You could say that local radio personality Miriam “Mir.I.am” Tolbert was getting a little fed up about the lack of musical girl power in and around the Triangle.
“I’m always around town, and I’m always at somebody’s concert or showcase,” says the Raleigh-based Tolbert, who hosts radio shows on WQOK-FM (97.5) and WKNC-FM (88.1). “But I never see a lot of women present. It’s always typically a lot of rappers and no women – even if it’s a female MC – and definitely no female R&B artists.”
And that’s how “Ladies First: An All-Women Music Showcase” came to be.
Tolbert rounded up female MCs and vocalists for a night of performances Wednesday night at Kings. “I just had the idea to why not put together a showcase of all the amazing women that are either established in the area or – some of them – on the rise in the area,” she says.
While the Triangle does have a smattering of established female MCs (Rapsody, Sarah Kaboom) and vocalists (Carlitta Durand, Heather Victoria), there are others who are still on the fringe, either because they’re not welcome or they’re just not in demand. “In the hip-hop community, it’s male-dominated,” says Tolbert. “A lot of times, if you’re not a certain female artist that’s popular, it’s always been more difficult for females to be able to thrive in the world of hip-hop… In terms of R&B, R&B has kind of, over the last few years, lost its way. I feel like a lot of people have lost interest in it. So, a lot of the R&B acts that are probably on the rise are catching the tail end of that, where the interest is not really there.”
But Tolbert believes the performers assembled for the show (11 vocalists and 2 MCs) are all promising acts. Some of them have been out there for more than a minute, while others are brand-new to the game.
“2015 was when I started doing music on my own,” says Durham vocalist Mballa, who will be doing her first live set at the showcase. A former manager for hip-hop duo The Koolest, Mballa decided being her own artist was better than handling other artists. “I’ve always wanted to sing, but I was always too afraid to.And, especially, I beat cancer when I was 13 years old. So, that experience, for some reason, created a lot of insecurities for me, even though I felt like I should’ve understood that I was given a second chance at life.”
Mballa agrees with Tolbert that it’s difficult to find a way into the Triangle’s tight-knit black music scene. “I would say that there’s kind of like an all-boys’ club when it comes to the hip-hop and R&B community here, in that a lot of the artists on the scene know each other or, you know, grew up together and are introduced kind of that way,” she says.
There are artists on the bill, like Raleigh singer SoFree Wisdom, who find they have to worry about other female artists refusing to leave the door open for them when they do join the club. “I can definitely say it’s challenging to network with other females,” says Wisdom. “It takes a really confident female to wanna work with another great artist, and they’re just aren’t a lot around here. But I have also met some amazing women, so I won’t say they’re all bad. But, I mean, just with women in general, when you have a bunch of them in the same room, somebody’s gonna pull the claws out.”
Both Mballa and Wisdom say they would love to work with the other women on the bill. For Tolbert, it’s all about establishing a sisterhood with both the women on stage and in the audience. “I want them to feel encouraged,” she says. “I want them to feel inspired and uplifted. I want them to have enjoyed themselves and to realize that there’s so much talent for female artists in the area. And if we all come together and support one another, then we can rise.”
What: “Ladies First: An All-Women Music Showcase”
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Kings, 14 W. Martin St., Raleigh
Info: 919-833-1091 or kingsbarcade.com