Five years ago, award-winning poet Daniel Gray-Kontar founded Twelve Literary Arts as a poetry collective for young writers of color.
He has long wanted to create a recording of poetry and music dedicated to his hometown.
Executive Artistic Director of the Twelve Literary Arts Daniel Gray-Kontar [McKinley Wiley / The Dark Room Company]
“There has never been an album that really showcased poetry and simultaneously brought together a number of musicians to tell the story of Cleveland,” said Gray-Kontar.
In December 2019, Twelve Literary Arts received a national grant of $ 50,000 from the Joyce Foundation for this purpose.
Gray-Kontar brought in Detroit sound recording artist Terrel Wallace, also known as Tall Black Guy, to produce the album.
Terrel Wallace, aka “Tall Black Guy” [McKinley Wiley / The Dark Room Company]
“We were supposed to introduce him to different artists while they were playing so he could get to know each other and see these artists playing. So we were going to take him to the Bop Stop, the Grog Shop, Happy Dog … everywhere that had something to do with it. music and musical numbers. We were just going to take him out there so he could listen to all these different people, “Gray-Kontar said.
Soon after winning the award, however, the pandemic struck and there were no concerts to attend at clubs in the area.
“So we had to think completely about how to create an incubator that, you know, person by person, will allow him to interact with these artists,” said Gray-Kontar.
For Wallace, the drastic change of plans meant he and his young family had to move to Cleveland for the duration of production.
Terrel Wallace and his son Drew [McKinley Wiley / The Dark Room Company]
Wallace worked at the Twelve Literary Arts building in Glenville, known as the House of Twelve.
It was converted into a recording studio where Wallace could work one-on-one with poets and musicians.
“I got to know these particular artists on a personal level as well as an artist. And it kind of gave me a better understanding of how to approach, even produce a piece or just get into their minds and things like that,”, Wallace said.
One night, the recording of a tune involved several musicians.
Mariama Whyte, Daniel Gray-Kontar and Terrel Wallace during a recording session at Maison Douze. [McKinley Wiley / The Dark Room Company]
“Usually in a session, to go a little faster, you would have about four to five, six people around each other all the time, and we couldn’t do it. We had to choose as a day and that was literally it. everyone was in their own separate rooms at the House of the Twelve, and we had a jam session, ”Wallace said.
Cover “In Search of the Earth” [Dakarai Akil]
With Wallace arranging the music, Gray-Kontar organized the poets for the project, which was dubbed “In Search of the Land”.
He decided to harness the talents of his twelve literary arts students past and present.
At the head of the album is Mary Barrett with her poem “Blackwards” about a young African American woman discovering her voice in Northeast Ohio.
Marie barrett [MiLisa Coleman]
“It’s been a real process, finding your voice in Cleveland, it’s kind of the case with all the artists I’ve known in Cleveland, but once they find their voice, it’s super beautiful.” , Barrett said.
Barrett was amazed at how Wallace was able to transform his poem with music.
“I am so used to the poem and I have performed it so many times, I have heard it so many times that it was the music around it that made me feel that it was no longer just a poem. , that it was a part of something much bigger, something so beautiful. So I think it was like hearing it for the first time, that it was no longer just a poem, ”she said.
For poet Deija Vinson, she drew on personal, local and national history for her poem “Redline Kid”.
It is inspired by a presentation she saw on the practice of redlining, the tactic of separating minority families and businesses by denying loans and thus preventing them from moving to more prosperous communities.
Deija Vinson [Stephen Bivens]
Shortly after the presentation on redlining, Vinson was questioned by a work manager about where she lived.
When Vinson replied, “East Cleveland,” she said the manager was surprised by the way Vinson presented himself at work.
“And so it seemed a little insulting to me, because that’s always where I live, like it’s still the people I see every day. What if you think my neighbors are below you? , then you must be thinking of me, “Vinson said. “It upset me a bit to have to deal with this kind of situation at work, having to talk to people or try to explain where I live, just to make others around me feel comfortable. . And so I was like, let me take all these negative feelings and put them in a poem. “
TDash, Daniel Gray-Kontar and Mark Who? [McKinley Wiley / The Dark Room Company]
For Gray-Kontar, the essence of the album “In Search of the Land” is found in “Hey Hood” by Tiyana Williams.
“The fact that you hear an 18 year old black woman say to you, ‘The hood is not something that can only be considered from a deficit. It is something that is also beautiful. . And how do I know that? I know that because I’m beautiful. And that made me. So in a story about downtown Cleveland, you translate that not just as the hood, but as Cleveland, ” Gray-Kontar said. “All this negative stories and all this nonsense people write and say about Cleveland, well, it can’t be that bad because it has made some of the prettiest people you’ll ever see.”
Mariama Whyte [McKinley Wiley / The Dark Room Company]
Gray-Kontar said he hopes all the Clevelanders sit down and listen to the album from start to finish.
“The end of the record sums it all up. It’s LeBron James, ‘Cleveland, this is for you.’ This is our love letter to Cleveland. Every artist here loves this city very much. And I think you feel that love on this record, “said Gray-Kontar.
You can listen to “In Search of the Land” for free starting Saturday online on Bandcamp, Soundcloud and the Twelve Literary Arts site.