If there’s anything you should know anything about the soul music revival that took place in Philly in the late 90s, it’s Black Lily. Created by singers/songwriters Tracey Moore and Mercedes Martinez, otherwise known as the Jazzyfatnastees, the vocal powerhouses envisioned a platform where female artists like themselves could come together and make the music they wanted to—without labels, categories or genres forcing them into a box. After a brief hiatus from 2005–2007, the collective is back and has since added a showcase for budding female filmmakers to the roster, for what is now called The Black Lily Film and Music Festival. Clutch spoke with creator Tracey Moore and filmmaker Maori Holmes to find out what’s the future of Black Lily.
Clutch Magazine: Take us back to 1999, the origin of Black Lily:
Tracey Moore: when we first started doing jam sessions, we started out in Ahmir (?uestlove) Thompson’s living room. That’s where the first jam session began. It was really organic, really cool. At any given night you’d have Black Thought on the mic, me on the keyboard—although I didn’t know how to play—but we’d come together organically and just have jam sessions. It got so big that at one point that we decided we needed to do this elsewhere. We then started doing them in NY in a studio.
Clutch Magazine: When did you tell that it was growing into something more?
Tracey Moore: Of course, The Roots had more notoriety than us, and then all of a sudden what we’d started became so male dominated. I mean, it was our thing—the females in our camp. We wanted this to be a place where singers and songwriters would be able to just get up there and hone our skills, and we were being pushed to the side. So when that started happening, we decided to do something where we don’t have to fight all these dudes to get on the mic. I’m the most boisterous person and I’d go toe to toe with these dudes. But, because of that, we decided to focus on something that was all female. Hence the birth of Black Lily.
Clutch Magazine: What was the idea you had in mind when you decided to put Black Lily together.
Tracey Moore: It was designed to focus on female artistry and as a stomping ground and learning place for up and coming talent. Mercedes and myself had done a lot of live shows, at that time we’d been a group for many years, but getting on stage with a live band and really doing a show, we weren’t as skilled at that. Black Lily was a way to up the ante as far as stage performances. And also give way for other female artists. In 1999 we had a marketing/promotional budget and we decided instead of doing select shows in whatever city, we decided to use all of our money in one concerted effort and cultivate what we were as a group and hone our craft.
Clutch Magazine: What are some of your memories of those first few events:
Tracey Moore: The first year we used our budget money and put it on for free. We pretty much drove everybody into Philly—different musicians and artists. And caravan into New York. Jaguar Wright was one of the first people in our van! Of course, you know, Black Lily managed to grow and survive many, many years.
Clutch Magazine: What were some of the hardships faced when trying to pull together an event of this kind?
Tracey Moore: We eventually moved it back to Philly because the costs were just too great. Black Lily was never something we did for money. It was something we felt was necessary for the industry due to the lack of the up and coming artists who are able to get out there not trying to shimmy and shake. We took it back to Philly and started doing a weekly, Tuesday night at the Five Spot. And that’s pretty much where Black Lily stayed until we closed or doors in 2005.
Clutch Magazine: How did you jump from the Women in Music aspect of Black Lily to incorporating film?
Maori Holmes: I did a film called Scene not Heard about women in Philly’s music scene. I interviewed Mercedes as part of the film and I talked about Black Lily with a lot of the subjects because many of them had cut their teeth on the Black Lily stage. So it was a major part of my film. When I finished that in 2005, I was fortunate enough to go on tour with it a little bit around the country. I approached Mercedes and Tracey about taking the Black Lily brand, which at that time, the women in music series had discontinued, and about resurrecting it at the festival.
Tracey Moore: I had since moved to New York and gotten into film. So when she came along it made sense. I was already segueing my interest into film at that point. So it was like the universe was opening up another door to show us another way to contribute and cultivate what it is you’re already doing. The Black Lily Film and Music Festival came to be.
Clutch Magazine: It’s great that Black Lily has garnered the attention of big-name sponsors. But, are there times when you’ve felt that it was harder to get people to believe and support what it is you’re doing?
Tracey Moore: There’s always an issue when it comes to women who want to have their voices heard but don’t necessarily have the capital to make that possible on their own. So you do need people who have the power to make something to be involved. As far as this particular festival, it’s interesting and in line with our current political climate. If our festival were a Black Women’s festival, we’d have funding out the yin yang. But, because we’re not specifically a black festival, it was exceedingly hard to get the kind of support. It takes somebody to actually take a chance and have some vision. The music industry isn’t different from the film industry in terms of breaking the ceiling.
Clutch Magazine: Have you had to fight to have some men take you seriously?
Tracey Moore: We do have men who are involved and actually get it. It’s not about not being pro-male; it’s about being pro-woman. There aren’t enough avenues for women where they’re being supported, they can shine, and nobody’s sitting there judging them and making them fit into some box that was designed by a man. I mean, I love men. We’re not anti! I personally feel that if we heal the women of this world and heal the children, everything will fall into place. Seeing as how women are the future and we are the ones raising these boys, I really feel like my energy should be spent on educating, uplifting and inspiring woman. I think a lot of what’s wrong with this world today is because a lot of women don’t have the confidence, the nurturing and the support that’s necessary to be positive all the time. Sometimes we’re just allotted these little portions of the world that we can be in. We can get on stage and shake your ass—they’ll give you money all day long to do something like that. But they won’t give you money to create art. I mean, I get it, it’s about who has the power. Men have always been scared that we women will get a clue and take over.
Clutch Magazine: Tell us about some of the acts that have graced the Black Lilly Stage?
Tracey Moore: At one point Alicia Keys got on our stage. This was at the height of when she first came out. It was after her first album and everybody in the world knew who Alicia Keys was. She happened to be doing a show and came through after a gig and got on the stage and jammed. Meshell Ndegeocello; we actually worked with Meshell before we even came to Philly, so of course our paths would cross again. Erykah Badu, she’s one of our peers when we were coming up at the same time. Floetry before they were signed, they came from London and black Lily was one of the places they wanted to come because they’d heard about it. And doing our show, constantly getting on stage doing their thing, their dream of having a record deal came into fruition. India Arie hit our stage before she came out.
Clutch Magazine: What is the main focus for Black Lily Film and Music Festival?
Maori Holmes: Our mission statement is kind of long, but our main goal is to provide a platform for independent women artists to have their music and film seen by the masses. We definitely value people who have political consciousness as part of their work. It’s very like an indie sort of alternative scene.
Tracey Moore: I think the focus is education. I think the focus is supporting. I have a group of females and we’re all very supportive of one another. We don’t say negative things to one another to break down our self-confidence. And I feel like Black Lily is a way to celebrate womanhood, to celebrate your voice. To say, “You know what, you may be different from me, but I get it. I get you. I support that. I appreciate it. I love it.” We don’t say that enough to one another.
Clutch Magazine: Did you ever think you’d still be around almost ten years later?
Tracey Moore: No way did I think we’d still be doing Black Lily right now. No way did I think it would cultivate into what is now a movement and a force to be reckoned with. I think Black Lily was the potential to be something totally amazing. In no way did we think we’d be sitting here with a festival in the palm of our hand.
Clutch Magazine: Aside from your efforts with Black Lily, do you think the Jazyfatnastees will record another studio album?
Tracey Moore: I’ve learned to say never say never, but I definitely feel like because we have taken a hiatus from our recording career, it’s also given us an opportunity to see what else we have inside of us. We are more than just singers and songwriters and performers. We are businesswomen, we’ve always believed in giving back. Partially because we’ve been given so much. We’re one of the luckiest groups out there! When Maori came along asking for our help and support for what she wanted to do, we thought about it and said yeah. If you can help, why not? But to answer your question (chuckle) we probably will do another album. Everything happens in a sort of circular kind of way. Because of Black Lily Films and Music Festival, Mercedes and Tracey, Jazyfatnastees, probably will do another album. We’re a little older now, so we might not have to fight for a deal next time!
Clutch Magazine: What’s the future hold for the collective?
Tracey Moore: My vision is Black Lily is seen as another Sundance. I see it as another Coachella. I see it as another South by Southwest. Where we’re breaking and dividing. We’re the place to be every year. You’ll come to Black Lily because you want to be there in the atmosphere every weekend—it’s a place of pride and enjoyment. Everyone who came to the festival embraced what black Lilly stands for and it was an incredible experience. My hope is that Black Lilly Film and Music festival becomes a destination festival. People come to Philly because they just want to be down in the environment. Even if they don’t see a film or go to a show, they just come to the city because they know that’s where everyone else will be! That’s what I see. Why not?
To learn more about Black Lily Film and Music Festival please visit www.blacklilyfilm.org