The next series of posts will be focused on the featured artists who performed at the dance4life Big Event in March, starting with Rhy Minister. These artists now serve as dance4life Barbados Ambassadors and their thoughts on music, art, sexual health, HIV, and sexuality will be shared throughout the next group of posts! This piece is an interview, so the responses are unique to the artists’ language and voice. I was able to speak with Keoma, the first featured artist in this post series, after the dance4life Big Event. Below you find a quick bio, followed by his perspectives on the youth issues mentioned above.
Rhy Minister is a rapper and spoken word artist who is primarily known for freestyling, or improvisational rhyming, and for his profound love for both words and wordplay. Since appearing on the open mic scene in late 2008, he went on to co-host the shows “Mic Check” (2009 – 2011) and IRON MIC! (2011 – present). His talent has been showcased at various events including the NCF’s Crop Over Read-In in 2011 and the NCF’s Visual Arts Festival: Evening of Interpretation in 2012. He has also been featured on CBC’s Lyrics Born in 2010 and was a supporting act in Hal Linton’s performance at eXclusive Entertainment’s Unplugged | Upclose in 2011. His main musical influences are soul, jazz, funk, r&b, rap and, more recently, spoken word. He aims to use his craft to encourage creativity, self awareness and self appreciation; to stimulate thought and perhaps rhyme. – Keoma Mallett
What is unique about freestyling? What has drawn you close to that form of expression?
As far as I can recall, once I had become comfortable speaking to my family, I would sing my own lyrics to any songs I cared to, much to the chagrin of my elder sister. Of course, I paid no attention to what I was actually doing, but I had a grand time. When I was around 16, I had a friend who would do it as often as he could and he would always encourage me to join in. I would always shy away until one day the other basketballers at practice tried their hand at it and demanded that I try as well. I caved under the pressure , gave it a try, and it was enough to make me want to sharpen my skills. That was the first of many times that I would freestyle with him. He was the one who set the wheels in motion. He also was most instrumental in my taking up of basketball.
What inspired you to perform at the dance4life Big Event?
One of the organisers (Katherine), who would had seen me perform a few times already, asked me to perform at the event because they thought that I could make an impact with my talent. To know that I could make any difference whatsoever through my contribution was a special feeling.
Do you have specific people in your life that serve as inspiration to your art?
The love I received from my mother, grand-mother and her brother (great-uncle), who I currently live with, will always be the main ingredient that fuels my fire. Many people inspire my craft, some even in passing or in a moment- a facial expression, an activity, a conversation. Guru, of the American hip-hop group Gang Starr, was the rapper that made me fall in love with rap. One day I arrived home and turned on the television to BET and Rap City was on. The song “You Know My Steez” was on. That was the moment I knew that hip-hop was the most important genre to me. Anything that inspires me to live, inpires me to rap/freestyle. All the people in my circle inspire me. All the innovative/creative/unique people I know or know of inspire me. I will mention a few:
John Aymes- friend; the guy who pushed me to start freestyling, though he doesn’t do it to the same capacity any longer, to my knowledge.
Israel Mallett- my brother; his creativity in graphic design, as well as with words, concepts and images, generally; how he relates things is phenomenal to me; regarding art we are two sides to a coin, where he excels in the visual and I, in the literary.
Angela Mallett- my mother; my fire, part 1
Rosanna Auguste- my grandmother (deceased); my fire, part 2
Isidore Ettiene- my great uncle; a freestyler in his own right; inspires me everyday to keep going.
Anna Clarke- my niece; my fire, part 3; her existence reminds me of what is beautiful in this whirled (sic).
Adrian Green; DJ Simmon;, AzMan (Dee, Doddy, Gibbzy Dan, Levitance); Rebel Glam; Sunrokk; Daveny Ellis; Wesu Wallace; Rubytech; 2FG; UGS; Open mic entrants, visual artists, photographers, musicians, etc.
KRS-One, Gang Starr, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Black Star, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Reflection Eternal, J-Live, Gift of Gab, Mos Def, Common, Nas, 2Pac, Fugees, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Music Soulchild, Erykah Badu, Organised Konfusion, Pharoahe Monch, EPMD, Eric B. & Rakim, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Wu-Tang Clan, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest
What are your thoughts on sexual health, sexuality, HIV, and the use of music and dance to get youth involved and active around these issues?
I think people should keep themselves very informed about their bodies generally and regarding sexual health. It is important to keep the body in good condition and to be aware of the requirements to do so and the risks that exist. I honestly phased through most of my life paying little attention to sexual health, being that most of my life was spent sexually inactive. In the past five years, I have made a significant effort to stay informed. I have been blessed with insistent friends and opportunities to perform at HIV/STI-related shows, so I’ve received valuable information during that period.
Regarding sexuality, I’d prefer to share myself with someone whom I would want much more than just physical contact with. That has always been my way, although even this way could have easily caused me grief due to my ignorance on the topic of sexual health, once or twice.
Can you share other thoughts about art/performance in general? What role does freestyling play in your life?
I think too little attention is paid to art/performance during the critical periods of primary
and secondary schooling. Children aren’t encouraged to express their creativity or to pursue their strongest talents as much as they could be. Because of this much talent falls through the cracks. Where programs exist, presets exist that youth are tailored to fit into. Although I agree that basics need to be covered, in terms of academics, I feel strongly that each individual would be better off guided according to their inclinations/talents/etc. This would very likely require lots of work or re-thinking of the approach to schooling. Of course, this is based on my own experience and observation of the cultural scene.
Ever since I started it [freestyling] as an art, it keeps me on my toes- to listen, question, learn,
assess, evaluate, integrate, grow, speak (better shape my ‘voice’) and repeat. The process of honing my craft is the process of becoming a better person.