The man you can see Polarized above, is none other than Bilal Sayeed Oliver or simply BILAL. Bilal is labeled as a neo-soul singer when he released his first album 1st Born Second in 2001, but with a classical jazz training in his pocket and a big love for all things jazz he prefers to describe his music as ‘jazz-fusion rock/type funk’. Not familiar with this great artist? Let me introduce you.
I think the first time I ever heard Bilal was on Trevor Nelson’s MTV THE LICK show – man… those were the days! This is my first musical encounter with Bilal:
I think I was 16 years old, but the Dr Dre beats and Bilal’s intense vocals sticked to my head untill today. Although his first album was warm received, it never turned out to be a ‘commercial’ success and Bilal remained a house hold name to a wide group of music lovers and the so called tastemakers. His second album LOVE FOR SALE got mysteriously shelved by his former record label, apparently because the album got leaked on the world-wide-web, but rumours are the label was not feeling Bilal’s ‘unconventional music’ and therefore were no longer interested in pushing him. This is one of my favorite songs of that album
After that, I have to be perfectly honest and tell you that my music encounters with Bilal only came in collaborations with others. He might have disappeared from the mainstream radar for many, but this man just kept doing what he knows best and from time to time he reemerged, popping up on other artists albums like Common, Guru, Mos Def, The Roots, Clipse, Talib Kweli, Solange & Beyonce Knowles and very recently on Erykah Badu. He is also known for his collaboration with the late J Dilla.
Bilal’s third and much anticipated new album Airtight’s Revenge is due September 14th and therefore Bilal is touring extensively around the world. So when I found out that Bilal was booked at DOUR FESTIVAL I knew that: one, I had to be present to watch him perform live for the very first time in my life, and second, I definitely wanted to try and snap him on my precious Polaroid.
This is the story. (yes again a looooong one, but with xtra! xtra! pictures, to make it more easy on the eye)
DOUR fest …Gosh. Third festival on my musical journey for summer 2010 and I was not looking forward.To put it simple: DOUR is not for pussies. It has thé most underground line-up in rock, hiphop and electronical music and is known for it’s raw character, no bullshit-crowd – you don’t won’t be late as an artist at dour, just saying and a prominent love for a diverse range of illegal substances. Blogwise, Dour was very interesting for me, with artists like DE LA SOUL, BILAL, FASHAWN , PETE ROCK & CL SMOOTH performing on LEFTO’s curated stage. So, there was no escaping Dour, we knew what we had to do. We were very reluctant to the idea of going to Dour. Last year, Dour turned out in a major fail Polaroid wise with EPMD and a horrendously short rainy night in a tent. We were there for approximately 24 hours, wrapped the bloody tent and ràn to the local train station to get the heck out of there. We hate tents. We don’t do … tents. Of course, there’s no gain without pain, and therefore we had to put all our fears aside and went looking for a bigger, better and safer tent, extra warm sleeping bags, and a strong, positive mentality that we would ‘nail this one down.’ This time, Dour was not going to break us. We were going to break Dour. So when we arrived at Dour we were well equiped to say the least.
First thing we had to do, was finding a spot where we could ‘construct ‘our tent. Pretty fast, we found a spot and squeezed us between the other tents and I must say, we actually had a very nice view. Considering.
We were feeling very out-of-place. If you are not into tents, other campers can spot you like flies on shit so we acted like we were pros and began putting the tent up. No Quechea for us, we had the old-school version so,… It didn’t take too long for us to ask two brave men to help us with this impossible and very annoying task, to finally end up with our little home away from home.
Then it was time to go through all the different options, angles and connections we had and set up the DOUR bare necessities.
Towel, poncho, sunglasses, MAC concealer, rope, tape, scissors, cetirizine, flashlight, swiss knife, mascara, lighter, lip balm, essential herbs and optional extra fake bracelets. Just to name a few. We came prepared. There was no way we were going to sleep in a tent for nothing.
First we had to go over some facts. Meaning. Festival bracelets. Jules managed to get hold of a pair of VIP tickets and I managed to get a press bracelet via my lovely troopers from LAID BACK RADIO. Fact N°1: a VIP bracelet, also known as a NR 4 bracelet allows you an entrance to the festival and gives you the privilege to enter some ugly white tent with plastic white chairs, a bar and 2 seperate semi-smelly Toi Toi toilets. That’s VIP for ya. Fact N°2: A press bracelet, also known as a NR 5 allows you to be in the press area where you can do -if you are lucky- the weeks in advance requested interviews and all tools are available to do your job in the best way possible and to report asap to the blog, paper, channel you work for. Fact N°3:Neither vip nor press is very interesting for this blog… I don’t request meetings via email, and there are no artists in the VIP, only guests and business partners from the festivals. Fact N°4: Dour can be compared with a festival-Alcatraz, with very high security and volunteers checking the number on your bracelets like dogs looking for drugs at the Mexican border. Fact N°5: Different bracelets allow you entrance to different parts of the festivals, with numbers going all the way up to… NR 11. Quite the challenge ‘innit’?
We arrived at Dour one day earlier, on friday, to set up the tent, get as much info as possible, to find out where all the different areas of the festival were to be found and to check up on some acts we loved like A-Trak, Chromeo, AKS ft Selah Sue, and just to have fun and dance, because we knew, the next day, it was all about being focused and we’d probably will run out of time for partying. The next morning, after a semi-comfortable but dry night on our yoga-mats (auwtch) we were ready to rumble.
(mind the very appropriate Tee ànd pre-bday gift from my precious Jules)
After a quick impromptu wash (we pretended that we were on Expedition Robinson, to make things more… fun)
Next thing on the to-do list besides coffee and pancakes for breakfast was iPhone-charging. iPhones are all good and well if you just call with them, but when you really use your iPhone like I do for my blog (Twitter, Facebook, mails, occasional YouTube) the battery goes down véry fast. I use Twitter to check up on the whereabouts from different artists and I had some troopers in the field who informed me on the lowdown what was happening in different areas of the festival via twitter. Therefore, there was no way to escape a long hour of pole hanging to charge my baby up.
After that we went straight to the press area ready for what we call OPERATION BRACELET. Jules wasn’t allowed to go in since she didn’t have a bracelet NR5 but I could, so from time to time I went in, to see some familiar faces, and check up on some information that might or might not be useful to me. Also good to know, in press area there are sheets with numbers from managements of most artists that you could contact if you wanted an interview. Here was my sheet – empty –
While waiting, Jules found out via Twitter that Fashawn was no longer attending the festival due to flight related problems. Bummer, so that left DE LA SOUL and BILAL topping high on my wishlist for the day, which in a way is better for me, to put my focus on less artists, in order to have a bigger chance for a good result. In the meantime I received a little DM via Twitter from Baloji who was so kind to give me a useful email address from someone from the Dour organisation that might help me with either getting Jules a nr 5 bracelet aswell, so she could enter the press area òr to boldly ask for a bracelet with a higher number, that could give me entrance behind the stage, or even better the artist village.
I was very hesitant to send an email, but in the spirit of erasing possible what-ifs I did it anyway. I very quickly received a friendly email that there was no way to get any bracelets whatsoever, since I already had bracelet nr 5 and that one should be enough in order for me to do my work in the press area, and wishing me good luck with my blog. Now, if I stayed all day in the press area waiting for my artist to pass by I -might- have a chance, but that meant I had to leave Jules all day by herself and that was simply no option. Also, I wanted to actually séé artists performing. And second – take a look at the sheet – there were no ways of contacting any managements, if you ask me. Next option was the following. A couple of months ago I ended up in Amsterdam on a Bacardi boat with too many rum while RADIOCLIT was playing a set – something I will blog about asap – one member of the band, loves the blog and promised us that if he could, he would help us out with a bracelet. So after a couple of hours I received the releasing message that I was officially on their list and I could pick up my bracelet! HURRAA!
I went back to the press area and asked where I could pick up my bracelet if you are listed by an artist. 4 Dour-organisation members looked at me, slightly concerned. They were kind of confused about the fact that I was wearing both a bracelet number 4 and bracelet number 5 and was now asking for ànother one. One of the group understood that I was aiming for a higher bracelet and said that he would have to accompany me through the production area because I could not pick up the bracelet myself since… I did not have the right bracelet number to go pick it up in the first place. Yeah very Franz Kafka. So when he accompanied me to production, security was checking his bracelet (Nr 10) and mine, and said I could not go in, since I didn’t have the right bracelet. (no, really?) The boy sighed and said: “I knòw she does not have the right bracelet, we are going to pick up her nèw and higher bracelet and besides that, I’m a number 10, so I kind of overrule here in this matter.” The security did not agree, but let us in and said very concerned: “You’d better hope I’m not getting in trouble for this one” My god, looks like Dour-security had to go through a severe hardcore bracelet-bootcamp training in order to do their jobs. So when I finally entered production to pick up my bracelet, the organisation was nòt feeling the request. They were speaking in French and thought I could not understand what they were saying (wrong) which basically was the following:
“Why does she need a higher bracelet? She already is a guest with nr 4 and press with nr 5 which doesn’t make any sense in the first place, so why does she need another bracelet?” The boy who accompanied pleaded in my defense: “She was listed by THE VERY BEST, so if she is listed by them, she has the right to pick up her bracelet, right?” Then, the organisation asked my name, to verify if I was indeed listed by the band and the minute I said my name one girl of the organisation looked at me and said: “So, you are the one who just emailed me an hour ago, with the request for another bracelet. First Baloji, now The Very Best? And you expect me to believe that?” That was… akward. I suddenly felt like I was put on trial and I had to speak the truth and nothing but the truth, so I smiled and said: “Yup, that’s me-he. What can I say… It is what it is. I just got the confirmation by email, this is what I do, I do it on the spot, so here I am picking up my better and improved bracelet.” They all looked at me, semi-mad and said: “You can try and take your picture at the press area. Good luck.”
By that time, I was experiencing severe heat-flashes accompanied by red cheeks and feeling somewhat embarrassed, and while I walked out of the production area – again – stopped by security for not having the right bracelet, I really started to feel like an inmate on the wrong side in jail. The boy who accompanied me to production was slightly embarrassed by the whole situation, because he knew I had the right to pick up that bracelet and said: “Look, don’t worry, organisation even makes me feel like a criminal, so the only thing I can do for you in order for you to say hello to the people who listed you is to give you a photo-pass. This pass allows you to enter the area right in front of the stage. Dò mind that ìf you try to go behind the stage, security WILL take your pass away and you will be asked to leave the stage area.”
What did I say again about Dour? Alcatraz? I’m guessing PENTAGON would be more appropriate. So, we were running out of options. We decided to check out the stage where Bilal was due to perform and check out his performance. Because after all, that was the next important thing we came for. By the time I entered the stage, Bilal was already sound-checking with his band. He looked very relaxed and approachable, if you take away the fact of 5 meter fences standing in between the stage and the audience. I really enjoyed Bilal’s performance. He has an amazing voice and I was thinking that it would be very nice to see Bilal in a cosy little venue. And you know what they say: be carefull what you wish for, for you just might get it. So while we were enjoying his music I felt a little tap on my shoulder and when I turned around I noticed the friendly folks from the On-Point blog standing behind me. He said: “At your left corner behind the fence, you can see a very friendly woman, she is the one you need to approach in order to get your Polaroid.” That’s the thing about On-point. They’re always on-point when you need them to be. I went straight to the lovely woman named MARIA, introduced myself and the blog, and asked her what the possibilities were for a Polaroid.
She said that it should not be a problem, I gave her my card and asked her to contact me when I could take the picture, since we didn’t have the right bracelets to go, well, basically everywhere, and she agreed. Now, giving a card is no insurance of getting a Polaroid. She might be very busy, lose the card, or simply forget about me, so we still needed to be very focused on other possible options.
After the concert we decided to go back to the press area so If Maria was walking around there I might have a bigger chance in finalizing my goal. Again we had to divide forces, since Jules couldn’t go in, she camped outside while I went in the press area waiting for Maria. In the meantime Maria gave me the releasing phone call that she was going to pick me up at the press area. Hallelujah. Finally some progress. So while I was waiting in the press room I was accompanied by On-Point who also requested an interview with Bilal. Now, this is where things get interesting: while we were waiting, there was no sign of Maria nor Bilal whatsoever. We heard through the grapevine that Bilal was giving a private listening session backstage… So I knew that the option of him taking pictures after his listening session might be 50/50 since the clock was ticking 9h30PM already, and you know, sometimes an artist is done with the whole press thing and you have to accept that On-Point, who was the proud owner of bracelet NR 8 was allowed to go backstage, but since he needed his camera man to come with him, who was wearing a bracelet NR 5 like me, he was also stuck in the press area. He decided to try and break security anyway and invited me to come with him. When we arrived at the security spot, where they were already a bit tired of their long day of constantly checking bracelets, (can you blame them?) he succeeded in talking us in. PRAISE THE LORD! (or On-Point, depends on how you look at things). So there I was, without my Jules, but at the right place and apparently the right time. Right in front of me I could see a little tent where I could here Bilal singing.
I noticed Maria coming out of the tent, waving at us and she was so kind to invite us in. I could not believe it. Bilal, live, in the tiniest cutest little tent you have ever seen. I don’t have to convince you that the performance he gave was truly beautiful, intimate and inspiring. One minute I was thinking about how awesome it would be to see Bilal perform in a more intimate atmosphere, the next minute I’m standing in a bedroom-size tent, watching him perform. Wishful thinking?
And definitely check out this little video.
Once he finished his set, Maria kept her promise and she introduced me to a very friendly Bilal. I quickly explained my blog, showed him the other artists and he agreed on taking the Polaroid. By that time, Jules was still outside, so I asked Maria if she could take some Exhibits for me, which she did. I love Maria. I placed Bilal to some nice brown wood fence, asked him for two different expressions aimed my camera, 3.2.1. Flashing.Lights. Bingo.
and another one
And that was it. I thanked him for his kindness and cooperation and complimented him on both on his stage performance as the bedroom-size tent set one. It truly was amazing. Around 01h30 AM a beautiful girl named Fatoo saw me in her way out and gave me her NR 11 bracelet, she was going home and she was so considerate for giving it to me. It was too late to try and find DE LA SOUL but at the end of the day we received all the necessary bracelets, now… isn’t that ironic?
Sometimes life requires a bracelet and a number in order for you to go places and see faces, and there is nothing in the world that should stop you from getting the right one.
PS: Follow Bilal on Twitter and definitely start anticipating for his new album: Airtight’s Revenge. Also, and this might concern the ladies amongst you, Bilal is acolumnist for MADAME NOIR where he gives his funny take on love and relationships. Check it out here. Special shout-out to the homies from postrmagazine, Baloji & Wafflez for the support, big kiss to Eckelwood & The Force from On-Point for dragging me with them and last but definitely not least, LAID BACK RADIO for hooking me up with bracelet nr 5.