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Unconventional Stories from a Firebrand

Arts, No Chaser

By DWIGHT HOBBES
David Daniels. Photo by Mitch Olson

Quintessential firebrand David Daniels is that rarity, a performance artist who, instead of self-righteously blowing hot air, actually utilizes spoken word to send messages of consequence.

An auspicious debut was his play Malcolm X Meet Peter Tosh, premiering at South Minneapolis’ Cedar Cultural Center (1993), moving to a 2-year stint in Denver (Mercury Cafe), its popularity there and at other venues starting his career off with considerable traction. He made his home here and recalls, “I feel fortunate to have been part of a rich counter-cultural history…in Minneapolis. My time living on the West Bank and working at the New Riverside Cafe brought me into it. The West Bank was Haight-Asbury long after the Haight was just a memory for the counter-culture.  Its blend of artists activists and musicians was instrumental in the development of my work.” A partial listing of that work includes the Talkin’ Roots and 4:20 Report CDs, I, Edgar HooverBlack Hippie Chronicles and Kolorada…A Western Tale, and a week-long hit at the 1997 New York International Fringe Festival. Daniels has performed in Holland, Germany, and France, recalling “German immigrants from Ghana, Senegal and South Africa felt I [presented] an authentic Rasta message while never denying I’m an American. Previously, they felt American reggae artists were primarily imitating Jamaicans.” Most recently, he recorded Annie Jones (featuring Charlie Parr) at Minnehaha Studios.

June 5, in the third installment of Adventures in Music and Storytelling, David Daniels, backed by Dog Circle (Marshall Obert  guitar-banjo, Aug Nubis guitar, Dhanny Boldt tabla, Matty Dennison Didgeridoo, Dennis Maddix bass), performed at hand-craft gift emporium Twisted Groove, something of a super head-shop. “For years”, he says, the Twisted Groove has been a center of the Twin Cities’ counterculture.” Among area notables in the full house were poet Chris Shillock, Uzza vocalist-lyricist Tabatha Pedtrovich and Libertarian mayoral hopeful Nate AtkinsDaniels, in fact, returns this fall, performing at a benefit for Atkins. “We’ve witnessed the failure of Jacob Frey and his administration. [Atkins’] positions on marijuana legalization and on dealing with the police alone make him worth consideration by voters.”  Daniels is in fact, a politically minded sort who was Eugene McCarthy’s Consumer Party vice presidential candidate (1988), Grassroots Party candidate for US Senate (2000) and their candidate for Minnesota Lt. Governor (2014). The spoken word piece, 4/20/21, an account of the Derek Chauvin verdict from Denver, is fairly representative of his artistry. Instead of hopping on a soapbox, he has an off the cuff take on issues of considerable significance. An excerpt goes, “[The] bar happens to be just a few blocks from Colorado’s State Capitol. Should Chauvin get off, any action in protest would likely take place there and the journalist in me would be there to report it. Besides, my bus stop home is across the street from the Capitol.”

“My life hasn’t followed convention,” says Daniels. He was educated at the Watkinson School in Hartford, a prep school where he was “one out of ten [blacks] in the entire school…and two were my brothers!” He chose afterward to attend Alaska Methodist University (now Alaska Pacific University) and he lived in Alaskan communes. “My writing was bound to be unconventional. [Folk] write what they know, [and] my influences were people who defied the mainstream, mainly Bob Marley and Richard Brautigan.” He sums up, “I never set out to be a creative writer or performer. The fact that nearly 30 years after the premier of Malcolm X Meet Peter Tosh I’m still at it and that people are still drawn to the work is immensely satisfying.” Next on his drawing board, “I will be reading in Denver my story of landing in Minneapolis on the day after George Floyd was murdered. I have several creative irons in the fire including a memoir and a storytelling/music EP.”

In 2017, Daniels defected to Denver, where he’s closer to his married daughter and gets to dutifully dote on his grandchildren. It’s not really a case of our loss being that city’s gain as he has solid roots in both places. For which his followers are immensely grateful.

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