Interview: “Rasta bard” David Daniels makes “Magic” at Acadia Café


David Daniels has to be one of the most unlikely success stories imaginable. He crafts ingenious performance theater; he is a capable playwright and compelling spoken-word orator. However, Daniels prevails despite himself.

Hand in hand with his talents is a determined flouting of mainstream sensibilities and, at times, the law. Ultimately, he calls his own shots and, as his track records shows, hits the target every time out. It’s hard to argue with that kind of rep for getting the job done.

The Rasta Bard bowed on the Twin Cities scene in 1993 with Malcolm X Meet Peter Tosh at Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis and has gone against the grain ever since. The fantasy about cultural icons coming together, dramaturged by Penumbra Theatre Company legend Terry Bellamy, was a hit, moving to Denver and running two years before returning here at the 1995 Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Founding the Reggae Theater Ensemble with technical director/lighting designer Mitch Olson, he went on to stage more than a dozen works, including I Edgar Hoover, raking the infamous FBI director over the coals; I and I Roots Story; and Kolorada… A Western Tale, his most successful title to date. It’s been produced at BUG Performance and Media Center (Denver), Tower Theater (Salt Lake City), Todo Con Nada Theatre (NYC) and was a week-long smash at the 1997 New York International Fringe Festival. Kolorada aired over KFAI Radio, on MTN’s Hemp Channel, and opened a First Avenue bill for Bob Marley biographer-archivist Roger Steffens.

He’s done all this and more despite that, heeding a Rastafarian bent, he has smoked ganja on stage more than a few times, resulting in bans from such high-profile venues as the Playwrights’ Center and Bryant-Lake Bowl Theatre. In addition, he’s performed internationally, including stints in Germany, Holland and France; has two CDs, Talkin’ Roots and 4:20 Report, which area stores consistently sell out of. He next will perform The Biomagnetic Magic Roadshow at Acadia Café, 329 Cedar Avenue on Minneapolis’ West Bank, at 9 pm on Friday, October 10.

David Daniels spoke with the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He was not asked what, if anything, he will be smoking on stage for The Biomagnetic Magic Roadshow, a tribute, in personal and political stories, to the West Bank’s once-bohemian, now-defunct New Riverside Café.

When you announced that you were retiring from performing, I was skeptical. Sure enough, you’re back at it.
I have taken a year’s break from stage work. Since my play Malcolm X Meet Peter Tosh premiered 15 years ago, I’d been going at almost a nonstop rate. There were the other plays, the spoken word work and the CDs. I needed to take the time [to] breathe, focus on personal matters and gain new perspectives as an artist and writer.

Is Mitch Olson involved with The Biomagnetic Magic Roadshow?
No, Mitch is not involved in the production of this show. However, [he was] consulted.

I didn’t see Black Hippie Chronicles. What’s the essence, in as much of a nutshell as possible, of the script?
Black Hippie Chronicles was an autobiographical monologue, à la Spaulding Gray, dealing with the journey of a middle-class Black youth from a youthful life lived in the land of peace and pot to a Rasta understanding—or over-standing, in Rasta terms.

Your shows are consistently playing to packed houses—of White folk. Why don’t you have a very strong Black following?
I can’t answer to that. All I do is write, and whoever shows shows. I do know historically in America, reggae music has drawn a predominantly White audience. It certainly was the case with Bob Marley. A few years ago, I performed in Germany and my shows had a strong African audience there: African immigrants from Ghana, Senegal and South Africa.

What about your work is relevant to Black life?
The Black experience in America has never been a monolithic one. There’s been the urban and rural experience. There was Miles Davis, but there was also Charley Pride. My work reflects my experience. Also, the Rasta spirituality, which informs my work, though it embraces the concept of one love one people, is an African-rooted spirituality.

What’s next, after The Biomagnetic Magic Roadshow?
I have different irons in the fire. I can’t predict what may come out next.

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