On Feb. 2, doors opened at the Nuyorican Poets Café at 9:30 p.m. The small crowd congregated outside filed into the intimate, warehouse-style venue, finding their seats as the lights dimmed and the live band on stage played a rhythmic tune.
The All THAT! Open Mic Night occurs on the first Wednesday of every month and is one of few in-person events currently hosted by the East Village hotspot. The event’s emcees, Wiseguy & Gaston, boast of it being the “longest-running hip-hop show in the city.” Artists have the opportunity to perform five minute sets on a first-come-first-serve basis with an improvised musical accompaniment by the All THAT! band.
The Nuyorican encourages poetry, jazz, hip-hop and spoken word performances to empower underprivileged voices. As February marks Black History Month, this event served as a timely symbol of community.
“It’s Black History Month every month,” said poet and performer Jovan Martinez, better known as Jay Mahagony, a statement met with raucous applause from the audience.
“I can’t even begin to speak on the platform the Nuyorican gives artists. If you are a new artist and you want to try out new material, the Nuyorican is your home. Everyone will cheer you on. No one will ever make you feel bad about who you are,” Martinez said in an interview after the show. She has performed at the Nuyorican regularly for over 10 years.
Martinez performed two sets. Although she felt that the event had a rocky start, her poem livened the mellow audience by reminding them of the night’s significance.
“What made tonight special was that it was a night where I didn’t feel like coming out, and the energy was low. Then I came out and we brought the energy,” she said. “One thing about me is that I’m always about empowering my people, and making them feel that even beyond Black History Month, it’s important to be who you are, to love who you are, and to be your authentic self.”