Wing Young Huie on spoken-word artist Keno Evol: He has "a lyrical authenticity"

Categories: Spoken Word
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This weekend, Antoine "Keno Evol" Duke will be releasing a collection at Third Place Gallery of spoken-word pieces he has developed over the past few years. This will be the 19-year-old performer's first spoken-word album, and his second appearance at the gallery after collaborating with concert violinist Karen Kim and composer Patrick Castillo last month.
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Saturday's event will feature work that Evol created for The Echo Of Keno Evol, his debut album. The work marks a new stage in his spoken-word career. "It's a release party, but it's also kind of a birthday party for my new name," Evol says. 

"Evol," he explains, is "Love" spelled backwards, while "Keno" means "a game of chance," much like the lottery. He says he liked the idea of spontaneous things adding to a sequential sum of experiences. 

The album includes writings about returning to Minnesota with his adopted parents and twin brother, Antonio, eventually moving to a residence on Chicago Avenue. There are also poems about living with his girlfriend in his new home on Portland Avenue. 

The two streets -- Chicago and Portland -- are central to the work. "I tried to show the world to someone who might not have been to south Minneapolis," he says. "I really wanted to vividly show imagery that would reflect what you would hear, see, and smell living on Chicago and Portland Avenues." For example, there are moments where there's extreme quiet. Evol describes sitting in his living room at one o'clock in the morning, sensing everything that is around him, "and how big that can feel," he says. 

At other times, there's mayhem, with the sounds from HCMC, the sirens, and the random noises that sound like banging on walls. "You hear all kinds of conversations," he says. "You see a lot of characters [in the album] that inspired me to write." 

"The Violins were Blind When the Thunderstorms Hit," the poem that inspired the earlier collaboration with Kim and Castillo, is about not knowing his past. Keno and his eight siblings were all adopted, and for years Evol lived in foster care before he and his twin brother were adopted. "It's about not being able to forget the people you've never met, like a mother or father. It's really about reconciliation and forgiveness,"  he says.

Evol is still very close to four of his siblings, who live in Minneapolis, all of whom are performers. (One brother is an actor who has worked with the Guthrie and Mixed Blood, and his younger brothers both do spoken word.) "We just all found a really strong common ground in spoken word, theater, and dance," he says. 

Third Place Gallery owner Wing Young Huie says he encountered Evol through his work in Minneapolis Public Schools, first meeting him at Washburn High School where they had been part of a workshop. They reconnected again when the school made a visit Huie's space. Evol later visited the gallery on his own, and he and Huie got to know each other. 

Last month, when Kim and Castillo were working on a presentation at Third Place, Huie thought it would be a good idea to include Evol. Huie had seen him perform "The Violins were Blind When the Thunderstorms Hit" on YouTube with violins playing in the background. He thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if he did the piece with Kim and Castillo. Evol also collaborated with them on another work in honor of the late John Cage, where Evol read an essay by Cage as Castillo created sound and Kim played the violin. "It was an interesting interaction," Huie says.

The trio ended up submitting the work to a music competition in New York City, and were accepted into the Queens New Music Festival. "Kim-Castillo-Duke Trio: The Future of Music" uses Evol's original poem in a new collaborative piece.

Huie says the evening with Kim, Castillo, and Evol was one of the most powerful moments at Third Place. Evol has "a lyrical authenticity," Huie says. Not showy, the young artist has a truthfulness that is resonant and powerful. "We feel lucky he wanted to release the CD here," Huie says. At the gallery, performers come from all over the place, but it's been great to feature an artist who is from the neighborhood. "This is his territory." 

For Saturday's event, his brothers will be performing as well, along with Tish Jones, Alissa Paris, Crystal Spring, and Tottiana Adams. "I picked people who have helped me grow," Evol says. 

IF YOU GO:

The Echo of Keno Evol release party
7 p.m. (doors at 6:30 p.m.)
Third Place Gallery
3730 Chicago Ave. S., in Minneapolis
Suggested donation is $5



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The Third Place Gallery

3730 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN

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