Royce Handy of They Call Me Sauce and Nublvckcity.
Cody Boston at Kansas City PBS
At any given time, Kansas City, Mo.’s creatives are baring their souls in performance venues, studio spaces and neighborhoods across the metro area. The city’s scene has experienced a renaissance at the hands of these artists — several of whom are musicians deeply entrenched in their communities, illuminating civic issues, amplifying historically silenced voices and developing future leaders through the power of music.
In this edition of Slingshot City Scenes, 90.9 The Bridge highlights eight musicians who are agents of change in Kansas City and the surrounding areas.
What tends to be forgotten about Kansas City’s coveted place in jazz history is the improvisational and experimental spirit that propelled pioneers like Charlie Parker, Mary Lou Williams and Count Basie. Pianist Eddie Moore keeps that tradition alive in his modern interpretation of jazz, with colorful filigrees of R&B, rock and hip-hop, as evidenced here with his band, We The People. The musician and lecturer at the University of Kansas also heads up Tribe Studios KC, a full-service arts incubator that aims to nurture and advance the profile of professional Black artists in Kansas City.
Thanks in part to cultural institutions like Ensemble Ibérica, Kansas City boasts a diverse, world-class music and performing arts scene. Led by artistic director and prodigious musician Beau Bledsoe — whose musical focus runs the gamut from Spanish flamenco and Portuguese fado to Turkish oud and classic country — Ensemble Ibérica offers a more comprehensive view of music history through the lens of the Iberian diaspora. Leaning heavily on the classical and folkloric traditions of Spain, Portugal, Mexico and Central America, the ensemble features a musical exchange program that immerses local artists in other cultures and brings that music back to the Heartland to enrich local audiences.
Through his Art To Empower initiative, social justice is at the forefront of Flare Tha Rebel’s musical career. The emcee deftly dismantles the topics of gun violence, police brutality and mass incarceration with a smooth flow and an energetic stage presence. Through his musical endeavors, he has also raised funds for nonprofits like the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, Equal Justice Initiative and Change The Ref.
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Over the past decade, rapper, singer and producer Kemet Coleman has shone a cultural spotlight on Kansas City’s hip-hop and R&B. His musical undertakings are plentiful as a solo showman, ringleader of funky party band The Phantastics, and a featured player in 25-piece, hip-hop big band Brass and Boujee. These creative outlets give Coleman a valuable opportunity to engage the community; one of his endeavors is Troostival, a music festival that celebrates the diversity of local Black creativity.
It’s easy enough to get engrossed in Making Movies’ fusion of vibrant Latin American rhythms and kinetic rock and roll, but that might somehow be the least notable thing about this band. The band’s songs are vessels for social change — boundary-pushing explorations of identity and culture, and finding connectivity through digging into the authentic roots of American music. This all carries into the group’s Art as Mentorship youth music program, which gives underrepresented young musicians a unique voice through artistic development, mental health support and invaluable mentorship; a few notable instructors have included Kevin Morby, Jake Luppen of Hippo Campus and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos.
Royce Handy is a man who wears many hats — from his solo emcee project They Call Me Sauce and hip-hop collective NuBlvckCity, to his work as a community organizer. He and bandmate Kartez Marcel co-founded the We Are R.A.P. (Real And Positive) Hip Hop Education Workshop, which aims to equip teens with positive avenues of expression through a medium they enjoy. In these multi-week workshops, students gain literary and creative writing techniques, music theory, performance, recording tips and marketing strategies.
The Bridge’s Sound Minds series takes a look at the role music plays in mental health, featuring songs and stories about healing and catharsis, along with posing the unique challenges faced by performing and recording artists. This is a pathway familiar to duo The Black Creatures, who build interdimensional worlds through commentaries on racial injustice, intergenerational trauma and the human condition. In the band’s songwriting, singer Jade Green looks to storytellers like Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison, who built fantasy worlds to defy conventional ideas of race, sexuality and gender.
Our final spotlight takes us about 100 miles east on I-70 from Kansas City to Columbia, Mo., where a musical duo has opened creative doors to the mid-Missouri youth community. Over the summer, Violet Vonder Haar and Phylshawn Johnson of Violet & the Undercurrents spearheaded the opening of Compass Music Center, a safe, creative community music space in the heart of the college town. The center fulfills a long-time dream for the married couple — expanding their capacity to hold year-round music camps, provide free music lessons to low-income students, and cultivate community by equipping students with invaluable knowledge about kickstarting their musical careers.
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