Monday, November 19

Cafe’s spoken word night allows for openminded, accessible art


When Cary Long, owner of the sci-fi-themed Nova Express Cafe in
Hollywood, moved from Berkeley to Los Angeles 14 years ago, he
carried with him a passion for the Bay Area’s
literati-independent coffeehouse culture and planted it between a
barbershop and a pharmacy on Fairfax Avenue.

Ten years in business have seen the cafe shift from a typical
coffeehouse with open-mic nights to a full-blown restaurant with
electronica DJs. Now, with help from long-time friends and spoken
word artists Nelson Gary and Christian Elder, Nova Express Cafe
hosts “L.A. Speak Easy,” a monthly spoken word and
music night launched last July to revive the cafe’s initial
dedication to publicly accessible and open-minded art.

“I’m an artist, and I wanted to find a way to be an
artist outside the gallery,” said Long. “This cafe is
another way to be artistic and put art in other people’s
lives without them having to pay $40,000 for an (art) piece on
their living room wall.”

In addition to the open-mic, the hosts book two featured spoken
word artists and musical guests. This month, Gary and Elder booked
spoken word performers Friday and Jaha Zainabu ““ who
edits Ventura County’s “Art/Life Magazine” and
was featured in Def Poetry Jam ““ and local musicians
Silvana Raphael, Molly White and DJ Hang.

The cafe’s philosophy facilitates its role as a public
artistic domain; electronica DJs claimed the space that the punks
rejected in the ’90s and still spin their records on Tuesdays
and Wednesdays, and now “L.A. Speak Easy”
reincorporates the Beatnik mythology.

“In Hollywood, very few events contribute to culture, but
“˜L.A. Speak Easy’ has a highly literate nature that
embraces the spoken word and its natural outgrowth, music,”
said Elder.

Since its inception, “L.A. Speak Easy” has enjoyed
popularity. The first event featured spoken word artists Merilene
Murphy and S.A. Griffin of Karma Bums. That inaugural show
stimulated the series’ success and helped generate revenue
for the slightly struggling cafe.

The literary night’s popularity seems due in part to Gary
and Elder’s unconventional twist on a decades-old
tradition.

“We put the names of artists in a hat, pull them out in a
lottery, then each person gets eight minutes to perform,”
said Elder. “Open readings are usually sedate, and we wanted
to disrupt that.”

In a cafe decorated with comic book covers, glass cases that
enclose action figures frozen in heroic poses, colorful metallic
creatures shining on tables and spaceship-like chairs, a spoken
word night may seem like an incongruent fit. UCLA students would
surely raise their eyebrows at this cultural marriage between North
and South campus.

“The cafe is not sci-fi in the sense of science worship,
but as an open art genre that brings new ideas, philosophies,
open-minded innocence and a wonder of the universe,” said
Long.

Despite the generally accepted divorce between science and the
humanities as well as the fine arts’ notorious
inaccessibility to the general public, Nova Express Cafe and
“L.A. Speak Easy” promote art in a most democratic
sense.

“The philosophy behind all this wisdom, understanding,
peace and love is about energy, the artist and the audience itself
becoming an artist,” Gary said.

Nova Express Cafe, located at 426 N. Fairfax near Beverly,
hosts “L.A. Speak Easy” on the second Sunday of every
month, including this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. The event is free. For
more information, call (323) 658-7533.

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