BY SOPHIA PUREKAL
Special to the Examiner
The heavy warmth of a late summer day was just breaking into a cool evening on that September 1999 night when I entered a cavernous art-space in New York City, just in time for the introduction of the performance of D’Lo – a queer, Tamil Sri Lankan American hip hop performance artist or “truthsayer” as many refer to her. I had never heard of her before, and little did I know what I was in for. She performed three rhythmical, mesmerizing poems for us that night. Eyes shut tight against the torrent of emotions stirring inside her, pushing herself through dance moves until sweat was steadily streaming down her face. Her energy was like nothing I’d ever seen before, or since.
Now, for the first time ever, D’Lo comes to Seattle, as a special host and headline performer on the opening night of the Third Independent South Asian Film Festival on Wednesday, Sept. 27. For interested members of the Tasveer community, D’Lo will also lead a three-hour intensive writing and performance workshop on the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 26.
D’Lo is at the vanguard of progressive art in America. Born in Queens, N.Y., raised outside of Los Angeles, and living (or surviving, rather) the past several years in one or the other or both of those cities — with occasional stints in London — D’Lo represents the epitome of the type of urban youth energy that those cities riddle with, but which is yet sparse in the Emerald City.
She was a performer from a young age, growing up learning piano, veena and drums. Her later study of ethnomusicology at University of California, Los Angeles has informed the music that she now writes, which, while soundly based in hip hop, incorporates rhythms and ideas from many musical traditions. As eclectic as the structure of her music are the ideas that flow through it. Her storylines refer to ethnic communities in America, urban street life, the Sri Lanka that she personally knows as it has struggled through cycles of strife and reconciliation and strife again.
Her poetry and stories bring in creatures and characters from mythology and past time periods. She addresses gender and racial identity; she addresses political and social realities and possibilities. The constant thread through all her pieces is her progressive message. She seeks to carry her audiences into a world beyond what they know, who enables them to become present to another’s reality. And she accomplishes this in a way that is uplifting and empowering.
Over the past year, D’Lo has written music and performance pieces for groups such as Great Leap and the Post-Natyam dance group, both based in L.A. She has been an artist-in-residence at University of Texas, Austin, and a participant in the Austin Project: 20 women of color called together to write for progressive and social change. And D’Lo has created pieces for herself to perform.
In Seattle, D’Lo presents “Rambleations,” a program that conglomerates various parts from many of her projects over past years, and that combines poetry, music, dialogue, dance and comedy. She appears at the festival’s Sept. 27 opening night at 7 p.m. at the Broadway Performance Hall in Capitol Hill. The evening includes Indian dance performances and, of course, independent South Asian film.