The first time I met Damany Gordon and Theresa Cooper-Gordon was at my good friend Mtali Banda's album release in 2017, two months before I started working at Gateway City Arts. I had been to a handful of shows at GCA, and each experience was unique in its own way but this show stood out. I was definitely emotional seeing a close friend premiere such important art, but the whole vibe in the room was special- electric, open, sincere. This has been a theme with all of the events that I have attended or worked when Genuine Culture is involved. The combination of truly devoted artists, thoughtful management, and creative cultivation leads to a space that nurtures the progress, innovation, and elevation of the music and arts scene in Western Mass - while still paying homage and respect to the music that has paved the way for today's creations. Recently, Damany took some time to talk to me a bit about Genuine Culture, the local music scene, Hip Hop, and community.
Hi Damany! Thank you so much for taking some time to chat with us about Genuine Culture! You already know that we are big fans of what you do, do you mind telling our readers a bit about what Genuine Culture is?
Thank you so much for having us and supporting us, we truly appreciate it.
Genuine Culture is an 100% independent, grassroots organization that organizes and promotes events based on Music, Art and Culture through the spirit of Hip-Hop. We mainly produce live events that represent various aspects of culture, such as DJ'in, live instrumentation (soul, jazz, funk etc), film, art, and dance. We've had the honor to bring some legendary acts to the 413 for the first time such as Breakbeat Lou, Storyboard P and we also support and work with rising local artists such as the Mtali Banda Oneness Project.
What inspired you to create this organization? How did you get started with it?
My Father is from Philly and My Mom is from NYC, both cities have a strong legacy of community and music and as a kid, I was able to soak that up being around the park jams, block parties and just the whole vibe. My parents also had an organization in which they would organize fundraisers, local award ceremonies and just have dope parties in the basement or the backyard. Also coming of age in the 90's in Amherst, Mass was like a golden era for music, especially hip-hop. As youth we got to see groups such as De La Soul, Common, Onyx, Queen Latifah, and the list goes on. As time went on, I noticed their was less and less culturally diverse music events happening in the valley, so I wrote up a business plan and vision portfolio in an artist management class that I took at UMASS and made it official.
On your website you talk about edutainment (education and entertainment), How do you feel that Hip Hop and music in general has a unique way of being accessed in both of those ways? How does your organization bridge the gaps between education and entertainment?
Music is very empowering and there is always something to be learned from many artists out there. The Foundations of Hip-Hop always had a conscious, righteous side to it, so while you are enjoying the rhythms, you are also listening to the content of the poetry of Hip-Hop. Artists like Krs-One, Public Enemy and even Wu-Tang Clan drop knowledge in the music whether it be about media manipulation (Public Enemy "Don't believe the Hype"), True History and African civilizations (KRS-ONE/B.D.P "You Must Learn") or the effects of Poverty and Racism (Wu-Tang Clan "C.R.E.A.M").
We have also produced 2 live shows with the purpose of showcasing the connection of Jazz music and Hip-Hop. One of the shows was billed Vibez for the Tribe: A celebration of A Tribe Called Quest. This show featured a live band that played 2 sets, the first set being a Jazz set featuring songs by Jazz greats that A Tribe Called Quest has sampled such as Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Grant Green, Lonnie Liston Smith etc. The second set consisted of the Tribe versions in Hip-Hop form. This is what we call "edutainment" as serves the purpose to entertain and to learn about the foundations of hip-hop music and it's connection to Jazz as it relates to Black Music.
What was the first Hip Hop album you listened to that you remember leaving an impact on you?
Wow, there are a quite a few. One album that I remember is Big Daddy Kane "Long Live the Kane" which was his first album. I remember being at my Grandparents house in the south side of Jamaica Queens, NY and my cousin comes through with the Big Daddy Kane cassette. BDK was just so lyrically awesome and production by the legendary Marley Marl was just incredible, still is one of the dopest albums ever made. BDK just represents the culture of Hip-Hop so well, he was a great dancer, vocabulary was extensive, he was battle rap heavy and had some conscious content as well.
Your shows are honestly some of my absolute favorite ones we have here, what do you think about when creating a show? It seems like it is so much more than just throwing together a line up.
Thank you, that means a lot! We just always have ideas in our heads of events that we would love to go to and to just bring a different vibe to the people. We aim to create an "experience", so when people leave one of our sets they are just spiritually uplifted and what we are most proud of is the overall diversity in our crowds. I think we really have the knack to connect people that maybe would have never crossed paths otherwise, which is extremely important, specifically in this political climate.
I love that the word 'genuine' is in your title and your mission statement- can you talk a bit about what you feel makes art and arts experience genuine?
Much of Black Music, Art, and Culture has been ripped off, exploited, and monetized. The great thing about true art is that it is pure and comes from the heart with the utmost integrity. We at Genuine Culture feel like it is our duty to do our part to keep the culture alive and genuine from a historical prospective. Hip-Hop is now a multi-million dollar business which is great in a sense but unfortunately, it is used by some with the sole purpose to make money. As an LLC we aim to build and profit as well but we are going to do that by respecting the culture and building community.
What does community mean to you? How do you think music relates to community?
Community is for the people by the people, it is togetherness and empowerment for the purpose of an inclusive and just world. Music is the universal language and its ultimate power is to bring people together to learn from one another and elevate our minds, spirituality and creativity.
Genuine Culture is a family business, how do you feel that has informed or influenced your organization?
I learned a lot about music from my parents and obviously my Mom is the Vice president and Co-founder of Genuine Culture. My Mom coined a phrase that we use for Genuine Culture; "connecting culture through generations" and this sums up the main framework for our organization. We are from different generations and are able to work together to bring those generations together in a real way. There are not too many shows in which you can go with your parent(s) and you both have a great time and realize the close connection of the generations.
What is unique about Hip Hop as a genre?
There are many things unique about hip-hop as a genre but I think it is so cool because hip-hop is a mash up of various different cultures that directly stems from the African Diaspora. Hip-Hop is literally a culture which revolves around the 4 elements graffiti (art), breakdancing (dance), DJ (music, rhythms) , emceeing (spoken word, poetry) and the honorary 5th element knowledge. These elements are human in nature and allows people from all walks of life to participate and express themselves. In my opinion Disco, Reggae, Soul and Jazz (all of which have been a major influence on hip-hop culture) and Hip-Hop music are genres that have the best ability to bring diverse groups of people together in an organic way.
What do you think is special about the Western Mass music scene?
I think what's special about the Western Mass music scene is it's legacy. As I mentioned earlier, Western Mass was a hot bed of hip-hop in the 90's and in the 70's Jazz. Jazz greats such as late great Max Roach and Yusef Lateef have literally lived in western mass and taught classes at UMASS, I don't think many realize how Amazing that is. My Parents took me to see Fela Kuti at the legendary Bright Moments concert series at UMASS, we were just so fortunate to grow up in this area at the time because this was all accessible to the community.
Right now, I think the Western Mass music scene is in the midst of a new renaissance. There are so many amazing local artists that are absolutely incredible and there are a lot of good people and organizations that are representing the scene and keeping the 413 lit!
What are some of your future aspirations with Genuine Culture?
We just want to continue to grow as a brand. We are now managing a couple of artists and want to expand our repertoire as a premier music organization in the region and expand into media (podcast, documentaries, conferences etc).
What's up next for Genuine Culture?
We are going to continue to curate events and keep the 413 on the map!
Thank you both so much for sharing with us!
Thank you so much and Big props to GCA for supporting Genuine Culture, LLC from day 1, we had our very first show here featuring Storyboard P back in 2017
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You can learn more about Genuine Culture, LLC and what they have coming up on their website.
You can like their facebook page here and follow their instagram page here.
To purchase tickets to an upcoming show at Gateway City Arts, visit our website.