Saul Williams at The Barn

On Nov. 7, the Barn played host to slam poet Saul Stacey Williams—an artist known for integrating substantial political and social messages within his pieces. The event dubbed “More Than Spoken Word” was sponsored by ASPB and KUCR radio. KUCR provided the pre-performance music for the night which included songs such as Bob Marley’s “Soul Rebel” that definitely went along with the event’s motif.

The crowd that filled the venue was excited to see Williams, who they’ve become familiar with through his performances on Def Jam Poetry and the movie “Slam.” There were also others who came for the mere love of the art.

Taylor Wallace, a third-year creative writing major, said “I really like spoken word and poetry so I’m just excited to see it.” Simi Ovunleye, a second-year biological sciences major said of the headliner, “I recognized him from a TV show called ‘Girlfriends’ and I’ve never been to a spoken word [performance] before so I decided to make this my first time.” Before the performance, Operations Manager of the Barn Jonathan Cubos said, “We have a pretty good draw for the entertainers coming tonight…it’s going to be a good show.” In a venue that can hold a 300 person capacity, the limit was set at 225 because unlike most Barn shows where people are standing, chairs were set in respect to the type of show it was.

The first opener of the night was Baba the Storyteller, who came out speaking the language of Bambara and playing a West African instrument called the Kora. After his first song, he explained that he was an American who learned from his great-grandfather the importance of knowing one’s culture. Baba’s performance was centered in crowd participation. He asked the audience to sing back various phrases in Bambara which he explained were meant to be calming and reassuring. Between his singing, he lived up to his name by telling several stories that all had different morals: “our strength is in our women” and “everything has it’s time.” He proved to be a truly charismatic performer, who had control over his crowd by making them laugh, listen and interact.

The second opener, Hustle Diva, a Northern Californian poet, made a quick impression by ripping open into her first poem, stating, “I am your voice.” She then described the meaning behind her name, saying that “Hustle Diva” was synonymous for “Hardworking Goddess.” Her pieces dealt with issues of heartbreak, self-expression, finding one’s passions and chasing dreams. She had uplifting work such as her poem, “Self-construction,” which used the house as a metaphor for the human being. Another poem, “Homage” was dedicated to people who have found the gift that they want to share with the world. Her performance overall was very personal and the crowd reacted to her emotionally candid display favorably.

The event moved right on schedule and at 10 p.m. Saul Williams was ready to arrive on stage. Williams began reciting his first poem without delay. His voice was clear, direct and his lyrics were just as metaphor-filled, politically charged and riddling as ever. Disregarding the use for a microphone, Williams stepped off the stage and addressed the audience by moving inward to the first row of chairs. “The greatest Americans have not been born yet. They are waiting patiently for the past…to die. Please give blood,” Williams said. His voice fluctuated from highs to lows and back again, conveying moments of tension and build up. It was after his first poem which lasted about nine minutes that Williams moved back to the stage and was joined by a resident of Riverside, Keith Tutt, who played the cello and was asked to improvise melodies to the poetry. Keith accompanied Williams on several poems, including a rather famous one of Williams’ entitled “N…a What” from his book “The Dead Emcee Scrolls.”

Williams also performed another popular poem called “Coded Language,” which he used as his closing piece. Altogether, Williams gave the crowd the exact show they were looking for. It was like going to a seminar that synthesized history, culture, politics and hip-hop. Plus, seeing Williams burst out laughing at his own lyrics was truly an experience. He stated, “Beliefs are the police of the mind. Fuck the beliefs,” and smiled in self-amusement.  When it was over, the crowd gave him a thankful goodbye and left entertained as well as more refined.

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