To understand The Souletics Experience, a singular artistic exploration of racial and social issues via jazz, afro-funk, social media, folk music, spoken word, photography and video debuting at Sacramento’s Brickhouse Gallery & Art Complex on Friday, one must first meet its architect.
Damon Smith’s journey to spoken-word poet and performance artist is as unconventional as it gets.
Smith, a.k.a. Rafa Selase, first received notice for his athletic accomplishments. He was a three-sport star (football, basketball and track) at Fairfield High School who was recruited by Utah State in 1989, where he set records on the gridiron and earned a degree in management information systems. He went on to play in the Canadian Football League, but his pro career was cut short after tearing a medial collateral ligament in his rookie season.
Unable to play football, he went to work at Intel, putting his MIS degree to use. But his mind kept wandering to the world outside the office.
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Smith formed his own publishing company and wrote books centered on self-help and empowerment through mental discipline. These principles would become the foundation for his movement, Souletics.
In 2004, he wrote “Don’t Stop the Swagger,” which preached the application of a focused athletic mind-set for achieving success in other facets of life. The following year, he tested the legitimacy of his message with motocross, a sport in which he had no experience. In 31/2 years he earned his professional license and went on to competed on some of the sport’s biggest competitions.
In addition, Smith began traveling around the globe as a motivational speaker. He made a documentary about kids in Brazil overcoming odds called “Don’t Let the Fire Die.” He was included on Essence Magazine’s list of 50 “Do-Right Men.” But he said still hadn’t found his true calling.
“I know I’m doing something,” he said recently, remembering his mind-set at the time. “I’m not sure exactly what I’m doing, but I know I’m on this mission.”
He took his message to another medium. Smith earned a spot on a radio program called “Athlete Show” on KFIA (710 AM), and later started “The Damon J. Smith Show.” That gig eventually led him into the world of politics, and in 2008 he covered the presidential election.
With a wider perspective funneling into his writing, Smith compiled a book called “Swagger Nation: Sports, Politics, Mind Control, Conspiracy Theories, Racism, DNA Manipulation, Government Takeover & Survival Tactics.” Released in May, it “highlights the hypocrisy in pop culture, the political power structure, the benefits of privilege,” according to its jacket description.
The desire to spread a “righteous” message became Smith’s driving force.
“I started writing this spoken word, and it just started flowing out of me,” he said. “I’m going to open mikes and people are coming up to me and telling me, ‘You sound like The Last Poets, Miguel Piñero. Don’t stop.’ People are coming up to me crying, and I’m like, ‘Maybe I’ve got something here.’”
Thus, his alter-ego Rafa Selase was born.
Along to poetry, Smith creates music as well. The two gave way to the Souletics Experience. He said the concept behind it is “changing the world with music, spoken word and art.
“(It’s) social activism under the enjoyment of entertainment,” Smith said. “It’s a message for all people. Everyone will find something in there.”
Some of the pieces he plans to share at Brickhouse are “Tel-lie-vision,” “Cannot Deny My Stride,” “Mommy Never Told Me” and “You Know Who the Terrorist Is.”
Almost all of the music (jazz, blues, etc.) is original, although Smith does pay tribute to some of his influences such as Diane Reeves, Fela Kuti and Coldplay.
The Souletics Experience will also feature folk artist Hawk Tennis and a post-performance discussion, which is important to Smith.
“It’s giving people a chance to digest, relax … and discuss,” he said.
Considering America’s current racial climate, Smith, who also uses Souletics as a platform for STEM education consulting, sees this inaugural performance, which examines themes such as pop culture’s infatuation with pro athletes and the racial undertones of police brutality, as having even more urgency.
“I’m about practical solutions,” he said. “What can you really do to change the environment? What can you do to create better relationships amongst all people? All of us don’t agree on the same thing, but in reality, we do because we’re all for humanity. People that are for humanity can always sit at the table and come up with a solution.”
The Souletics Experience
What: A multimedia exploration of racial and social issues from a professional athlete-turned-performance artist.
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Brickhouse Gallery & Art Complex (2837 36th St., Sacramento)
Cost: $25 in advance, $35 at the door
Info: (916) 475-1240; www.thesouleticsexperience.com