Discopoet Khari B is a prominent boisterous voice in the artist community of Chicago. He has traveled the world with his free-spirited approach, honest wordplay and piercing truth. For the past 10 years, Khari B has shared this expression at The Debauchery Ball. We spoke to Khari about his poetry, music, the Debauchery Ball and how he makes poetry a contact sport.
Tell us what you do.
I am a spoken word musician and educator. I write words like notes and deliver them as music. I make poetry a contact sport.
Why the Discopoet?
House, which is one of disco’s children, and poetry have been my primary and favorite ways to release, express and breathe. My work is for that. I release, express and breathe for those who cannot or have not found their way to do so themselves. I conjoined those two words to embody the energy. I am for the world.
What is it about spoken word that moves and inspires people?
For me, it’s finding a creative way to express things that people don’t want to discuss publicly or even out loud. Being able to attend a concert or even an open-mic and have someone simply speak your life is validating and liberating. I think it’s why it’s had so much appeal over the years. It’s allowed people who wouldn’t otherwise say the things that need to be said or share in certain emotions; life lessons and truths that need to be shared either do that or receive that.
Talk about your experience as a Chicago poet who has traveled the world. How are you received? What do you think people expect of you?
I’ve never considered myself a Chicago poet. I’m a poet based in Chicago and that’s a very different thing. I didn’t even start performing in Chicago. I began in Nashville, Tennessee, and one of my very first gigs, after deciding to do this professionally, was in Kirksville Missouri. Coming from Chicago, a place that creates and tempers some of the most phenomenal talents in the country, I know when I step out of the city, people recognize the quality that Chicago has stamped on me and they love it. My name and that of my compadres have been on billboards overseas. I’ve got blown up pictures of me on walls in places that I don’t even remember being. I’ve lectured in places where English is not the 1st language and I’ve been treated like a king in places that I’ve only been to once. It’s love out there for an artist that Chicago has definitely helped shape. They know we’re going to come with it.
Who are your top three poets and why?
That’s a two-fold question for me.
Part 1 – traditional
Sonia Sanchez – because she showed me how to make words music.
Gil Scott-Heron – because he showed me how to make music into word.
Gwendolyn Brooks – because she set the bar on who to be as an artist of and for the people and maintain one’s integrity at all times.
Part two – poetic influence
Jimi Hendrix – the god. He made music without inhibition
Jim Morrison – Turned poetry into uninhibited music
Janis Joplin – had a nontraditional voice and made it work divinely
What was the first poem that inspired you to write and why?
“Niggas Are Scared of Revolution” by the Last Poets, it was so fire! The rhythm of it all! The content. How they broke down the BS that people of color will do in lieu of freeing themselves and still show love for the people. It’s a ridiculously live cut and it has never gotten old. I was probably, at the most, a preteen when I heard my mom playing the record for the 1st time.
What is one verse or quote that serves as an anchor for you?
Gwendolyn Brooks. “Truth tellers are not always palatable. There is a preference for candy bars.”
Talk about the Debauchery Ball you have coming up. What is it exactly?
The Debauchery Ball is an Afro-futuristic, BDSM, fetish-themed party that I’ve been a part of throwing for the last 10 years. House music is our foundation. Freedom is our creed. Lames and inhibition are not allowed. It’s an outgrowth of me creating the party atmosphere that I’ve wanted to be a part of and seemed to have vanished from Chicago many years ago. That which was missing, I manifested and it’s been incredible. It’s an annual affair that coincides with my Earthday (birthday) that opens up an opportunity for a mass of beautiful people to come into an open and uninhibited atmosphere and lose themselves in the music and the moment. It’s a celebration of Black love, Black sensuality, Black sexuality, Black joy and Black magic without the limitations of whatever this world, this country, and this city is turning into. This is a welcoming, safe, judgement-free, liberating zone for lovers of music, dance and good times to gather and simply wild out.
We maintain the privacy of the event by putting it in a different spot every year and requiring all attendees RSVP before they can even find out the location. This year, on Friday, Dec. 9, we’re expecting 500-plus attendees and we’re gonna party till the early morn. The crowd can expect everything that it’s always been, multiplied by three. It’s gonna be wild and I swear, I can’t wait! Free bodies and liberated minds can RSVP at [email protected] with their first and last name and “Debauch Me to106 in the subject line or check out FB.com/DebaucheryBall for more information.
What do have coming up in the near future?
I just finished directing a production that I was a part of creating at Purdue University for our annual Cultural Arts Fest put on by the Black Cultural Center. I’m coming home to preside over this year’s D-Ball, heading out to L.A. for a gig, then going right Into production of my 1st printed release, “Haiku for Justice: A 365+ Day Commentary of (In)Justice In America and Abroad” that I wrote last year around social justice issues every day for over a year. I’ll be expanding the reach of this music that Fathom DJ and I have put together with composer Shawn Wallace and a few others called ETULOM. At the same time, I’m working on launching a national performance project to create opportunities for other artists around the country to be seen by a wider audience. That has been years in the making and I’m looking forward to being a conduit to making that happen in the coming year. Concurrently I’m pushing my three very different existing albums and getting those to as many ears as possible. It’s been a long but beautiful path and it just keeps on going. I am grateful.
What advice do you have for those looking to express themselves with words?
Do it! Really, it’s that simple. Have the strength and integrity to say what you wanna say the way you wanna say it when it needs to be said. People are listening and you need to be heard. If there is no avenue for you to be heard make one, for yourself and others in the same predicament. Those spreading BS are loud and persistent. We must be louder. We must be bolder. We mustn’t hold ourselves back under some false decorum that oppression, racists and false “leaders” have no sense of. As long as “they” spread BS, it is on us to spread truth, whatever that truth may be. As long as it’s truth it will never change. It is on us to assist ourselves and others in changing it.