I met my husband Tony, a poet, when I was hosting Listen & Be Heard Open Mic in Vallejo, CA. He appeared to be trying not to be noticed, but after creating a sensation on the mic, he stood out in the crowd. I tried to act like he wasn’t going to rock my world, but he did anyway. After that fated meeting we published Listen & Be Heard Weekly together and opened Listen & Be Heard Poetry Cafe in downtown Vallejo. We had to close shop with the downturn in the economy, and I followed him to his hometown Greenville, SC.
He always told me that Greenville was a beautiful and unique city and he was going to move me there one day. And I’m glad I did! Greenville is indeed a rare gem, and in the five months that I have been living here, I’ve seen many signs of a flourishing arts community.
On Saturday December 12, at 7:30pm we will make our arrival official with a poetic performance in the theatre at the Coffee Underground in downtown Greenville. We have distinctive styles, quite different from each other. Both improvisational fun and the culmination of the decades of spoken word performance between the two of us, what happens when we come together is synergistic and transformative.
We look forward to sharing the excitement with friends, family and poetry lovers in Greenville. The Coffee Underground serves dinner and desserts and of course espresso drinks, coffee and tea. Seating is limited to fifty. Advance purchase of tickets is recommended, and will be available at the counter, at the Coffee Underground.
The internet has only been around for about ten years. I didn’t grow up with a cell phone or a laptop. I still wrote my essay assignments in high school by hand. I still have a writer’s bump on my right middle finger to prove that I wrote some long essays. I read books, old books, new books, used books, trashy books, great books. I listened to records and spent time looking at album covers. Sometimes I went to the library. Being into artistic type things, dreaming of being a writer, I was warned that I wasn’t likely to make much of a living like that. The same was true for teens like me, definitely not jocks, or physicists either, all across the country. Recently I was talking with some Pacifica Radio colleagues of mine from the nineties, about radio programming today. One told me that “nobody reads books anymore.” Another one said that “they don’t give more than ten minutes of airtime to authors.” Apparently no one buys albums anymore either. They just download singles. They need information; they enter keywords. I’m not saying what is bad or what is good. But what should a writer do? Write books? Movie scripts? Video game scripts with multiple endings? Morph into a multi-media performance artist? Personally, I prefer not to allow the market to dictate what I create. It’s helpful to remember, actually, to continually remind ourselves, like a mantra, what our motives are for our creations. In the case of writing, one thing is certain. A story is at the heart of the matter. Whether you are telling a story to a group of children, or selling your brand of soap on TV, there is a struggle and an outcome. There was a time when nobody read at all. And for a long time, only a few people read, and they held the printed word up as if it was sacred, as if it was THE TRUTH. The truth is that stories are older than books. Pictures are older than alphabets. It’s not true though, that nobody reads books anymore, or newspapers. It may seem hard to believe, but one day someone is going to say ‘nobody watches TV anymore.’ But what all this really means is that the story is being told with different tools. I’m halfway through a new book by Ana Castillo, “The Guardians” an example of storytelling at its best. I search for stuff on the internet all the time. I put on old records, and I download mp3’s too, and podcast and chat and twitter. What concerns me in this changing landscape is the status and well being of the creative artist. During the whole time that the Olympics were happening in Beijing I kept thinking that what the world needs is an international arts event of the same stature as the Olympics is for sports. When Dizzy Gillespie visited Cuba he gave a concert with a band of musicians who were Americans and Cubans. He commented to a huge crowd of fans that they were demonstrating to their political leaders how it can be done. The way I see it, no matter what the political controversy is that surrounds the Olympics, the fact that all these athletes come together and display their skills and sportsmanship at the heights of human achievement is awe inspiring. Just imagine, if there was an arts event of the same magnitude, how it would improve the stature and the funding of the arts all over the world. How little kids would pick up instruments, recite poetry, rehearse in state-of-the-art theaters… That really would be a change, wouldn’t it? Wishing you Peace and Poetry Martha Cinader Mims
The first time Gabi Wilson appeared at Listen & Be Heard Poetry Café was when she sat in with Alvon. After mesmerizing the audience with her rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You” (both piano and vocals) she introduced herself to me by handing me her own business card which reads: Gabriella “Gabi” Wilson, Singer, Musician & Poet. Addressing me as Miss Martha, she told me that she would like to make an appearance at Listen & Be Heard Poetry Café and pointed out her parents to me, sitting on the couch beaming with pride. That was back in December of 2006. At that point Gabi had made a few spotlight appearances around the bay area with her dad’s band The Urban Bushmen. She had learned to play Donny Hathaway by ear, and had actually just begun to take piano lessons.
Not quite one year later I got a call from someone at the Ellen Degeneris Show followed about an hour later by a call from someone representing the Golden State Warriors, both wanting Gabi to make appearances after seeing her on The Today Show yesterday morning. Now ten years old she has caught the attention of the nation, something we knew would happen (my husband Tony and I, who opened Listen & Be Heard Poetry Café together in downtown Vallejo.) Gabi is an extraordinary young woman, who happens to be beautiful. Now that the big show is unfolding, I hope that Ellen and Oprah, and all the rest will recognize and help to cultivate what is still raw, albeit rare, talent.
Most talk shows (and basketball games) just want one song anyway, but musicians think in terms of a repertoire, and Gabi needed a place to stretch her wings and make a longer presentation, preferably not in a bar. We worked together with her parents Agnes and Kenny to present a concert with Gabi as the star of the show. A great time was had by all who could get in through the door. Word had already spread like wildfire. Gabi pulled up in a limousine, and pulled away a couple hours later with a bunch of her friends to cap their night off with ice cream cones. I’m sure those kids will still be talking about that night many years from now.
It would be easy for everyone to push Gabi into the role of a glamour queen. She is most certainly poised and beautiful. A patron of our cafe called for her to appear on American Idol, not recognizing that she is already far beyond that type of presentation. Rare is the American Idol singer who also plays an instrument. Gabi plays several. The mass media is likely to see her as a novelty, a cute little girl who can play and sing. I see her as a gifted woman in the making, with vast potential to create, innovate and lead a new generation of artists.
Gabi self-published a book of poetry even before achieving local notoriety for her singing and playing. Her next appearance at Listen & Be Heard Poetry Cafe was during our 5th Annual Listen & Be Heard Poetry Marathon on April 28, 2007. She took her place among a host of seasoned poets with poise and grace, reading poetry from her book. Perhaps one day she will write compelling lyrics that she will sing, and/or she will continue to write pure poetry. While the media tends to label and define people with narrow and strictly maintained buzz words, the creative person tends to be expansive and beyond classification.
The race will be on now, to grab Gabi while she’s hot. It has little to do with her roots. It is a credit to her parents that what is coming out of her is based on her experience at home. Her father Kenny has encouraged and nurtured her ability to play and sing. He is a professional musician with a strong musical background in Blues and Jazz. Her mother has obviously encouraged her every form of expression, helping her to achieve the goal of publishing her first book, and organizing and galvanizing friends and family to make each event a success. These are the things which will sustain Gabi in the days to come.
Here at Listen & Be Heard Poetry Café we are happy to have played the role we are here to play, encouraging and helping to develop local talent. Gabi made one more impromptu appearance, sitting in with the Talons just a couple months ago. She had arrived with her parents to enjoy the music, but obliged the requests of patrons at the cafe. Now she’s flying around the country with a promising but unknown future. We will be watching Miss Gabi as she blossoms and grows, and encourage all who come into contact with her to recognize the whole person, and play their part in nurturing her development as an artist.