By SCOTT WEISSER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Take a moment to glance at the photo above the text you’re currently reading. Note the horns and the guy tap-dancing.
“This is hip-hop?” you may ask. It certainly is, according to the group’s MC — that and more.
“We like to think of ourselves as an evolution of hip-hop, soul and jazz,” said Rico Sisney of the group Sidewalk Chalk. “...Every song that we make kind of has all three of those elements in some proportion.
“A lot of people are always kind of surprised by our instrumentation,” he continued. “You hear ‘hip-hop band,’ you’re not necessarily expecting to hear that we have a horn section or a tap dancer or a male MC and a female vocalist.”
Chicago-based Sidewalk Chalk incorporates all of these musicians and sonic elements. On Saturday night, the group’s eclecticism will be on display at A Constant Spring in downtown Goshen. Also on the concert bill will be The B.E.A.T., hip-hop adventurers from South Bend.
In addition to Sisney, Sidewalk Chalk consists of Maggie Vagle on vocals, Charlie Coffeen on keys, Garrett McGinn on bass, Tyler Berg on drums, tap dancer Jumaane Taylor, David Ben-Porat on trombone and Sam Trump on trumpet. The group formed in 2008 after several of the members met while studying music at Columbia College in Chicago. More were later added to the Chalk circle.
“It was pretty spontaneous, just to kind of do something new and see what happened,” Coffeen said.
What happened, and continues to happen, doesn’t lend itself to categorization.
“We never really made a conscious effort to start a hip-hop band, or write a hip-hop song or to write a jazz song, or anything like that,” Coffeen said. “The influences from everybody are so broad and the group is so diverse that I think our sound just kind of happens. There’s rarely a time when we say, ‘We want a song to sound like this’ or ‘We want someone to be reminded of this when they listen to our record.’ It just kind of happens that way — there’s lots of jazz, there’s lots of hip-hop, there’s lots of funk, Curtis Mayfield type of stuff. We’re all across the board with it.”
In addition to playing music, Coffeen teaches a course in hip-hop history. He views, and hears, hip-hop as a big sonic tent.
“The music is based on other people’s music,” he said, citing the history of DJs sampling records for parties before MCs even entered the picture. “That’s what it’s all about: It’s about reinterpreting the music that came before you and turning it into something new. And that’s kind of what we do. We don’t do it with a DJ and sampling records, but we definitely take bits and pieces of everything that’s going on around us and turn it into our own thing.”
Sidewalk Chalk’s musical thing has garnered notice. The Chicago Reader dubbed the group the “Best Hip-Hop Act in Chicago of 2010.” This year, the Chalk is nominated for two Chicago Music Awards: Best New Entertainer and Best Musical Group.
“That’s a pretty big deal for us,” Coffeen said.
On Saturday, Sidewalk Chalk’s heralded performance will be seen and heard downtown. Coffeen sounds proud of the live show that will be on display at The Spring.
“There’s nothing like it, really,” he said. “We’re a big band. The energy is just through the roof onstage. We try to bring the energy out of the crowd. The more they give us, the more we’re able to give back.
“We have tons of fun on stage,” Coffeen continued. “Every show is different. We actually have a couple brand new tunes we’re going to be playing in Goshen, so that will be fun for us. Really, we just try to have a good time and give people something they’ve never seen before.”