2014 Grad a Musical Révélation
After Hanifah Walidah's dynamic performance with the French electro-soul band St. Lô at a top European festival, TransMusicales de Rennes, the newspaper Le Monde dubbed the group it's 2012 "TransMusicales Révélation" — a recognition that it previously bestowed on Nirvana, Bjork and Lenny Kravits.
Meanwhile, Walidah, a native New Yorker, also was immersed in revelations of her own contriving, thanks to Borough of Manhattan Community College and the CUNY Baccalaureate program, from which she graduates magna cum laude with a 2014 degree in popular culture and collaborative media.
During most of her 20-year career as a musician, playwright, filmmaker, educator and social arts activist, she called living the best education, "but I was muffling the small voices that wanted a traditional education. Being able to access a wealth of information I could apply to the life I live, that really hit it on the head for me. It was the joy of learning and the immediate application of what I learned" that resonate most.
Speaking after a gig in Belgium that she squeezed in before commencement, she said she learned about the CUNY BA program at BMCC from a poster featuring James Dean. She chose it for baccalaureate work "because of the flexibility not just in self-designing your own major, but the flexibility in changing your mind. You can think you want to learn one thing and realize you have to pivot."
She has pivoted frequently. She co-directed the award-winning 2008 rockumentary "U People," in which 30 women of color who span sexualities and gender expression discuss gay and straight relations within the black community after they have made an MTV-Logo music video. Her one-woman show and feature-length film "Black Folks' Guide to Black Folks" stimulated conversations among gay and straight communities of color. She helped found the Rivers of Honey theater cabaret. And she debuted as hip-hop artist Sha-Key in 1994, sang and composed for the soul-reggae band Brooklyn Funk Essentials, recorded singles and albums and much more — most recently St. Lô's first album, "Room 415."
Walidah says Hunter anthropology professor Jonathan Shannon deeply influenced her study of pop culture and collaborative media. "I realized that the important question is not just why someone creates art, but how the artist's footprint affects others," she says.
With other mentors, she blended anthropology, African studies, music, history and media into an ethnographic approach to the arts and social change: Hunter music professor Barbara Hampton, who has written about African and African-American traditional and popular music and women musicians; Baruch associate professor Kyra Gaunt, for whom she worked social media in a project involving conversations about race and racism; Brooklyn associate professor and saxophonist Michael Salim Washington, who coordinates jazz studies; and Hunter film-media studies assistant professor Bill D. Herman, who supported her independent studies with digital media and copyright and with whom she first sketched the ideas for yaHeard, her music tech startup.
She developed yaHeard at City College's Zahn Innovation Center, where she made it to the semifinals in a funding competition and later launched on her own. At YaHeard.co, the shared photo experiences from one show become artists' invitation for the next. YaHeard, Walidah explains, "captures the special relationship that bands already have with their fans to help these artists with their online promotional needs." It's aimed at artists "who are doing two or three shows a month in this town and touring regularly, making enough of an income to think of how they can build on that and sustain themselves."
Down the line, Walidah expects to seek a master's or doctorate, but for now, she's heading to France for a summer tour with St. Lô.
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