Unique U-District venue a hub for groundbreaking black music

"Space Gospel" artist NorvisJr performs at Moshka. (Photo by Joy Okot-Okidi)
“Space Gospel” artist NorvisJr performs at Moshka. (Photo by Joy Okot-Okidi)

When you think of black music, does your mind drift straight to the genres of rap or soul? With only 5% projected job growth, the journey to becoming a successful musician is rough. Add in being black, and making music outside those stereotypical genres and the journey becomes even tougher.

But an unlikely U-District storefront is now highlighting the talents of young black artists in diverse genres like underground hip-hop, electronic and even “space gospel.”

Walking off of the Ave and into Moksha, it seems as if we have traveled one thousand light years away into outer space, and that we will soon be greeted by our alien hosts. It’s dark and dimmed, but bright blue strobes of light are reflected on standing white pyramidal-triangles in the center of the room.

“The meaning of Moksha is Sanskrit for ‘liberation’, which is basically breaking the cycle of Karma, says Karleen Ilagan, co-owner of the store.

The store was started by two world travelers from Orcas Island, who brought unique treasures from Southeast Asia. After working there during her college years, Ilagan she took over and incorporated contributions different artists, making for a unique experience each time you walk through the doors.

Now Ilagan says she wants to use the space celebrate every kind of music that Seattle has to offer. She notes that the smaller venue size allows for more intimacy and connection with the artists. Recently, avant-garde and genre-bending black artists have been taking advantage, putting on groundbreaking performances at Moksha.

Art is such an invaluable thing for the oppressed — something that gives them a “lifeline,” explains Dr. Daudi Abe, a professor in humanities and a hip-hop music specialist. Dr. Abe describes hip-hop as a cultural movement that was “born out of oppression.”

“Hip-hop was the first opportunity that young African American males had to express themselves on a level with mass appeal,” says Dr. Daudi Abe, a professor in humanities and a hip-hop music specialist. “From the beginning it has always been very cathartic.”

Though Ilagan says the vibe in the air around Seattle has been that “hip-hop is dead,” she sees it coming back in a unique way mixed with electronic sounds, beats and a lot of collaborations.

Recent performances at Moksha have shown this revival.

(Photo by Joy Okot-Okidi)
(Photo by Joy Okot-Okidi)

“Once you know yourself, you can put out a certain groove,” says PHNK, also known as Brandon Foy; a young electronic musician who performed at Moksha in early May, wooing the audience of around 100 people to the sweet vibrations and up beat sounds of his unique artistry.

PHNK says that being a person of color, you are told to not be yourself. You are told to speak a certain way, act a certain way and even dress a certain way.

He speaks of always having strong ties to his culture, deeply knowing his roots. He also mentions how there is a certain state of conditioning, in which people of color may feel the need to accommodate to others to avoid making them uncomfortable.

A Florida native, PHNK remembers wonderful moments in his upbringing, but also recalls the times where he was mistreated for being himself. It made and impression on him.

“Be yourself,” he says. “Whoever you are, be yourself because that is the one thing that nobody can take from you. They’ll try but stick to it.”

And if you’re not sure who you are yet? “Create who you are.”

PHNK’s music is the kind you just have to get up and dance to. In his “Human” EP on soundcloud, he mixes songs and adds in bumping beats that give such a unique experience. He raps, sings and makes great sounds with his key board along with other instruments.

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In the “Space Gospel” genre we find NorvisJr, a young black musician from Texas who came to Moksha to perform in a series created by the talented JusMoni, a local Future/Electronic/Soul artist who strives to “walk through the world as unapologetically black, while constantly creating.

You might be wondering what exactly space gospel is. NorvisIr tells me that it is like an “altruistic, ridiculous plot to ensure that everything ends up okay.”

He describes his music as “very happy, ever-changing and questioning.”

His music completely reflects that with its uniqueness and chill vibe.

“Create unceasingly and know that you are the center of the universe, but there is always somebody better than you even if you are the best,” he advises young Black musicians.

Both of these artists have such a unique, incredible sound. In NorvisJr’s amazing gospel-like voice I can hear the soul and heart in all of his songs.

In one of his collections on soundcloud, titled “Thank You Universe” where it seems like he is thanking every person and everything for just being. He is so positive and carefree, which I love and aspire to be.

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“We are all artists in one form or another, and here [at Moksha] we just hope to cultivate that and with so much space, we want to invite people and encourage them to share their gifts,” Ilagan says.

Shes’ right. We all create, inspire and explore. As for me, I sample many forms of art including singing, poetry, fashion and even writing. I think that is important to stay connected to art and to be able to express yourself in any way possible. Whether it be through rapping, making beats or even drawing. We all deserve to be able to express ourselves fully.

Self-expression is a beautiful thing within each individual that nobody can take from you. There are endless forms of self-expression and part of finding yourself is finding the ways that you love to express yourself the most and exploring these findings.