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Sankofa's last campaign

Fort Wayne Artist/Rapper Bids Adieu with Just Might Be

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2012-12-06


You'd think that calling it quits on a lifetime passion would cause a great deal of sadness and miserable self-introspection, but for local rapper Sankofa, saying goodbye to the art form he loves is a cause for celebration. After 14 years of writing, performing, and recording, Sankofa is hanging up the Adidas Tomatinas and the Nike Wildedges and focusing on the new phase of his life. Sankofa (aka Stephen Bryden) and his wife, Jenn, recently welcomed the arrival of their son, Arthur, and the familiar constraints of job, marriage, and family have caused the artist to make the difficult decision to pull the plug on his musical career. As so many artists have discovered, sometimes there are simply not enough hours in the day to maintain a healthy balance between home life and the energies and resources necessary for artistic creation.

The good news, though, for fans of Sankofa, is that the artist's impending retirement provides the opportunity for one last CD, a well-thought out, final hurrah complete with all the bells and whistles that Sankofa has always wanted to include in a release. The finished product, Just Might Be, a 16-song, "funky fresh rap" CD will be released around March 1st, with all the attendant miscellania that Sankofa has always loved from the by-gone CD era ó lyric sheet, photos, liner notes, etc.

In producing the CD, Sankofa is enlisting the services of Kickstarter, the crowd-funding website that helps provide alternative avenues of financing for new projects. Instead of the traditional model of "investors" who provide monetary backing and then share in the profits, Kickstarter invites "pledges" from the public at large and then lets the artist repay the donors with personal mementos, experiences, and incentives. Since its debut in 2009, Kickstarter has attracted a number of high and low profile projects from a myriad of artists, including musician Amanda Palmer (of the Dresden Dolls), lo-fi legend Daniel Johnston, mumblecore hero Mark Duplass, indie film maker Hal Hartley, and comedian Eugene Mirman.

Sankofa's Kickstarter campaign begins on December 10th and will last for 33 days, and Stephen is relishing the chance to unleash an array of oddball merchandise and peculiarities to his supporters. Including: shirts, pens, post-it notes, notebooks, instrumental CDs, three pair of custom Nike iD shoes, downloads, keychains, toothpick holders, stickers, magnets, caps, lawn signs, canvas totes, tapes, stress balls, Lego men (?), bottle openers, koozies (??), names dropped in a rap (!), answering machine raps (!!), living room shows(!!!), dining extravaganzas at Ziffles/Bravas/King Gyros, buttons, window decals, customer appreciation cards, posters, an 8" by 10" aluminum print of the awesome cover art, and a shoe destruction (????). Donors are encouraged to go to Sankofa's Facebook page for more information. (www.facebook.com/rapsankofa)

In a recent e-mail interview, I asked Stephen about the Kickstarter campaign for "Just Might Be" and his decision to call it quits. I also asked him about the new CD, and tried to get him to share some of the memories he has from his time performing in Fort Wayne.

FWR: Tell me about the last hurrah, this Kickstarter campaign.
Sankofa: The campaign is essentially NPR's pledge drive on silly juice. Between various social media (facebook,instagram, twitter) I have been building up to the beginning of my end. As this is an effort to fund my last album, I have spent a lot of time talking with other folk in similar boats, picking their brains about what has been effective for them. As far as local promotion, my plan is to communicate to non-social media folk through traditional outlets as well as giving folk I appreciate (John Commorato Jr., Bo Gonzalez of Bravas) tee shirts and such. It sounds cynical, but they are tastemakers.

JC Jr's shirt came about because I happened to be switching out sizes with a friend and was at the Rail. Bo's shirt is because Bravas is awesome and I have a song about the food I love (Jumbo Jet of Flavor) which incorporates them into the hook. I have 100 odd magnets which I'll give to Bo for him to give to customers. If I didn't love their hot dogs, it could well be contrived, but I've no qualms about reaching in such a manner. I've also worked with Jes and Jake Farris at Conspiracy, they were generous enough to include my buttons and stickers in their Black Friday sale bags.

I'm still picking my brain as to what I can do in conjunction with Neat, Neat, Neat Records. All these places are inherently Fort Wayne, so I see my efforts as attempting to seed a grassroots campaign. Will it work? Who knows? I do know that I will have done all in my power to see that this project is successful.

I'm using Kickstarter because I have seen others in our artistic community use it effectively. As I have a kid, I can't justify spending the 2000 odd bucks on something which is essentially a vanity project. As this is my last album, I want it to have the pieces which truly resonated with me as a fan.

FWR: I certainly understand fatherhood and marriage taking up a huge part of your life, and that that is a primary reason why you're stopping. But I wonder, what's gonna replace that Sankofa-sized hole you're going to have?

Sankofa: Honestly, I don't know. I didn't really make the decision, life made it for me and I'm fine with that. I like to think that I'm Winnie the Pooh, keeping things simple, but that's just romanticized self-imaging. Jenn thinks I'll still be doing it, but this album took forever and three years to finish and I don't see having the time/energy/desire to go through it all again. There will be a time when I have a spare 20 odd minutes and write some goofy rap based off a random word, but taking the time to make art rather than a quick burst of expression? Not likely. I can see still performing every now and then, but that's slowed down as the base of friends I have who would see performances are now moving on to the stage of having families and lives beyond meeting at the bars. I wish I had a better answer for you, but beyond saying Arthur is the most fascinating thing ever, I don't have much to add

FWR: Three years in the making for parts of this CD ó is that usual? I'm curious how your songwriting goes ó I bet they are times when the song is done in 20 minutes, and others when it takes months. Can you give me a casual breakdown of some of the songs on Just Might Be, how long it took you to create some of the tracks?

Sankofa:
ď!@%! (Cursed)Ē ó I initially wrote a song about a squirrel taking on an ASPLUNDH truck, then started thinking about how disposable language has become. Curse words donít mean anything anymore. One of the reasons I donít curse in my songs is because those words have lost their power, plus it was an interesting exercise to see how I could push comfort levels without resorting to such words.

"Too Many Days" ó Drove past the Rock, started thinking about people who live in bars, and came up with this track. Iíve always been fascinated by the underbelly and this is an examination of the unseemly, throw in an anecdote shared by Brenn (Left Lane Crusier) and the inclusion of truth in song makes for a better story. The changing hook is a nod to Eric B. and Rakimís ďKnow the Ledge.Ē

"Rift" ó This song initially had a curse in it, but I took it out. Itís basically about me looking at myself in a relationship and seeing how my approach to life isnít always conducive to being a productive part of a healthy relationship. Analyze away.
"Belligerent Beard" ó After filming ďSnow PrincessĒ (Sarah Palin love ballad rap) with John Hartman, I realized that chest hair is a four letter word. I used that and my experience as someone who is usually bearded to write a song about beards. The track is pretty awesome and moves really fast.
"Heavenly Father" ó A letter/song to/about my dad and how our relationship molded who I am today.
"Hey Arthur" ó I didnít want to end on a depressing note, so felt it natural to go from a song about my dad to me being a dad. From a selection standpoint, it was so difficult to decide which lyrics should go in the song-Arthur is constantly changing and endlessly fascinating. Arthur is why Iím comfortable bidding rap farewell, he is the opus.

FWR: Favorite shows (venues, events) you performed in the area?
Sankofa: I recently played a show at a Waynedale bar called Ninoís. It was less the bar than the people in it. If a crowd is responsive and brings energy, it helps me bring more energy and emotional investment into my performance. The Brass Rail is a fun place to play, though I donít recall if Iíve used their new stage beyond sitting in for part of a White Trash Blues Revival set. Taste of the Arts was fun because I got to have a mid-set dance off with a three year old girl. Itís the energy and spontaneity of those moments that, no matter how hard I prepare, I can never be assured of a particular outcome until all is said and done.

FWR: What do you think of the way the Fort Wayne music scene has changed since you got here?

Sankofa: Itís grown, but the amount of venues (The Yellow Bird notwithstanding) seems to stay about the same. When I started, playing at C-Street meant something. Now, I could care less about it. Under the stewardship of John Commorato Jr. and Corey Rader, the Brass Rail has really become a magnet for talented national and local artists. CS3 has become a viable location for big shows, even if their stage lights are blinding. Matt Kelley has done a lot to include the local scene in venues and outlets that would otherwise be unaware of the talents this city holds. Little Brother Radio meant so much, now it is gone.

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