Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.
Koofreh Umoren (a.k.a. KooF): When I originally wrote this article, my main focus was to provide a brief respite to the constant COVID-19 conversation that was dominating the media. In the weeks since, our collective focus has turned to both supporting and amplifying black voices and spotlighting the violence and inequality perpetuated by our “public servants.” Along with defunding the arts, parks and recreation and more in the city, Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney is trying to approve a $14 million budget increase for the police. If you can’t visualize the cycle, it puts the children in our city right on the conveyor belt to the overfunded prison industrial complex.
I assume all of this budget information was available at the same time, but my mind was originally on how it affected me personally as an artist, and not the larger picture of how it affects Philadelphia and where the funding was being funneled. I guess my point is, we can get away with not seeing the bigger picture when we are only thinking about ourselves. There are protests in the streets right now because some people are, just now, realizing that people of color have been marginalized, overlooked, stigmatized, scapegoated, targeted and killed from this country’s inception, and the systems in play not only allow it, but consciously perpetuate it. I’m hoping that people’s introspection leads them to examine the causes of this inequality, be it media representation (what people play what roles/what are they saying about them), political representation (who holds political power in your area/what systems currently perpetuate inequality) or community representation (who are your friends and neighbors/whose experiences are you hearing about). I’m also very interested to see how the music industry, local and worldwide, re-evaluates itself and its representation of Black Art.
What I originally wrote for this article:
My introversion has lead me to be equally, if not more, productive during this time of “social distancing.” I put that phrase in quotes because I’m socializing more now than I was back when everyone had day jobs. It’s unfortunate that a lot of friends are out of work, but I love being able to connect and catch up with people I wouldn’t usually be able to work with. I was able to host two weeks of daily artist interviews for the series The Random Tea Sessions. The interviews were centered around a live watch-party of their Random Tea Sessions music videos via Instagram Live, but we got into all sorts of conversations, mostly spawning from the fact that we haven’t had the opportunity to connect in a while. Those “inter-viewing” sessions lead directly into The Random Tea Sessions Online Open Mic that I’m hosting on Zoom, which was originally supposed to be a one-time event, but due to the response is now a weekly event that I’m trying to continue until the quarantine is over.
I’m slowly realizing all of these amazing ways to collaborate that we haven’t had the time or freedom to invest in until now. I feel like this is business as usual for me, and the world has just caught up. There was that meme “When you find out your normal daily lifestyle is called ‘quarantine.'” I’m very good at being in my room. With my past speech impediment and Freudian lisp, I sometimes slip up and call it my bed-womb. It’s cozy, mood-lit and used to be filled with instruments but is now down to the essentials. I released “Prolog For A Dream,” my first single during quarantine, between naps. It’s just trumpet and voice. Sometimes it’s easier to create when you have less options, and it’s easier to connect when you can’t connect physically.
I was doing daily livestreams pretty consistently for the first few weeks to make up for losing gigs, but now everybody is doing that. It’s good to see everyone adapting and seeing online music festivals become more prevalent. The community is pulling together and getting stronger. I’m finally able to reach out to people I’ve lived and worked next to for years. #WestPhillyPorchtraits is a photo project I started when I noticed that the seasons changing and the shelter-in-place order lead to a lot of people in my neighborhood utilizing their porches. I’m doing a lot of the same things I’ve been doing, there’s just more of a captive audience now. It’s upsetting that as we speak, Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney is essentially cutting The Philadelphia Cultural Fund, Office Of Arts, Culture And The Creative Economy and our famous Mural Arts Program. It’s obvious to us that the arts are an invaluable asset to our communities wellbeing; we just need to make our needs heard, which I’m going to do by emailing Mayor Kenney and David Wilson, the deputy managing director for community and culture.