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Band Spoken Word World

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


"NIGHT LIFE-Word off the street"

The spoken word scene in Southern California is breaking out. Far from old-fashioned poetry, it's moving from coffeehouses and living rooms to clubs better known for beats than beatniks.


By Greg Braxton, Times Staff Writer


Adding grass-roots sensibility to a hip-hop sort of energy, poets are speaking the language of audiences looking to retreat from commercialism into creativity. The throng at the Conga Room on L.A.'s Miracle Mile is just a dozen or so shy of a level that brings a frown to fire marshals. Elegantly dressed women occupy most of the seats, and the men jammed into the area near the bar have left the baggy club gear at home in favor of more fashionable garb.

But despite the singles-night-out vibe, this evening is not about the hook-up. A few women sip Cosmopolitans, but the bar is doing only moderate business. Cellphones have been holstered and silenced. Most of all, there is quiet. The only rap going down is on the stage, where a poet who identifies herself as Simply Kat is getting her word on, speaking, eyes closed, of her lover.

seem to take on a life of their own, her phrasing a rhythmic machine gun as she describes her emotional roller coaster in "... I love you so much that ... hurts, my teardrops burst.

As her words flow, a man nearby on stage wearing a "No War" T-shirt and jeans, his face bearing more wear and tear than anyone in the large audience, plays with watercolor images on a large plastic covered canvas, illustrating the poet's thoughts with large swirls and images.

The performance kicks off another session of the Flypoet Spoken Word and Music Showcase, and the enthusiastic audience response to Simply Kat is another demonstration of how the talk of the town is becoming more about the talk around town.

With a major boost from the "Def Poetry" franchise, which has brought a rock concert-like ambience to the performance of poetry, the urban spoken word scene is breaking out, moving from its traditional stomping grounds of street corners, coffeehouses and living rooms to clubs and other venues usually filled with throbbing music.

Pioneers of the scene say that although the number of informal settings could probably be counted on two hands back in the 1970s, dozens of showcases have popped up from Leimert Park to Miracle Mile to the San Fernando Valley. In these spots, it's not about getting down to the tunes of Snoop, Jay-Z or Nelly. It's all about taking in the words of Poetri, Shihan, Scorpio Blues and Poet Roni Girl.

Near-overflow audiences have been flocking to the monthly Flypoet showcase at the Conga Room, which usually hosts musical acts such as Latin percussionist Poncho Sanchez. B.B. King's Blues Club at CityWalk in Universal City recently featured an evening of urban wordsmiths. Performances at the weekly Da' Poetry Lounge at the Greenway Court Theatre in the Fairfax district are so packed that several patrons sit on the stage.

More informal open-mike showcases, in which aspiring poets can perform, are prospering all over town, from the patio of the Magic Johnson Starbucks in a Ladera Heights shopping center to the dining area of a Studio City bakery.

"Spoken word is at its very peak, the biggest I've ever seen," says Roni Walter, a pioneer of the local scene who has been performing poetry for more than 10 years.

"You can find something almost any night of the week. There are so many venues now that are really taking it seriously. Poets are the new rappers."

Much of the buzz in today's poetry arena revolves around "spoken word," which is defined as having the energy of rap and hip-hop, but minus the infectious beats that characterize popular music.

"As rap becomes more commercial, spoken word has stayed in the grass-roots," says Cheryl Keyes, associate professor of ethnomusicology at UCLA. "It offers an alternative voice that is more political and less about the bling bling."

Adds Poetri, a regular on "Def Poetry" who has been performing for more than 12 years: "The difference between old-fashioned poetry readings and spoken word is huge. Spoken word brings entertainment value to poetry."

Poetri has sponsored a poetry workshop for the last three years where he teaches a four-week, $200 course on the writing and performance of spoken word. "Three years ago, I was begging people to take it. But in its third year, it's completely sold out," and he's preparing to kick off another session.

The current renaissance of spoken word comes more than four decades after beat poets and beatniks filled coffeehouses with their artful protests against war and establishment politics. Rod McKuen and Jimmy Webb brought poetry into the popular music sphere during the '60s and '70s. Early spoken-word groups such as the Last Poets and the Watts Prophets and artists such as Gil Scott Heron emerged in the late '60s and early '70s as voices of black consciousness responding to the civil rights movement. Those artists faded into the background fo - By Greg Braxton, Times Staff Writer


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Simply Kat commandeered the stage with her heartfelt words, spirited presence, and universal topics. As an active member of A Mic in Dim Lites Alumni Collective, not only does she seek to entertain but to educate. Kat has conducted workshops based on the arts of writing and dance for group homes, high schools, and summer camps in an effort to improve literacy rates and creativity.
So passionate was Simply Kat as she rocked stages in California she was given the title of Slam Champion of the Highways! She been a member of the 2005 & 2006 Hollywood slam teams. Sharing her own story to reach a level of intimacy with her audience, she has always felt it important to reach as many as possible to encourage positive actions. Her work has been aired on radio stations such as 100.3 the beat, college radio from California to Hawaii, and KJLH. She performed for many colleges, the taping of Def Poetry Jam’s season 5 and can be seen in the indie film, “SPIT”.
Kat says, “Born with a Voice, Raised on a Mic, Fed with Style, and Clothed in Truth…what else could I do but Poetry”