The Austin Chronicle

Arts Umbrella Human Influence Stirs Austin's Musical Diversity Melting Pot

Because the live music capital of the world can get pretty white male

By Clara Wang, June 29, 2018, Music

Austin's billed as the live music capital of the world, but look around. That's only true for certain demographics. Creative collective Human Influence exists in opposition to said dynamic.

Founded in 2015 by UT grads Christopher Omenihu and Henry Smith, the arts umbrella expends its bandwidth building a platform for musicians, writers, and other local artists in unconventional genres and communities. Human Influence connects and displays talent. The volunteer organization hosts monthly showcases, including all-female residency Raise Her Voice at Cheer Up Charlies and live-producing DJ performance "Beat Garden."

Rapper and former economics major Omenihu, who graduated in 2016, felt estranged from his peers in college, and guessed he fell into an entire demographic also looking for a tribe.

"How do we include everyone who wants to be included?" asks the Dallas native today.

Omenihu, who now works at an ad agency in Los Angeles, met studio arts major Smith through mutual friends and the duo discovered a gap in the local market for connecting young hip-hop artists and people of color with music industry opportunities. The aural arts, in particular hip-hop, remains a young man's game, and Omenihu felt that older Austin hip-hop crews such as Dirty Wormz and Boombox often skipped past a thriving younger crowd.

"The old guys don't have help for you," he admits. "You might be overlooked because you're trying to innovate."

Kicking off Haus Party showcases in September 2015, Omenihu and Smith began reaching out to underrepresented groups.

"All the things we knew were diverse are like a Crock-Pot with no power," injects Omenihu. "There's no stirring or cooking."

Raise Her Voice, formerly hosted by local powerhouses Mélat and Torre Blake, began spring 2016, but took breaks between the inaugural two showcases and lacked consistency until Jarisha Onezine took the reins. Currently Human Influence's operations head, Onezine, a caretaker of the elderly pursuing a nursing degree, met Omenihu at his Pearl Street Co-op rap show (revisit "Omenihu: Dream Killers Bow to TLC," July 11, 2017) and soon took over booking and promotion of the series, securing a residency at Cheer Up Charlies and often hand-picking acts.

"It's not just about doing events or shows," points out Onezine. "It's about people. Connecting people."

Especially in music, it's about who you know. Problem is, people who aren't white males tend not to know the right people.

"It's hard for female artists to network," agrees singer Katherine Gualy of Raise Her Voice feature band Jade Vine. "When guys are drinking they start thinking about other things. Are you asking for my card because you want to network, or to take me out for a drink?"

Human Influence hopes to massage this process and expose female talent to more opportunities.

"Austin lacks knowledge of opportunity," says Onezine. "There's opportunity out there for artists who are female and/or people of color, but there's just a lack of knowledge about how to get to it."

"There's a new movement pushing through Austin for people who are different," proclaims Gualy. "Human Influence is part of that."

Raise Her Voice hosts Paint Shop Girls, Clee, Samantha Flowers, Torino Black, and more Friday, July 6, at Cheer Up Charlies.

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