It's been a busy couple of weeks for Jasmine Cousins, as the date for her "Urban Music Showcase" draws near. It's the fourth annual event organized by Cousins and her Chocolate City Voice promotions company.
But it will be the first music event in Cousins' new work space, the Alyse Jean David School of Performance Arts on Edgewater Drive. The Saturday, April 27, late-night party will unite the sounds of fresh and veteran musicians, kicking off with the young voice of reggae artist Khelia, and the debut of MC Switch, and working into the hip-hop of The THUNDAH GOD, D'360, R-Senal, TDP and The Skem Team (members from the better-known Warhedz), all hosted by Cousins, a.k.a. Mocha Dimes.
Saturday's showcase is a lot like its host. At 27, Cousins is as diverse as the simmering urban-music melting pot she likes to stir. "I do it because of a sick love for the music," says Cousins, who gives into her passion even as she fulfills her roles as mother, wife, businesswoman, artist and student. Her sense of inner calm and soft voice belie the strength of her determination.
She's watched the Orlando reggae and Caribbean music scene grow exponentially during the past decade. Once performing only at out-of-the-way venues, national and local acts now liven the stages at some of the biggest clubs in town, for ever-widening audiences. As an active participant in the scene as a fan and then performer, Cousins remembers the days before Hard Rock Live and House of Blues were vying for a piece of the action. Big-time acts like Yellowman and Capleton entertained mostly Caribbean and African-American audiences at odd places like the Metro Skating Rink and The Rotary Club. And she got to hang around those club settings at an impressionable age because her older brother was a musician who kept her close but showed her around. That's when her relationship with local music began to earn her the credibility that still makes musicians answer her calls.
"Back in the day," Cousins recalls about the then-established Orlando music venues, "they wouldn't even allow the shows. They were scared that there would be fights and roughneck crowds."
While the beefed up security continues at high-profile rap shows by national artists -- even fans agree that this is probably for good reason -- the image of hip-hop and other styles grouped under the marketing moniker of "urban" have changed on the local front. Many clubs have regular hip-hop nights -- "Raw Flava" Wednesdays at Tabu, Thursdays at Palladium International, Fridays at the new Club RDDHouse, to name a few. Even the Student Center at UCF is drawing curious crowds 300-strong to its Monday-night "Hush." Last month saw the debut of the hip-hop dedicated Orlando Source Magazine Awards Show at Carr Performing Arts Centre that brought together competitive locals and their fans without crowd-crunching drama. Last week saw the dawning of "Writes of Passage," a Sunday-afternoon meeting of the minds on issues affecting local hip-hop, organized by Swamburger at his StrongArm 47 shop on Magnolia Avenue.
The music is definitely out there; now, it's time to catch the ear of the hard-to-win-over local audience.
Cousins first began writing and performing music when she was 12. By the time she was 16, the Jamaican-born teen-ager was opening shows for the likes of reggae acts Redman, Buju Banton and Beenie Man. Often the only female in the lineup, she would take the stage "chatting" (reggae-style rapping) about strong women, men behaving badly and maintaining a sense of cultural pride. The school of hard knocks she'd struggled through as a young entertainer inspired her to try and create a forum for minority artists like herself to be heard.
Chocolate City Voice was born in the form of a four-page newsletter distributed about town and named in honor of Atlanta and Washington, D.C., cities whose large African-American community had earned them the nickname of "Chocolate City." Soon she was organizing reggae and Caribbean music shows. Positive community response convinced her that there was a real need for someone to locally promote struggling brothers and sisters, whatever their style of music. "People would come up to me after shows and say, "Oh, you are doing such a good thing," Cousins says, and that was enough to keep her going. Her involvement in the business side of the entertainment continued to evolve. Eventually, she decided to turn Chocolate City Voice into a promotions company.
But Cousins' business has not stopped evolving. She recently turned another brainchild into reality, inspired by her three daughters and son, who span ages from infancy to 9 years. Along with partners Nicely Jean and David Jones, Cousins opened the Alyse Jean David School of Performing Arts a year ago to serve as a bridge between talented youth and the entertainment industry. Cousins hopes to help young people get a head start on pursuing dreams and positively shaping the entertainment industry for the next generation. Through them she would like to see more changes in the reggae, Caribbean and hip-hop music communities, beyond just the issue of growth and popularity. Particularly in regards to women, Cousins still feels that the industry needs a bit of change. "A lot of times when a woman gets into the industry, people don't know what to do with them. They're like, we're not going to use them as sex objects and have them shake their butts, but what do we do with them?"
She wants audiences to see female artists music artists beyond their sexuality. Cousins feels that this will change as more women performers collectively stand their ground. "You can be sexy, but you got to know where you are coming from," she advises. "You've got to let them know that it's not that kind of party."
All of the above has the stylish and hip Cousins putting her own performing career on the back burner for now, though she still does collaborations with others (she once shared the mike onstage with Gargamel!) as well as write songs.
Ask her how she manages to do it all and she'll tell you that she simply wants to make a difference through her work. "I want to be able to help people, and I also want to be able to help myself and my family," she says with a true grit that tells you it will happen. "I want to show other mothers out there that just because you might have started out young having kids or whatever the case may be, there is nothing impossible for you to do."