Fans, family and friends packed the community center at Jamaica Plain’s Bromley-Heath housing development for a concert last week by local hip-hop artists.
The Friday night show, titled “Born and Raised,” showcased the talents of performers who had grown up in the development and of other young artists from the community.
The show grew out of an idea from lifelong Bromley-Heath resident and emerging rapper Avi Barksdale, 22. He attended a birthday party at the Anna M. Cole Community Center and came away thinking it would be a great venue in which to put on a community concert.
He then approached the Bromley-Heath Tenant Management Corporation (TMC). Officials there were very receptive and agreed it was an idea long in coming.
In fact, TMC Program Director Jacque Furtado said they had been wanting for several years to give talented young people a chance to show off their skills, and they were pleased when Barksdale came in with a plan.
“He actually took the initiative and did everything,” Furtado told the Banner. “We just collaborated with him on the licenses and the security and the stage props.”
Barksdale says that support is typical of Furtado and the rest of the staff at the TMC. “What they can do for us, they do — and they do at times put their necks on the line” to help out the residents, Barksdale said.
The TMC donated the community center and also paid for the necessary city permits to make the concert a reality. To decorate the stage, Furtado supplied large sheets of fabric that Barksdale and his friends tagged with the name of the show and their entertainment companies.
Barksdale organized the show with the help of the TMC and his friend, manager and business partner in Hard Headz Entertainment, CEO “Nasty Nate” Brown, who also grew up in the development.
Barksdale and Brown have worked together since Barksdale was a teen performer; they formed Hard Headz around 2003, making Barksdale’s first recordings using a free studio at the Museum of Science.
Brown said he had contacted the office of Mayor Thomas M. Menino to invite him to the concert, because he wanted to “try to show the good instead of always focusing on the bad” at Bromley-Heath, as outsiders often do. Menino was unable to attend.
Support for the concert also came from Shakeem Justice Allah, a street worker for the Boston TenPoint Coalition who is working on a documentary film, also to be called “Born and Raised,” and who donated 200 blank CDs to help Barksdale’s music reach its audience. He also performed in the show.
Barksdale and Brown recruited The Don Chubbs to host the show and local artists including Banga, B-Drunk, Brick City, D-Flames, Dutchmen Squad, Heat Kidz, J-Fire, Marquees, M.B.S., Menace, One Man Band, Pee-Wee, Jon Price, Ms. Purp, Sergio and T-Cruz to perform.
The three-and-a-half-hour set opened with an impressive dance performance by some talented preteens from the development and featured a variety of old-school and contemporary sounds and styles interspersed with comedy and trash talk from Chubbs, who took the opportunity to tease some old friends from the community. The night closed with a raffle for a $100 cash prize.
The concert attracted a large crowd of mostly Bromley-Heath residents who responded enthusiastically to the music, particularly toward the end of the show, when the performers filled the stage.
The audience laughed together at inside jokes and members alternately chanted “Old Side,” referring to the original Heath Street development, built in 1941-42, or “New Side,” referring to Bromley Park, built in 1953-54.
In an interview after the concert, Barksdale said he thought it had gone beautifully. “I wanted to see unity,” he said. “I wanted to see everybody get together and have a positive, peaceful time, and that’s what happened.”
Barksdale was especially honored that the TMC’s co-founder and executive director, Mildred Hailey, who has been recovering from an illness, came to the show and stayed well into the evening. “She came out there to support us; I think she stayed the whole night,” he said.
Furtado was also pleased with the concert. “It was very nice,” she said. “I do hope to help them plan more of these in the future. … I thought it went very well for the first one.”
Barksdale was “very comfortable, very satisfied” with the proceeds from the show. He plans to use half to help support a DVD project and half to throw a cookout for the children of the development to celebrate the first day of summer vacation.
He said his only disappointment was in the number of police — a dozen or more, including some from the gang unit — who came to the show and behaved in ways that intimidated some in the audience. Barksdale said police harassment isn’t unusual at Bromley-Heath, especially for young African American men, but he tries not to let it bother him.
“When they harass us,” he said, “that’s just made me stronger to show them that my projects are more than what everybody wants to think.”
Barksdale’s projects appear to be gaining steam. In addition to airplay on TOUCH 106.1 FM’s “Funky Fresh Radio,” he has a downloadable “Born & Raised” mix tape featured on DatPiff.com and a CD for sale at the Camilo Market across the street from Bromley-Heath.
“That CD’s up there for my community to show them you can go beyond what people say” about you, Barksdale explained. Barksdale’s CD has been out since February — and, of the initial 200 copies, he says he’s now sold all but 15.
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