Friday, October 4, 2013 at 6 a.m.
Photo courtesy of the artist
We've all averted our eyes from the modern blur and peered into the heavens above us to find wishes in the uncomplicated beauty of the sky. Who knew that something so bountiful as the sky would bring back one of the Twin Cities' own shooting stars, Sarah White.
In 2007, Sarah White left for Brooklyn at the height of her band Black Blondie's popularity. It was a gut feeling and heartfelt instinct of change. Five years later, she's back, starting all over again with a new band, and trying to find her way in a scene that has changed much in her absence.
Before White bolted for Bedford-Stuyvesant she was one of the premier female artists in this city, blessed with the triple threat of singing, rapping, and beauty. She first broke ground with the Interlock collective and Traditional Methods -- she once performed while five months pregnant to a sold out First Avenue crowd -- and blossomed with Black Blondie. At that point, she was opening for such acts as Jill Scott, Amy Winehouse, and the Roots, and sparking her taste of something bigger and different. In a blink, she moved.
"I was looking to grow more and wanted to see more. Just yearning to be closer to a community of color, especially with music," says White. "I had this fire under me to travel while my daughter was young and see more things. I'm really impulsive and listen to my heart."
A hippie at heart, White fell in love immediately with the eclectic vibe of the borough. While growing up in south Minneapolis, she was looked down upon by other kids in the neighborhood because she didn't act like the typical hardcore black girl. She placed in the top of her classes in science and math, and had an interest in Japanese and art. Neighborhood kids would often harasses and tease with chants of "white girl" because her education and fashion sense didn't fit in with the street normal.
"It was hard but I was taught by my parents that God put me here to be this person. I have something to offer, and I really fit in New York. Black women had this stereotype in Minneapolis that we have to be this certain image, while in New York, black women are everything there." Says White, "I felt like I could really grow, and I did."
While in Brooklyn, White became more comfortable with her talents as a signer and caught the focus of DJ/Producer King Britt -- also known as Sylk140 -- and released a much acclaimed single that led to other opportunities: releasing an EP and playing in Barcelona. In her downtime she developed careers in photography and yoga, and upgraded her DJ skills and increased her gigs.
After all the success something was missing. The sky.
In the midst of all the concrete and tall shadows of skyscrapers overbearing the populace, White looked at her two young daughters and thought back to the days of her zoning out at the clouds and stars above. She realized she needed her kids to experience the same simple thing, and headed back home a week before Hurricane Sandy ripped up the East Coast.
Now starting over again, she finds herself in a new scene with new people. "I feel like people like Dessa, Desdamona, and myself were rapping before it was real common for women to be on the mic, and now there are women hopping around all over the place. It's just so different now, because it used to be so rare and so special -- and it still is special -- but it's just different from before." says White. "The message is very different also; much of it is party based instead of message based. Especially in these times now, we need at least some of the topic to be conscious for the youth, and teach them to take a stand. It would be great if it could be 50 percent conscious and 50 percent party. But I don't know how much my opinion matters being gone so long."
Even though she has been gone for a while, the city didn't forget her. At a recent simple DJ gig, numerous peers from all over the scene turned up just to show support and were excited that she was back home again.
Her new project, Shiro Dame -- shiro meaning Japanese for white -- mixes the talents of Rico Simon Mendez on beats and guitar, Blayr Alexander on drums, Dameun Strange on keytar, and Ike Russell on bass, and Sarah White on vocals and pedals.
She often ponders how different her life would have been if she stayed in town, or took a different fork in the road and didn't pass on certain opportunities because the timing wasn't right, including interest from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and an invitation from Rhymesayers. "Who knows where I could have ended up, maybe swinging on a wrecking ball... no one needs to see Sarah White on a wrecking ball with no clothes on. I'd rather be the hippie chick free-styling in a garden with some tomatoes," says a giggling White.
The sky, backyard gardens, and green space brought her back to Minnesota, and with White playing in bands and writing music again, the sky is the limit.
Sarah White debuts her new band, Shiro Dame, with opening artist Orko Eloheim. Late night at the Dakota Jazz Club on Saturday, October 5. 11:30 p.m. $5. Info here.