UW OMAI’s Passing the Mic at the
Wisconsin Book Festival
Mash Up of Heart & Soul
Willie Ney (l-r), Myriha Burton and Taylor Scott
critic who gushed with praise after the music stopped reverberating in the hall. Vietnam was done right by these performers and other
members of First Wave.
Vietnam has not been forgotten by his First Wave family. This year’s Passing the Mic, being held October 17-19 in Overture’s Promenade
Hall, is dedicated to Vietnam as well as Richard Davis, Madison’s world-renown jazz bassist and to the late Gil Scott-Heron, the African
American musician and poet whose work inspired a generation of hip hop artists who will be represented by his daughter Gia Scott-
Heron. Members of First Wave will perform tributes to all three.
“We like to think of the tributes as schematics,” said First Wave member Taylor Scott who is one of the women who performed last year.
“We wouldn’t say necessarily, ‘Let’s put a spoken word piece with Gil Scott-Heron’s. But let’s look at all of it as a holistic hip hop piece
with John Vietnam. Let’s do a jazz piece and spoken word piece for Richard and let’s do a solo mix for Gil Scott-Heron.’ A lot of it is
original work, but there are cover songs too. There are songs that Richard Davis personally likes. Ben Faris, the bassist who will be
working with us this year, gave us a few tips on what Richard likes. So we will probably put a spoken word piece with that as well.”
“For the Gil Scott-Heron tribute, we’re going to do a couple of pieces, a couple of mash-ups,” said Myriha Burton, also a First Wave
member. “It’s really just looking at the pieces that one, speak to us and two, speak to the larger embodiment of what we are trying to put
on. We’re just following John Vietnam and Richard Davis’ legacy. It’s just a promotion of good being.”
The members of First Wave have been creating a legacy of their own in the hearts and souls of the youth who attend Passing the Mic.
“There are going to be 15 and 16-year-olds in the audience,” Taylor said. “They want to see developed art. They are going to go back home
and they are going to use techniques and styles that they saw on stage. And of course, we’re doing a Best of Line Breaks. The piece that
John was actually in, Shock, was a touring piece as a part of the 2012 touring ensemble. We’ll have excerpts from that show. Dakota
Alcantara Camacho is going to come back and do their show on indigenous culture and sexuality. Lemon Anderson is also going to be
And just how much of an impact does Passing the Mic have on the youth? Burton knows.
“I’ve been involved with Passing the Mic since my senior year of high school,” said Burton who is majoring in history, Afro-American
studies and women’s studies and plans to eventually teach high school in her native Detroit. “I came here and I definitely think that
seeing what First Wave was firsthand definitely influenced my decision to want to come here. And I want to do the same. This year, we
got two other people from Detroit and I was like, ‘Yes, I finally got some people from back home to come.’ The fruit is just ready to come to
fruition. It took a long time to sow the seeds, but it is definitely coming around.”
And First Wave is also about keeping talented young artists who are future leaders in their communities on the UW-Madison campus.
“First Wave is the reason that I came so far from home,” Taylor said. “I’m from Baton Rouge. My decision to come to this university was
based off of community. You can do literally that you put your mind to. If you have an idea, you get to see it build as more and more
resources come because people want to see what First Wave is about. They want to see what First Wave is doing. They want to
contribute. It’s why I stayed here. I definitely found my place.”
First Wave and Passing the Mic is also about instilling a sense of history in the youth, teaching them a history that they almost never learn
“Students are coming in from Detroit, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities and Chicago,” said Willie Ney, the director of First Wave. “They’ve been
prompted to do pieces about the three different leaders whom we are honoring. The first night on October 17 the students who actually
have those prepared pieces are going to present those about Richard Davis, Gil Scott-Heron or John Vietnam. And the best of those
evening’s pieces are actually going to be performed on Saturday night. The students are doing research right now on who these people
are. That’s how we can instill an understanding of the leaders of the past.”
And number one, just as the Passing the Mic performances will fuse jazz, Motown and spoken word, hip hop culture fuses youth from
disparate backgrounds together into the hip hop nation.
“There is Lemon Anderson who is Puerto Rican Norwegian,” Ney said. “He’s really a representative of the Latino community in a big way.
And then you have John Vietnam, who is Vietnamese. The beauty of hip hop is that the inclusiveness of it is it represents ever corner of
the earth, every racial and ethnic background and every linguistic reality.”
With talented artists like Taylor and Burton involved, this year’s Passing the Mic should take the hip hop performances to new heights.
“I’m really excited for Passing the Mic this year, especially working with the band again,” Burton said. “Last year was a lot of fun. This
year, I plan on having even more fun. Hopefully we’ll get a lot of youth from the community to come out.”
It will be a performance that will melt the heart of any hip hop critic.
For further information about Passing the Mic and First Wave, see their ad in this edition or visit omai.wisc.edu.
By Jonathan Gramling
It was an incredible scene last year. The final night of Passing the Mic —
UW OMAI’s and First Wave’s contribution to the Wisconsin Book Festival —
was abuzz at Overture Center’s Promenade Hall. A gifted member of the
First Wave “family,” John Vietnam, had drowned several months earlier.
Passing the Mic — a hip hop festival that celebrates hip hop culture and
introduces talented high school students to Madison and the University of
Wisconsin — was dedicated to Vietnam’s memory. Just as Vietnam had
always approached his art and life full steam ahead, members of Vietnam
were going to do Vietnam right in their performances.
One of the main acts of the evening was a powerful performance of a mash
up — a fusion — of spoken word, soul and jazz and everything in between
by primarily women from First Wave accompanied by local musicians. It
was an electrifying performance that even melted the heart of a local music