A collaboration among six poets, jazz composer and musician Muziki Roberson, and Koncepts Cultural Gallery resulted in the recording and touring piece Voices from the Next America: This Poetry Thing. Participating poets were from the San Francisco Bay Area (lead writer devorah major, Genny Lim, and Wayne Corbitt), and from other urban centers (Kamau Da’ood, asha bandele, and Juan Felipe Herrera). The artists and organization were exploring strategies for presenting poetry in performance with jazz, advancing the development of poetry as a performing art, and creating new audiences for the participating artists and forms.
The poets’ pieces were organized in an 80-minute suite around the themes of identity, family, the streets, problems and solutions, music, and love. Roberson, who had extensive prior experience writing original music for performance, wrote a jazz score that provided a spine for the completed work. Eight musicians and three dancers (choreographed by Laila Jenkins) accompanied the poet-performers. Anthony O. Williams and Keith Grier directed the piece.
Voices from the Next America: This Poetry Thing premiered at the University of California Santa Cruz, California to a sold-out crowd of 500, and, in San Francisco, for 260 arts professionals at a California Arts Council-sponsored program.
Koncepts Cultural Gallery served as producer for the piece. Koncepts was a community-based, multidisciplinary arts organization whose mission was to use art and culture as a means of community revitalization, with an emphasis on developing opportunities in the arts for artists of color.
devorah major is an accomplished Bay Area poet and author. She is the co-author of traveling women (with Opal Palmer Adisa), the recording FIERCE // LOVE (also with Opal Palmer Adisa), the poetry collection Street Smarts (Curbstone Press), and other works.