Imagine this: You’ve known - deep down in the very core of your being - that you were going to be a singer since you were two years old. Coming from a long line of musicians, it made perfect sense. You started writing original piano compositions when you were only 11. So it also made sense that you majored in music at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts and then Lincoln University of Pennsylvania. From classical flute, voice and piano to jazz: you worked hard to hone your craft and develop a multifaceted sound. Life was going exactly as planned.
Until it didn’t.
Now imagine this: One day you’re voice is completely gone! All of the studying, practicing, learning - how does this make sense in a life dedicated to music? Was it all for nothing?
That’s what singer B~Free faced in the fall of 2013 when pneumonia and a throat infection left her unable to speak - let alone sing - for three months. Vocal cord surgery followed, leaving the musician fearing she would never sing again. After a traumatic year when she couldn’t sing a single note, she became more determined than ever to share her musical gifts. The year-long struggle transformed B~Free as both an artist and an individual.
Now she’s back with the anticipated release of her sophomore album “Ode 2 A Luv Affair,” largely featuring production and performance by the artist herself. “No More,” the leading single and video from the project, portrays B~Free as a vibrant young woman escaping the bonds of an abusive relationship. The dark nature of domestic abuse is transmuted into a declaration of freedom and hope through B-Free’s heartfelt lyrics and powerful vocals. With the nostalgic presence of R&B/Soul, the richness of her training and purity of her voice, B-Free’s multiple talents as a Singer-Songwriter-Producer-Musician are bound to make a mark on the music industry.
But she won’t stop there.
Armed with a B.A. in Music Performance and a Masters degree in Music Education, her main purpose is to share her gift with the world. She's performed in a number of venues throughout the country, including Summerfest, the Kennedy Center, The Double Door, and The Shrine. B~Free has also shared stages with artists such as Slum Village, Dwele, BJ The Chicago Kid, and Talib Kweli. In her hometown of Milwaukee, B~Free is lead vocalist of the popular group Foreign Goods and collaborates often with lyricist-producer Klassik, bringing her commitment to music into her own community.
The year 2012 marked the release of her first independent project "Open Mic, Open Heart,” an eight track studio album compiled of original material composed, produced and performed by B~Free. The project garnered rave reviews from notable blogs and media figures in the U.S. and Europe, including ThisIsRnB.com, Grown Folks Music, Urban Informer, The Conscious Tip, Supastar Magazine (Netherlands) and Fake Shore Drive.
Infused with traces of past and present generations of Soul, Hip Hop and R&B, B-Free’s musical expressions are honest and passionate representations of all of the capabilities the songstress embodies.
Brit Nicole is a young lady who exudes faith, friendship, love and passion through her writing. For Brit, art and recovery is the creative way of bringing forth restoration, taking those broken pieces and creating this mosaic with a wonderful story attached. She had her first feature back in August 2013 at Brewing Grounds for Change and since has featured at Poetry Unplugged, Middle Earth MKE, Imaginary Heroes events, churches, Voltage Teen Slam and a hosts of other event throughout the city. Brit has used her art and words to cultivate and restore healing while working through her personal hurt, but believes it gets better over time as she continues to share and open up. Brit also hosts an open mic that is held every 2nd and 4th Tuesday evening at The Artist Factory called, PENtastic that has created such a platform for other local artists to flourish in their endeavors over the past three years. Poetry is more than just words written on a page to Brit, it presents the ability to connect with other like-minded individuals through the sharing of our gifts and for her, calling it "The Great Exchange".
When we hear something new, our impulse is to put it in a box. This is not unreasonable. The making of categories is the essence of rational thought. When we identify a piece of music as “baroque” or “indie” or “delta blues”, we separate it from all the other sounds in our head and begin to compare like with like, place what is new in relation to what is known, discern, make meaning. This works, except for when it does not.
Everything about Foreign Goods subverts the usual process. Let’s start with the name – “foreign goods”, property from elsewhere, chattel, different from land or buildings, something that is moveable. West’s Encyclopedia of American Law makes the ominous point that “it may be animate or inanimate.”
Let’s consider the first track – “Atlantis”, the island from myth, where, before it sank into the Mediterranean, Southern Europe touched the Sahara. We want to call it Jazz, but of an especially dreamy nature, post hard bop, that place between Pharaoh Sanders, Alice Coltrane and electric Miles. Into that thing we know is brought something unaccustomed, a rising vocal line, keening, an ethereal chant anchored by drums emphatically holding back from the beat. The percussion destabilizes us and offers more unfamiliarity into which is introduced a new element – a rap of gathering velocity, and what was once dream becomes corporeal – “this is our time/this is our town/do not get wet/we will not drown.” We gain some footing, only to be yet again knocked down by a badass, hard rock vocal, its R&B roots front and center.
This is not fusion, where the whole is less than the sum of its parts. This is something different, a Black American Music that obliterates linear time, where jazz, hip hop, rock, R&B, gospel exist not on an historical continuum but as co-equals in a continuous present. We can think of each of these genres as a “foreign good”, a property from elsewhere, something that is moveable. That all of these begin as “black” music forces the understanding that American Music is Black American Music. With this understanding comes the deeper insight, that “foreign goods”, that property from elsewhere, chattel that may be animate or inanimate – this is the core of the American Experience, our Original Sin, the heart of our darkness, and the place where we might attempt our redemption. - David Ravel
Jay Anderson isn’t your typical musician. And at the age young age of 24, Anderson is more of a 21st century renaissance man. He studied music and biological studies, which led him to learn to become a farmer. He currently cultivates various chiles for local hot sauce company. Anderson is also an accomplished cook, but it is his passion for music, where he brings the spice and heat to the city of Milwaukee.
Anderson has become one of Milwaukee’s most prolific and hardest working musicians. He currently leads three Milwaukee bands. He is the resident saxophonist for the Milwaukee Art Museum. He also held year long residency at the Jazz Estate. Not only he is one of city’s best saxophone player, he is a champion and student of jazz. Anderson is in the forefront of a jazz resurgence in Milwaukee. Just as new artists like Kamasi Washington is bringing jazz to a new generation of fans throughout the country and the world, Anderson is doing that on a local level in Milwaukee.
Watching him perform live in groups like New Age Narcissism and his own group Foreign Goods is like watching someone possessed by giants like Coltrane and Parker. While Anderson is a true lover of jazz, he also incorporates is passion and talent for jazz into other genres like hip hop and rock. This is one of the reason why he is in high demand in the city. He has collaborated and recorded with a variety of Milwaukee artists from electronic producer Strehlow of Noh Life to the post punk group, The Fatty Acids to the intense hip hop of Lorde Fred33.
His newest group, Foreign Goods is a force to be reckon with in Milwaukee. Blending jazz, hip hop, soul, and touch of Afro-Beat, the band is one of the best live bands in the city. Foreign Goods will be releasing a live EP on Gloss Records (GGOOLLDD, Platinum Boys). Anderson is currently working on the Foreign Goods debut album.
While he is not on stage, Anderson works to improve the Milwaukee music scene. He is the creator and curator of jazz supper club series at Company Brewing, where he brings some of city’s best jazz musicians together to perform weekly. One of those shows was an amazing tribute to Miles Davis. Anderson also co-founded and curated the three-day Strange Fruit Music Festival, which addressed the racial unrest in Milwaukee.
Over the years, Jay Anderson has shared the stage with artists like The Roots, Flaming Lips, and Lupe Fiasco. Last year, his group Foreign Goods headlined the popular Milwaukee festival, Summer Soulstice. Jay Anderson also has been featured in Milwaukee Magazine, Milwaukee Record and other publications.
Kavon Cortez Jones
Currently a Milwaukee Rep and First Stage Teaching Artist, Kavon Cortez Jones was born on September 26th, 1994 in a city he calls, Paris of the Midwest. He is a Milwaukee homegrown Renaissance poet, avid biker, actor, and storyteller who grew up in the Harambee-Riverwest and 53206 neighborhoods. Young Kavon was inspired to write poetry in 7th grade while attending Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. K-8 School thanks to local mentors Kwabena Nixon and Muhibb Dyer. They came up to his school when he was 13-years-old, and wowed a gymnasium full of angsty-hormonal teenagers with poetic storytelling. Their stories talked about everything from losing love ones to gun violence to how jump rope, particularly Double-Dutch is a lost art form. Muhibb wore a orange jumpsuit and Kwabena brought jump rope made the visual performance more intense and tear-jerking. Lupe Fiasco's Superstar, a 2007 hit song around the time was another catalyst to indulge him into the scribe culture. Kavon has not stopped writing since then. He's accumulated 52 composition notebooks in the past nine years of not just poetry, but plays, stories, songs, drawings, whatever his imagination can regurgitate on the page. They sit wonderfully gathering dust in a yellow milk crate within his cluttered bedroom of poetry books, a Jimi Hendrix and Neil DeGrasse Tyson poster to name a few. He pulls them out once and a while, naturally a nostalgic cry waterfalls down his face. Kavon also found his voice as a poet through his Riverside University High School years in English teacher, Paul Moga's after school poetry club, HyPOETically Thinking (2009-2013). He took a break after high school and started performing all over Paris in any way possible. Riverwest DIY punk rock venues, local colleges like Alverno, UWM, Marquette, art galleries, bookstores, coffee shops and so for. His passion even earned him a spot on Wisconsin's Brave New Voices team for a youth poetry competition in Philadelphia, Summer 2014 at age 19. He met youth poets from all over U.S and the world like Miami, New York, California and even an amazing South African SLAM team. Sarah Kay, his favorite contemporary poet from Manhattan took a selfie with him. 2016 for him been busy with an Artist-N-Residence in Racine's Washington Park High School, performance in University of Green Bay's Black History Month Celebration, Madison's Olbrich Botanical Gardens, a Green Bay Conference entitled Addressing Disproportionality and a keynote speaker in Lloyd Barbie Montessori School's Peace Summit. Now you can see him in Fuel Cafe, Humboldt Colectivo binge watching Def Jam and Button Poetry YouTube videos and biking around Paris, SAY HI!!!
Known as Klassik, he’s a respected producer and songwriter and a mentor for younger artists. “I may not be the best rapper or piano player or singer,” he says, “but I think in this scene my role is that of an impassioned performer and creator who’s done my part to continue to inspire others so that it can continue to grow.” Kellen was recently named one of the most influential members of the Milwaukee Rap community by the Shepherd Express.
SistaStrings is a gospel influenced R&B flavored hip hop duo from Milwaukee, WI. Chauntee plays violin and adds vocals while Monique holds it down on the cello and vocal harmonies. The two have been playing and writing together since they were small children. How? Because they’re sisters. The Ross girls began their string journey at the ages of 4 and 6 years old and began taking lessons at the String Academy of Wisconsin. The youngest two of five children, Chauntee and Monique were allowed to join the family choir and also performed with their older siblings in churches across the midwest. As the siblings matured into their sound and the older ones left Milwaukee to go to college, the family band got smaller and smaller. Monique went off to UW Madison in 2007 and Chauntee moved to Ann Arbor, MI to attend the University of Michigan. Both pursued performance degrees. 2014 was the year Chauntee moved back from Ann Arbor and decided to start working and re-assess exactly how she wanted to continue to make music. Naturally the sisters began gigging together again as they were both back in the same city. Within 6 months of reuniting musically the two decided to give SistaStrings a chance to branch out and test their musical boundaries. They began working with local hip-hop artists and do string arrangements. They put together their background in gospel, classical, and soul music into their sound and created a truly unique blend.
Collectively, the two have performed in Carnegie Hall, opened for Lupe Fiasco, The Roots, Fred Hammond, Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony among others. Their approach for arranging is as a team. Throwing ideas back and forth, shaping the phrases and harmonies as they do so until it is complete. As two young Black women in the entertainment industry, Chauntee and Monique have couldn’t help but become allies to the underrepresented. Performing in places like schools, churches, and community centers are some of the most fulfilling performances for the ladies. It is important to them to give back to the very community that encouraged and pushed and allowed them to have a career at young ages. The ladies are advocates for diversity in the arts and promote social justice in all that they do musically.
As well as playing as the entity SistaStrings, Chauntee and Monique form the string section for a number of bands: Mike Mangione & The Kin, Peter Mulvey, Soul Serious, Milwaukee Soul Orchestra, and D’Amato. Additionally, they collaborate with a variety of artists over a variety of genres- and that is where their power lies.
Free Form Jazz Trio
The Truth, the newest group in this roster, calls itself a “local four-piece funk, soul, and alternative R&B” group formed by Chris Gee (Christopher DeAngelo Gilbert) and Saxophonist/Producer Jay Anderson. They’re joined by Bo Triplex (Bo Triplex and His Beautiful Band), on bass. Bo is known for his high-energy baselines, infectious smile and his work with the popular group New Age Narcissism (NAN). Chris Gee’s dapper sense of fashion and dance moves have taken him to Los Angeles where he was a regular on Nickelodeon’s show “Yo Gabba Gabba.” Back in Milwaukee, he’s a consummate performer and fellow member of NAN. The Truth’s keyboardist, Curtis Crump, Jr., has strong connections to gospel music and brings a background in both traditional and contemporary Jazz to the new band.
Lorde Fredd33 compels listeners with his deep, hypnotic drawl and mantra-style story telling. Hailing from milwaukee, wi, he has been called “the most powerful and enigmatic performer in the city”. His winding narratives depict life experiences abstracted and amplified as they run through his psyche. He has been quoted as saying “I’m doing this to save my soul,” explaining further that “music and performance is just as much a personal coping as it is a communal ritual”.