On May 17-19 various locations in New York City will transform into MOBIfest, a free interactive festival celebrating Black queer art, music, film, fashion, culture, and health. Hosted by Mobilizing Our Brothers Initiative (MOBI) a coalition dedicated to empowering queer young men of colour, the festival aims to build the community and provide inclusive spaces dedicated to queer individuals.
After the success of MOBItalks, founder Deshawn Usher developed MOBIfest to shed light on the queer community and encourage health and wellness throughout the demographic.
“The events will be free to attend by visiting our community partners and wellness events to gain entry into this celebratory weekend experience,” says Usher. “The goal is to link our community with various health and wellness activities, while participants can select how they would like to best take ownership of their health.”
In addition to the wellness activities, attendees will be able to enjoy several other events including community art exhibitions, panel discussions with Black queer artists, and a day party celebrating queer contributions to the fashion, music, house & ballroom scene. The festival will conclude with a brunch party featuring gay men of colour in different media industries sharing insights on their career success.
Dawn Richard, formerly of Danity Kane, spoke with me about her headlining performance, what attendees can expect, new music and what MOBIfest means to her.
So, Dawn you are headlining MOBIFest this year! How are you feeling about it?
DAWN: It’s one of the things where you always get butterflies when you perform, but for me, it’s always exciting because I get to touch and hug and talk and learn from a lot of the movement that’s been rocking with me for a long time. Every time I get to possibly be apart of their space and energy, I’m honoured. So, If anything I’m just excited to get back out there; It’s been a minute since I did a live show. This is the first live show I’ve done since I got off the REDEMPTION tour about a year ago. It’s exciting for me.
Awesome! Will this be your first time headlining a festival?
DAWN: This is my first time headlining a festival. I did Pitchfork Music Festival but I wasn’t headlining, so this is my first time headlining an actual festival and I’m excited and honoured. I’m super grateful that they thought of me to headline. Beyond that, I’m just overjoyed. I think the cause, what they are doing, the initiative and the whole push behind Black men and the Black gay community is so important. I’m just happy to be apart of it, let alone headline it.
Tell me a little bit more about this festival and how you became involved.
DAWN: I was honoured that MOBI even thought of me. I’ve been in situations within my family members and friends, where I’ve watched story upon stories of bullying, hating and hurting in a community of people who are not respected and are not treated fairly because they are different or “others”. So I’ve always [taken] it upon myself to speak on it, to put in my music or whenever I do a show, speak and talk to each person to help in any way that I can. I was lucky enough to have MOBI contact me and tell me what they were doing and how I’d be a perfect fit in it. I want to learn and be apart of change. The only way to do that [is to have] knowledge and information and I feel that being apart of MOBI gives me more of that. I’ve always been an advocate for people who feel left out. I’ve been one of those people. So now that I am an artist, I think it’s really important that if you have a platform, use it. So, I was quite honoured when they called and asked me to headline. I said “Hell yeah!”
How do you feel about the festival focusing on Black queer art, film, fashion and culture? Cause I think that’s pretty cool.
DAWN: I think it’s needed. Again, it’s one of the reasons I said yes for representation. You don’t see a lot of queer art being respected or fashion. There is a sense of “clique-ism”, where we feel only certain things need to be represented and I feel there is a lack of inclusion and opportunity from queer culture. I think it’s brilliant that MOBI is not only saying, ‘Okay we are gonna talk about these issues and give it a platform for our community to shine,’ but also it is a chance to learn who they queer artists are, what they represent, how people can put money into expanding these businesses. It is so important. It is great that we are hitting this with a double-wammy, to be honest. Not only are we being aware of queer culture, but also the black community and what we are doing. The more MOBI sheds light on this, the more dialogue will be about making a change.
What can attendees expect during your performance? Any new music or special guests? Maybe Danity Kane or Diddy-Dirty Money…?
DAWN: Well, for me it’s always about the band and the dancers and what we give the fans. We want it to be a party. Even though we are on stage and we are giving a show, it’s for them; it’s a party for everybody. No, there won’t be any special guests. It’ll just be focused on everybody having a good time. The set is about an hour and 30 minutes and during the show, we won’t do any ballads; everything will be uptempo so everyone can dance and enjoy the live show. So there won’t be any appearances, but they’ll definitely be throwbacks. There will also be some new stuff, absolutely. As for an album, yes there is an album coming. But by the time the show is done, people are going to sweat their weaves out.
Haha, that sounds like a good time! Wish I could make it. Will there be any meet and greet opportunities afterwards?
DAWN: At every show that I do, I just met the fans if they ask. And I do not charge for meet and greets. So that will always happen; I never not do that.
How do you think the audience will connect and relate to your music?
DAWN: Well, I hope they understand the stories that I’m telling. A lot of the music that I write is about queer culture, to be honest. Especially my last album, where I have records that speak [of] same-sex love, being genderless, and fluid. Although I’m not queer or gay myself, I can totally relate to being different. Overall, I hope it connects to the demographic out there and they understand what it means to be beautiful and black. I have a record, “Black Crime” off my new album that speaks on black issues and what I would hope is that they see themselves and they hear the lyrics and hear that I’m telling stories that I’ve also encountered just being different.
Are you planning on participating in any of the other events after your set?
DAWN: I’m going to go wherever they want me to go. They haven’t told me yet, but I’m going to be around because this is such an incredible festival. I definitely want to check out the queer art, from the drawing and painting side to fashion. I am also an artist; I’ve been drawing my whole life. So I really want to see what these upcoming new and modern queer artists are doing right now. If I could help put them on or even collaborate with them, I would love to. Or even if they can put me on too. Just as an artist and a fan of the culture, I definitely want to see what’s going on. So, I’ll probably just be all around.
Gotcha. Would you want to see or participate in more events such as MOBIfest or continue to collaborate with them in the future?
DAWN: Yes, absolutely. I think people come to you during good times in your life and I think that this was a blessing because I was looking for the next initiative or the next thing I could do to help. MOBI was just a blessing and I’m excited to be a part of it; not just now, but for a long period of time.
Well, thank you [for] taking the time out to speak with me. MOBIfest sounds like it is going to be a fun event and I’m glad that you are apart of something so wonderful.
DAWN: I’m really excited. Thank you GRUNGECAKE for thinking of us and me. We appreciate you guys putting us on the map. I’m honoured.
For more information about MOBIfest, how to attend and locations visit mobi-nyc.com.