change.

To further the message of Brotha’s Keepa, the duo has released a CD, titled Resurrection. The project’s name harkens back to another aim of B K, which is to “resurrect the family feeling that used to be… that extended family feeling. We have taken on the mindset of our captors, where we no longer feel every child is our own.” To improve our situation, we must change this and go back to the way things were, when people took an interest in their neighbor’s children.

The CD is 16 tracks of spoken word, neo soul, spirituals…very eclectic. It can be purchased at New World Accessories, Java Juice and Jazz, Nappy By Nature, and through All of the monies from sales of the CD will go toward helping Brotha’s Keepa sponsor its community programs, including feeding the homeless, prison ministry, talent shows, clothes closet, and more.

“The community supports us and we give that right back to them,” says J’malo.

Currently, Brotha’s Keepa is working on two upcoming projects. Unity Day will be held Sept. 24 at the Hollywood Community Center. This will be an outside festival, offering free entertainment, food, health screenings, family counselors, vendors, and more. One of its aims is to encourage Black people to circulate dollars back into their own community.

Prior to Unity Day, a similar effort will take place Aug. 12 in South Memphis at S. Parkway and Wellington. “If you are Black come out and kick it with us. We all suffer from the same problems.”

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