Providing the very best in Spoken Word Edutainment
“Truth tellers are not always palatable. There is a preference for candybars.” Gwendolyn Brooks
Discopoet Khari B. is a spoken word musician and educator working internationally as both a performer and instructor in the literary arts. With a solid reputation for delivering powerful performances with intense instrumental accompaniment, Khari B.’s energetic nature is inextricably tied to growing up in Chicago’s House music culture and being the son of two educators, one being acclaimed woodwindist, Mwata Bowden. His inspirational and mentally rousing work has been recognized, hailed, and requested across the globe, staking out a place in the hearts of audiences and appealing to a diverse legion of fans, spanning multiple ages and ethnic groups.
He’s co-produced three albums under the Discopoetry brand (WordSound: THIS AIN’T NO PUNK-ASSED POETRY, I’M A BAD MUTHA: The Rockstar Poetry Project, The Revolution Has Been Compromised: Honoring the word and works of Gil Scott-Heron) and appeared on numerous others.
In addition to his works’ inclusion in a number of anthologies, he’s published one book, “Haiku 4 Justice: Poetry In the Age of Social Media” and co-produced a feature length film on his annual arts & music production, “Thee Debauchery Ball.”
Khari B. has been an Artist-In-Residence at the prestigious Purdue University since 2006, continuing to create, educate, produce and perform wherever he is called under his philosophy “Make it happen.”
GO BANG! Magazine: Growing up with both parents being educators had to have been tough and must’ve influenced the way that you value education. Please describe your childhood and what’s the most valuable lesson that you have learned from your parents, in regards to education and life in general?
Khari B: I wouldn’t say it was tough. They weren’t letting any BS ride when it came 2 our education. But, because a respect for and necessity of education was instilled N2 our lives from our very beginning, they didn’t have 2 force our participation so hard. Of course we didn’t like homework and large research projects, so we showed a natural youthful resistance 2 that. But all and all, intelligence was respected in our home, our community and by the youth and adults we were surrounded by.
My childhood looks like being outside, right? We played. Our friends would ring our bell and ask my parents if we could come outside – all year round. I loved cartoons (still do) but my mom had a strict policy on how much television time we could have per day so I had 2 choose wisely of what and when 2 watch. Museums, cultural centers, library visits and concerts were a normal thing 4 us and we dug it 4 the most part. Children aspire 2 what they R exposed 2 and my parents insured we were exposed 2 as much as culture, music, information and life as their modest pockets would allow. We rode our bikes regularly, especially in the summers and particularly 2 the comic book store. We couldn’t wait 4 snowball fights on the block in the winter.
The most valuable lesson that I learned from my parents was how important it is 2 know how 2 read and comprehend information. I can’t underestimate that. It’s now that I realize how many people can’t and/or won’t and how much discord and confusion the lack of those simple acts cause 2day. Reading ain’t just fundamental. It’s so necessary!
GO BANG! Magazine: How did you get started in poetry, Spoken Word and then Discopoetry? What are the differences in the three?
Khari B: Moms definitely got me started writing. Again, it was just something instilled in us from the jump so it was never something new or novel. It’s just what we did and what my mom encouraged. She had Gil Scott, The Last Poets and Nikki Giovanni records playing around the house on Sundays and I dug it. Never thought of it as something I wanted 2 do but I loved their wordplay and rhythm. I loved their messages and their love of our people. I was being prepared and had no clue.
Spoken word came along in college. My friend, Courtney Bell, kept trying 2 get me 2 go 2 some place called Spices 2 listen 2 poetry, but I procrastinated and vacillated about it because I would rather hit a party. The day we finally made it was the week they closed. I had no idea that I had just missed a piece of history. I wasn’t keen on sharing my own work anyway.
Somewhere in that period a professor more or less forced me N2 reading a piece 4 a class presentation. Outside of a church oratory contest when I was nine, this would B the 1st time I ever shared my work N public. I got up, spit the piece how I heard it N my head and looked up 2 this lecture hall full of students enthusiastically clapping. I dug how it felt 2 share that and the reception it received. I was hooked and haven’t looked back since.
There are no differences between poetry, spoken word and Discopoetry essentially. All spoken word, as we’re using it here, is poetry, but not all poetry is spoken word. Some work is better left read. Some work begs 2 B said aloud. I am a spoken word musician. That would B the only distinction. I mostly write work 2 B performed. My spin is 2 do it 2 music, live music N most cases, and not in a rap form.
GO BANG! Magazine: You have a solid foundation and reputation in the House music community. It’s only natural that you would combine your spoken word with House music. Describe to our readers, the day that you decided that Discopoetry was one of your callings in life and you were gonna “go for it” and even name yourself after it.
Khari B: At the time “Discopoetry” was born, I was doing open mics in college. I didn’t have any professional aspirations 4 it then, but it was something I was loving doing. I didn’t like how the hosts were calling me up back then. It just lacked color and rhythm so I was in my head looking 4 a name 2 B introduced as. I was also sorta depressed at the time. I hated school, the city I was N, and my relationship status was on garbage. The only 2 things that were really delivering me at the time was poetry and House music. I was N the south, far away from any real parties and I was miserable. I would call my friends still N Chicago just so they could describe the parties 2 me – location, people, music, dancers, DJs… all of that just 4 my fix!
1 day after talking 2 1 of my boys, I started sketching possible names out. Housepoet was 2 close 2 house ni**a 2 me, so that wasn’t gonna work. BUT the term House was also interchangeable with Disco 4 the folks who knew, so I tried a few variations of that mix. When I put those 2 words 2gether, “disco” and “poet,” it just rang out 2 me. It stuck, it fit and that’s been my name ever since.
The day I decided 2 “go pro” was many years later. I was outta college, back N Chicago and working a job I hated. Every morning I woke up extra early and angry. Up and out on public transportation, which I hated, 2 go somewhere that I hated, 2 do some things that I did not want 2 do. It didn’t make sense. Additionally, the job called 4 me to stay late almost every night. The night that was unacceptable was Wednesday nights when I would go 2 Jazz and Java’s open mic night. Staying late on Wednesdays was non-negotiable because I was NOT going 2 B late and unable 2 get on the reading list there. My boss knew not 2 even ask. Again, poetry and House were the 2 things breathing life N2 my spirit then.
1 morning I woke up angry and realized how insane that was. No one who wakes up should B angry. The wake up is a gift in itself. I knew the source of my anger and there was only 1 rational way 2 correct that. I called the job and quit that moment. My boss tried 2 convince me otherwise, but I could not B swayed. I was done. I went back 2 sleep and slept WONDERFULLY. I woke up happy 4 the 1st time N a long time! Moments later, I realized I didn’t have a job. HA! I had 2 get a plan. I liked feeling happy and quickly contemplated my sources of happiness. I made a decision right there 2 figure out a way 2 get my poetry 2 B my source of income, as well as my happiness.
I had seen Marvin Tate’s D’Settlement and my sista Smokey do full shows outside of the open mic, and that was my inspiration. That was on a Wednesday. That weekend, as I was still figuring out how 2 do this, I walked N2 my 1st 2 bookings while at the African Fest at DuSable. Both were hosting gigs (which I had never done) 4 poetry shows. 1was co-hosting with brotha Malik Yusef at some Brewery on the near Westside and the other was a bi-weekly with Sista’s of Vizion at the Ebony Room. I admired Brother Mike and Triple Blak’s hosting skills at Jazz & Java, so I pulled my notes from them. As it applied 2 my own shows, I took my knowledge of House party promotion and used that as my template 2 get folks out 2 my events. That’s what it’s been ever sense. Those initial crowds at the event were primarily from the House community. It was “discopoetry” 4 real!
GO BANG! Magazine: Your God-given gift as a wordsmith has blessed you with the opportunity to travel the globe sharing your powerful words with the world. Prior to walking on stage to perform, what goes thru your head? What is your mission? What is the ultimate message that you want the audience to “take away?”
Khari B: My job as an artist is 2 document the times we’re living N. It is 2 inspire and inform the People. That is my mission EVERYTIME I put a letter 2 page or foot 2 stage. I want the audience 2 walk away filled with something they didn’t have when they arrived or at least more of it. The intention is 2 B joy and/or information, 2 do with as they will. I’m a creative propagandist that uses truth as my medium. The People need some truth. I give it 2 them N an energetic fashion so that it sticks.
All I’m thinking as I head 2 a stage is “let’s do this!” “Let’s have some fun!”
GO BANG! Magazine: Who are some of the artists, musicians, spoken word artists and other creatives that inspire or motivate you to perform and why?
Khari B: I named a few cats above, both national and locally-based folks, who helped 2 build where I stand. When I cut my 1st album I was using MC Hammer’s template of selling out of the trunk 2 get it done (obviously he was far more successful at it than I. HA!) instead of begging 4 a record deal. Prince was always an inspiration both performatively and business-wise. My Holy Trinity of performance is Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. They R the definition of letting it all go on stage. Sonia Sanchez, Gil Scott, Nikki G., the Last Poets and Mama Gwendolyn Brooks R my teachers. I’m overjoyed 2 have performed with or 4 all of them at some point along the way.
I don’t think that I could B the artist I am if I came up anywhere else but Chicago. It’s a city filled with creative energy and, at the time I was coming up, a respect 4 and expectation 2 B one’s self. That didn’t happen everywhere and throughout time. House culture validated a necessity 4 our uniqueness, so that was already ingrained. But culturally and artistically, Chicago made me a better creative. It may not have an industry 2 properly support its artists’ careers but it makes them powerful creatives nonetheless. We stand out wherever we go. Here, I’m surrounded by an unparalleled artistic community. U can damn near trip over someone who should B a legend. I love it. I wish our folks could C it and make it happen.
When I hit the stage, I’m N clothes by Chicago-based designers like Embody by Talibah Mc, Mike Sims, Status Kno, Free Breakfast Apparel and Agriculture Chicago, accessories by Clay & Chloe, K-Fleye and Copper Candy. Our events R sponsored by Black businesses like Wakanna and the South Side Help Center most recently. My Chicago community is dope and they inspire and push what I do. I do my best 2 reflect and respect that in every aspect.
GO BANG! Magazine: Your “Thee Debauchery Ball” is a legendary annual event that I have had the pleasure of attending a few times. It was an experience that I will never forget, in a good way! Please explain to our “virgin” readers, who may have never attended, exactly what the “Ball” is and how you creatively co-produced and developed it into a feature film.
Khari B: The Debauchery Ball is a private, tasteful, erotically-themed protected space 4 Black people (and other POCs) where music, art and performance are synthesized for a most memorable, highly-anticipated, sensual, sensory-engaging experience. It’s a high-energy, liberated space of comfort and joy, free of constriction, oppression and self-deprecation emphasizing consent, respect and personal interaction, all grounded in House culture. If someone can’t read and fully comprehend all of that, they don’t need 2 B there. 😉
As I stated above, I’m a part of a beautiful and talented creative community. Being a part of that community and producing this type of event over years attracts all kinds of folks that possess skills that I don’t. This is not a small or easy event 2 organize. That said, I rely on others that I trust, who know and love the product and R enthused about being a part. David Weathersby is 1 such person.
Having worked with him over the years, I approached him about getting me some footage of the Ball that I could later use promotionally. He handled that but fell N love with the whole thing and asked if he could produce a documentary on it. I agreed. He went 2 work, communicated with me openly and as needed, and the final product came out more amazing than I could have imagined! David is simply a great guy and phenomenal filmmaker. I didn’t get N his way of making it happen and I was free 2 continue doing what I needed 2 do 2 make it happen. I trusted him because he’s always been a man of integrity, humility and genuinely supportive of the rest of the community. Because of that, he captured the spirit and nature of the Ball perfectly and it shows as crowds R loving it around the world now.
GO BANG! Magazine: You’re a music producer and an author as well, penning your debut book entitled “Haiku 4 Justice: Poetry In the Age of Social Media.” Tell us about your book and why you wrote it.
Khari B: It is the creatives job 2 document the world as it is 4 future generations 2 learn from. “Haiku 4 Justice” is just that. 4 over 400 days I documented instances of injustice and triumph on a daily basis in haiku form. I used haiku because we R N a time of “meme education.” The average person is not drawn 2 read anything longer, so I used the short poetic form of haiku 2 tell longer stories of brutality, murder, resistance and celebration 2 the reader, 3 lines, 17 syllables at a time.
Initially they were just daily post 2 get me more N the habit of being present on social media (which I’m essentially adverse 2). A lot of people started keeping up with them including a few celebrities. Soon my circle started encouraging me 2 compile them N2 a book. I hadn’t even considered that. I just kept writing. I looked up and it had been over a year that I was doing this exercise. My crew put a foot N my ass and got me 2 produce the book finally after more than a year of procrastinating about it. My sista and fellow author/poet Tara Betts edited it and BAM, it became an actual thing.
I’m so happy I did it. It was a lot, spiritually, writing about so much pain but it was necessary. Our folks need 2 C it, remember it and never allow anyone else 2 change the story. Haiku 4 Justice is my contribution 2 keeping that truth and the names of our fallen alive.
GO BANG! Magazine: Being an educator, you are assisting in the development of minds. That is a tremendous mission that can’t be taken lightly. As an instructor in the literary arts, please describe what you do and why you chose to teach in that field?
Khari B: Every issue that we have with our youth is largely the fault of our elders; those who fell down on the job of keeping necessary lessons alive and our culture strong. It is without question that we have faced inexhaustible opposition 4 the last 500 years. But, our level of resistance, which is rooted in our culture, is Y we can even have this discussion 2day. The administration of that resistance and culture is the responsibility of our elders. We know who our opposition is and what they do. Our job is 2 know who WE R and 2 do our part. When the youth don’t know or respect our culture, which makes them able 2 navigate and thrive N this world properly, it’s because the eldership did not teach them.
Me teaching is me doing my part. The literary arts is what I use 2 expose groups of our young who they R, where they come from and what their purpose is on this planet. All of us have a part N that. I’m honored 2 B able 2. More of us have 2. It’s an honorable and tremendous responsibility 4 each of us. The classroom is just another medium 2 do what I do with the spoken word music. I’m still working 2 have a greater reach.
GO BANG! Magazine: Your Discopoetry performance is inspiring and full of spirit, just like you. How would you describe yourself and your performance, so that someone who has never met you would get a good understanding of who you are and what to expect from your show.
Khari B: I would simply say that I use the stage or recording mediums 2 say what is N my spirit and on my heart. I speak the things that connect us in a way that I hope speaks 2 your spirits and hearts. I attempt 2 vocalize our thoughts and emotions and B a voice that is silenced N a lot of us. So when those things manifest through me, it’s with all the energy, fury, love and volume I can muster N my 140 lb body. My spirit is much bigger 😉 The stage is where I get 2 B my full, uninhibited self and that ends up validating others living the same way N their own way. We’re gonna push some boundaries, free some spirits, scare some people and have fun doing it.
GO BANG! Magazine: The COVID-19 pandemic has caught the world off guard. How are you dealing with it?
Khari B: I’m sitting inside writing. We don’t know what parts of this thing R true or false but we do know people R dying in droves. We do know the average American is so entitled, misinformed, uniformed and arrogant that the spread of the virus has been insane and accelerated because of them. So, I mainly stay inside and create. I’m loving it!
This quarantine has given us an unprecedented opportunity in modern times 2 sit, get quiet and do some self-development. It doesn’t seem most people R making use of that, but some R and it’s beautiful. Connections have been more meaningful, our ingenuity has been given space 2 speak and nature has gotten a chance 2 take a break from stupid and destructive humans to do some repair work. This time was needed.
I miss performing. I miss partying and traveling. But I love the quieter environment, the cleaner air and water and animal life flourishing in ways that it was unable 2 with all of our thoughtless movement. I’m okay with this. I wish people would have the sense 2 sit still a little longer so the virus can pass away, but that goes back 2 piss poor education and a lack of culture.
This time has proved that so much of our movement is unnecessary. A lot of it has been just 2 make people feel important or relevant but the planet, our country and our people have been so much better with us at home. Here we R. My next book is almost done. I finally started a meditation practice 4 myself which has been great. I’ve written work 4 and drawn up a new performance series and thinking of ways 2 get N front of a larger audience. I’m alright.
GO BANG! Magazine: Lastly, on May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down, begging for his life and repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.” This incident has caused civil unrest and massive protests across the world. How do you feel about this unfortunate situation and call for police reform due to the horrible treatment of minorities by the police?
Khari B: Floyd’s murder was no different than so many B4 him. The officer that murdered him is no different than the countless murderers on and off of the police force that have come B4 him. It’s a systemic issue that is bigger than reform of a particular career space. Racism is a mental illness and we all need treatment from it as it affects us all. Defunding the police budgets is about reallocating tax payers money, which have been used 2 heavily militarize these police forces since at least President Clinton’s administration and EVERY administration since, to programs that will help minimize the use of police and the prison system.
The institution of Euro supremacy does not want that. It makes 2 much money from and creates 2 much dependency 4 them 2 give that up willingly. But our education system needs that money across the board. Local job creation needs that money across the board. The mental health industry NEEDS that money across the board. THEN we’d C a people who Rn’t forced N2 a life of hunger, joblessness, poor health and other factors that actually create crime. We’d C healthier people ON the police force who Rn’t predisposed or inclined 2 target, brutalize and murder people of color indiscriminately. Defunding the police and the culture of brutality toward disenfranchised communities by them is about providing the people that ultimately pay them the resources not 2 need them.
George’s murder was about the lack of value 4 the life of Black people in this world. The present system supports, maintains and encourages that. It uses all media 2 facilitate the disdain 4 melanated people in all of us. 4tunately, there R parts of our youth that HAVE received pieces of love, knowledge and culture from some of our elders and they have taken this time and opportunity to rise up and make it known that the continued abuse cannot happen. They still need those lessons from the eldership, but they have shown that they R ready and able 2 speak up and put N that work.
These riots were different than B4. The spirit of these uprisings was different than B4. There is an awakening happening amongst our people, young and old and it’s beautiful 2 C the things that R manifesting. I think and hope we’re just getting started 2 turn this world around 4 the better.
Thank U so much 4 reaching my way, Pierre.
GO BANG! Magazine: You’re welcome my brutha!
Get at me at http://www.disco-poetry.com
Haiku 4 Justice available at https://bit.ly/2X7mIuB
Thee Debauchery Ball can B seen on any device via KweliTv: thee-debauchery-ball
Pierre A. Evans is a freelance writer of Entertainment, Music, Art, Culture, Fashion and Current Events, and previously for SoulTrain.com, NDigo.com, ChicagoDefender.com, EmpireRadioMagazine.com, and UrbanMuseMag.com, an author, singer/songwriter, actor, model, poet, dancer, and DJ. He is also the owner of Pinnacle Entertainment Productions. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and on Instagram