Now in its seventh season, Equilibrium (or EQ, for short) still packs in the crowds at The Loft Literary Center. Bringing together the biggest names and the brightest up-and-comers to be found within the national spoken word scene, series creator and emcee Bao Phi assembles poets of color before capacity crowds to share and inspire via their words. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (as the old adage goes) and you’ll also wonder how you got so much spoken word for having only kissed five bucks goodbye. At least, I did, as I found an inconspicuous space within the tightly-packed audience of young and restless fans of voice, and got lost in the rhythms of presiding beatsmith DJ Nak while I waited for the main show to begin.

DJ Nak

Our evening began with two pieces performed by local rising star, Brittany “Rittan” Delaney. She focused the rage and confusion of youth to a nearly elegant point, far beyond her years, and left the audience enthralled by her powerful performance. First, recounting the loss of “Diana” in a richly-metaphorical rendition of the downward spiral to the depths of eating disorder and, second, with an empowering, encouraging ode to Caster Semenya titled “Daughter of South Africa.” Driving home the poignant point that, chromosomes aside, Semenya is a woman in all but perhaps the most ridiculous considerations of the term, she drew a wild ovation from the large crowd.

Brittany “Rittan” Delaney

The Poem-cees of Washington, DC made an unconventional entrance, sneaking slowly up from the back of the crowd, whispering “Trust” as they went, and proceeded to come together in a mashup of beatboxing, comedy and spoken word. A subtle intellectualism and clever self-deprecation pervaded their set (achieving a shout-out to the oft-overlooked hip-hop/comics geek crossover culture by virtue of a Marvel Secret Wars T-Shirt, among other things) as they launched into Your-Momma’s-So-Hip-Hop contests and beat box battles before trading rhythm and rhyme duties, line-by-line, as they wavered and jerked “like Jamaican chicken” across the stage.


Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai rounded off the lineup, firing up the crowd from her first step to the front to her last line of verse. Cracking wise and tugging heart strings sometimes simultaneously, the diminutive diva brought the audience on a mental journey through considerations of the “whatever” in “Black, White or Whatever,” in which she criticized the mainstream’s political lexicon for exclusion of any ethnicity unrepresented by a presidential candidate. She went on to indulge in narcissism, wax nostalgic and philosophic on culture and explore the quietly unacknowledged downsides of social movements, relationships, identity, expectations and love.

Kelly Tsai

The next scheduled installment in the Equilibrium series is November 21st, to feature Geologic (of hip hop superstar sensation Blue Scholars) and Nuyorican legend Sandra Garcia Rivera. For more information, or to volunteer, contact Bao Phi at bphi@loft.org or see their website at http://www.loft.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=category.display&category_id=259

-Rob Callahan

Photos by Anthony R. Kling of Voivode Multimedia and FairShadow Photography

About Cole

A thumb among fingers. A writer, a photographer, a lover of all things citrusy.
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