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Community Through Artistry: Raw Talent Night

By Maggie Nipps
Photos by Luka Duffie

Jordi Flash / all photos by Luka Duffie

Jordi Flash / all photos by Luka Duffie

Surrounded by exposed brick and underneath string lights, The Yacht Club’s basement came to life when Raw Talent Night made a stop in Iowa City. Raw Talent Night is a series of events throughout Iowa City that aim to showcase talented musicians in the area and bring more culture to the state. Luka Duffie works tirelessly to bring artists together through these events. Bert Johnson, the host for the evening, describes her as “one of the hardest working women in music,” and her dedication shone through in all the work she did that evening. From working directly with artists to acting as the resident videographer, Duffie’s passion truly brought the event together. “We don’t want to make it just a showcase,” she said, showing videos of prior events. “I want to try to take it to a bigger level, take it on tour.”

Torrian Ball

Torrian Ball

Even though the event still exists on a small scale, the energy throughout is anything but small. Bonds, one of the performers, described how passionate the artists are, saying “even if nobody comes in, they’ll go off and do their thing.” Throughout his musical journey, Bonds said he worked on “putting himself out there,” and once he did, “everything became fun for me.” K. Sankofa, another act at Raw Talent Night, expressed a similar sentiment:

“Just know this music thing is not a fad,” they said, expressing their support for young artists.

All of the performers were working towards similar ideals, talking before the show and jamming together. Before the official performances even began, it was easy to see that all the musicians were passionate, supportive, and talented.

It seemed less like a concert than a community jam session, bringing together artists to collaborate and create something great.

Kicking off the acts was Byron Bowman, whose velvety voice set the tone for a night full of fantastic music. Torrian Ball followed Bowman and immediately captivated his audience with his energy. He began his act by saying “we’re all a family tonight man,” and continued the idea of togetherness throughout his set. “When I say positive, you say vibes!” he shouted, uniting the crowd. Ball’s rapping was fantastic, both with a beat and when he performed acapella. OP Sav took the stage next. The rap group from Chicago brought a fun and intense energy to the stage, and the audience quickly followed suit. Their energy and music combined created a highly engaging performance. Rapper Jordan Bregett followed, with a solid performance. K. Sankofa’s performance brought a strong political stance to the stage, starting their performance with a reminder to vote, followed by phenomenal, politically-charged hip-hop. Their magnetic stage presence brought the whole act together and ignited the audience. The alternative R&B stylings of Nova Caine followed. Nova performed sensational original music and covered “Bitch Better Have My Money,” with a voice so beautiful that it rivaled Rihanna herself. When Bonds took the stage, he used his platform to make a statement by dedicating the show to depression and mental illness. He shared some powerful statistics about the prevalence of mental illness in the world, specifically in minority communities. Afterward, he brought his vivacious energy to the stage, dancing, having fun, and connecting with the crowd.

At this point in the night, the small but tightly knit audience had already begun to feel like a unified force – a small community brought together by a grassroots artistic movement.

However, the final act to the stage brought a new level of emotional intimacy to the evening. Jordi Flash started his set by talking about his brother’s recent suicide. Flash continued off of the evening’s dedication towards mental illness awareness by offering himself as a listening ear. “Don’t ever be ashamed, afraid, anything, to reach out to anybody,” he said, promising that he would be there if anybody needed to talk. Despite this emotional opening, he brought his all, telling the audience “I’m going to need all of the energy in the world for this.” After, the audience truly acted like a family, offering hugs and condolences. The support in that moment embodied the mission of Raw Talent Night – to bring communities together through great music while giving indie artists a platform to express themselves in earnest.

As the night came to an end, Johnson took the stage to give a sincere and beautiful thank you. “We love you all,” he said, “we’re trying to create a platform everywhere, this is for y’all.” The scheduled acts ended early, but this gave more time for a communal experience. They invited anyone who wanted to jump onstage and freestyle the opportunity and invited everyone else to stay around and talk. The event’s grassroots nature gave them the ability to foster a strong sense of community in their audience. Duffie and the entire group of performers in Raw Talent Night – who saw a gap within the state of Iowa – do an amazing job of filling the community void. The turnout may have been small, but such amazing talent and dedication left room to grow.