Tucson sounds: The rise of Tucson's Black Renaissance
Once upon a time, a young musician from Southern California made Tucson his home. Not too original a story so far, mind you. After all, Tucsonans are, by and large, a pretty friendly and welcoming lot, especially the creative folks. And the place is still somewhat affordable. And the weather's not as bad as some places. And, my God, the sunsets...
But I digress. There is, of course, more to the story. There always is.
When Seanloui Dumas, who performs under the moniker Seanloui, first came to town, he quickly found a niche among other young, eclectic rock and indie performers in Tucson's Downtown venues. But as much as he grew to love his new creative family, there was still a question that nagged him from time to time.
Where were all the other Black musicians in town?
Dumas set about trying to solve the apparent mystery of Tucson's lack of a distinctly Black music community. What he ended up finding was a seemingly unending roster of talented local musicians scattered throughout the many smaller local music "scenes" that make up Tucson, from rock to blues, from soul to hip hop, from folk to heavy metal and beyond. While most of these folks knew a ton of other local musicians, Dumas soon realized that many of them didn't know each other.
Needless to say, they sure do now.
Those who know Seanloui as a performer know that he's pretty much a "go big or go home" kind of guy, and "go big" is exactly what happened next.
Beginning in February of 2019, Dumas began to organize what came to be known as Black Renaissance, a series of events, performances and showcases highlighting some of Tucson's most talented Black musicians, artists, poets, dancers and more and incorporating elements of local history in the mix.
In the span of about a year, Black Renaissance has grown from that first kind of mellow open-mic night into things like a month-long residency at Hotel McCoy, a virtual reality immersion experience at this year's TenWest festival and Black Renaissance events as far away as Phoenix.
Your friendly neighborhood music journalist decided to ask just how it all went down.
TucsonSentinel.com: Hey, Seanloui! Nice talking to you again.
So, I'm wondering what your intial goal was when you started Black Renaissance. What did you initially have in mind, and how is what it's become different than the idea you started with? Did you have any idea this would become a project of kind of an epic scale or did that just sort of happen over time?
Seanloui Dumas: "Oh, man! My initial goal was literally to show all the people I knew that there were all of these amazing Black creatives right here in Tucson. That was what started me doing the first event, which was an open-mic night at the Screening Room..
"From there, the project kind of took on a life of it's own. It grew into a month long series of events at Hotel McCoy. I didn't want to overdo it, and thought that would be it. But a community was born and people kept asking if there was going to be another event. I kept saying no at first, but finally I just thought, 'OK, I think this is now a thing.'"
"From that point on, I sought out others like myself who saw what Black Renaissance could be and wanted to help. And, here we are, a year later. Showing a VR experience. Partnering with organizations and politicians across the state. Getting requests to do Black Renaissance on the east coast and now doing a Black History Month celebration in Arizona . All this pointing toward the goal of 'highlighting the talents and accomplishments of black creatives.'"
"And this is only the beginning!"
TS: When you were growing up on the West Coast, were there a lot of Black musicians and artists you could look up to? Like, people you actually knew in the community vs. just famous people?
SD: " Ahh, yes! Tons! My mother is a semi-famous artist, who brought top musicians and artists into my world quite frequently. For example, Orlange Greenhill, and Paco Crawford, both of whom are amazing musicians from the community I grew up in in Southern California."
TS: How important is it, do you think, to young artists and creative types to see folks who look like you or share your experiences walking the same path you're headed down?
SD: "It's so important. It gives you a chance to relate more. You can share stories and gain knowledge on how to navigate the creative world."
TS: As a music writer in this town, one thing I learned right was that Tucson doesn't have one single music "scene" but actually a lot of little intersecting ones based on genre or venue or even the part of town musicians do most of their gigging in.
So one of the things that impressed me about Black Renaissance early on was how you tracked down all these crazy talented musicians who were maybe one of one or two Black musicians in whatever their circle might be and created this whole new network of folks who had largely never really connected before. Not to mention bringing newcomers and more isolated performers that didn't know as many other musicians in town into the fold.
What was it like, tracking everybody down and convincing them to be part of this project? How did you go about it?
SD: "Social media helped a ton! Sharing with the vision of what could be helped a ton. Plus, I think my being a musician as well kind of helped bridge that gap."
"A lot of us share the same struggles. Identifying those struggles and thinking of solutions to some of them is a big part of what created this community. I have a ton of friends in Tucson's various music 'scenes' as well who are non-Black. One of my strategies is to be in a space or scene long enough that I know for sure I will come in contact with someone who looks like me, if they're around." .
TS: One of the things that you had to learn, as a non-native Tucson, was some of our local history and tradition in Tucson and in the Southwest. For instance, we have a huge Juneteenth celebration here every year and there's the Dunbar Spring neighborhood aka 'Sugar Hill'" which was a hub of Tucson's African American community for decades and is pretty active in trying to preserve that history.
How did you make connections with existing leadership and organizations in Tucson's Black community and how have you integrated the city's history and heritage into the Black Renaissance project? Was it hard or easy to get folks on board with what you were trying to accomplish?
SD: "I think the leadership and myself kind of sought each other out in Tucson after I started this project. A lot of mutual friends and community leaders from other parts of Tucson connected us."
"It's been a wonderful learning experience, and I've been finding out that Tucson has a really rich Black history. We've made efforts to integrate the heritage of the Black community in Tucson in what we're doing. We've filmed, and plan to keep creating content in the Dunbar Spring and Sugar Hill area, for example. This is so important! Utilizing these spaces and bringing others who have no knowledge of them keeps the space and the history alive."
"We are a small part of this. The leaders of the Black community in Tucson and myself have the same goals : to create community and showcase the talent and achievements of Black creatives in Tucson. It was an easy thing to see that our, hopefully long-lasting, partnership was a match made in heaven."
TS: What are some of the highlights of Black Renaissance from 2019 and what are some of the things that you have planned for this year?
SD: "The virtual reality experience, History of Us, was a huge highlight. It was the beginning of implementing a vision to combine tech and talent to highlight Black creatives. This was a major partnership with TenWest Festival and a major win for Black Ren. Of course this wouldn't have all been possible without our friends at Hotel McCoy, who let us occupy their space at the very beginning. Their friendship and support made Black Ren come alive. Forever grateful."
TS: What do you think the future holds for the Black Renaissance project in Tucson? Do you see it continuing? Is it just a Tucson thing or do you hope to see something like this take root in other cities?
SD: "I would love to see it becoming a major event every February for Black History Month. Where people from around the world come and see what Black Ren is doing to highlight artists. I see it being a statewide thing, for sure. There are other communities in Arizona that I would love to partner with to hold events that use tech and talent to highlight Black creatives in our state.
TS: What's on deck for this month's Black Renaissance calendar? Lots of cool stuff, from what I can see!
SD: "So much! So much! It already started last week with a concert February 6 at the Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix and a Full Moon Fete on February 7 in Tucson, which included a dance circle and ecstatic dance. Next up is the Black Museum event at 191 Toole on February 14, which will showcase black contemporary artists as well as spoken-word artists."
Then on February 20, there's the Silent Disco at MOCA, an art installation and live DJ event celebrating the achievements of black women. And on February 21, Black Ren takes over Hotel Congress with a hip hop and R&B concert at Club Congress and live Afro and Latin beats on the hotel patio.
TS: We've talked a lot about Black Ren, but what else is new for Seanloui? Have you even had time to focus on your own music in the midst of this rather huge project?
SD: "I've been so busy! I just got back from a trip to L.A. and Chicago, where I was recording music and content for my new EP, called 'There's Beauty In The Chaos,' dropping on March 27. I'll be doing a CD release show that night at Hotel Congress. After that, I'll be doing fly-in dates in L.A., Dallas, New York, Chicago and Mexico City, and playing some festivals in other areas in between."
"I'll also be releasing singles every month throughout the rest of the year. 2020 will be busy, haha!"
"Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention I have a new band name, Seanloui and the Black Roses."
TS: I kind of secretly hope that that's a reference to Thin Lizzy's Black Rose album, but you don't have to tell me if it isn't. Either way, it's a great name for a band!
Black Renaissance celebrates Black History month in Arizona with a number of performances and showcases throughout Tucson and Phoenix, including the Black Museum spoken word and art event at 191 Toole on Friday, February 14 at Find out more via the Black Renaissance Facebook page or at www.blackrenaissance.online.
The Bat's out of the bag
Those Monkees-worshipping, perfect pop-song-crafting Bisbee rascals the Exbats are now taking preorders for their latest release "Kicks, Hits and Fits" via the Burger Records website at https://burgerrecords.com/product/the-exbats-kicks-hits-and-fits/. The band has also announced that they'll be part of Burger Mania, the indie record label's official SXSW showcase in Austin next month.
Meantime, the band joins Golden Boots for a show Saturday, February 8 at 10 p.m. at Owl's Club.
Hey, hey, it's a Monkee
Speaking of Monkees, the one and only singing Micky Dolenz will also be playing Saturday, February 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Tucson Music Hall. The former Monkee, teen idol and crackerjack songwriter will be leading the Tucson Symphony in some Monkee's classics, including "Pleasant Valley Sunday."
Annie Jump Cannon's best, worst day
After teasing local fans with a series of videos, Tucson teen rockers Annie Jump Cannon have finally made things official with the release of their debut EP "The Worst Day," which can be previewed and downloaded at https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/anniejumpcannon1
Great Minds think alike
This columnist has long asserted that proto-punk-inspired local trio the Minds are one of the most underrated bands in town. Now it turns out that one of Tucson's resident rock and roll legends agrees. Van Christian, best known as the "mind" behind '80s and '90s-era band Naked Prey is such a fan of the band's "post punk apocalyptic fusion" that he's asked the Minds to be his backing band for an upcoming gig at Saint Charles Tavern.
The show will start at 9 p.m. at Saint Charles Tavern on Friday, February 21 and is sure to be "mind" blowing!
Check your local listings...
Each week this column compiles a choice selection of live gigs in and around Tucson with the help of good venue and band event announcements and other resources. If you've like your event listed in this space, or if your local band has major news or a new release, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, February 8
- Micky Dolenz w/ Tucson Symphony Orchestra - 7:30 p.m. Tucson Music Hall
- Mike and Randy's 420 Show w, Top Dead Center & Mike Sydloski - 4 p.m. The Hut
- Rarity Rock Radio Residency featuring The Introverts - 6 p.m. Hurricane Records
- Every Saturday courtyard music - 6 p.m. Mercado San Agustin
- Sad Dance Party, Tonight's Sunshine, Past Life, Somniac - 7 p.m. Blacklidge Community Collective
- The Other Troublemakers - 7 p.m. La Cocina
- A Pre Valentine's Celebration of Love-Featuring Ms. Ada Redd Austin - 7 p.m. Dunbar Pavilion
- Analog Wonderland - 7 p.m. Irene's Donuts Tucson
- flor - 7 p.m. 191 Toole
- Orange: An EP Release Soiree - 7:30 p.m. Kinetic Arts Tucson
- Pueblo Vida Brewing Presents: Pick & Holler w, Freddy Parish - 8 p.m. El Crisol (Exo)
- FEB 08 - FLOR - 8 p.m. 191 TOOLE
- Dusty Tour: Homeboy Sandman Quelle Chris Psypiritual X The Lasso Rey Dj KiLLa who - 8 p.m. Thunder Canyon Brewery
- Francisco Fernandez and The Ferocious Few - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
- Mother's Lament - 9 p.m. Corbett Brewery
- The Exbats and Golden Boots - 10 p.m. Owls Club
Sunday, February 9
- ROCK n Racing Super Show - 2 p.m. Brother John's
- The Dust Devils - 5 p.m. 209 N Hoff Ave
Monday, February 10
- Iration, Heatseekers - 6 p.m. Rialto
- Geeks Who Drink - 7 p.m.Public Brewhouse
Tuesday, February 11
- The Book Of Mormon at the Centennial Hall - 7:30 p.m. Centennial Hall
- Let's Talk About Sex, Baby - 7:30 p.m. Club Congress
- Jauz w/ Habstrakt + Tynan - 9 p.m. Rialto
Wednesday, February 12
- Golden Saguaro : Experiments In Sound & Music - 7 p.m. 609 E 6th St
- Floral Guilt w, Associations, Nocturnal Theory, and Hussie - 7 p.m. Club Congress
- Taco Sauce , A Deer A Horse, Feverfew - 8 p.m. Sky Bar Tucson
- The High Kings - 8 p.m. Rialto
Thursday, February 13
- Tucson Erotica Benefit and Pop-Up Market - 7 p.m. Thunder Canyon Brewery
- Moulin Rouge Sing-A-Long! - 7 p.m. The Loft Cinema
- Guillotines, Screech Of Death, Single Finger Theory, Gutter Town - 7 p.m. Spark Project Collective
- An Evening with That 1 Guy - 7 p.m. Club Congress
Friday, February 14
- Erika May and Josh Rhoads: Valentine's Day 6:30 p.m. WFV Ventana
- Black Renaissance: The Black Museum - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
- Hearts on Fire (Country Duets) - 8 p.m. El Crisol (Exo)
- La Cerca, The Rifle, Louise Le Hir - 9 p.m. Surly Wench Pub
- Zona Libre - 9:30 p.m. Brother John's