Smile Politely

Create and Chill with bla(CK)mau

Bring together an Assistant Professor of Statistics, an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, and a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and you have C-U’s newest DJ collaboration bla(CK)mau. If you’re a regular Smile Politely reader, or just someone who has an appreciation for our local arts scene, then you are likely familiar with BLACKMAU, which isn’t the same, but also is sort of the same? Let me explain. 

BLACKMAU is the artistic collaboration of DJ Kamau “DJ KamauMau” Grantham (the psychologist) and Stacey “Blackstar” Robinson (the graphic design professor). You may have seen their afrofuturism collage work at the University YMCA, at the Cunningham Township Supervisor’s Office as part of the Murals on Glass initiative, or on a utility box in Urbana, just to name a few. Robinson met Grantham about six years ago, and began to learn the tricks of the DJ-ing trade from Grantham and his Dance Music Therapy collaborators Terrance Stevenson and Mikki Johnson. Grantham was also developing as a collage artist, using his artwork to promote his mixes. 

Their paths have almost crossed many times over the years. Robinson is from Albany, New York and Grantham attended grad school at SUNY Albany. Grantham is from Buffalo, and Robinson attended grad school at SUNY Buffalo. They each lived in New York City before settling in C-U. Their geographic past wasn’t the only thing they had in common. Says Robinson, “we realized that we have a lot of overlaps…artistically, our philosophies, the way that we think about music and futures.” It just made sense for them to begin to create together. BLACKMAU officially came together in 2019, and we’ve been blessed by their art ever since.

Enter the statistics professor. Chris “DJ CK” Kinson is, ironically, also from Albany — Albany, Georgia. When the pandemic came along, he was looking for a creative outlet, “something to give me joy, since it was not a joyful time.” As someone who’s been a hip hop music producer and dance instructor, as well as a music collector, he felt that DJ-ing was the next logical step. He began to create mixes for WRFU 104.5 and has a weekly show called “The Blackest Hour”. Inspired by the work of Robinson and Grantham, he connected with them and shared his progress. From there, bla(CK)mau was born. As Robinson puts it, “CK comes in and fits perfectly in the middle.”

“We all represent different generations of music,” says Kinson. Their perspective of music is 70s and 80s with house and disco and hip-hop. I’m younger, and my musical path was purely hip-hop with a little bit of dance music…all of these different perspectives that we have make a beautiful collaboration.”

Robinson says they are learning and building as they go. “We’re figuring out each other’s strengths, other people to collaborate with, our sensitivities to what is needed in the community. We all have a particular ear and eye.” bla(CK)mau promotes themselves as not just a DJ trio, but as “space-makers”, and they are bringing those specialities together in their new endeavor, Create + Chill, at the Independent Media Center. The concept is relatively simple — it’s a space where people are invited to come and create, write, work, collaborate, or just connect with the community while bla(CK)mau provides the ambiance with their music. They are partnering with area coffee shops to provide free coffee, and it is a family friendly space. Kids are welcome. 

Create + Chill fills a need felt by each member of the trio. Grantham and Robinson were already meeting up at coffee shops to work and collaborate on the weekends. Grantham and Kinson are both in the midst of balancing professional work, creative work, and parenting young children. In fact, as we spoke, Kinson was holding his one year old son and Grantham was on school pick up duty. Robinson is traveling frequently on top of his professional and creative work. They needed a place to gather, regroup, and have a little work time in a welcoming and inclusive space, and thought that others might benefit from such a thing. “I want to create things that I want to go to,” says Grantham. “If it’s not happening, I want to be an instrument of change and make it happen. If I wasn’t DJ-ing, I’d come to this.” Kinson appreciates the idea of having this block of time outside of the regular work week where “I can do something productive and be around people that I care about…we hope other people can see that as well.” 

The vision for Create + Chill is fluid. Robinson emphasizes the foundation of the series: “What creates a very safe and creative and relaxing space for the entire family.” Beyond that, the sky’s the limit. “My wife will tell you I have a secret fantasy of owning a coffee shop,” Grantham shares. “This is the vibe I would want.” Whatever people need for the space, that’s what they want to provide.

The first Create + Chill is this Saturday, September 3rd, from 2 to 5 p.m, at the Independent Media Center. It will continue on the first Saturday of each month through December, for now. Caffe Paradisio and Mad Goat Coffee will be there fulfilling your coffee needs with free coffee samples for this first event, and bla(CK)mau is open to making more connections with area coffee businesses for future events. Create + Chill is free, and open to all.

Top images provided by Chris Kinson, Stacey Robinson, and Kamau Grantham.

Managing Editor

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