CLEVELAND, Ohio – Twelve Literary Arts is preparing to release one of its most ambitious projects to date with “In Search of the Land” – a collaborative album featuring performances by approximately 40 poets and musicians.
The 12-track album, produced by Tall Black Guy (producer Terrel Wallace), will arrive on June 19 – aka Juneteenth, a public holiday that marks the end of slavery in the United States (June 19, 1865 was the date to which Union Generals announced the end of the Civil War and the liberation from slavery in Texas.)
The reason behind the release schedule, said Twelve Literary Arts director Daniel Gray-Kontar, comes from the album’s themes.
“This music is ultimately about liberation – the liberation of all people – but specifically the liberation of black people,” said Gray-Kontar. “[Juneteenth]is a very fitting date for us to release this project, especially given the time we exist right now … that time when we have such a hard time trying to genuinely try to get along, across racial lines, across lines policies, across gender lines, across generation lines. Hopefully this recording will help us get along with each other, hear different perspectives – and help us break free. “
The release of “In Search of the Land” comes a year after Gray-Kontar and Wallace began working on the project – and three years after the two creators met at a barbecue in Cleveland, while the Wallace’s partner, Kelly Thomas, was performing at a Cleveland sanctuary. DJ night.
At the barbecue, Wallace and Gray-Kontar discussed Gray-Kontar’s hometown of Cleveland and Wallace’s hometown of Detroit.
“I got on really well with the brother,” Gray-Kontar said. “I left saying, ‘One day we may be able to work together for Cleveland.’ He said, ‘Yeah man, you never know.’ “
So how did Twelve Literary Arts – a nonprofit organization focused on poetry and writing – take this plunge into music production?
Gray-Kontar said it was the result of an award from the Joyce Foundation, which provides grants to musicians and artists to co-create works of art for cities. He applied for the award with the idea of merging literary performance with local music, and ended up being one of four Midwestern organizations to win the grant in 2020.
His inspiration for the project came from the conversation with Wallace, Gray-Kontar said.
“We didn’t know, we just put it in the universe that maybe something like that could happen, and then it happened,” Gray-Kontar said. “We’ve been working on this for three years, we just didn’t know it. “
Wallace moved to Cleveland last year to work on the project. The acclaimed producer, who has collaborated with Jazzy Jeff, Questlove, Anthony Valadez and more, has previously lived in Washington, DC
Initially, the two built the backbone of the album by recording the performances of young poets at a virtual open mic event. Gray-Kontar and Wallace chose seven poems to turn into songs and reached out to local musicians to create music around the poems and their themes. Then they held jam sessions to flesh out the rest of the album’s tracklist and worked with community members on some of the recordings. About 22 songs were recorded and 12 were selected for the album.
Wallace used classic jazz pieces to inform his rhythms and production, including works by Lee Morgan and Donald Byrd.
“The approach with all of these poems was to let them interpret the poem, and once I heard it I was like, ‘What kind of music helps the poem bring it to life? “, Said Wallace. “Once they have performed their piece [to music], we removed the instrumental, and we created our own music around the poets.
Some of the songs were written by local musicians, including Gray-Kontar, who created a song under the name “Replife”. Poets and musicians include Mary Barrett, 2ssaint, Connor Musarra, Deija Vinson, Mariama Whyte, Theresa May and Tiyana Williams.
Cleveland singer Ngina Fayola wrote two songs that made the hitlist, “Black Gold” and “Why Not Give Your Best To Love?
“Both songs are really about community building and unity,” said Fayola. “’Black Gold’ is about the Cleveland arts community, and in the chorus I say, ‘No milk in honey here, but we’re gold.’ … I would never call it the land of milk and honey, but there is a lot of gold in this land of dry bones. There’s a rich artistic community here, and that’s gold, I believe – our artistry here. “
“Black Gold” features vocal performances from kindergarten, first-graders and second-graders at Daniel E. Morgan School in the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland, Gray-Kontar said.
Fayola’s other track was written while she lived in Tennessee in 2012. The light and airy song features local singer-guitarist Emily Keener supporting Fayola’s voice.
Keener said she had never worked with Fayola before collaborating on the song.
“Ngina and I had never met before – I had never had the pleasure of meeting many musicians on the record before,” said Keener. “The fact that we were able to come together on this project and meet each other through the music, I think that’s really cool.”
This collaboration was part of the mission of “In Search of The Land”. Gray-Kontar and Wallace sought to include young and established musicians and writers on the album, forging new connections within the city’s artistic landscape.
All of these voices come together on “In Search of the Land” to finally tell a story – a story of community, diversity, art.
A history of Cleveland.
Twelve Literary Arts will celebrate the release of “In Search of the Land” with a virtual party on Friday June 18th. Find more details on the organization’s Twitch account, twitch.tv/twelveartsmedia.
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