The first time I ran into Oba Amitabha, the lanky, dreadlocked party promoter was hanging out with his friend Solomon Tetteh, also known as rapper Black Linen, hovering behind as Tetteh and I walked along a lush path at the UNCC Botanical Gardens. I was doing a story on Black Linen, and Amitabha was documenting our conversation on a small video camera.
Amitabha would become distracted at times, pointing with a look of wide-eyed wonder to a bird or some exotic fauna, or chattering about an upcoming group hiking expedition he'd organized to Morrow Mountain in the Uwharries just east of Charlotte. Amitabha carries an aura of positivity wherever he goes. He smiles and laughs a lot. He's utterly engaging.
As it turns out, Amitabha is, as Creative Loafing writer Kia O. Moore describes him in this week's Music Maker column, Charlotte nightlife's "King of Infinite Light," a "source for bringing people together." He's all about making connections in the city, and with his recent Funk-Shun events, he corrals wildly diverse groups of Charlotteans to explore and celebrate both nature and urban spaces.
Scroll through Amitabha's Instagram feed and you'll see clips from a recent Black Linen video shoot, a video from the perspective of a car driving to some unknown destination while the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" blasts joyously in the background, photos of people laughing and mugging at his Funk-Shun parties, and numerous shots of elephants, birds, monkeys, lion cubs, forests, and colorful urban gatherings.
His mission is to bring people together to do things they may not normally do. Like dance all night at a house party, or spend an afternoon in a forest, or gather for discussions about issues important to maintaining positive energy among the different communities of Charlotte.
Connections. In this week's CL, we make a lot of them.
In the cover story, news editor Ryan Pitkin connects with a Charlotte playwright and director who marched into the local theater scene because he had a story to tell. Rory Sheriff didn't come to theater via the theater world; he was a radio guy who wrote romance novels and dreamed of getting a script green-lighted in Hollywood. In fact, he was working on a script one night when he caught The Wiz — the 1978 update of The Wizard of Oz featuring an all-black cast including Michael Jackson — on TV. Sheriff wondered what happened to the characters after the film ended, and decided he'd write about it.
His sequel, Be a Lion, puts the once-Cowardly Lion at the center of a story about chaos that erupts in Oz after Dorothy's departure. It mixes the multicolored fantasy of L. Frank Baum's classic 1900 story with the realities of today's world. "The lion is still struggling with his courage," Sheriff tells Pitkin. "He has courage now, but he's still struggling because he never had to use it."
Sheriff had to make some connections in order to get his production into Duke Energy Theater, and his journey took the same courage the Cowardly Lion had to internalize in order to "be a lion." The journey has been more than worthwhile for Sheriff, as he's helped forge a new path for black theater in Charlotte. Until now, there's been Quentin Talley's OnQ Performing Arts — and that's about it.
"OnQ opened that door," Sheriff tells Pitkin, "and we're just opening it up wider."
In the music section, I talk to a 70-year-old former airline pilot who has connected the birth of punk to Charlotte. Rob Lind was 17 in the mid-1960s when he formed a band in his hometown of Tacoma, Wash., The Sonics, that would make a huge impact on several generations of rockers, from The Ramones and Sex Pistols to the White Stripes and numerous current Charlotte bands including — whether they know it or not — The Menders, The Modern Primitives and The Business People.
Lind had been living a quiet life in Huntersville for two decades when, in 2007, promoters of a garage-rock festival asked him to reconnect with his old high school bandmates, come out of a 40-year retirement and reform The Sonics. Their story since then has been nothing less than dramatic. And the icing on the cake? The Sonics will perform in Lind's adopted hometown of Charlotte for the first time ever on Friday, May 19, at the Neighborhood Theatre.
If you see me out at a Funk-shun event, or in the audience at Be a Lion, or watching The Sonics blow the roof off the Neighborhood Theatre, make a connection. I'd love to get to know you better.