Last Wednesday, the MultiCultural Center (MCC) held their quarterly Open Mic event at the Biko Garage in Isla Vista. A night meant for liberating expression, MCC’s Open Mic provides students of all backgrounds a welcoming platform to share their art through spoken word, poetry, and music.
Poet and sustainable fashion designer Roni (@poetronigirl) hosted this quarter’s Open Mic night. She has MC’d multiple Open Mic events in the past, her first being at the Hollywood House of Blues in 1995. Much of her inspiration comes from 70s music, namely from singers including Nina Simone and Stevie Nicks. She even kicked off the night reading her own poetry, setting the scene for a soulful sharing of stories.
Open Mic’s placement in Biko Garage wonderfully reflects the mission of both entities. The Biko House, a housing co-operative designed especially for students of color, strives to provide a safe and welcoming environment for students to share opinions about what matters to them, from social justice to cultural awareness. Open Mic holds these values close to heart as they strongly advocate openness and sensitivity within its space.
The event lasted for about two hours in Biko Garage. Its turnout was impressive to say the least; the audience stuck out from the back of the Garage just to engage with the performers, who took turns gracing the stage to present their art throughout the night.
One of the most striking features of Biko Garage is the artwork adorning the walls. From an enigmatic child-and-wagon motif to a loud, direct “WAKE UP ISLA VISTA,” the walls form a beautiful anthology of artistic statements. If the band Sublime was a place, it would be Biko Garage.
The slightly claustrophobic yet warm and cozy atmosphere created the perfectly real and eclectic environment for students’ words to be spoken and songs to be sung. Before the start of the event and in between transitions, the DJ played whimsical mixes of alternative rock and indie music. Some people opted to sit in plastic fold-out chairs while others squished together on a black leather couch — a classic college-esque seating.
The students weren’t shy with their presentations. From an unapologetic embrace of one’s inner hoe to a song about a “casanova boy” to a poem all about lattice energy, performers drew upon a myriad of experiences for their work.
Some students stood onstage with stanzas fully committed to memory, firmly planting their feet into the ground with conviction. For other students, it was their first time performing or their first time reading spoken word. Some poems had distinct rhythm or rhyme schemes; others built up with artfully disorganized tension and culminated with jarring resonances with the audience.
“I come back because I love hearing diverse voices from diverse people,” said MC Roni. “For me, the inclusivity of the event is my favorite part.” Even through the small voice cracks, occasional word forgotten, or one wrong note played on a chord, each student delivered their messages with life and an intensity that encourages others to speak their mind and have an active voice in this student community.