Photos by Theo Delmonaco

Whitman College hosts a Power and Privilege Symposium across its campus during February, designed to make space for discussions about structural oppression, power structures and complex dynamics through lectures, panels, showcases and more.

For the second year, Sounds of the People hosted a free concert on campus as part of the symposium, featuring five regional Black artists. The event, dubbed “PNW Superheroes,” honored Black History Month and Black musicians in a predominantly white area.

Sounds of the People is a Washington-based arts and entertainment company focused on creating inclusive stages and events while showcasing undiscovered artists and highlighting Black and brown artists. They’ve done a handful of shows in Walla Walla with great success.

Courtesy of Sounds of the People

Sounds of the People at Whitman

The event was in a ballroom in the campus’ student building. Before the ballroom doors were opened for the show, about 50 attendees waited for the concert in the general area of the student building. When the doors opened, students and non-students entered separately. The majority of those waiting were not Whitman students, but fans and community members.Throughout the show, people continued to filter in and out steadily. 

PNW Superheroes was emceed by award-winning local comedian Nathan Brannon. He talked about his experience moving to Walla Walla as a Black person and learning about the area, while also joking about the region and his upbringing. Most of his jokes came full circle throughout the night, as he would call back to previous jokes between artist announcements.

Courtesy of Sounds of the People

About the PNW Superheroes openers

The first opener of the night is also co-founder and director of Sounds of the People. She releases music under the name HNY, pronounced like “henny” and meaning “the how and why,” representing her love for storytelling.

She performed a few songs to warm up the crowd, including originals with different influences, including R&B, soul, and pop-rock, as well as a cover of Michael Bublé’s “Feeling Good.” While HNY predominantly sings R&B and jazz, she said that this show seemed like the perfect opportunity to showcase some of her versatility and sing a little something for everyone.

A musician since the young age of four who released her first album at age six, the layers in HNY’s music and performances clearly show the work of a lifelong artist who has performed on iconic stages. 

Following HNY was a Walla Walla favorite, Kijon, a rapper with roots in the area. Kijon obviously had fans in the building, as the audience sang and rapped along with him. This is especially astounding considering Kijon had not yet released music on all streaming platforms.

Photo by Theo Delmonaco

Kijon encouraged the audience to check in on their friends, reminding everyone that you never know how someone is really doing if you never ask. He performed a handful of songs, including an Afrobeat track titled “Bara Bara,” featuring words in Swahili in honor of his Kenyan roots. 

Kijon was followed by ASANI?, a hip-hop artist who had also been working sound for the previous openers. ASANI? is the other co-founder of Sounds of the People. He’s been making music since high school and is aimed at bridging the gap between old and new generations of hip-hop.

His last song was one of the crowd’s favorites, as ASANI? brought Kijon back out, along with Nobi, frontman for the following act, for a song featuring the stylings of all three of them.

Main acts at PNW Superheroes show

The main supporting act and headliner have both received critical acclaim for their recent works, growing their recognition daily. First, Nobi and the Force is a seven-piece band — eight including vocalist Nobi — featuring a guitar, bass, keys, drums, and saxophone players, and usually a violinist as well. Nobi is a Tri-Cities native operating as a vocalist and hip-hop artist in Seattle.

Courtesy of Sounds of the People

The group follows Nobi’s vocals, synthesized for style, in a genre-defying experience. You can watch as the band communicates with each other where the song will go next, when to pick up and when to pull back. At this performance, the band consisted of Earnie Ashwood on guitar, Oz La’brae on drums, Juan Salinas on bass, Weijun Huang on tenor saxophone, and Craig Cinderich on keyboard. The full ensemble also features Medearis Dixson on alto saxophone and Kirill Polyanskiy on violin, both of whom were unable to perform that night.

Nobi is an extremely energetic performer, putting passion into each breath, each tiny movement. His stage presence adds to each song, displaying the emotion and meaning behind each lyric. Paired with the magnetism of the Force and their sound, the collection easily transports the audience. 

With a set that lasted over half an hour, Nobi and the Force were able to perform several captivating songs for the crowd. During one of the later songs, Nobi brought out his brother, fellow Tri-Cities native turned successful artist, Topp, for a performance of their latest single, “TWO FOUR FREESTYLE,” much to the crowd’s excitement.

Photo by Karlee Van De Venter

The final performance of the night came from Oblé Reed of Seattle, as his reputation continues to rise. Boasting nearly 125,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, Reed has had an impressive start in the scene over the past few years. The Seattle Times named his first album as the best project to come out of Washington state in 2023, and the rapper was also featured in a collaborative album under Pharrell Williams’ collective, i am OTHER.

Between Reed and his DJ, Ivory, the stage presence during his set was magnetic. The crowd danced through the songs along with the duo, following requests to put their hands up, to bounce, and to sing certain lines. But it wasn’t just about jamming, Reed took time to foster a relationship with the audience. 

Oblé Reed would explain the meaning behind certain songs with longer messages for the crowd, like taking care of each other and themselves. At one point, he stopped the music to encourage the audience to introduce themselves to someone unfamiliar, get to know a stranger, maybe even come up with a secret handshake. The shows are about community, he said, so he’s done this at every show, and has no intention of changing that.

He also brings a bound book to each show, encouraging attendees to sign it afterwards “like a yearbook on the last day of school.” Reed took Polaroid pictures with those who signed, creating a memorable moment for everyone involved.

Photos by Theo Delmonaco

Each of the night’s performers noted how touched they were, or how much it meant to them to be on stage, to receive the opportunities they have and to have the ability to take them. Many noted their experiences as Black artists and their gratitude toward performing during the college’s symposium, and during Black History Month.

Each artist had a different substyle, a different story, a different life leading up to that moment. But what they all had in common was passion for the craft, for the experience, for the art, and for their identities.

Karlee Van De Venter is a full-time reporter at the Tri-City Herald who contributes Arts and Entertainment coverage for Tumbleweird. Through a co-publication agreement, this content may also appear in the Herald. For more Entertainment content, follow Karlee on Instagram @‌karleevnews.