All posts by Aran Hart

Originally from Northern California and now residing in Philadelphia. Experiencing life with others through writing and lens covering music, art, sports, culture and travel.

First Look. “Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis” at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

You may be unfamiliar with his journey, let alone the name of artist Norman Lewis. Lewis was an incredible spirit. An African-American man born in New York, fond of world travel, challenged and inspired by learning, teaching, and searching throughout his lifetime and artwork. Lewis specialized in Abstract Expressionism and is recognized for his precise color selection, all the while channeling his life experiences and interactions into various forms — including oil on canvas, crayons on paper, and water colors.

A man of dignity, Lewis expressed his interpretations surrounding morals and values that pertain to humanity and nature. He depicted work that represented the plights of African-Americans in America during the Harlem renaissance and Civil Rights Movement. In addition to his activism, Lewis created poignant works that reflected on his travels through Europe and United States.

Now on display until April 3rd, 2016, PROCESSION: THE ART OF NORMAN LEWIS, opened for viewing at PAFA’s Fisher Brooks Gallery, Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building — just north of City Hall on Broad St.

PAFA is offering FREE museum admission for Procession, every Sunday for the duration of the exhibit.

Hours by day:
Tuesday, Thursday & Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m
Wednesday, 10 a.m – 9 p.m
Saturday & Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m
Closed Mondays and legal holidays

Curran Lewis, in front of Norman Lewis’ painting, “Title Unknown” (c. 1960), Oil on Canvas.
Photo © Aran Hart

Combined with the paintings, this exhibit displays a unique and touching collection of personal effects, notes, quotes, a video interview, and diverse library that shine light onto the man who devoted his life to his artistic passion and culture. The collection is set up to appreciate thematically rather than chronologically, guiding one through In the City, Visual Sound, Rhythm of Nature, Ritual, Civil Rights, and Summation.

Norman Lewis (pictured), Photo © Estate of Norman W. Lewis

Lewis was born in Harlem in 1909 and died in Harlem in 1979. During the infancy of Lewis’ professional career, he focused on the “New Negro Movement” as well as African Art. Although he started here, this is not where he would finish. The content of Lewis’ art shifted from African and African-American Art to a more global perception. During the mid 1940s, Lewis altered his subject matter and developed his style. Lewis began his Pure Abstractionism journey that developed to include Naturalist content.

Walking between the rooms and admiring different pieces, we chatted with Philadelphia artist Moe Brooker, who explained that Lewis “kept searching” in an authentic spirit of endless development, “continuing to find inspiration for form and he continues to deal with nature.”

Artist, Moe Brooker. Standing in front of “Fantasy” (c. 1936), Oil and Ink on Canvas.
Photo © Aran Hart

As he moved forward in his explorations, Lewis was often overlooked and/or discredited because the nature of his work was deemed as both inappropriate and unimaginable for an artist of color. Brooker noted Lewis’ work was debunked in a time when the perception was that “it was not a possibility that one of color could do abstraction”. As is the case with many men and women of color,  Lewis did not receive the accolades he deserved  until over a decade after his death, during the 1990s —  perhaps not even yet today.

Curator Ruth Fine shared that “Norman Lewis is not a very well known painter due to lack of visibility rooting to racism, but also because his was a style that is not readily categorized… and people tend to get to know people that they can put in categories. Lewis is a complicated painter.”

In the City: Looking at Life. Photo © Aran Hart

To put together Procession, Fine stated she “traveled to various collections over the past few years, and chose those works that would best convey the range of his art and the ideas that permeated the themes that then organized the exhibit.” Fine added she aimed to “give a sense of who the man was as well as the art.” Thus, the exhibition walls and short video tell a story through quotations and conversation that represent Lewis’ philosophy. “Abstraction offers a chance for each person, from a broad range of backgrounds, to bring their own experiences to the paintings… and take away what they want. I think that’s what Lewis wanted.”

Joint contribution from Curran Lewis and Aran Hart.

For more exclusive coverage, ticket giveaways, features, and live updates follow @215mag on twitter, and Instagram.

Featured cover photo: Norman Lewis, “March on Washington” courtesy of

Purest Passion: Exclusive Q+A with Tarrus Riley

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Stopped to think recently when someone said: “You never get someone who is going to solve your life by loving you, until you’ve solved your life. Love is a reward. It’s not a solution.”

And what a wonderful reward it is.

Ce la vie, there is no turn key solution for those, say, looking for love. There are hints and bits of advice, suggested paths, et al (i.e. we know not to go looking in all the wrong places) but of course most facets of loving yourself/another remain an evolving mystery. One way to maybe step forth in the right direction is to bring a ready willingness and strong passion to a given situation.

One man practicing this in life and in song is none other than Tarrus Riley. Raising the bar for this generation of true vocalists hailing from Jamaica, and infusing fortified energy into what is sorely lost and needed to be found — Rock Steady/Lover’s Rock. From his earliest of recordings to his latest album Love Situation (2014), Tarrus Riley has shown us the way — weaving together the numerous fibers of love one can witness in the world, and stirring up a passion for more, using his music to uplift and inspire rather than chant down and burden with general’s orders.ReggaeInThePark2015

Perhaps sensing the times are ripe for folks to come together — as Stevie Wonder said last week at Dilworth Park: “Love needs love, ya’ll.” — Tarrus is embarking on a multi-city Catch A Fire Tour alongside artists including Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, Stephen “Ragga” Marley, Morgan Heritage, special guests Jo Mersa, Black Am I, Skip Marley and Jamere Morgan. Coming up next weekend this fire will burn right here in Philly for Reggae in the Park 2015 at The Mann Center (Tickets HERE).

Purest Passion: Exclusive Q & A with Tarrus Riley
I had the pleasure to talk with Tarrus about, among other things, his passion for his craft and how he has succeeded in reaching a diverse audience.

Photo courtesy of Tarrus Riley | Facebook
Photo courtesy of Tarrus Riley | Facebook

Aran Hart: Talk about the increasing fusion of reggae music with other genres and what you think while you’re observing the world’s music scene right now?

Tarrus Riley: Well first of all, as far as what’s happening in the music business…everything is seen nowadays because of social media. So things that used to happen in private now are in everybody’s face. The good thing is the unity part, and ya know, music inspires music. Within reggae music there are of course different influences. And it’s not only happening in music… it’s happening in fashion, in art, in movies. It’s happening in all these creative situations where people are mixing and blending. Everyone is trying to just share their country and how they see what’s going on. Everyone is everyone… like the last time I checked… everything is everything.

In any conversation you find those so called purists who want things forever to be how they once were, saying “Now it isn’t real like the past, etc.” Do you feel that reggae maybe has an unfair extra level of this critique?

Well first, because it’s blended doesn’t mean it’s not pure. I mean people like what people like. There’s a man who likes what he likes, all day everyday… And there’s another man who likes another thing, all day everyday. One man wears jeans and another man wears khaki suits. And then there’s a girl who wears shorts and there’s a girl who wears a church dress. And that doesn’t mean they’re not pure. They have their own different kind of style. And you’re allowed to have your style, and you’re allowed to like what you like, in my opinion.

I understand the concept of purists wanting things to be a certian way, but we’re not going back in time. We’re going forward in time and it’s funny, ya know — the more things change the more they stay the same. So if you just look, I mean purists don’t have to worry because there are fundamental things that cannot go anywhere. You have to understand that and allow the music to grow and evolve.

Many folks mention how you are able to stay rooted in traditional sounds of reggae but are also able to sound remarkably contemporary… Do you agree with that and is there a conscious effort to do so?

Well, music is my best friend. So I just listen to what my friend tells me. I make Reggae music and rock steady music. Recently you saw me on a song “Powerful” with Ellie Goulding and Major Lazer. Call it what you want, I make music. I’m not musically prejudice… I’m not prejudice of any kind. Regardless of how rooted I am in my beliefs, like I said it’s certain fundamental things I don’t change… such as I don’t change the content of my music. But you may hear the beats change.

In my bio they try to put me older than I really am. I’m an 80’s baby, man. I grew up on different kinds of music and have different musical influences: from Tupac and Biggie to Shabba and Super Cat, and many R&B people too. So it’s unfair to my creative mind to do one kind of thing. I just reflect who I am.

Given the themes of your music and the topics you cover is it safe to assume you had a strong network of people, family and community that you soaked up this knowledge from and now you’re expressing through your music?

You can say that, I mean it’s all love man. It’s all just love. I don’t want my music to be a burden to people. I want my music to be something to make people think positive, enjoy themselves and feel good. The world is a very stressful place and I think music should be comforting. When you feel down you listen to your favorite song and try to feel better… or you listen to something and try to learn from the music. So that’s what I want to be for people and why I make my music. For example I have a song called “My Day” and the words I sing are “It’s my day to do anything I want.” That’s what I want people to feel. I want people to know that it’s your day today to express yourself freely and do what you want.

That’s freedom…

Yeah that’s what we’re about. So I can talk about freedom without sounding like a dictionary or without sounding like I’m trying to force it down your throat. I can speak about it in a cool way. Go ahead and call it you want but I’m still giving you conscious music. I’m just not doing it like I’m bashing you with it.

We still definitely see the themes of struggle, rights, social injustice and culture, (these pillars of reggae music and its beliefs) in today’s music.  But take your most recent album with “Love Situation”, which surrounds to me what is perhaps the most abandoned topic of today’s reggae music… love. Where do you think the love has gone and why did you have this album choose “it” being love as the focus?

First thing about the album, is it’s “Rock Steady” music. Rock Steady being the era before reggae that gave birth to reggae and hip-hop. A lot of people call that music lover’s rock but it’s Rock Steady. And there are different kinds of subjects like on “Burning Desire” — which is a marijuana song, but I wrote it like a love song. So I mean there’s different kinds of love situations that have double meanings. And as far as the love being lost somewhere… A lot people are trying to act too much like tough guys, and they don’t know that the real tough person is not afraid to love you. A lot of people try to act rough and cool like them some killers and real bad man ting. Nah man, like c’mon, there’s a time and place for everything. There’s nothing wrong with love.

I recently heard your version of Gregory Isaacs’ classic song “Front Door.” How did that song recording come to be?

With love and respect, first of all. Dean Fraser is the reason why we did that. He was doing a tribute to Gregory Isaacs. So the whole thing was just to say respect and I think he called it “We Remember Gregory,” because we don’t ever want to forget Gregory. So, ya have a whole heap of young artists, paying tribute to the legend.

It’s great, I had never heard the version before, and it definitely made me smile…

Yea, and I knew Gregory Issacs. He was my father’s friend, so it was somebody that I used to see. That’s the cool thing about it, and the cool about having a father being a musician… I got to see a lot of cool people around the house, man.

I can only imagine! Speaking of your family, you just mentioned your father [Jimmy Riley], and I know your mother has been very involved with your career as well. But just because your parents were music pros/lovers didn’t necessarily mean that you were going to make music. So, why is music the perfect way for you to express your experiences?

My mother’s a nurse and she loved music. My daddy’s a singer and ya know, every youth in Jamaica wants to be like their father. When we say youth in Jamaica we’re talking about a son, ya know, and every young boy wants to be like his father. So maybe it was admiration for my father, but I didn’t want to do his kind of music. I wanted to do the music that I liked when I was growing up. I was introduced at an early age and by being around music I think it just created a love for it.

I have other relatives who sing also, but maybe don’t have the same passion like I do. I love exercise, I love sports, I love cooking. But I love music more than everything!

Photo courtesy of Tarrus Riley | Facebook
Photo courtesy of Tarrus Riley | Facebook

How do you know that a song/album is ready for release, and what’s that feeling like to release the music?

Well, you never know. Half of it’s following your gut feeling. You just follow your feelings. You just do it and see what happens, you go off of your instincts. You put your best efforts out, but then after a while ya just got to know that “Alright, I did my best!

And they can’t take that away from you…

Aaaaah right!

What is some great advice and/or criticism you received at some point during your career?

Hmmm, I would say, it wouldn’t necessarily be somebody telling me something… it would more be me looking at the people that I admire and seeing the mistakes they made and seeing the great things that they’ve done. Like, I’ll see some people do some great things and I’ll be like, “ok that’s really how you do it” ya know… And I would see some people make some mistakes and be like, “ok, don’t do that”. That’s the kind of stuff that really stands out. Understand me?

I think you just gave everyone some great advice on discipline and choosing role models…

Yah mon! So that was my advice because Jamaicans are not really into telling ya things… I’m not gonna tell you what to do now, rather just show you. And you just be around and keep people around to show you. Cuz if you don’t pick up then that’s your bad because ‘dem showing you…

Do you consider yourself a rebel with a cause?

I see myself as someone who rebels for a cause, whenever it’s necessary… But I don’t want to see myself as a nuisance. I’m making some music to enlighten people, and I’m rebelling against stereotypes and prejudice. I’m rebelling against people that try to put you in a box. I’m an advocator of free thinking, so…. I’m a rebel when needs be. Some people rebel just because — and I’m not a rebel just because. And I make music to share my feelings and my experiences, and to also speak for other people.

Finally, talk about the opportunity that you have as a voice, no pun intended, and a songwriter to reach the younger generation in particular… who it seems it’s harder and harder to hold their attention these days…

That’s why I spoke about the contemporary sound and things. I find cool ways of getting their attention and I move quick. Everybody’s attention moves quickly because of this whole internet and social media thing. It’s even hard to learn anything new because by the time you learn it, it’s gone tomorrow. Simple thing like a phone, the minute you get used to your phone, the phone company makes a new one. So things are moving so fast. You have to find your way and how you can communicate because it’s not easy. And no disrespect to the internet, it’s helping to make the world good, but bad happens in the space too… that’s the truth.

Anything else you’re working on right now that you wanted to highlight and any signing off message for your fans?

The Catch A Fire tour is something I’m really excited about right now. I mentioned the new song and video for “Powerful” with Ellie Goudling. Just tell the people who support my music, thank you very much. I really want you to write that… Just tell them that I never take for granted the support I get from people and I’m just getting started. I’m a serious musician, serious in the sense that I want to give them good quality music. I try to represent Jamaica in fine style from the world of music. I’m not here to be any kind of superman or anything… I just hope people can find comfort in my music.

Thank you so much for your time. We look forward to seeing you at Reggae in the Park and best wishes on your upcoming tour and beyond.

Yeah mon! Respect, thanks.

::::::: See and Listen to more from Tarrus Riley :::::::
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Exclusive: Kamasi Washington | Grand on the Musical Scale

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In a world of increasingly quick, fast, now, next… we can and easily do lose sight of some things that last longer and delve deeper. Many move on to the next before really appreciating the now. Theoretically, it seems something extraordinary will just simply rise to the top against lesser competition. But it often tends to be the opposite — with a distracted and perhaps media-exhausted audience.

Just look at how we find new music – blended in with a seemingly endless list of others one click or swipe away; as opposed to sitting down for a listen to one album by one artist, for a dedicated period of time. Let alone if music doesn’t follow a traditional 4/4 format and verse/chorus/bridge in a clean 3.5 min package. That is what for many of our ears we’ve perhaps accepted as comfort.

But for the likes of saxophone extraordinaire Kamasi Washington, no bother. He has succeeded in growing his talent immensely since a young age, and now pioneering an impressive career while doing what may be exactly the key: Not really paying attention to what conventional wisdom would say – rather making strides to explore and hone his craft the way his art form and fellow musicians inspire him to do so. And letting the track run on a little longer [10 + min at times], where he may come across a new found groove that would’ve remained caged and tethered. Ahhh, let freedom reign!

This approach, whether directly intentional or not, has frequently landed Kamasi in recording studios and on stages with many of music’s brightest stars, save no genre — including Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, and Broken Bells just to name a recent few.

Now in 2015, he has proudly presented his momentous effort, the critically acclaimed and aptly entitled album, “The Epic.” Take for example that Kamasi — and his crew “The Next Step or The West Coast Get Down” (who have been playing together since high school) have spent nearly five years putting together this album — which is a close to three-hour collection featuring  full choirs and string sections. 

I talked with Kamasi ahead of his upcoming show at World Café Live 8/27 (tix HERE) about The Epic, some experiences that have in turn formed his approach, and much more.



Aran Hart: What do you think it is in your musical education, exploration, or maybe just in your natural ear for music that lends itself to successfully trying out different varieties/forms of music?

Kamasi Washington: It’s probably mix of all that, my personality combined with how I like to live. I kind of get obsessed with whatever I’m doing. I was also an Ethnopsychology major (the psychology of races and peoples) in school. I studied jazz music growing up and got my first gig with Snoop Dogg… so it’s always been a mixture of things bringing me to where I am today.

AH: With a lot of music that listeners are exposed to today, there is a safe format/structure that many have come to expect when they press play… How does your approach and style differ? How do find a groove and bring all the moving parts together into what can be a track/song/album ?

KW: In my approach to music I didn’t ever really take to those conventions. With my career I spent so much time playing for other people and immersing myself into whatever their music was.  It was great for me because I learned and absorbed a lot from them, but it became hard to express my own thoughts, ideas, and concepts.

When I started into my own process, I was able to be much more uncompromising. It’s like a dog that’s lived in the yard for so long and you open the gate — it wants to run. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to run, I wanted to go, I didn’t want to really pay attention to other people. I was by myself and there were no rules…  no time punching … I could just make the music the way that it naturally came. It happens so often that musicians feel as if they don’t follow those conventions, that no one listen to their music, that no one will play their music, or no one will like their music. So they follow those guidelines because they think that’s what they need to do. I didn’t care. I was going to express myself how I wanted to express myself and not be so concerned about the outcome.

AH: I know you just talked about how you focused inward for your own music. Could you also talk about the importance of playing with other musicians — that collaborative process — and for you in particular how it has helped you learn and grow as a musician…

KW: It’s very important in general, not just in music, but in life… in order to expand your horizons. For me when I play music with someone else I try to totally immerse myself in their philosophy, and take that information and that philosophy back to my music. I often learn something new about my music by looking at it in a new way I didn’t know was there.

I remember in the band we had together with Snoop, people were seeing that they had this super detailed and different approach to hearing music and playing music… For example, there were different frequencies and tones people felt were relevant to them. Not just what key you were playing but what part of the beat you were playing on. We weren’t just talking about notes… we were talking about frequencies, and life organisms (haha). And really they were all related to what everyone else knew about each other. It gets deep…

AH: Given your music’s format and style, how closely does the live version of your music resemble its recording?

KW: Every time I play it’s completely different. Even if I tried to make it the same it would be completely different. When I was putting together my album we had a full choir, a full band, and we had all these plans. It’s a difficult thing but it’s a beautiful thing about the guys that I play with… We’re all really  tuned in to each other. And when you’re tuned in like that your spirit changes not just day to day, but even hour to hour. It won’t be the same tempo, won’t be the same place. So, the music is dictating for us to go different places. The slightest little change in feeling or space might, and usually does, totally change what you end up playing.

In terms of live versions — we just finished our first two weeks of our first tour [dates] — and basically every single night has been completely different. It’s cool though because it ends up being relevant to where we are. I don’t try to force it in any one direction… just flow with it, and we’re all open to responding and reacting to what it is, not what it was.


AH: Are you superstitious or ritualistic about any part of playing your music? Any kind of must haves or must do’s that you can share?

KW: No, not exactly. If anything I really try to clear my mind and relax by taking a moment or two to day dream. I’m around a bunch of musicians that all are pretty spacey and all over the place [haha]. So I find myself wrangling all the personalities to I guess … keep the chaos in order — but really the chaos is the order. I think I try not to do any one thing because there’s an energy and a spirit that you get from being free and you can’t really be free and do the same thing every time. I try to let myself be open to whatever’s going to happen at that moment.

AH: You have an impressive list of features and appearances where you’ve played with a lot of different people and sat in on studio sessions etc… Discuss the difference in the creative process for you now being the “leader” of your own project(s)?

KW: For someone else’s project you are figuring out what that other person or people have in mind as their vision — and what they want. And you know, sometimes it’s challenging and sometimes it’s not. Some people are articulate and can tell you want they want and some people can’t.

Making music for yourself is more trying to create that vision, which is a different feel and different process — it’s more introspective. It’s like looking in versus looking out. When I was making The Epic, it was very clear to me what the vision of this album was and what I was going to be trying to capture. There was a sound and an approach I knew that we as a group had been working on for a while.

As a listener, you kind of just listen. With this, I could really feel all the changes, the push and pull of what was happening. I was in it. Everything felt amplified, and bigger, and slower in a way. For me it became very contextual and I could see it the different colors and different textures, if you will.

AH: Two part question: Your music being mainly instrumental seems to  allow the listener to interpret a scene, rather than lyrics driving a topic… Do you see any movie scores or soundtracks in your future? And also, talk about the power of instrumental music compared to music that is lyric driven…

KW: As far as the movie score, yea that would be awesome. When I came up with the concept of The Epic I was definitely thinking about epic in the sense of “the story,” not “the size.” What inspired the whole album to be what it is, was that I had this vague kind of dream, which turns into this “wow story.” That story really encompasses what all the songs are about.

In regards to instrumental music… Music to me is a universal form of expression and to a degree sometimes words can get in the way of expression. Of course also sometimes lyrics can capture what the music is expressing. I feel like music in general doesn’t come from us, it comes through us. It comes to us as a seed and depending on what you do to it, it grows. So in that aspect, music is left in the hands of the writer and in the musician.

That’s why great songs differ from good songs, and good songs differ from bad songs. It’s like listeners all think, “Did the composer capture the essence of the music? And if so, how exactly did they capture that essence?” Basically, that’s going to dictate to the listener if they like the song.

Words add another layer — but also another opportunity to mess it up. Instrumental music is the purest form of expression. Once you bring words into the mix it can really amplify an expression — by either having your words match that expression, or you can mess it up by having words that don’t match.

With instrumental music you just feel it. It’s telling you something. You’re learning something. You’re feeling something and absorbing it. You’re communicating something without words… rather with a pure emotional connection.


AH: Lastly, where would one most likely find you in your hometown of LA? 

KW: I’m all over the place. I live in Inglewood so maybe catch me somewhere like Leimert Park. We have an ongoing residency at Piano Bar in Hollywood. Honestly, I’m a pretty active person, not a home body, so I’m all over the place… So wherever there’s something happening, there’s a good possibility I’m there!

::::::: See/Listen/Feel more from Kamasi Washington :::::::
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** Photos courtesy of Mike Park

Kabaka Pyramid and Iba Mahr “Rain” Supreme

King of Kings. Lords of Lords. And…  The Storm of Storms

The whole city was caught in a torrential downpour Thursday Night that buzzed mobile phones with legitimate flash flood warnings — as streets like 12th St and Callowhill filled up with 3ft + of water [see photo below]. Thus, the scheduled performance at a then puddly Underground Arts was quickly moved to higher ground; at the friendly and cozy confines of The Fire in Northern Liberties.

So, after a quick jaunt and unexpected performance from “The Homophones” — South Philly rock band who was gigging on The Fire’s calendar — “The Young Lions Tour” (on the tail end of two months across the United States) took center stage after midnight.

Youthful backing band The Bebble Rockers quickly dialed in the sound [and UP the bass] before welcoming headlining act Kabaka Pyramid to begin his talented display. Arguably, and perhaps due to a lack of peers willing to do so, Kabaka in many eyes is a leading torch bearer for critically acclaimed conscious reggae artists. Search his catalog of recordings, or step inside a live show and you’ll quickly find he’s up to this challenge.

Chanting against social injustice and for the teachings of Rastafari, the Kingston born and bred performer proudly shines a bright smile on stage to balance a focused and gifted delivery. Unfazed by the change of venue and later start time, Kabaka Pyramid roused his audience and shared many pleasant exchanges, pausing at times to explain the poignant messages in his lyrics .

Fellow Jamaican (Linstead, St. Catherine-born) and tour-mate Iba Mahr provided an ample encore presentation, plus more, bouncing between a raspy-er style and sweeter notes. This effort succeeded in keeping The Fire [pun intended] burning well past closing time — with hands, sentiments, and mind states held high. This tour being an in person introduction to many for Iba Mahr, it will be interesting to see what heights he ascends to.

More info check:
@Kabakapyramid | @IbaMaHr

Photos and words by @aran_hart
Click any photo to view full size

215 Feature | The GREEN Program’s Global Classroom Experience

Photo (above): GREEN Program students standing in front of Sólheimajökull ​Glacier (Iceland)​, the famous glacier from the “Chasing Ice” documentary and experiencing climate change effects first hand.
** Courtesy of Caitlin Cowan, The GREEN Program.

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“Experience is the greatest teacher.” Coming up with new ways to offer new experiences to students is an ever evolving challenge. When successful, this spawns ideas and industry to help shape our world. Rapid globalization, climate shift, growing populations, and intercultural exchanges of communication and information are defining this century. How we react to the new challenges and rising demand on our world — while we move forward with a diminishing supply — will in time define this generation.

It can be the little things that make a big difference. Scrapping the entire traditional education system is clearly overdoing it, but current methods are undoubtedly in need of improvements and change. The rising costs of obtaining degrees, with arguably lessening value to employers, is enticing students to think more outside the box to gain skills for their field and stand out from their peers. Just the same, employers seek employees who have learned skills through unique experiences. So in theory, this adds up to an opportunity for educators to get students engaged and enrolled, and for students to receive a more valuable education readying them for potential jobs. This will hopefully and so importantly assist in making a positive impact on our environment.

This belief is what drives Co-Founder and CEO Melissa Lee and her team at Philadelphia based and internationally reaching
The GREEN Program (Global Renewable Energy Education Network) — The Experiential education program for future renewable energy & sustainability leaders. Their programs are saying in essence: What better way to educate than to inspire young minds to work toward making our planet a better place, while offering a jumpstart to the newest potential members beginning a career in a difficult job market? And why not travel and have a bit of fun while doing it?

The GREEN Program ventures beyond the important lessons one learns from a textbook, developing curricula that utilize and activate in the real world. The goal is to provide exciting, supplemental, hands on, lasting and impactful learning experiences so sadly absent when only teaching/learning in the traditional classroom setting. They are currently running programs in Peru and Iceland, and are set to launch their new pilot program in Philadelphia next month, July 2015 [more info HERE].

Also, just released are 2016 Spring and Summer Break Dates
[See schedule / Apply].

We could go on, but we’ll let Lee and Brady Halligan [Director of Strategic Partnerships & Enrollment] provide their perspective. I chatted with the two at The Green Program’s current home [Pipeline Philly] about many things including: Why experiential learning is key; the newest GREEN program launching this summer in Philadelphia; and how/why they feel their initiatives will make a lasting impact for many years to come.


Aran Hart: Talk about the main pillars and characteristics that make the GREEN program courses “The GREEN Program courses”…

Brady: As frustrated but motivated students at Rutgers we recognized several emerging signals of change. The job market is tough and super competitive for recent grads and it is extremely difficult for a grad to enter into an emerging industry like energy with lack of industry experience. HR and hiring professionals are expressing that GPA and University brand are no longer critical for landing a job. Students also needed more unique experiences outside of the University… leadership skills and industry IQ among other things.

You need global experiences. Also, analyzing the study abroad industry, we found that most of the programs offered through universities were not available for students in the STEM fields, focused on going abroad for a semester, or a full year, and lacked career focus. This way it was not only an extra cost, but students would have to choose between an important internship position and/or at times jeopardize earning credits that may not work toward graduation. Our programs are short term and run during spring/summer/winter breaks, so they don’t put students in an either/or situation.

Melissa: At 19 years old and a sophomore on campus, there wasn’t enough offered through traditional study abroad options and I was ultimately frustrated with the traditional university setting. Some of the best things I learned, I learned off campus when I was interning, working, and seeking opportunities that were going to expose a student to industry and really supplement what we were learning in the classroom.. When I founded The GREEN Program, I set out to build a platform to ignite industry exposure, interdisciplinary collaboration, and build globalized mindsets that would drive students’ passions to be better students, and ultimately better employees, leaders, and global citizens.

Brady: We focused on the different types of sustainability curricula that were coming out of universities at that time: business, engineering, policy, liberal arts, and also entrepreneurship. We knew entrepreneurship had to be a key focus for us — as it is a main drive and focus of this millennial generation.

Melissa: We took what we knew about the existing study abroad model, traditional classroom settings, and the experience students needed to get a job they were happy with… and mixed it all together. From that we ultimately created our dream study abroad program.

Why do you feel “experiential” learning is key? And how do you integrate such experiences into your programs?

Brady: The traditional universities at large, and State public universities in particular, have overcrowded classrooms with traditional lectures. You are learning all these concepts and theories but you really have to see these things first hand to drive your passion and make those connections. When you get outside of the classroom/textbook setting, you see “it” in real life; see the implications, see where the industry is going, engage with experts integrating that knowledge. It makes more sense when you return to the classroom and you’re able to thrive from your experience.

Melissa: It’s powerful to use experiential learning to really drive home key learnings to a generation like this with shortening attention spans and more distractions. It’s the way for us to inspire and/or reconnect with our passions.

That being said, you can’t replace traditional learning styles — learning from an expert through literature, tests, lectures etc… That’s still very important and cannot be completely replaced. What we know is that the experiential aspect of traditional curricula needs to be focused on now more than ever as a critical supplement to a student’s education. That’s where we fit in and shape our role in the educational sphere.

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Click to view the #onlyonthegreenprogram photo stream

Talk about the lasting impact, or resonance, that immersion and integration into communities using educational programs like yours can create. Examples…

Brady: The impact is significant to the countries and areas we go to and also to the students returning home. We started in Costa Rica with service projects, making impacts in certain developing towns such as rainwater collection systems and advocacy work to spread awareness. We were able to make changes to national building codes there. That gave us the knowledge and realization that WOW! – this program can make a global impact in the places we go.

In Iceland, where we host programs, we’ve connected with the major industries and have gained such incredible momentum that our students were invited to lunch with the President of Iceland. Our students had the opportunity to present their capstone projects — which they work on during their program. That impact… students visiting foreign country being able to present his/her project to the President is huge.

And for the President, it’s also amazing because he has student leaders from all over the world, coming into his dining room and saying, “This is what we feel will shape our world. And we think Iceland is doing a great job, I’m learning a lot by coming here.” This empowers and encourages students, gets them excited, connects them and shows them the world. They are also grasping new ideas and transforming them into something tangible that they take back into their communities and end up initiating sustainability initiatives.

Melissa: We’ve hosted incredible students with specific missions around motivations like “I need to figure out this solution for my home village in India to get them off the grid and alleviate them from poverty.” Right now we’re in Peru doing more advocacy work with a local elementary school system, creating greenhouses, and sustainable implementations. We are helping this local school attain their goal of making sure each child gets at least one meal per day. The more students we bring to work on projects like these with us, the more awareness and knowledge we help spread to the children in these communities. We’re excited to see the long term impacts on our relationships in Peru.

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Talk about the students whom The GREEN Program is attracting…

Brady: We’re excited to have people reaching out to us from all over the world. We attract student leaders and young professionals who are eager for more. We’re realizing a very diverse group of students from diverse backgrounds, and different areas of study. We have students who study engineering, mathematics, and sciences of course, but also psychology, arts, language, and culture. It’s been exciting to see like minded participants around our program who want to help break down barriers and contribute in the field of renewable energy and sustainability.

What/who was the source of your initial interest in helping to sustain a green planet?

Melissa: In 2009 I went to Costa Rica and toured a power plant. I was standing under a wind turbine having our conversation translated with the head engineer there. I connected how this, plus that, equals energy… feeding the grid, feeding this community. Such a simple concept was something that more people needed to be exposed to. I felt a sense of urgency for other students to see this concept first hand and know more about other energy options.

To many, looking at it from the outside, being green or focusing on sustainability can seem like an extreme overhaul or in some cases cost prohibitive… Give, I’m assuming a rebuttal, or opinion to such remarks…

Melissa: They’re not wrong. It can be hard to change a previous process or system, and it’s a long term commitment. But in terms of sustainability, it comes down to making a conscious decision to investment in the quality of life for a country, company, community, or person. Our programs don’t just say renewable energy is THE answer. We expose our students to both the pros, and the issues involved. Being too extreme in any one direction I think is negative. There are the extreme environmentalists — and their cause is great — but to be able to understand the balance behind that… that there needs to be financial feasibility to actually make the world run properly, is crucial. I agree and am not ignorant of the critique regarding prohibitive costs etc. One day we hope — and this is what we are working towards — there will be a financial reason for people to be able to make it work and say “Wait, it makes sense financially AND we can do something socially impactful…?” That’s when equilibrium is found.

If you start a business thinking that way, building your business model with “green/sustainable” in mind, I think you can save a lot on your bottom line by initiating that way, and avoiding the change over…

Melissa: Yes, either starting a business or providing input to existing companies can make an incredible impact with this in mind. As a consumer base we need to remember the power we hold even on an individual level. Our generation of millennials are actually turning things around and driving demand that businesses are taking note of. So many of us are acting something towards sustainability goals on our own that it builds into a force that is literally changing the frameworks of how businesses are being conducted down to the socially-responsible, eco-friendly packaging they decide to use next.

Brady: It is so important to be exposed to the right information and different perspectives when starting a business to create a culture that harnesses innovation for success. That relates back to our program and what we’re trying to provide to our students… exposure, inspiration, and providing knowledge so they can see for themselves. More and more often we have applicants coming from Texas and oil industry backgrounds saying “I want to learn how to make this industry more sustainable and efficient.” We have awesome testimonials from our kids coming back saying, “Wow, I didn’t know we could do this… I never knew we could make such a big difference.”

What makes Philadelphia the right place for the green program and why is the GREEN program right for Philadelphia?

BradyWe started at Rutgers and had momentum with an office on campus, excited as college students starting a business. When we graduated we had to figure out where we were going to go — both to live and also for the business. The culprits came up, you know, New York, San Francisco, Boston, even Boulder Colorado was on the radar.

But being from Philadelphia, I knew there is something special about my home  Philadelphia … I was aware of the exciting sustainability initiatives happening as well as a focus on entrepreneurship and technology. We really felt like we could actually thrive here, not just be in a rat race. We could make a name for ourself and at the same time not lose all the connections we had at Rutgers. We’re close to D.C. and NYC , we can get anywhere, it’s a hub that is rapidly changing and growing and we wanted to be a part of that growth.

The idea for the GREEN  program is understanding trends and how students are moving globally. We want to help put Philadelphia on the map as a great place to come and study sustainable design and urban regeneration. That’s the topic of our new program in Philly. Our thought is that if we attract enough students here (both internationally and nationally), we can showcase the great initiatives AND the issues — not shying away from the major issues that are happening here — of a major U.S. city in the midst of massive growth. We can showcase all different aspects, expose them to universities here, and hopefully they’ll come study here, and then stay.

One major problem is the brain drain. They go to New York City, they go to San Francisco, they go abroad, they go work for bigger companies. One of our major goals is that we can encourage people to stay here and give back to the community, focused around the initiatives that are already working here, already helping to put the city on the map. To say that we are going to solve poverty or reform the education system is far beyond our scope.. but hey, maybe some of our students will be able to come here and solve these issues. That would be awesome!

What are your goals for the Philadelphia initiative and where do you see both the biggest need, and most positive change taking place for this city and its community? Specifically in regards to sustainability…

Melissa: We need help with people voicing what they need in the community. So we can put them into direct contact with our students. That’s a big ask on our end because we have talent and labor, and smart engineers and architects coming who want to come and make an impact and we need to put them to work. So whether that’s community gardens, implementing green roofs, solar installations, whatever the city needs — that’s what we’re here for. We need meaningful work that our program can implement for the city.

Our students also work on capstone projects that focus on existing innovations and figuring out ways to implement this in developing communities and other countries too. We empower our students by showing them what is possible and challenge them to act on it after their program. We want to know about more of the issues our communities are facing and need help highlighting these issues. A lot of what we’re doing is focusing on some of the green works initiatives that the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability had plotted out. We hope this will help a lot of the complex issues underserved communities are facing. This is our pilot program in Philadelphia and it will be a great challenge to see what our students can do. Then we’ll get feedback and continue improving the program. Ask us that question again in August!

Talk about the partnering with universities to help build curricula you are doing and how that may hint at a changing landscape for our education system…

BradyI think we are a piece to the puzzle, of this revolution in education. We aren’t competing with universities. We are a great supplement for a specific type of student: student leaders; somebody who’s driven; somebody who wants to leave a positive impact on the world; somebody who wants to engage with other like minded students in a collaborative effort; somebody who’s unsatisfied just sitting at a desk. These are the types of students we’re seeking out and recruiting.

Universities are recognizing the importance of globalizing their campuses, pushing for more internationalization, and sending their engineers abroad to learn, for example. Schools are becoming more aware of our track record in these efforts. So instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, we are partnering with key faculty and administrators at schools to develop curriculum that embeds our program into their curriculum. We strongly feel that experiential education  abroad shouldn’t be supplemental to your education, rather it should be infused within a degree. If you’re signing up for an environmental science degree, you should be traveling outside your classroom to be immersed in a specific area that needs help with environmental science and exposes you to career options while developing your leadership capabilities.

Melissa: Students shouldn’t have to choose between taking a summer class and global industry exposure … It should be built into the university experience. Scholarships should be revolved around that, financial aid should be revolved around that. It shouldn’t be a separate entity. Philadelphia University, Bucknell, Penn State, Rutgers have all gotten involved on partnership levels, and our students are joining us from over 250 universities around the world.

It’s exciting to be able to embed our curriculum and see other Universities and intergovernmental agencies back our efforts. We’re partnered with the World Bank’s climate initiative and Institute for International Education, and have received support from many others. Those types of connections that we’re making with industry, corporations, governmental entities, nonprofits and the education sector are huge because it gives our students more opportunities than just sitting in a classroom. 

This program will only work with the collaboration of the Universities because a degree is still extremely valuable. And we are helping Universities become more appealing to students. We are here because this is something students really need, and using the world as our classroom is something that was missing from our current educational models. 

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Free Tickets Contest!! Heems (of Das Racist) + The Very Best with STS is giving away 2 FREE tickets to Heems (of Das Racist) + The Very Best with STS at Underground Arts. Winners (chosen randomly) will be notified via email below Tuesday morning June 9th (day of show) by NOON. Submit your first and last name and email by TODAY 6/8 at 11:59pm ET. 

[contact-form to=’’ subject=’TICKET CONTEST: Heems (of Das Racist) + The Very Best with STS’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

About the Show:

In The Black Box | Bonfire presents:

The Very Best + Heems
with special guest STS (Sugar Tongue Slim)

Tuesday, Jun 09, 2015 8:00 PM EDT Doors
Underground Arts, Philadelphia, PA
21 years and over

On stage:

photo credit: The Very Best (Facebook)

The Very Best: (Dance)
It’s been a long, strange trip for Johan Hugo and Esau Mwamwaya, the Swedish-Malawian duo behind The Very Best’s exuberant global pop. One which crosses continents as well as musical genres. It’s also a trip, according to Johan, with no end in sight. “We’re constantly evolving,” he says with a laugh. “Not just in the sense that we’re trying to change our sound. But we’re constantly on a new journey which colours the music we make.”

The pair began that journey back in 2006 in Hackney, east London, where Esau was managing a junk shop. Johan, then half of club duo Radioclit with French DJ Etienne Tron, lived up the road and hearing that Esau had been a successful drummer in Malawi arranged for him to play a percussion session. But after hearing him sing it became clear there was only going to be one way forward for their creative partnership – and that was with Esau’s voice taking the lead.

“For me The Very Best is Esau’s voice,” says Johan. “Everything else is secondary, in a way. So much of his personality comes through in his singing. He’s such a positive person and I always get that feeling when I listen to him sing. It’s what I love about The Very Best and why I’ve always liked working with him so much.”

The first fruit of their collaboration was a 15-track mixtape, Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit are The Very Best (2008), swiftly followed by triumphant debut album Warm.

photo credit: Rolling Stone

Heems: (Urban)

Punjabi-American rapper, founder of Greedhead Music, and native NewYorker, Himanshu “Heems” Suri launched his solo career while a member of alternative hip-hop group Das Racist. In 2012 under rap name Heems, he released two solo mixtapes, Nehru Jackets and Wild Water Kingdom. After Das Racist split in late 2012, Heems headed to Bombay and began work on his official debut solo effort. The album was released in in 2015 and coincided with an exhibition of the rapper’s artwork at the Aicon Gallery in New York City. Both the LP and the exhibition shared the same title, Eat Pray Thug.

For more info about the show or to buy tickets, click HERE.


Third Annual Roots, Rock, Run, GrassROOTS Community Foundation Raises $6k

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Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, The GrassROOTS Community Foundation (GCF), members of The Roots band, and hundreds of Philadelphians took to the streets of Germantown on May 30th for the 3rd Annual Roots, Rock, Run (R3) 5k community walk/run.

“We are running, walking, and talking in Germantown to show our support for healthy girls and healthy communities,” declares Trotter, co-founder and MC of the, The Roots.

Fourteen year-old Crystal Ortiz (pictured above), was this year’s winner finishing the route in 18:25. She was one of hundreds of runners and walkers that helped raise nearly $6,000. Proceeds from the race went to support GrassROOTS afterschool health programs for youth at Anna L. Lingelbach Elementary School. Primary support for R3 comes from Jimmy Jazz stores, who gifted 100 pair of Adidas sneakers and Reebok who donated 100 pairs to participating youth. Additional key support came form State Legislature Stephen Kinsey, Councilwoman Cindy Bass, State Senator Art Haywood, the Philadelphia Police Department and SEPTA.


R3 is a GrassROOTS engagement activity that raises awareness of the importance of physical activity and healthier living and seeks to reclaim impoverished neighborhood spaces. This year’s event took place once again at Lingelbach Elementary, site of the new GrassROOTS’ afterschool program for girls, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

GrassROOTS chose to remain at Lingelbach because of the economic and social challenges facing the community. More than a quarter of the residents in the targeted neighborhood live in poverty, and the income per capita is 15 percent less than the rest of Philadelphia. Equally important was the fact that Lingelbach was only awarded $160.00 for their discretionary funding for the entire school year.

City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, State Rep Steve Kinsey, State Sen Art Haywood and Aja Graydon of Kindred the Family Soul were all in attendance, along with runners from Black Girls Run, the Black Running Organization, Black Men Run and even the principal of Lingelbach. R&B groups Mprynt and Good Girl both performed.


The day also featured other acts of service and activities, including face-painting and surprise musical performances. And as tradition dictates, R3 hosted its dance contest. The Lingelbach Home and School Association was also collecting summer reading books and toys that encourage outdoor activity.

For more information on GrassROOTS and R3, visit:
–> @grassrootsfound

Story/Photos via Skai Blue Media

Upcoming: 40th Annual Odunde Festival – Sunday June 14th

40th Annual Odunde Festival

When: Sunday, June 14, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Where: 23rd & South Streets
Cost: FREE
For info: Click here for full festival details.

::::: via Philly360 ::::::::

Philly, It’s time to celebrate the African New Year and our city’s rich culture and heritage with the 40th Annual Odunde Festival.  Meaning “ Happy New Year” in Yoruba, Odunde was created in the likeness of African celebrations of the Yoruba people in Nigeria.

Held every second Sunday in June since 1975, this massive event brings South Street West to life, drawing thousands of visitors from around the country to shop its African marketplace, take in lively performances, and enjoy all of the other Odunde festivities.

Each year, the festival begins with a group procession from South 23rd and South Streets to the Schuylkill River to make offerings to Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of the river. Then the crowd returns to 23rd and South for the official start of the festival, which stretches over twelve city blocks. In the African marketplace, vendors from around the globe offer great food, art, clothing, jewelry, and other black and African-influenced wares.

In addition to great shopping and eats, Odunde features two stages that will explode with some of Philly and the country’s most entertaining performers. Be on the look out for great R&B, soul and gospel music, African dancing and Odunde’s signature drum circle.

This year’s performance highlights include Philadanco, Rennie Harris, Philly Youth Poetry Movement and a special throwback hip-hop concert feaeturing Kurt Blow, Special Ed, Chubb Rock and Kwame.

Click here to get the full deets on this year’s Odunde festival.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Odunde

Recap: Seinabo Sey Impresses at First US Tour Stop

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“Philly, this is the sweetest thing I’ve ever known,” said Swedish singer/songwriter Seinabo Sey to an intimate and enthusiastic crowd Tuesday night at Underground Arts on Callowhill St.

Draped elegantly in all red, Sey began her set with “Pistols at Dawn” from her 2014 EP, For Madeliene, backed by a 3 piece band with drums, keys and bass guitar. After the second song of the night, Sey humbly introduced herself as “one of the only black girls from a small town around Stockholm,” and thanked the crowd for making her “dream come true.”

Sey paid homage to Philadelphia and an artist she admittedly emulates, in Jill Scott — though it’s apparent Sey’s doing very well in her own right and stylistic approach. While the night progressed, her talent became more and more obvious as the crowd listened in awe of her gifted vocals. Like when they heard a new, unnamed song sung a capella… Or when she dedicated a sincerely soulful song to her biggest inspiration (both musical and personal), her father the late Maudo Sey, who was a famous West African musician.

This marked the beginning of the ascending singer’s For Madeleine tour, which will hit New York City, Washington DC, and Los Angeles among several other upcoming stops. During her 50 minute set, Sey performed hits from her two EP’s, including “Hard Time” and her final song — and most well known hit, “Younger.”

Lucky were those who saw her in such an intimate setting Tuesday night. There’s no doubt, as the features and shows continue to pile up, that Seinabo Sey is destined for many grander stages. Seeing her live will provide many reasons to believe her voice and talent will rise to entertain on that platform as well.

Guest Contribution – Ryan Quint // Photos – Aran Hart 

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