My little sister is a rapper. A white, female rapper that lives in Portland, Maine. Maine hip-hop? It's like jumbo shrimp. But indeed, there is a thriving community here. Enough to earn the attention of the New York Times last year, naming Portland one of the emerging hip-hop scenes in the country. Enough to have multiple clubs offering open mic nights and bringing in national acts. Several performers (Poverty, Sole, Alias) have gone on to California to take their careers to the next level.The website MaineHipHop.com
boast 2500 members.
My sister, who goes by the stage name Sontiago, moved here seven years ago. She'd been a fan and performer of hip-hop for many years. (In high school, she feared that her dorky big sister would embarrass her. Just in case I might think of talking to her in public, she created a set of hip-hop flash cards to beef up my knowledge of the latest lingo.)
Within her first few months here, she attended a hip-hop open mic night at the Stone Coast Brewery where more than 20 mc's took to the stage on a regular basis. It was there that she met the community that has continued to support her musical pursuits.
Last week she held a CD release at Space Gallery for her second album. Like the show for the release of her first album three years prior, the venue was packed with nearly 300 fans.
Sontiago's style is an eclectic poet/singer/rapper/songwriter. She was recently named in the October issue of Down East as one of 10 Maine Musicians You Need to Hear Right Now and one of Urb magazine's upcoming 1000. She's currently on tour supporting her new album, Steel Yourself.
The show opened with a dance performance by the Nile Girls, a group of Sudanese teens who she works with as part of her hip-hop outreach. She has also delivered workshops with girls at the homeless teen shelter, incarcerated teens at the Long Creek Development Center and immigrant teen girls with the Say It Loud program. Each workshop encourages youth to use the medium of hip-hop to tell a deeply personal story, a format that she uses in her own work. At last week's show, songs covered topics from Hurricane Katrina to domestic violence.
Over the last few years the Say It Loud program has taken on the mission of showing the world that hip-hop is not exclusively a man's game. The program, which is run by Add Verb Productions, works with young women to foster their own voices through hip-hop and spoken-word poetry. Originally designed to reach out to girls in the city's immigrant community, the program has expanded to all young women with an interest in writing, art or hip-hop music. There are plans to expand the program this spring to work with teenaged boys.
It reminds me of Portland's old tag line, "a lot of fun for a little city."Hip Hop Open Mic Night
The Big Easy
Monday nights, 9 p.m.
Say It Loudwww.myspace.com/addverbsayitloud