The band on the stage opposite lurches to a halt, and the crowd shifts towards the next sonic source. A voice pierces through the crisp, fall afternoon, “Alright everyone, bring it in closer now.” Bodies coalesce in anticipation as the music collective, DIASPØRA—the closing act of the night—mounts the other stage. “Who’s ready for some music?” the voice continues; a chorus of screams respond, and then the beat punctures the air.
Gigs on the Grass debuted October 15th on Pembroke Field; the event spanned fifteen different acts—styles ranging from trombone a capella to rap collective—performing in fifteen-minute intervals across two stages. The affair lasted the greater part of the day: the first performance premiered at noon and the final notes of the night were heard around seven. The event culminated in a rapid-style battle of the bands between all groups, with each group returning to perform one song each. The three best bands, as selected by a board of Brown music alums, will go on to perform at the student concert, Spring Prekend, set to commence prior to the infamous Spring Weekend concert. The event marks a new direction for the Brown Class Board, and would not have been possible without the drive of Junior Class President, Pia Struzzieri and Brown Concert Agency Co-Chairs, Anisha Rathod and Riley Ryan-Wood.
Pia, Anisha, and Riley took initiative over the past summer to bring the event to life; the idea was first conceived as a battle-of-the-bands, transforming into a full-fledged student music spectacle. Pia, representing the Brown Class Board, reached out to the Brown Concert Agency to turn the concept into reality.
“I think everyone is going to be shocked by how fucking good this music is,” says Pia. “The music scene in our class is really large, they just lack somewhere to showcase their art.”
Gigs on the Grass advertised auditions for the event at the start of the semester, and for the fifteen spots available, eighty-four groups signed up to audition. Pia and members of the Brown Concert Agency were then given the task of narrowing it down to the final fifteen performances.
“We wanted to create something more casual—something more accessible to the greater Brown community” recounts Pia. “Spring weekend can be this huge, stressful thing and Fall Weekend was never really successful. We wanted to do something different; [create] somewhere where everyone, even people who aren’t in the music scene like me, can come and see the best that their peers have to offer.”
One of the best known music groups at Brown, DIASPØRA, had the opportunity to showcase their varied musical innovations at Gigs on the Grass. DIASPØRA encompasses a collective of ten people, creating art through visual, auditory, and written mediums. They were one of the four groups to win the battle of the bands, and earn a spot at the performance happening prior to Spring Weekend. I had the opportunity to interview five members of the collective—Javon Stephenson, Tone, Dustin Abadie, Nadir Pearson, Saleka Night—a couple days before their Gigs on the Grass performance.
“DIASPØRA is a coalition of people at this point and place; it’s a mixture of different ethnicities and cultures separating and meeting at Brown University,” defines Javon.
To that end, the group intermingles rappers, producers, lyricists, and traditional instrumentation to achieve their sound. One of the lead rappers in the collective, Tone, recounts his journey that led him to the group:
“I never knew what I was doing,” testifies Tone. “I started out with slam poetry and just loved the performance aspect of it: the feeling of expressing that energy. I kept [performing] more and more, and one day someone told me ‘Hey, you’re pretty good.’ So I decided to take it seriously.”
Javon Stephenson, who also goes by the rapper name “SO4P,” recounts a different musical trajectory:
“I entered the music world through writing,” relates Javon. “I love writing and reading fiction. Towards the end of high school, I saw people like me expressing how they felt over the internet. So I tried it out too. It wasn’t until college that I saw that I could really make this happen.”
Saleka Night presents a distinct voice in the group as someone who did not stumble upon the music scene by chance, but rather was introduced to it through more traditional means at a young age.
“I started out playing classical piano,” narrates Saleka. “I almost went to a conservatory after high-school,” she says, “but I decided it was more important to study other things. Working with other similarly driven people has really inspired me and introduced me to whole new aspects of music.”
Saleka set the stage on Saturday night by performing two original, solo-piano and voice compositions: “Paper Cities,” and “Mr. Incredible.”
Dustin Abadie (DJ) and Nadir Pearson (PonyboyPearson) play roles in the collective that differ from more traditional performing: production and creative direction.
“Music has always been some part of my life,” says Dustin. “I have a real passion for making sound; I search for the energy of it—expressing sounds that touch people.”
“I started hanging out with Javon and Tone this past summer; we saw each other’s grind, and we started working together,” describes Nadir. “It’s hard—we disagree more than we agree. We all have different perspectives on things, but we still manage to collaborate and achieve. We manage this like a business instead of a friendship. It helps take away the personal obligation to be nice to each other.”
An unprecedented calm falls over Pembroke field. The unwavering stream of music has come to a stop at 7PM after nearly seven hours of uninterrupted sonic onslaught. A dedicated crowd remains for the night’s last offering: the announcement of the winners of the battle-of-the-bands. After a brief respite, the panel of Brown alums ascends the stage and slices through the tension, enacting judgment on the musical offerings of the past hour.
“And the final group that will be performing at “Spring-Prekend” will be… DIASPØRA.” The crowd explodes into cheers, having just heard a live rendition of the collective’s most popular musical concoction: “Sailor Moon.” As I begin my trek back towards home, the words of Tone during our interview two days before ring in my ears.
“This? This isn’t even close to the beginning. So much is about to happen here. This is just the bus ride to the game.”
*Photos provided by DIASPØRA and Brown Class Board