Music: Floetry in Motion

Poetess Abiyah brings the Floetry movement to the Midwest

Jun 28, 2001 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

By transcending the boundaries of race and ethnicity, poet Abiyah plans on changing the world.

Abiyah, like the art she espouses, is an anomaly. She is a white woman wrapped in African-inspired clothing and bold jewelry with towering, Erykah Badu-esque head wraps, spitting verses over rubbery bass lines and thumping keyboards.

That's Abiyah. That's Floetry.

"It's just the term," she says of this hybrid of poetry set to music. "Storytelling and poetry to music has been going on for centuries. Since poetry is so hot right now, we have to unite under a common banner. We needed a term so we can say, 'This is the genre.'

"Basically, it's just fusing your poetry to music," she continues. "Floetry as a term was first used by Rha Goddess in 1997."

But don't be mistaken. Floetry as a concept, an art form and a means of expression is as new as Gil-Scott Heron, The Last Poets, The Watts Prophets or any tripped-out coffeehouse musings ranted over bongos in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as most poetic output up to and including Carl Hancock Rux, Saul Williams, jessica Care moore, Sarah Jones and IsWhat?!

The difference is now there's a name, producers, tours, compilations and even scholarly treatment.

Yeah, it's a movement.

And Abiyah's adding her two cents. Her own style is part hypnosis, part fire hose blast of sound. Her "Too Much Noise" is a radio-ready wall of noise that could easily be mistaken for a Missy Elliot joint, while "Free Wild Muse" has the dirty-little-secret feel of a Sarah Jones track.

"What Floetry does is just offer another level of expression," Abiyah says. "For me, I just felt freer. Before, I just felt like everyone else at an open mic."

All that changed last June when Abiyah, an accomplished poet soon to be anthologized in Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, responded to an e-mail soliciting submissions to "Flobonics," an Internet-only radio show produced by premier producer and Floetry champion, N8tive Sun.

Followers of the new school of Jazz- and Hip Hop-influenced poetry know Sun as the brain trust and producer behind Eargasms: Crucial Poetics, Vol. 1, as well as for his work on the first volume on Lyricist Lounge. Abiyah has since repeatedly visited Sun in New York. He is producing tracks on Flow Tectonics, her CD due in October.

Their working relationship has also produced momentum for the Floetry movement. They want it to take hold here. Saturday it'll be jumpstarted at 10 p.m. at Top Cat's with "Floetry 101." Sun and Abiyah will co-host a showcase of local performers, some cutting their poetic teeth and others steeped in the new tradition. Some scheduled to appear are IsWhat?!, Dawn (representing the artistic order of 144,000), deft lyricist/poet Jibri, Heru, Davis Mitchell of Streetvibes, poetry mainstay Julene Yancey, Anthony Adverse Jones and Hip Hop group Drown, among several others. A portion of the show's proceeds will be donated to Tywon, Timothy Thomas' young son.

"What we're trying to do with the show is introduce everybody in the Midwest to Floetry," Abiyah says.

Sun, in his customarily visionary manner, has "appointed" Abiyah the Midwest representative for the Floetry movement. Part of establishing a movement entails establishing a venue for the movement to take shape.

Abiyah broadcasts "Flow Tectonics" on WAIF 88.3 FM Fridays at 8 a.m. She's gotten submissions from artists the world over. In doing so, she's been able to reflect on just how far poetry has evolved in Cincinnati.

"The Cincinnati poetry scene is small," she says. "I started at Café Cin-Cin back in August of 1999. That was the first time I ever read publicly and I was feeling a bit stifled." Her first official Floetry performance was January 2000 and she recorded her first Floetry piece one month later.

Remember the anomalies? Art is not immune to drama and segregation and Abiyah's felt both as she's tried to forge her path. There's all those "-isms": sex, race, class, social and on and on.

"The poetry scene here is very segregated and it doesn't need to be," she says. "I'm unique, because I don't fit anywhere."

Imagine Queen Latifah passing for white or Teena Marie moving to Cincinnati settin' somethin' off. Abiyah came to her cultural identity via Black Panther autobiographies and a natural socialization with black people. Still, people question, verbally or by quizzical looks, Abiyah's racial heritage.

"I'm not frontin'," she says. "I can't be anything else. For people to look at me with these blue eyes and as pale as I am and think I'm black, there's got to be something coming through."

James Brown calls it soul. Someone else might call it the politics of identity.

"I catch hell from white people in the corporate world," she says. "Ninety-five percent of black people show me love. A lot of other people, it's an identity issue for them. They're not comfortable with themselves, then they're not comfortable with me. I transcend and it's not an ego thing. It took me awhile to reach this spiritual level. Now I know I can change the world."

At least help change the Midwest — one movement at a time.

FLOETRY 101 takes place Saturday at Top Cat's.