‘Quarantine Soul’ offers refuge and weekly showcase for artists

MSR News Online/MSR News Online

During the first month of performances, “Quarantine Soul” has drawn hundreds of people who gather via Zoom week after week to become part of a vibe that connects the community through music, technology, and soul.

Featuring phenomenal artists such as Ashley DuBose, Ray Covington, and Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Nabaté Isles, “The Quarantine Soul” Open Mic is a weekly virtual event that features live talent from the Twin Cities as well as across the country.

Nearly 100 artists have found a platform for their gifts since the event kicked off at the start of April. “We’ve been able to feature [artists] like Ben Williams, who is a Grammy Award-winning upright bassist. He’s worked with Goapele, the Roots, Maxwell. [Also] Calvin II, who was in Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ video,’” said co-organizer Niles.

The masterminds

Niles is a local entrepreneur and artist who made his way to Minnesota nine years ago after being previously signed to New York-based label, Koch Records. A hip hop artist and spoken word poet in his own right, Niles is also the owner of a music and entertainment company called The Avant-Garde. “We put on concerts, curated events and private events that feature artists of color within the lens of neo-soul, classic R&B, conscious hip hop, live instrumentation, visual arts, and fashion,” he said.

Working alongside Niles is local events professional Jemika Hayes or “Mr. Hayes” as he’s commonly called, who is perhaps most well-known for organizing “The Vibin’ Collective,” a popular open mic event that featured a distinguished ensemble of live talent throughout the Twin Cities. “Partnering with my co-host Chadwick [Niles] was a very natural thing to do,” said Hayes.

The New Normal

Like many businesses, the impact of the coronavirus and subsequent closures has been extremely hard-hitting for musicians and live performers. In an effort to establish new streams of income and exposure, it is no surprise that many artists and entertainers have turned to social media.

In the last month, virtual events like Instagram’s viral VERZUZ challenges that have broadcasted famous artists as they showcase their greatest hits or Erykah Badu’s virtual in-home concerts that she charges viewers to watch are examples of virtual entertainment that is rapidly growing.

“This is just a door and [we] got in just in time. We’re riding a very big wave, I believe,” said Hayes.

Community Connection

Upon logging into the “The Quarantine Soul” Open Mic, you immediately become immersed in a world of music and diverse faces, some familiar, some new, all beautiful. You can expect to hear your favorite neo-soul and hip hop sounds on rotation by Minnesota-based DJ MV between sets, just like at a live concert.

The entire event is hosted live by Niles and Hayes who keep the room energized and running smoothly. It is truly a space that you can vibe in, even from home.

“Black folks are very social. We love to hug, and dap and be close, said Sharon Smith-Akinsanya, a community leader, CEO of Rae Makenzie Group, and founder of the People of Color Career Fair. “We miss that; we miss each other. ‘The Quarantine Soul’ experience gives us a chance to gather and see one another and listen to some great music by awesome performers who miss performing for an audience. It’s truly a community experience,” she said.

PhotoCorban Lundborg Homegrown sensation Ashley DuBose is one of the many artists who has been featured on ‘Quarantine Soul’

Artists alike are finding refuge in this virtual event space, said spoken-word artist and performer Pneuma Pierre. “[The Quarantine Soul] is more than just an eclectic virtual lounge, [it’s] a space that truly diminishes the presence of [the computer] screen while maximizing the expression of soul,” said Pierre.

That is just what Niles and Hayes are aiming for. “It’s a crisis. So we’re bringing joy, healing, empowerment—beyond the music, it is a bigger calling.” said Niles.

“Niles and Mr. Hayes have truly made this a must-attend virtual experience for our souls. And it’s a lot of fun, said Smith-Akinsanya. “We need more fun. I’ll see you at Quarantine Soul on Wednesday.”

Catch the Quarantine Soul Open Mic every Wednesday from 6:30 to 9 pm CST. Find information by visiting the Quarantine Soul Open Mic Facebook Page or by visiting the www.theavantgardeis.com.

About Tiffany Johnson

Tiffany Johnson is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder. She can be reached at tjohnson@spokesman-recorder.com.

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