THE CALIFORNIA AGGIE
Ethiopian art and portraits lined the walls of Queen Sheba restaurant. Red, yellow and green cloth bordered the ceiling, and a tiny platform was marked off with a straw overhang. A DJ played music in the corner and a lone microphone was set up in the middle of the platform. This is where the poets performed.
May 7 marked the return of the Mahogany Urban Poetry Series. It began in 2001 as an alternative to other Sacramento social scenes.
“Our goal was to present a venue that people wanted to go to and the poets that came improved it,” said Khiry Malik Moore, host and coordinator of the Mahogany Urban Poetry Series. “It’s an alternative to going to a night club. People want to be social, but they don’t want to go to a meat market – which is what a nightclub is.”
The venue closed in 2006 after the owners of Sweet Fingers’ Jamaican Restaurant, the last restaurant to host the series, moved to the Bay Area. However, before it closed, it put Sacramento on the map as the place to be for poetry and music.
“At one time, Sacramento was a great scene,” said Mahogany performer Ben-Official The Great.
UC Davis senior English and African American studies double major henry 7 has been following the movement of the Mahogany Urban Poetry Series and is preparing to perform at the venue in the near future.
He has been performing traditional poetry and spoken word for six years in Oakland, Sacramento and Davis and has also published a book of poetry called 13hirteen Levels of Resistance. While henry 7 believes that there are enough venues available for the various forms of poetry, such as Sick Spits performances and the Mahogany Urban Poetry Series, they are relatively unknown to UC Davis students.
“[A problem] is that many people associate any type of poetry that is advertised with a dull, convoluted 15th century composition by some dead, white, male poet,” henry 7 said. “Too many people here at UC Davis aren’t aware of the variety of styles of poetry presentations available.
“Poetry inspires creativity, individuality and a rabid social consciousness. For these reasons alone, I believe that more effort should be made on the part of the promoters of these venues, as well as the media here in Davis and Sacramento, to make students aware that these venues exist.”
According to Moore, the Mahogany Urban Poetry Series inspired similar venues in the community, such as Vibe Sessions Neo Soul Lounge, an open-mic venue in Sacramento.
Mahogany was the home for the Sacramento Slam team and a hot spot for poets and artists from all over.
The Last Poets, a politically charged group of poets from the civil rights movement who have collaborated music with artists such as Common and Kanye West, performed at the event. José Montoya, one of the founders of the Royal Chicano Air Force, was known to stop by.
Comedians would also perform. Some notable performances featured Mike E. Winfield, who is now a figure on HBO and Showtime.
Various people came to Mahogany to take part in the action. According to Moore, the crowd could consist of college students from Davis and Sacramento, poets traveling from Jamaica to Germany and well-known figures such as former NBA player Chris Webber and members of the Sacramento Monarchs.
“It’s really about expression,” Moore said. “It’s a place where people can express themselves and be with like-minded people.”
On Wednesday night, Mahogany picked up where it last left off. People trickled in slowly until the restaurant was packed. After people settled in, the hosts introduced the old traditions of Mahogany.
The attention then shifted from the music of DJ Rock Bottom to the opening rites. The beginning featured a tribute to the ancestors, and afterwards, the poets were called onto the stage by the audience yelling “speak poet, speak.” After several open-mic performances, the featured poet, Sacramento local legend Rodzilla the Blackademic, brought the evening to a close.
Moore expects the Mahogany Urban Poetry Series to be basically the same, with just a few slight changes. Future plans include advances in production at the venue, the addition of a poet’s workshop, and upcoming performances from HBO Def Poet Will “Da Real One,” Taalam Acey, Ainsley Burrows, and many others.
For poets and artists, Mahogany will still be a place where performers can network and improve their skills.
“The art of performance, it’s a whole other realm to experience,” said Ben-Official The Great. “I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without venues like this.”
Moore is planning to do just that with the Mahogany Urban Poetry Series. He hopes to gain more publicity by reaching out to the community and having more people involved.
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Queen Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant owner Zion Taddese has always been community-minded. So has Khiry Malik Moore, emcee for the Mahogany Urban Poetry Series that ended its five-year run with the closing of Sweet Fingers Jamaican Restaurant. Now the two have teamed up to bring Mahogany back to Sacramento every Wednesday night in Queen Sheba Restaurant. The series always begins with the African tradition of “pouring libations” to one’s ancestors. It follows with an open-mic and spoken word from a local or national featured poet.
Word of this event slipped into the bunker too late for us to publish it ahead of the launch party (though if you’ve tuned in and turned on to the fact that our paper actually comes out on Wednesday nights in Midtown, you might still make it to the event). On May 7, the series kicks off with featured poet Queen Sheba from Atlanta. Reading this too late? Catch Brooklyn’s Shanelle Gabriel on May 14.
“It’s a popular series, and poets from all over love Sacramento,” said Moore. “People are really into poetry here, people really listen.”
Every Wednesday, from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. $5, all ages. Queen Sheba Restaurant, 1704 Broadway