tommy shepherd

Going Green . . . Musically

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Posted March 29, 2012

Tommy Shepherd a.k.a. Emcee Soulati is a veteran of the Bay Area creative scene and a core member of the hip-hop music and theater collective Felonious. Shepherd collaborated with Marc Bamuthi Joseph in the break/s and Scourge. They reunite for red, black and GREEN: a blues (rbGb), in which Shepherd goes back to hip-hop basics—using his vocal, beat boxing, and percussive skills.

Tommy Shepherd

My voice. That’s my angle. Eight years ago, Bamuthi asked me to “bust beats in a show I’m doing” (that’s almost a quote). I thought he meant playing drums. He was thinking more about beat boxing. Although I did play drums in Scourge, it was the beat box alongside the instrumentation that was something special and different. For me, that experience started a new way of thinking about music in general, and specifically about how to tell a story with note progressions, key changes, and soundscapes. Most of this is done live with our hands and mouths and little live instrumentation. That’s part of what I think the hip-hop aesthetic is. We use what we have to create what we need. That’s personally my whole steez.

I am connected to the concept of making something out of nothing. I haven’t been more aware of that than with red, black and GREEN: a blues. On stage, we are able to embody real people, who are seemingly nothing to this world, and share their “something” with multiple communities who wouldn’t have been the wiser. That is pretty special. It’s evidence of hope. To me, Traci Tolmaire, Theaster Gates, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and myself, creating at least four genres of music with our voices and a shotgun house repurposed as a drum set is the freshest ever. I was hyped upon being asked to compose this piece, because I was into making music with a computer program. I thought this would be my chance to flex some beat-producing skills.

Nope.

Our director kept ever so gently pushing me to create things organically, which, frankly, I resisted at first. I soon realized that what I was being asked to do was very challenging. We musically went green. Reduced the use of samples. Reused and recycled the music and melodies that impacted us as artists.

Click on the image below to watch a video clip of Shepherd and his signature interactive beat boxing.

The Instruments of Emcee Soulati