Monday, May 11, 2009

Artist Profile: Alsarah

When I think of one word to describe Brooklyn-based Sudanese soul singer Alsarah, the word that comes to mind is "force". She is a presence, a force when she takes the stage, and transports her audience to another time and place in the way only a true artist can.
Alsarah performs in quite a few different styles of traditional music from Africa's rich diasporan history. She sings aghani al banat, or "girls' music", a playful genre native to Central Sudan which is usually performed during wedding festivities.
Alsarah is also a member of The Sounds of Taraab, a group playing traditional music of Zanzibar and the coastal towns of East Africa. This genre, which is over 100 years old, is a hybrid of African, Indian, and Arabic styles of music, a blend which was fostered by the trade routes through the region.

Alsarah also counts American soul music among her many influences, and sings modern soul songs in english along with traditional songs in arabic at her shows, making for a wonderful musical journey where one can really see the roots and interconnectedness of music.
A mainstay on the New York performance circuit, Alsarah's star continues to rise, and she recently opened for Somalian rapper K'naan. In addition to performances, she is currently in the studio hard at work on a forthcoming EP, which will include songs in arabic and english.

For performance dates and more information:

Photo by Alaric Campbell

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Aisha Cousins in Studio Museum in Harlem's Magazine

Aisha Cousins, the first artist profiled her e on Black Butterfly, continues to inspire and delight with her Diva Dutch performance pie ce. Cousin s' work has caught the attention of the Studio Museum in Harlem, and Diva Dutch is featured in the Spring issue of the museum's magazine. If you're like me, you can't get enough of one of the art world's most promising rising stars. So here's a little more, and expect to see a lot more from Aisha Cousins.

All images c/o Studio Magazine

Published in Studio: The Studio Museum in Harlem Magazine Spring 2009

Aisha Cousins, 30
Performance Artist
by Khary Polk

Aisha Cousins and I sit on the floor of her Bedford-Stuyvesant studio, sharing brown rice tea and eating pink and green mochi from Midtown. B ags of synthetic hair, children’s pop beads and vintage baby doll dresses–components in her per formance art pieces–are neatly arranged throughout the space. The pop beads l ook like candy, I say, and she encourages me to pop one in my mouth.

I bite down on colored plastic as Cousins tells me about her current work, Diva Dutch, a remarkable synthesis of hair-braiding and rope-jumping. “It’s a natural evolution of things that black girls in black urban areas across the country already do,” she says. She weaves synthetic hair into a single ten- to fifteen-foot braid, a nd then plaits it on the pigtails of two women, creating a tangible conduit that also functions as a fierce skipping rope. Cousins has performed Diva Dutch on the streets of Bed-Stuy (Brooklyn), Brixton (London) and Barb├Ęs-Rochechouart (Paris).

“I’ve become fascinated with the idea of how black culture would evolve if black folks had a separate territory, with an economy and culture shaped in response to our habits, our interests,” she says. I remind her that the beauty supply store where she purchases her “Sensationnel” brand hair is located on Fulton Street, one of the longest stretches of black-owned businesses in the country. “Not anymore,” she counters. Raised in Bed-Stuy, Cousins has seen the neighborhood change. “Black enclaves all over the country are disappearing and no one seems to be concerned about how this will affect the evolution of black, U.S. or international culture,” she says.

Copyright 2009 Studio Magazine.