By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
It was all finger snaps and head nods as one of Sacramento’s longest-running poetry venues celebrated its 23rd anniversary.
The creators and hosts of the Mahogany Urban Poetry series recently marked another year. Leading the celebration were founding members Khiry Malik Moore and Cleo Cartel, and venue co-hosts Russell Cummings and Tina Cates, who performs under the name Dyvacat.
The anniversary program featured some of the spoken word performers who’ve helped make it a local go-to poetry spot.
Each shared memories from participating and what the venue has meant to them. All mentioned the good vibes Mahogany is known for and how it’s a place where a poet could showcase their works and work on their skills in a welcoming atmosphere. One poet described it as “steel sharpening steel.”
“Mahogany accepts everybody. It’s kind of like finding your tribe, just being around like-minded individuals,” Cummings said.
Sacramento’s current poet laureate Andrew Defeye presented roses to Cartel and Moore before he performed for the assembled crowd in the Brickhouse Gallery and Art Complex’s outdoor courtyard.
Andreas “Dre-T” Tillman Jr. talked about first entering the Mahogany atmosphere as a teen who competed in slams with Sacramento Area Youth Speaks.
“It was such an amazing space because I finally got to see people that as a kid I would see on MySpace and YouTube,” Tillman said. “They had people coming from all over the world and even the local legends, that’s where I met them, at Mahogany.”
Tillman thanked Moore and Cartel for supporting his poetry and his endeavors as a music producer.
“Cleo knew I was producing from my car, making my records and recording and engineering in my car,” he shared. “She believed in me, she gave me an opportunity to actually put that into work in terms of (being able to look at it as), ‘I have a mobile studio and I can produce a full-length project for you.’ I wouldn’t have been able to say that or make that possible if Cleo didn’t give me that opportunity.”
Other anniversary performers included Ike Torres, Camille, J Rowe and Malik Saunders.
The hosts are proud of what they’ve built with Mahogany. The series currently is being held in pop-up fashion and hosted at various venues. In April it hosted poetic heavy hitter Taalam Acey at Our Event Space in Old Sacramento. Brandon Leake, the first spoken word artist to win the TV competition “America’s Got Talent,” also took the stage.
Public poetry is making a comeback after largely being on hold due to COVID-19. “The pandemic is still a concern, but we hope to return to regular weekly events very soon, most likely at Queen Sheba,” Moore said of its usual location.