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Musician Amenta Abioto Is A 'Heavy Woman,' Performing At Reed College Arts Week

OPB | March 7, 2014 2 p.m. | Updated: March 7, 2014 5:21 p.m.

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Amenta Abioto sits at Al's Den after a performance.

Amenta Abioto sits at Al's Den after a performance.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

There is a certain conventional wisdom which suggests that people should avoid conversation regarding two topics as they relate to a woman. One is age and the other is weight. 

However, musician Amenta Abioto is not about convention, and makes it clear through her work that she has little regard for its wisdom. In fact, calling her ‘heavy’ would be a compliment she would appreciate. She might even create a song about the whole idea. That’s the kind of artist she is.

Abioto will be performing at an upcoming concert called Heavy Women, part of Reed Arts Week (RAW) 2014. The concert will also feature performances by Nour Mobarak and experimental bands Ghost Ease and Polst.

“The title works in so many ways based on how you can interpret the words, but trying to represent it exclusively in one way or another isn’t really the point,” says Villano, a Reed College senior and the driving force behind Heavy Women

Madelyn Villano at Cafe Oto in London. Heavy Women is Villano's idea.

Madelyn Villano at Cafe Oto in London. Heavy Women is Villano's idea.

Fabio Lugaro

Villano has organized the special concert as a part of the festival schedule.

“All of the women who are playing the show have a really ‘heavy’ performance presence and have a unique approach to their music,” says Villano. “Amenta, for example, is really very aware of herself when she performs on stage with her avant-garde/soul/R&B sound and mixing those genres with a form of prayer. It’s really amazing.”

Abioto has a different way of describing her sound.

“Makes you want to shake your ass and slap your mamma,” she says with laughter. “It’s soul music. African, spirit — root music that comes from your body — from your root chakras all the way up to your third eye.”

The bulk of Abioto’s music is improvisational. Her performances are at times conversational and often unpredictable.

“I talk to people on stage. I want them to grasp things and think about things that maybe they haven’t really thought about. I sing songs that come to me — about my dreams. When I’m on stage, I’m a different person and I think it’s that way for a lot of performers,” says Abioto.

Abioto has lived in Portland for a few years and she says being here inspired her to start performing music in the first place. Previously she lived in Memphis, Tennessee with her four sisters, all artists. Abioto says she finds Portland culture somewhat alien.

“There are a lot of things that come up for me in Portland — like this last weekend Luck-One was playing at The Blue Monk and police officers trying to come on in! And fine, you know, trying to keep people safe, but what are we trying to prohibit?”

Abioto is describing a recent police intervention at a local hip-hop show that added fuel to suspicions held by some communities that the Portland Police unfairly target hip-hop concerts taking place in the city.

These are the kinds of questions and concerns that inspired Abioto to start making music as a way to invite conversation.

Amenta Abioto at Al's Den

Amenta Abioto at Al's Den

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

“There are a lot of things that I want to say to people sometimes [in public] but that I wouldn’t have the audacity to say to them in person, or it wouldn’t be appropriate. But I say it when I’m on stage,” she explains. “That’s like, the oldest trick in the book!”

Villano sees this kind of experience and honesty as central to the theme of Heavy Women.

“Really, I see each of the performers as ‘heavyweights’ in the scene and in their musical networks in Portland. One of the important things for me in selecting them is that none of these women are following a trend.”

Villano, who is graduating this year, is proud of her work organizing the Heavy Women concert and would like to see it continue. “This is the first year for Heavy Women at RAW, and I guess I really didn’t think about it much, but I should probably look to ensure its longevity,” she says.

To learn more about Amenta Abioto and the Heavy Women concert, tune in to State of Wonder on Saturday at noon.

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