He did dat. On Wednesday, February 8, at the Enchanted Broccoli Forest’s fourth Happy Hour of the quarter, Baltimore rapper Abdu Ali created an intimate and powerful performance. The combination of a smaller stage coupled with vibrant sounds, mixed media, and the emphasis on queer stories and art produced powerful themes of belonging not easily forgotten.
Ali’s performance was preceded by Eli Ndoumbe (‘17), a student and DJ who set the vibe for the headliner’s set: all-out and raw. The venue was small and intimate, creating a contrast with the vibrantly loud R&B synth. Behind the DJ was a screen with a visual representation of the music. Bright colors mixed with cool black and white while black queer dancers expressed art on the screen and the dance floor. The loudness of the music produced an effect opposite that of the typical club or frat party. Rather than alienate the audience, the loud beats drew them closer together in dance, especially when Ali began to perform.
Ali arrived about halfway through the happy hour, but his appearance was worth the wait. He came in a storm, and he made fire. His music cannot be classified under one genre; he is listed as a rapper or hip-hop artist, but the pieces he performed were truly a mix of electronic, R&B, pop, rap, and other genres undefinable but just as pronounced. One of the most poignant moments of the concert was Ali’s waltz into freestyle: for a period of almost a minute, he rapped without background music. He seemed not to pause for a breath either, producing a steady, rhythmic stream. The lack of background music for this portion intensified the intimacy of this concert, with everyone focusing on his words.
The mixed-media effect of Ali’s music combined with the visual screen in the background spoke to the expansiveness of identity. In the same way that Ali’s music transcended categorization into a single musical genre, the intense visuals contributed just as much to the performance as the music. This performance was more than just a primarily audial experience. When one thinks of a concert, one often thinks of music first; at Abdu Ali’s performance, however, the visual and mental experience was equally as important as that of the audial.
What was most striking about Ali’s concert was the prominence of what he describes in his website biography as being “unapologetically black and unapologetically queer.” The performance worked to be a safe space for queer audience members and audience members of color; wristbands were available for pickup the day before the performance to enforce this cultivation of a safe space. The result was one in which every audience member felt free to express themselves and be themselves, with Ali as the pivotal example of expression. At one point, Ali left the stage to become part of the crowd itself. The blending of performer with audience was a pleasant surprise that varied from the typical definition of a “concert.” Ali emanated passion, and all through the night, it caught on.
Photos by Stewart Gray III.