Under the ominous black lights of a dark stage, there was an auric green hue and a shady orange spotlight where Imani Todd channeled the spirit of Root Chakra for the young artists congregated at Clash City Station. Dressed exquisitely in a white blouse stringed with black lace and a black pencil skirt, she divulged into this ancient energy. As the first Chakra, it is about “finding yourself in your place in the world.” The collective gazed from below as though in a trance where art, culture, and community became part of their reality.
On March 2nd, 2017 in the outskirts of downtown Riverside, dozens of youthful attendants came to support local artists as part of an Ambience hosted event Canvas with the theme of “Root Chakra.” This showcase is dedicated to unifying independent young artists anywhere in Southern California for a night where self-identity, self-actualization, and liberation are under the spotlight.
The night began with spoken word that confronted many of today’s societal issues. Imani, in her grand voice, leaped into her performance. She disclosed the prejudice and injustice that still haunts Black lives, and by alluding the anniversary of Treyvon Martin’s death, discussed the racial issues that persist in today’s America. The end of her poem drew in snaps from the crowd, which then brought Rome to the stage. Words bolted through the mic, and half way through, he profoundly asked the audience, “They say good things don’t come to an end, but is it really good if it ends?” Luckily for the attendants, the night was nowhere near over.
Their performances were gifted with an explosion of “Ye!” from the crowd. The audience became a solitary force, and for every artist that followed, “Ye!” heightened everyone’s spirits. For, “Ye!” became a sign of unity and the sound of empowerment.
After a thrilling performance by Ari, who sang and rapped over smooth beats in her shimmering silver slip-ons, Will Realms took center on stage. As an artist of many fields, he chose for that day to perform spoken word. He began with our eyes glued onto screens and an obsession over the digital realm. “The flash is on you!” he cried, but then abruptly brought the hidden images of life such as the “bodies on the ground” that are found on the streets every day. We immerse ourselves into the crystal clear world of “4K,” but ironically we miss the true reality before us, the one muddled by the digital realm where many suffer from perpetual injustice.
His second poem, “In Defense of Lit,” chastised the placidity in “getting lit.” His exposition criticized the mindlessness arisen from smoking weed and drinking that causes many to ignore the underrepresented. He aroused scenes of partying to “808s” and getting high, yet, as we drink and smoke without consequence, the devastation of the Flint water crisis remains. As he came to a close, Will revealed his spite of getting “lit.” It became disparaging, where people maintain this ignorance of oppression around us in our inebriated daze. Snaps reverberated the venue as he finally came to an end, where not a single person misunderstood his debacle. Criticisms of social disparity were far from over, especially when Gabby the Great’s performance followed.
“Do you get to feel free cuz you choose your own slavery?” Mouths all around the crowd began to roar when they heard Gabby the Great emphatically cite the truth. Birthdays served as her metaphor, and she connected it to people’s obliviousness to current social problems. People pop champagne, but in her cunning wordplay, divulged that there was really pain in champagne. Like Will Realms, she preached using the juxtaposition between pleasure and hurt. She commanded the audience, and when the end arrived, the venue was filled with snaps that elevated to cheers.
The crowd was left in high energy after Gabby the Great’s performance, and Root Chakra broke into a musical interlude. Fi approached the stage with her black sunglasses and torn shirt. The stage became a playground where she bounced back and forth going left and right, upping the ante of the venue. She reminded everyone, “We got each other.”
Black Thanksgiving, with his hoody on and toolset ready, played underground hip-hop beats reminiscent of early MPC3000 legends. The artist brought a myriad of tunes, playing sounds from jazzy hip-hop compilations to upbeat Chicago-inspired footwork.
“I hope you’re elevating!” Jayellz asked as he took the stage. He began in the solemnity of a spoken word poem when, spontaneously, a hip-hop beat broke out and he began to rap. His combination of hip-hop and trap brought high octane, yelling to the audience “Yo Riverside, you fucking with that?” Before leaving the stage, he left the audience with a powerful statement: “You can be you if you want. Let’s see you work at it.”
Perhaps the most harmonic act of the night was Abyssinian Gold. The moment she opened her mouth and revealed her cherubic voice, all eyes were fixated onto her. She stood modestly gripping the microphone under the orange spotlight, where the audience was motionless in allure. Her vocals were full of yearning with lyrics like, “Baby you’re the apple of my eye, the one to make me cry.” In the frozen silence of the venue, one could feel her songs captivating the young souls and stealing their hearts from beginning to end.
The most endearing act of the night was Imani Todd’s and Gabby the Great’s spoken word duet. As the fire pit behind the audience flickered and waned, they began their debate on Black female identity. Imani condescended herself – she could not stand being a Black woman. Gabby fired back, shouting the truth of Black women, who is the mother of all people, and perhaps the greatest being of all. She tried to reason with Imani that she could love herself. Yet, Imani was unmoved, stating her acceptance of playing a façade. Gabby exclaimed that one must accept the power of one’s identity, to never detract from what one really is, yet Imani shouted back at Gabby, for she was still lost, unable to respect herself. Gabby shouted back, then Imani yelled. They fired back at one another in a fury of disparate and desperate emotions. Their shouting elevated and rose until the room was shaken by their emotions. Finally, Gabby broke through Imani’s fear. Imani understood what it was to love oneself; the skin they live in and the empowerment it brings. After Imani reached resolve, the crowded blew up into a thundering applause and knew they would never be afraid to be what no one else could be: themselves.
As the fire pit flickered on throughout the night, and the black lights illuminated things unnoticed, many other artists allured Clash City Station such as Kenny Wayne with his hype trap performance, to Wade’s uncanny freestyling, to Bryant Glover’s moving spoken word about the perfect woman. By the end, Root Chakra was not simply an exposition of artists, but more securely as a night about empowerment. Everyone became part of the shared experience. Identity and truth could not be hidden. In solidarity, no voice was lost. When the night came into an end, everyone was fearlessness and unafraid of being themselves. Root Chakra had channeled their spirits, where together, they found themselves not to be just part of the universe, but most importantly, part of each other.