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Monday, January 6, 2014

Intisar Abioto Crowdsources "The Blackest Night"

Posted by Alison Hallett on Mon, Jan 6, 2014 at 1:59 PM

Pictured: Drummer Mashud Neindow

Last spring, I wrote about artist Intisar Abioto and her project The Black Portlanders, a photo series of African American Portlanders. Other local media outlets have since taken note: The Oregonian's Casey Parks (one of the post-purge bylines I still look for over there) wrote a great piece about Abioto, and she was recently featured on OPB's new arts and culture show State of Wonder.

On December 30, Abioto put out a call on Tumblr for a venue and performers, hoping that in 24 hours she could pull together a New Year's Eve party. The NYE party didn't materialize, but something else did: On Saturday, Abioto hosted The Blackest Night, a party whose venue and performers were entirely crowdsourced. The party was held at Habesha, an Ethiopian restaurant on NE Broadway, and the lineup of black musicians, dancers, and comedians included Keyon Gaskin, Deenah Bee, Belinda Rose Washington, Crystal Davis, and Curtis Cook.

I couldn't make it out on Saturday—because I'd already promised my boyfriend I'd go see Thor 2, which is the worst excuse ever—but PHAME Executive Director and former Mercury contributor Stephen Marc Beaudoin was at the event. Reading his tweets the next day, it was fun to watch him discover Curtis Cook, one of the more promising young comics in town. Here's what he wrote on his Facebook page about the show:

The idea was to highlight black artists and performers in a crowd-sourced event - so Intisar took to social media to program who the public wanted onstage, and even to crowd source the venue.

The whole night, which unfolded in the upstairs lounge at Habesba Restaurant on NE Broadway, was an anything-goes show stocked with music, rap, comedy, circus and dance. More than that, it felt communal, like a conversation.

And it was truly a party. Under dizzying lights, act after act took the stage (or the floor). Comic Curtis Cook; dancer Keyon Gaskin; singer-performers Amenta and Intisar Abioto; rapper Wes Guy; circus performer Bellinda Rose Washington and an unnamed West African drummer were all part of the incredible line-up for the 90 minutes I was in the room.

As I snuck out the door just before midnight, the party was well on its way, with more to come.

Portland is the whitest major city in the country—no argument here—and it's very fashionable for white people to express their worldliness by saying things like "There are no black people in Portland." (Bonus points if you're hanging out on Alberta when you say it.) But denying the *actual existence of people of color in Portland* does not make you seem worldly. It makes you seem like a huge asshole. Abioto is young, motivated, and super charismatic, and I think it's exciting that she's turned her energy toward raising the visibility of black artists—and by extension, black people—in Portland. You can read her thoughts on the event, and check out photos, at The Black Portlanders.

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