Interview: Edupoetic

Edupoetic (Minneapolis)
Published in The Pulse of The Twin Cities
by Kandis Knight

St. Paul, is the sleepy old capital of Minnesota.  One very gray and gloomy day, I ventured  across the river in search of energy and light.  I was going to meet Frank Sentwali one of the founding members of The Minnesota Spoken Word Association and lead artist of the Twin Cities most eclectic spoken word/Hip-Hop crew Edupoetic.

While the vibe around the Selby and Milton Avenue area was pretty gloomy, it was bright and vibrant inside the Golden Thyme Coffee Shop.  On this day, the "happy oaisis" was filled to capacity with a diverse cross section of urban-hipster professionals. I didn’t have to wait long because Sentwali was right on time and never missing a beat, true to form. As he walked through the door everyone knew his name and wanted his attention.

“Hey Frank, can you come and put on a show for the kids at our church?” said one older gentleman. “Hey Frank, how is the program doing at Central?” said a younger woman. Frank Sentwali is one of the founding members of the Minnesota Spoken Word Association, and he is a man of the people. His passion was instantly ignited by the flurry of attention and his face lit up as he graciously responded to his community.

Before I introduced myself I sat back and watched each exchange. After Sentwali found his way to my table he sat down and took a deep breath, fulfilled for the moment, but ready for what would come next.“I am getting old around town I won’t be news soon," said a joking Sentwali, his deep voice simultaneously exuding confidence and consciousness.

Although Edupoetic has been gigging sparsely as of late it’s with good reason—the group just finished up recording a new album, Patriotic Duty, due out this month and featuring all live band music. “We got our start at Jazzville on Robert and 10th Street in downtown St. Paul back in 1997,” recalls Sentwali. “We had an open mic there on Monday nights you may remember. The place was really just a little hole in the wall and many people were afraid to go there except on a Monday night, but we groomed our talent there.”

Jazzville was the premier spoken word spot before spoken word even became trendy here in the Twin Cities. "In addition to our regular poets and artists, we attracted drug dealers, crackheads, alcoholics, homeless mainly because we were spitting this conscious based, socio-political poetry that identified with the struggles of your everyday people. It was more than just some poetry spot—it became like a church. It was Monday night service through poetry.”

The crew recently began a spoken word night on Sundays at Arnellia’s nightclub in St. Paul hoping to recreate the vibe of Jazzville. It features music by DJ Chuck Chizzle and Big Reese and an open mic. “Last weeks energy at Arnelia’s reminded me of the more popular Jazzville nights and we only had five poets show up.” In addition to promoting events, doing educational programs for youth, recording and being a family man, Sentwali is also the co-host of Urban Griots Fridays at noon on KMOJ, 89.9 FM.

The radio show features spoken word from artists around the country and a smooth jazzy vibe. Through the years the Edupoetic collective has seen members come and go. Currently the crew seems rather cohesive. “Right now our active members include Ahanti Young on vocals and percussion. Ahanti is also an actor with Penumbra Theater Company. Tiyo Siyolo is our lead vocalist and songwriter. Andrea Reynolds (Queen Dre) vocalist and songwriter, Jason Murray our bass player and myself,” smiled the modest Sentwali.

“We also do the Dinkytowner the second Saturday of every month. Last Saturday we did a rocking full band set. We did a lot of jam band music and a lot of instrumental. The month before that we did percussion and an upright bass poetry set.”

So you may be wondering exactly what is Edupoetic? Edupoetic is socio-conscious, politically conscious poetry and entertainment in all formats according to Sentwali who makes no distinctions between spoken word and Hip-Hop.

“It is all Hip-Hop. Rap was influenced and created as an offspring of spoken word poetry or performance poetry. Now we are starting to come full circle, thirty years later. The spoken word poetry of today is taking on the influence of rap and Hip-Hop culture. We are dealing with a younger generation of people who are getting burned out in the whole ‘gangsta rap,’ ‘bling-bling’ style of entertainment. Spoken word is giving people a voice that is acceptable amongst their peers that is their own as opposed to a voice that is fabricated by commercial entertainment.”

Sentwali also has a few words in parting to those heads who are reluctant to check out a poetry set. “If you are interested in Hip-Hop but you won’t go to a poetry reading, that is like disrespecting your ancestors. Before they called it rap they called it poetry and rap is simply rhythm and poetry, it is an acronym R-A-P. Understand what rap is. If you are a rapper you are a poet and if you understand you are a poet then you understand you have a responsibility to be versatile in your format.”

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