Eugene is not known for its racial diversity. In fact, the city has a long history of racism. Black people have been marginalized in Oregon since its inception through property laws, police violence and more.
According to the 2019 U.S. Census, 1.6 percent of the population in Eugene identifies as Black or African American, 6.2 percent identifies as two or more races and 83.3 percent identify as white.
Eugene’s music and art scene is primarily populated by white performers, a reflection of that lack of diversity. However, there is a wealth of talent to be found in the performers, dancers and musicians in Eugene who are Black.
While Eugene still has a long way to go in terms of racial equity, there has been a recent shift in highlighting the voices of Black people locally. Though the following list doesn’t cover the full scope of talented Black performers in Eugene, here are a few artists you can support right now:
Tumelo Michael Moloi is originally from South Africa, but he moved to the U.S. to further pursue his dance career. After performing with Cirque du Soleil for 11 years in Las Vegas, Moloi came to Eugene. Now, he is a full-time dancer performing with different local studios, but he also writes poetry and makes art and jewelry.
Moloi says his goal is to share the culture of South Africa with the city of Eugene, and specifically to the community’s kids. “Not everyone is privileged to travel all over the world and learn about different cultures,” Moloi says. “But since we are here, I feel like we can use these opportunities to teach kids about other cultures and histories.”
m5 Vibe is a rapper and spoken-word poet. He started making music three years ago and since then has performed at Matthew Knight Arena, Oregon Country Fair, the Whiteaker Block Party and more. Initially, m5, aka Marcus Holloway, says he started making music “out of desperation.” He says, “I was in a really bad place, and I was just writing all my feelings out basically in a rhythmic pattern.” m5 is originally from Georgia and served in the U.S. military for 10 years. Afterward, he says he decided to get active about what he believed in. “In the military you’re not allowed to take sides,” he says. “You can, but you have to be really discreet about it. Once I got out, I started getting active. I came back to see that we’re still fighting a war here in America.”
Now, m5 uses his music as a platform to voice his experiences living as a Black man in America.
The West African Cultural Arts Institute is a nonprofit arts organization with a mission “to share the joy and passion of Guinean culture through vibrant educational programs in drumming and dancing,” according to Andrea DiPalma Yansane, who co-founded the institute with her husband, Alseny Yansane.
Since 2007, WACAI has been providing opportunities for kids and adults, including drum and dance classes.
The Yansanes run the programs with their son, Papa. They also collaborate with other artists and organizations in town. “Alseny is an authentic, source artist from Guinea who has trained as a traditional performance artist since childhood and worked and toured with the world renowned Ballets Africains for fourteen years before arriving in Eugene,” according to DiPalma Yansane.
DiPalma Yansane lived in Guinea with her husband for seven years, where she studied traditional Guinean drumming, dancing and culture. They have over 50 years of collective experience doing arts education.
Darline Jackson’s My Band is a “creative group of vocalists and musicians creating soulful music that keeps you toe tapping, dancing and rocking,” according to their Facebook bio. They performed at the Juneteenth event at Alton Baker Park on June 20, bringing funk and soul to Eugene. Jackson is described as a “powerhouse soul diva” on the band’s bio, covering music from a variety of decades and genres.
Carlos “Retro” Rasmussen is a freestyle dancer. In eighth grade, he saw a video of Marquese Scott dancing to Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” and decided to try it out himself. Now, Rasmussen calls his dancing “freestyle animation,” using a combination of waving, popping, locking, tutting (a dance style based on intricate movements) and gliding while also implementing ballet, hip hop, modern dance and krumping. “I just do whatever I feel in the moment,” he says. “I like making a story that is in my mind come to life. I bring out this story in my head and give it motion, and try to be animated while in the process of doing so.”
Rasmussen teaches dance classes at Denbaya Drum and Dance, Flex Studios and Xcape Dance Academy. “People get intimidated when they think of going to a dance class,” he says. “But instead of giving steps and doing choreography every single time, I more so give you an idea on how you can move your body or how you can use movement, and from there let you experience how your body feels most comfortable moving.” ν
For more information on the performers listed, you can visit MichaelMoloi.Art, YouTube.Com/CarlosRetroRasmussen, m5 Vibe on Spotify, WestAfricanCulturalArts.org and Facebook.com/DarlineJackson.myband.