The DriFish at 14 Karat Cabaret

by Justin Allen

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, freaks of all shapes and sizes! Gather ‘round while I spin the tale of a poet turned performer extraordinaire! It was last week when we made the trip to the world famous 14 Karat Cabaret. There, we bore witness to the captivating antics of one DriFish and many co-conspirators. This isn’t merely the story of one man’s quest to entertain and intellectualize simultaneously folks, it’s also the story about his collaborators who give life to a scene rich in imagination and unlimited potential.
The stage, that evening, rocked beneath the weight of the talent that came out to celebrate the release of The DriFish’s latest album, The Clown With No Circus. This was the kind of show that one hopes to find but is often as elusive as Glen Beck’s freakishly small penis. Each of the performers who took the stage could have easily entertained the audience on their own, though together they offered a glimpse of the evolution of the poetry scene and how some of these artists are transcending the realm of performance poetry and are moving into hybrid art forms that evade definition and genre.

Quite simply, it was an amazing show. I had seen many of these performers several times in the past and was thoroughly entertained. The show that I saw this weekend was brand new to me and kept me engaged if not completely stoked the entire time.

I’m calling it right now, The Clown With No Circus has to be one of the best albums that will be released by a Baltimore artist in 2011. I hesitate to say that it’s number one until everyone else has had a chance but drop me a line in December and we’ll talk. The stories weaved on the album reach a level of complexity, without sacrificing depth, that rivals any lyricist anywhere. Femi has honed a cadence and delivery that is completely unique. By spending over a decade as a poet first, he’s developed a style that’s set apart from standard hip-hop templates.

The album covers a broad spectrum of the human condition including the real world tragedy that much of Baltimore City lives in. But unlike so many MC’s, Femi does so without sacrificing his humanity. At other times he swims within surrealism, connecting unsuspecting dots and challenging the listener to stay close to the story.

Femi told me, “I don’t think of myself as a poet, I think of myself as performer.” I can understand the sentiment because he puts on a hell of a show. But, make no mistake, though the music bobs and weaves from, rock and soul to carnival, his words are pure poetry. The production value on the album is ambitious and hits nearly every mark and cast of guest artists and producers round it out and make it an impressive offering. This album is better than good, it’s outstanding.

The Clown With No Circus

Olu Butterfly Woods

Keeping with the circus theme everyone in attendance, performers included, were encouraged to come out in costume. Hostess Olu Butterfly Woods led by example. Woods is director of Poetry For The People, hostess of Organic Soul (one of the most well respected and longest running open mics in Baltimore) and the woman that Saul Williams called “absolutely inspirational.”

 

 

 

Chuck the Madd-Ox

He’s an MC, a poet, he DJ’s and produces, he also beatboxes better than most of you and, rumor has it, he’s mastered an ancient form of Kung-Fu that’s been outlawed since Sho’nuff used it to try and punk Leroy in front of Laura Charles. Given The DriFish’s penchant for all things eclectic, no one was better suited to man the ones and twos than Chuck the Madd-Ox. The last thing I expected to hear at a hip-hop/performance poetry/R&B show was Tool’s Sober but when it’s your job to go to shows all the time it’s nice to be surprised now and again.

Michelle Shellers was accompanied by the winners of this week’s prestigious and highly coveted, “We’re Not Entirely Sure What You’re Supposed To Be Dressed As And We’re Not Entirely Sure You Know Either But You Made The Effort and That’s What Counts So I’m Gonna Guess Tina Turner and a Bearded Dominatrix Pirate,” award. There are no words to express how proud I am for you both.

 

Olu Butterfly Woods and Tameka Adedji

Femi’s partner in the 5th L, Native Son a.k.a David Ross, delivered a poignant performance in the form of a tribute to his friend and partner when he recited a poem recounting the duo’s camaraderie. The 5th L has been a mainstay in the city’s poetry scene for over a decade sharing the stage with the likes of Saul Williams, Bill Cosby, Fertile Ground and KRS-1. In Baltimore you would be as likely to find them either conducting workshops in Baltimore City schools, commanding the stage at clubs and coffee houses or in the Reginald F. Lewis Museum where their written and audio works are a part of the permanent collection.

The 14 Karat Cabaret at nine o’clock. By ten it was standing room only.

Word Wide is a troupe out of York, Pennsylvania that applies elements of poetry, theatre and music to create a unique performance that isn’t easily categorized. The members embody characters that contrast and play off one another in order to explore themes from multiple perspectives. The group is featured on the track Love is… from The Clown With No Circus.

Holding down the sultry songstress position in the lineup was Green Tea from D.C. She’s featured on the song The 13th Floor on The Clown With No Circus which is a track that could inspire one to buy the album without hearing anything else.

All of the performers at this event excelled in multiple disciplines, Kane Mayfield was no exception. Before he set rhyme to mic and expelled virtuosity all over the room like confetti on New Years, he had the entire place laughing at every other word coming out of his mouth. It’s no wonder then why his performance at Mobtown Studios for the Microshow series sold out in no time.

Petula Caesar had me at … ”hit it from the back shoes.” You can see what I’m talking about for yourself at Auxum’s Level X Lounge in D.C. on Valentines Day.

“My influences range from Redman to Freddy Mercury.” -The DriFish

Acclaimed spoken word artist Marc Marcel gave a warm introduction as one of Femi’s closest confidants. Such was the tone for the evening. One after another performers took the stage and professed their admiration for Femi and his significance to the culture of our city. The event was as much a testament to the character of an artist as it was the unveiling of his latest work.

By the end of the evening everyone was onstage, as it should be. The performances built momentum steadily until this point when the energy in the room peaked. Several short, yet highly entertaining sets converged on what was to be the mother set.

Though the lyrics on The Clown With No Circus explore a broad spectrum of the human condition, the live performance was nothing less than a celebration. Everyone was genuinely happy to be there, the band was on point and engaged the entire time. It was a party that you should have been at and if you missed it, you’d better be trying to find the next one.