Musician, singer, songwriter, poet, storyteller, activist, teacher
Kurtis plays the 21 stringed harp-like lute from Africa called the kora. His poems have been broadcast, animated, choreographed and recorded. He was Poet in Residence at the New School for Social Research and taught in metropolitan New York public schools and community sites through Teachers & Writers Collaborative. Married 30 years to the fiber artist Catherine Lamkin.
He is performing all over the city during Piccolo Spoletto.
Were you an artsy kid?
I walked around with songs in my head.
The triangle in a school play.
In Gambia, I saw Amadu Bansang Jobarteh, a master kora player. The more he played, the more he surrendered to it until he was in the fetal position. He slumped into it and the music was coming out.
Game changing event?
I received a kora from Africa with the intention of using it as a decoration but only 4 of the 21 strings survived the trip. I went to the African market in Harlem to get it restrung. Instead they taught me how to do it myself, to build one and to play it. This propelled me to a new way of performing.
I appreciate the sound quality of a room at 3 am.
What’s a bad day?
If things make me feel bad, I think about those that came before and worked hard and endured to make it better. It gets me through.
Problems get solved when people come together to work on them like tending a garden you take care of it every day.
How does your art spill over into everyday life?
I am getting involved with organizations. I just wrote a jingle for one.
Next big thing?
Playing the kora in Bet on Me, I Bet On You with conNECKtedTOO by the Charleston Rhizome Collective at Cannon Street Art Center.
Why are you beautiful? (he thought for a moment and then recited this poem)
Most of the time,
I am immersed in the love
that was always in me
but one day
I became conscious,
that I fell to my knees
Why does art matter?
There are epic oral stories in the African tradition known by heart and shared by the jail or troubadour. It is deeply embedded in the education through singing, games, and recitation. It is how the soul gets few.
Susan Irish is the founder and owner of Fabulon – Center for Art and Education. Each month she interviews a different local artist.