Arts & Culture

DIASPØRA spreads reach to city venues

Rap group of nine students balance U. scene, growing popularity on Providence stages

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

An ineffably talented posse is sweeping the University’s and Providence’s rap arenas: the formidable musical collective DIASPØRA. Collated from an array of artistic disciplines, the group’s nine members coalesce behind an undying commitment to music. Like the term from which the group derives its name, DIASPØRA reconciles the grand dispersion of its individual parts with deeply-rooted creative origins.     

Enter the nine chambers

The group’s membership includes Dustin “KNOHISRY” Abadie ’18, Antone “TONE” LeBlanc ’18, Nadir “PonyboyPearson” Pearson ’19, Sanoj “Bondyé DJAB” Allen ’18, Saleka “Saleka Night” Shyamalan ’18, Javon “SO4P” Stephenson ’18, Tim Taliaferro ’18, Mohamed Mohamed ’18 and Felege Gebru ’17. 

“The reason that DIASPØRA works so well is that everyone does a bit of everything. We all play an essential role in each project that comes out,” Stephenson said, emphasizing each member’s idiosyncratic artistry, including his own expertise in acting. “Saleka sings and plays classical piano, Felege does graphic design and Nadir handles our branding, management and cinematography,”  he said.

In a similar respect, the collective maintains a broad array of academic interests, which merge to uniformly complement their musical production. For some members, music is their explicit academic focus, as evidenced by Abadie’s concentration in music production. Others study subjects more loosely — but still vitally — related to DIASPØRA’s output. Tali, for example, is pursuing an A.B. in engineering — a concentration that cultivates his overarching interest in making things, music production included.

“The most important thing is that, as a group, we’re able to compensate for gaps in each other’s networks or artistic talents,” said LeBlanc, fresh off the release of his solo EP, “Nothing in Return.”

PVD state of mind

“Our sophomore summer, (Dustin) and I lived in a house together in Providence. We took a visual arts class while Antone worked as an RA,” Stephenson said, detailing the group’s formation over summer 2016. “We just worked non-stop on music and ultimately made our first big track, ‘Sailor Moon’ — a song mastered and recorded by InHouse Studios here in Providence,” a studio that has recorded artists ranging from D. Valor to The Funk Underground.

“It’s hard to come by young people as motivated as DIASPØRA,” said InHouse Studios proprietor Alex “Taki” Mazz. “The talent oozing from their individual and collective brain(s) is apparent upon first meet. I’m excited to see their growth continue.”

“That summer really got things started for DIASPØRA,” LeBlanc said. “It just consisted of … meeting local musicians and playing with them,” referencing musicians like InHouse’s KelKeyz.

Homecoming

Since their fateful formation, the group has made waves across innumerable Providence venues, dropping forceful bars and enthralling beats throughout the Ocean State’s spaces most recognized for music. 

“Because of how small and tight-knit Providence is, we’ve had the chance to play at all the big venues,” LeBlanc said, including Aurora, The Met, AS220, Fete and Colosseum. “At this point, we’re fortunate enough to have people just reach out to us when they want us to play a show.”

“We even got to open for Denzel Curry,” LeBlanc added, alluding to the renowned rapper’s September 2016 show at The Met.

But even in light of this widespread success, DIASPØRA remains committed to playing music at Brown. This October, the group performed at “Gigs on the Grass” on Wriston. 

“We’ve also gotten to do shows at Pembroke Field, Sayles Hall and Faunce’s Leung Gallery,” Abadie said.

Some University professors have also taken interest in the group, including Colin Channer, assistant professor of literary arts. Channer “is a great writer and has served as a mentor for taking my writing even deeper,” LeBlanc said.

The group embeds itself into the University’s emerging tradition of successful hip-hop artists, joining recent graduates Eric Axelman ’13 (of The Funk Underground) and Dolapo “DAP The Contract” Akinkugbe ’16.

“DAP served as a mentor for DIASPØRA’s members,” Stephenson said. “Our time at Brown overlapped by two years, so he was crucial in integrating us in the scene here.” 

“As for future plans, we just always have new projects on the horizon,” Stephenson said. “But I know Sanoj is making like two beats a day and that Saleka has something huge coming up. We’re just all most comfortable when we’re pursuing an artistic mindset.”   

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