The setting for Amenta Abioto's TBA performance on Wednesday night was immediately striking. A table was set in the center of the main room within PICA's new space on NE Hancock. Draped over the top was a colorful cloth with an array of food and a few pieces of sound equipment. And the whole thing was bathed in the glow of a single light that projected images of the moon and various abstract shapes. As the lights in the room started to go out, the mood promised something equally dramatic and bold.
Abioto didn't get quite to that level, but she certainly came close. For her hour-long-plus set, she did a lot: building songs out of layered vocal loops recorded in the moment, reading a bit of poetry from a small spiral-bound notebook, losing herself in dance around the table, sharing a piece of pie with her sister Intisar, and even having a bit of a banana to regain some strength after one particularly intense song.
Like most of Abioto's live displays, it was formless with her spirit and mood driving the direction of the evening. If that meant taking a moment to burn a bit of sage and walk around the table, that's what was going to happen. That also meant that it was difficult to remain immersed in the presentation. And little things kept happening to remind us how extemporaneous it all was.
The opening moments with Amenta and Intisar sharing a bite to eat and saying small blessings to the pie and its creator didn't seem to serve a larger purpose in spite of its sweetness. Then she had some issues with her Loop Station, forcing her to abandon a song, she instead went on a small discursive monologue, reminding us to not fear death and to look forward to our souls carrying on beyond our corporal beings. Too, when she was dancing around the table, she caused a small racket stepping on to the empty plate she ate pie off of.
The performance ascended when Abioto seemed to have complete control. A raging song about the Middle Passage felt huge in that room, as she repeated vocal lines with increased forcefulness and plucked out loud, discordant melodies on an mbira. Abioto even found new life in the well-worn spiritual "Amazing Grace," again through the repetition of the title and a vocal that managed to balance pleading and seething and soothing.
What was never in doubt was how purely talented Amenta Abioto is. She's connecting threads of experimental, soul, and gospel music in novel ways and imbuing her work with a deep political savvy and emotional impact. There are still some hurdles to cross for her to really get pushed to the next level and for her impact to truly be felt. Her TBA performance was just a small taste of what's to come.
Previously, at TBA:
• Repurposed Nostalgia in Mechanics Laid Bare
• The Effervescent Spirit of AU and the Camas High School Choir
• Unpacking "Otherness" in Carlos Motta's Deseos / رغبات
• Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble's Stealthy Mindfulness and Toxic Masculinity
• Disco Nostalgia and Wildwood Fantasies in Meg Wolfe's New Faithful Disco
• When Watching One Part of Morgan Thorson’s Still Life, Another Part Passes You By
• Narcissister’s Sublime, Ab Fab-Approved Spectacle