The performance duo The Illustrious Blacks is poppin’! Although the married gay couple, who individually go by their stage names Manchildblack and Monstah Black, have each been in the downtown nightlife and Brooklyn performance scenes for a while, suddenly they are everywhere doing everything.
After last year’s release of their debut EP “NeoAfro Futuristic Psychedelic Surrealistic Hippy” on Concierge Records and that summer’s three-month residency of their live show “Hyperbolic” at Joe’s Pub, this year they’ve found a devoted following for their sold-out DJ-ing tribute nights like “Aretha vs. Chaka” at C’Mon Everybody, the hip music venue on Franklin Avenue in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill. They will be back at Joe’s Pub this month and next with guest artists, as well as Bridget Barkan on vocals, Tendayi Kuumba and Johnnie Cruise Mercer on vocals and dancing, and Farai Malianga and Jimmy Lopez on percussion.
Coming up this summer, The Illustrious Blacks will be part of the line-up of high profile artists at Central Park’s SummerStage. They hope to complete work on their second EP in June.
They describe their ethos as fusing “music, dance, theater, and fashion as the main ingredients to expand minds, shake booties, and encourage all to be bold, be brave, and be you!” They also said their mission is to create “intergalactic journeys in sound and performance in a world in which they thrive as Afro-Futuristic pilots.”
They are big picture kind of guys, can you tell?
They are also smart, sweet, neat, and replete with good energy. The Illustrious Blacks spoke to Gay City News recently about how they view their work.
CHRISTOPHER MURRAY: Why are you called The Illustrious Blacks?
MANCHILD BLACK: We were entering a party and a friend called out, “There they are, the illustrious Blacks!,” and it stuck.
CM: And how do you define yourselves as artists?
MONSTAH BLACK: We’re an electronic duo of recording and performance artists focusing on sound that is funky and has soul, and we also address current political issues in our songs.
CM: Well, I have to ask, do you wear each other’s clothes?
MB: We have, but that can be a point of contention. Generally, we don’t wear the same size shoe and I like higher heels, but I think our first ever fight was when he asked to borrow a pair of my Levi’s. I thought it was a one-time wear agreement.
CM: Your work really seems to connect self-liberation with social liberation.
MB: I’m glad you are getting that because that is the purpose, it’s about expressing our liberation to inspirer others.
MCB: About living in our truth.
MB: And living in our yes. We have a single called “Blast Off” that addresses that explicitly:
“People of the world, all the boys and the girls, if you’re Black or you are white, if you feel all right, bi or straight, trans or gay, don’t matter what your age, everybody let’s rage.”
CM: It can be complicated, being who you are. These days people are contending with the recognition that they carry multiple, even sometimes conflicting identities. As The Illustrious Blacks, you are drawing explicit and joyous attention to a Venn diagram at the intersection between Black and queer. Am I right?
MCB: Yes, but we are at the intersections of a lot of things. Sometimes for us, well, I’ll speak for myself here, it gets tricky. You hear a lot of groups that we are a part having beefs with each other.
MB: There are Black people who are completely anti-LGBTQ and sections of the LGBTQ community that are completely racist. We never want to deny our own complexity. What we want to do is say, “Hey, here we are as Black men, as queer men, and as Black queer men. Being queer doesn’t make us any less Black or any less men.”
THE ILLUSTRIOUS BLACKS | “Hyperbolic” | Joe’s Pub, inside the Public Theater | 425 Lafayette St. btwn. E. Fourth St. & Astor Pl. | May 17 & Jun. 23 at 9:30 p.m. | $15 at publictheater.org/en/Programs--Events/Joes-Pub; $20 at the door