In Motif‘s March edition, I spoke with Dylan Block-Harley, my first interview in a three-article series exploring how artists are pivoting to engage with virtual programming.
My second interview is with Chachi Carvalho (aka Chachi the Rapper), who celebrated his birthday and the release of the song “Hoodie Season” from his new album, Pawtucket Times, on March 8. He is an artist, educator and entrepreneur, Rhode Island born and raised, who resides in Pawtucket with his family. He currently serves as a school culture and community engagement coordinator at his alma mater, Shea High School, and is the founder and artistic director of the annual outdoor Culture Shock Festival. Carvalho created this event to provide inclusive spaces for artists of all backgrounds to ensure that Rhode Island’s diversity is reflected on stage. The festival has three key principles: it’s free, family-friendly and diverse.
Mayté Antelo-Ovando (Motif): How long has Culture Shock been going on and how have you had to pivot during the pandemic?
Chachi Carvalho: The first Culture Shock festival was in 2018. [The first two years] were outdoors, and I really did not want to lose momentum. I lost all hope and [thought] we’re not gonna be able to do it. And then it just didn’t feel right, to not do it. And I sat, we all kinda sat, we were forced to from March 2020. That usually would’ve been time spent trying to solicit sponsors and fundraise, so I missed grant deadlines and all of that. When I finally made the decision like, alright, we’re gonna do this, I just didn’t have any dollars. So I was like, man, how can I pull this off? I had to pull a lot of rabbits out of a few hats to pull it off. But we were able to do magic and we made it happen.
While reflecting on how it came together, Chachi shared his vision for the festival.
CC: Our intended audience [is] all ages, families — we wanted to create an environment where I can have my children running around with me, to experience it. Cause for the most part, I haven’t been able to have my children there, because it’s an adult industry, right? So I wanted to make sure that I changed that, and also knowing that where the event is taking place in Pawtucket, folks don’t got it like that out here, people are struggling to put food on the table, and so I wanted to make sure that the celebration was an opportunity to provide a relief from stress, not [to] add stress in terms of trying to figure out how to pay for tickets or pay for this or pay for that. Just show up. Here’s an opportunity to consume some music, celebrate and spend time with the fam. Let the kids jump around in the bouncy houses, have a beer and eat some food.
MA-O: I can’t wait to do it in person!
CC: I know, me too! So, for this year we had to pivot. [We worked with] the gentlemen, [of the] amazing video production team HAUS, Henry and Austin. They’re super dope. They’ve been a pleasure to work with; they created the highlight videos for previous festivals. So I said, “Hey, what would it take to do this in the virtual space?” And we had to think of multiple things, first and foremost safety, the safety of the artists and the production team. Fortunately, they have a warehouse space, their hub; it was a large enough space where we could accommodate folks. The production was taking place in one space, the interviews were taking place in another. And then there [was] the kind of sitting and waiting area, and another area where we had all of the amenities we wanted to provide for the artists as well.
We scheduled a full day from like 8am until midnight, where we had each artist come for their time and slot, and then reserved an amount of time to clean and sanitize and prepare for the next artist, and everybody was masked up. It was a long beautiful day. A lot of running around, because you know we had a very small team — me, HAUS, my business partner from Beat Box studios Edgar Cruz, and audio team Railroad Park Recording Company. They were incredible as well. You know, they did such a great job of capturing everybody’s voice, mixing and presenting a final product.
I watched a lot of live performances in the virtual space, and folks are operating from their room and using their headphones, and the sound quality isn’t always the best. I wanted to make sure we produced the best possible [event] that we could. I was really proud of the audio and video of the final product, of this year’s Culture Shock.
MA-O: How many artists did you have?
CC: We had eight artists in total, everybody performed one song only, which made it a little bit less of a heavy lift, [and] at the end of it everybody was like, “We want more!” The whole thing is very short, about a half an hour, but you get to see a variety of amazingly talented artists from different genres all in one space, which is it the whole idea of Culture Shock, something multilingual, multi genre, [and] a mix of different genders.
MA-O: It’s diverse on so many levels.
CC: Exactly, and you know Culture Shock conceptually looks to expand even further on that. Culture Shock is [about] having two conflicting ideas that collided to create something new, and we have some very special ideas planned to bring these sort of conflicting artistic expressions and mash them into one.
MA-O: When does the festival happen?
CC: Typically, in September. As an educator I wanted to be able to promote internally to the [local] high schools, especially where I work. We try to make it an end-of-summer/beginning-of-the-school-year [event], cause I want those youth to really be involved — I know there’s talent there. There has been some friction between the two local public high schools and I feel like Culture Shock and music programming could be a bridge to some of the tension, so I wanna make sure I’m able to create spaces [where] everybody feels like a part of a welcoming environment.
MA-O: That seems like the underlying purpose of what you’re creating.
CC: Promotion of peace, promotion of community, more of the unity within the community, yo.
In terms of representation, it’s critical to break down a lot of the problems that are conditioned into our communities, you know? One being the misconceptions of hip-hop culture, of it being like a violent culture and it’s not at all. Whenever it’s Black and brown in nature, it ends up being tainted by these negative stereotypes and I wanna make sure we’re showcasing hip-hop in its positive light, because that’s its nature, its true essence.
Typically, in urban environments, male-dominated, misogynistic, patriarchal [ways of being] gets taught through sports [or] locker room culture, teachers, the way that police interact with us. And I wanna continue to be a patriarchy shatterer and create spaces that empower women — specifically with the music — because they are our nucleus and our leads, the ones who hold us all together. I’m in a nine-piece band and eight of us are men, and Tomasina is the one who runs the show, behind the scenes and on the stage. I’m the lead and she’s my backup vocalist, but she commands 100% of the attention. I wanna make sure that we’re creating space for women to be lifted up, front and center where they belong, because without them there is no us.
While explaining the details of the virtual festival, Chachi mentioned that the team very strategically chose solo artists or duos, in order to ensure safety during event filming.
MA-O: Having a sense of trust between organizer and performer seems very important. What kind of feedback did you get from the audience?
CC: It took a while to get the production quality where we wanted. It required a lot of post-production. We filmed, did a few takes, a few different angles. And we wanted to make sure that the larger video could be segmented for each artist’s section so they could take that and use it as a promotional tool for themselves. We did a premiere on YouTube and it was cool because there was a live chat function. We were able to watch as people were watching. I did not watch the video in its entirety until that general public had an opportunity.
MA-O: Oh my God, you waited?!
CC: Yeah, I saw bits and pieces during editing, and another beautiful part in working with professionals that you trust, I knew that HAUS was gonna capture the vision, because we had a lot of conversations to ensure that we were all on the same page in terms of what we wanted to present to the public. So I didn’t have to micromanage that process at all, which was great practice. I’m typically an alligator not a delegator. I’m the guy who’s like, well, at least if it goes wrong I only have me to blame. But I’m practicing not to do that cause I can’t as we scale up.
Feedback was all positive. There was no negative feedback. I think there was maybe one or two thumbs down, and I love that because whenever there’s a hater, then you know you’re doing something right.
MA-O: Did you have anybody reach out to you after (the premiere)?
CC: Oh yeah! The short list is a long list of folks who want to be involved because the quality was amazing.
MA-O: It’s really clear to me one of your biggest values was that it was going to look and sound good.
CC: Yeah, cause you know we had to compensate for what people would get outdoors — the visual aesthetics of being outdoors, vendors, a live stage, children’s area, live graffiti art, all [outside] where I could be onstage and watch my kids watch the BMX bikes, call out to somebody and say, “Yo, get me a beer!” So we needed to make sure that when we were presenting this to the public it had to have a certain level of quality in the aesthetics.
MA-O: So now that you’ve had this experience of pivoting to virtual space, what are you taking away as something that you’ll translate into live space?
CC: The possibilities are endless. Pivoting into the virtual space at first felt like it was constricting, but in essence what it did was open up opportunities to connect Culture Shock with artists and audiences from around the globe, all at once. Having it available virtually allowed for people to watch from Cape Verde, Puerto Rico and Cuba. We had my boy Temperamento on [a Latin hip-hop super star[, and we had folks from all over South America and Europe just to check him out. Also, Temperamento re-shared his 2-minute part on his YouTube and it has now WAY more traction than the original Culture Shock video, because of his fan base. It organically promotes what we’re doing.
M: That’s amazing!
CC: [And] for artists like Brooxana, who’s a Rhode Island college student, amazing singer, beautiful songwriter [and] person, she was able to connect with these other folks who may have never encountered her otherwise. I think as we move back into the physical space we will have some element of capturing Culture Shock virtually as well. It adds another layer of production, but I believe it will be worth it.
MA-O: Do you have any plans yet for the 2021 event?
CC: Always, I’m leaning more toward taking a similar approach to this year’s event. I’m hoping to pivot to do like a large-scale ginormous Culture Shock festival outdoors in 2022. I wanna kill it, really raise the bar up above everybody’s head, and generate enough attention to attract some big names and big corporate sponsors, and [reach the point] where the struggle isn’t in how are we gonna pull this off, but what are we gonna present.