WORDS BY SOFIA HAAN
Minneapolis is known as one of the best cities to catch live music, but that reputation isn’t just built by well-known venues or nationally-touring acts coming to town—it’s built by local musicians.
Based out of Cedar-Riverside’s Cedar Cultural Center, the Cedar Commissions aims to support up-and-coming local artists through developing musical abilities and exploring new performance methods, such as new instruments and larger backing bands, to express and experiment with their art. Each year, six performers are selected and commissioned to create at least 30 minutes of new music to debut at The Cedar before a live audience. Since its inception in 2011, Commissions have highlighted more 60 Minnesota musicians and creatives, including notables such as Dessa, Maria Isa, Adam Levy, Dameun Strange, and Joey Van Phillips.
The program is made possible with the help of funding by the Jerome Foundation, a Minnesota–based philanthropic organization. Each artist selected to join the Cedar Commissions receives $5,500 for developing their sets. This year, with the help of additional Jerome Foundation funding, money will also be allocated to improved videography tools to record video packages for the performers. “For a lot of folks, this will be the first significant grant they will have earned,” explains Robert Lehmann, community and grant-funded programs manager at The Cedar. “It can really serve as a springboard. With the commissions money, artists have this opportunity to dig into one of their really big ideas.”
To select artists, Lehmann and a diverse selection committee of Minnesota-based musicians and industry pros evaluate applications by looking for the answers to these questions: What is the story the performer is attempting to share? How does their story connect to the present moment? How does it resonate with potential audiences? How does it speak to a new perspective that isn’t currently being shared? How does it take an experience and speak on it in a new manner?
Here are this year’s Cedar Commission picks, who will be performing in one of two showcase nights:
NIGHT ONE SHOWCASE
Kavoossi, who performs under the name biaban, will perform “Oil and Dust,” a program that challenges the way modern society ignores the constant presence, political leverage, and environmental challenges of oil.
Through a performance called “Caruuteena” (Somali for “our children”) DJ Fawzi seeks to build connections within generations of the Somali community in the face of the devastating effects of the fentanyl crisis taking place in the Cedar-Riverside community.
Emily Boyajian rounds out the first evening with “Transition,” a musical composition exploring the complexities of gender and finding one’s true self, based on her experiences as a transgender woman living in the Twin Cities.
NIGHT TWO SHOWCASE
Langason will be sharing “Songs for Making Sense of It All,” a program attempting to use songwriting to navigate and heal from the constant chaos of life in the last few years. Drawing on theories of vitalism, Deutsch’s program “Vis Vitae” plays with ambient and drone-style music to bring moments of meditation and soothing to listeners.
Drawing on theories of vitalism, or the theory that everyone operates with their own life force, Sophia Deutsch’s program “Vis Vitae” plays with ambient and drone-style music to help listeners center themselves and experience moments of soothing meditation.
Cydi Yang performs “Sound Calling,” which is based on the Hmong tradition of “soul calling,” or reclaiming herself in connection to art after losing herself through difficult life experiences.
For local artists beginning to establish themselves in the Twin Cities’ storied music scene, the Cedar Commissions presents an opportunity to step onto a renowned stage and magnify their voices and stories. “[Showcase] attendees should expect to hear six very different artists [with] different works of music, but works that are deeply connected to the artists’ identities, stories and passion. I would hope that audiences would be familiar with one or two of them, or maybe none of them. If they aren’t familiar with any of them, I would hope that audiences become big fans of them by the end of the night,” says Lehmann.
The Cedar Cultural Center, 416 Cedar Ave S, Mpls, thecedar.org
7:30 PM, $15 general admission, $25 for two-day pass
2/17: Aram Kavoossi, DJ Fawzi, Emily Boyajian
2/18: Theo Langason, Sophia Deutsch, Cydi Yang