Plunky & French Rapper, Akhenaton, in Montreal
What a week of music and travel! Sunday I drove 75 miles from Richmond to Hampton, VA to see Brides of Funkenstein featuring Dawn Silva. While that was a little bit of a distance for me, my colleague, Sheidia, came all the way from Paris, France to catch the show.
Sheidia, my French publicist, had been trying set up a meeting between me and French hip-hop artist, Akhenaton of the IAM Band, in the hopes that we could explore prospects for collaborating on some music projects. When she found out that Akhenaton was doing a show in Montreal, Sheidia set up a meeting for me and my son, Fire, with Akhenaton and his manager at 1:30 on the afternoon of his Thursday night show.
I spent Monday and Tuesday in the Washington, DC –Baltimore area meeting with my distributor, promoters, gig venues and a video producer, Skipper Bailey, a friend of mine, who had me look at storefront space that he wants to develop into a video production facility. I got back to Richmond early Wednesday morning and spent the day clearing my desk of pressing items (bills and correspondences) and packing one carry on suitcase with my clothes, laptop, camera, CD’s, etc.
I got up at 3:00 AM Thursday morning to get to the airport by 4:15 to take a 6:00 AM flight to Montreal. After a brief change over in New York, Fire and I arrived in Canada at 10:30 AM and took a shuttle bus into downtown Montreal. Because of the number of times I had to show my passport and travel documents, I had those things in a small plastic bag for easy access. When the shuttle bus reached the end of the line we had a five minute stop before the bus would make a loop and head back toward the airport, taking a route that would pass nearer our hotel. I decided to go into the bus terminal to exchange some currency and it took a bit longer than expected. When I got back to the bus it had already taken off. Fire had removed our luggage but he didn’t see the plastic bag I had left in my seat. So I lost my passport! And my little writing pad that had the contact information for the people we were to meet. All I knew was the rapper’s stage name, Akhenaton, and his wife/manager’s name, Aicha; but not their last name.
It was 11:30 AM. I jumped on the next shuttle bus at the station and had the driver contact his headquarters and they in turn called the other driver, who checked and said he didn’t see my plastic bag or my documents on his bus. It was now 12 noon. Fire and I walked to our hotel but we couldn’t check in until 3:00 PM; so we left our baggage there in storage and walked the eight or nine blocks to the Hyatt Regency Hotel to try to locate Akhenaton and his wife.
(It is a 90 degree, sunny, muggy day in Montreal. Walking in the noon day sun, four blocks, then nine blocks, with the stress of losing my documents, feeling stupid, in a foreign country, with Fire complaining, with little sleep, took its toll. This is officially a downer.)
In the meantime I am trying to contact Sheidia in Paris by cell phone, without success. We get to the Hyatt and it is a massive complex of shopping mall, food courts, business offices and more. It is so large that it takes lots of walking and forever just to find outlets to plug in our phones and my laptop to contact people by internet. I finally hear from Sheidia and get the name, Philippe Fragione. He is not in his room but I leave a message that we will be in the lobby.
Near 1:20 PM I go back out on the main street to try to intercept the shuttle bus we had taken as it made its return trip circuit. After five minutes I flag down the bus, jump on board and locate my plastic bag. Someone had put it on the large luggage rack and a suitcase had smushed and hidden my little bag. But I found it in ten seconds and my passport and papers were there and now back in my hand.
Fire and I hurry back to the Hyatt’s fourth floor lobby and soon a bald headed, thin, 42 year old white guy comes looking inquisitively says, “Plunky?” It was Philippe Fragione, aka Akhenaton, the renowned French rapper.
Until recently I had never even heard of Akhenaton and his IAM band from Marseilles, France. From his videos on YouTube I could ascertain that he has a legion of followers, he’s been around for a while and that his impact has been international not just in France. Because I don’t speak enough French I couldn’t tell what his songs were about, gangster or positive; or if his celebrity was based on him being a pop icon like Vanilla Ice or having street and artistic cred like Eminem. But here I was in Montreal Canada having lunch with him and his wife.
He speaks English. Great. He was born of Italian parentage; grew up in France; spent several years in Brooklyn, NY during 80’s & 90’s learning to speak English and meeting rappers and hanging out. He moved back to France and started his hip-hop IAM band which over the years became immensely popular. During our 90 minute lunch he talked about his commitment to positive, political content; his healthy eating and lifestyle; his world touring and his productions. He loves the power of African rhythms, Afro-Brazilian music, and his Moroccan wife and manager is of West African descent so he is well versed in Black culture. He and his band mates all have Egyptian stage names and he once did a concert in front of the Pyramids backed by the Egyptian orchestra. I was impressed, not so much by his accomplishments, as by his politics, his easy going self confidence and his casual grace.
We talked about collaborating on some music projects. He has done things with a number of American soul artists, including I think Millie Jackson and the Dells. He was familiar with the rapper/producer Oh No from L.A. who produced a CD of tracks made of samples and snippets of songs from my early Oneness of Juju albums. So, we talked about Akhenaton rapping on one of the tracks from my latest CD Plunky On Fire; him producing some tracks from some of my earlier recordings like Oh No did; and, perhaps us bouncing some new ideas back and forth via the internet. Akhenaton said that he was doing a club date in New York in November and perhaps Fire and I could do a walk-on appearance with him then. It was a very positive meeting.
Fire and I rode in the van with the group to the venue, the Metropole, for their sound check. We took pictures and checked things out as they prepared for the show that night. Then around 5:00 PM Fire and I left the venue and walked back to our hotel to rest a bit before the show. Around 8:30 we walked back to the area of the venue, had dinner in a café and went to the show at 10:00.
We had all-access backstage passes so we entered through the stage door. The place was packed. The energy was high. The show was incredible! Akhenaton and his rapper partner and two deejays held the sold-out crowd in the palms of their performing hands for a 90 minute show plus 30 minutes of encores. More than 25 or 30 New York style rap songs in French. They exhibited boundless energy on stage, spewing an astounding number of words to the delight of their Canadian fans. The four men onstage was an abbreviated version of the IAM Band but the show was a complete spectacle to behold. The audience response was exuberant and heartfelt. The respect for these artists was completely obvious by the ovations bestowed.
I knew Akhenaton had millions of views on YouTube and has sold bunches of recordings but sometime those stats can be hyped or overblown. But on this night in Montreal I saw with my own eyes the true power of this artist. The group drew between two and three thousand fans who paid $46 each; that’s a minimum of over $80,000! The people voted with their dollars. On this night Akhenaton could have be president of that sea of people.
Akhenaton & his adoring audience
After the show we hung out in the dressing room with the group basking in the afterglow of a great show. At about 12:30 AM I walked the ten Montreal nightlife blocks to our hotel and Fire stayed to hang out with the deejays.
Fire & Deejay 2
When Fire got back to the room at 2:18 AM we decided that we might as well take the 3:20 shuttle bus back out to the airport to make our 6:20 AM flight. So at 3:00 AM we walked the four blocks to the bus terminal and caught the bus (our $8 tickets were good for 24 hours, so that was a great deal). We checked in for the flight, went through security, spent some nervous moments going through the extra scrutiny and searches by US Customs, and made our three and a half hour flight to Miami.
In Miami we had to walk from Gate D1 to another terminal’s gate J8 to take a two hour flight to Charlotte, NC. Then we had a two hour wait for the hour and a half flight to Richmond which arrived at 5:10 PM. I had a 6:00 tennis match scheduled, but even though it was rush hour traffic and I had to changed clothes in the car, I would have made the match had it not been rained out while I was in route.
I then went to do my 9:30 gig at the Martini Kitchen & Bubble Bar, three full, hour-long sets. I had big fun making music with my band and was energized by the dancing crowd while we all partied with a purpose. I got home at 2:15 AM, stayed up until 3:00 AM and crashed until 7:00 AM.
At 8:00 AM the band gathered at my house and at 8:30 we took the three hour drive in the van to do a gig out in rural Eastern Shore, VA for a Juneteenth celebration. It was 90 degrees in the shade as we played from 1:00 to 2:00 PM and then got back on the long road home at 2:30. I got to my house by 6:30PM totally beat. I was gratified by the week of music and business and new friends and new prospects, but I was totally spent. In fact, I think I set a new record for fatigue. However, by 9:00 AM the next morning, I was on the tennis court for three sets of doubles… Tennis anyone?