“On a normal weekend, I wake up early and sit in [my] big blue chaise and look out the window,” says Maryland-based musician Cheakaity Brown. “It’s a great place to daydream and listen to music.”
Unfortunately, these aren’t normal times and this upcoming weekend, that blue chaise won’t have normal significance. Even if he does his weekend morning routine where he lays back, listens to music and trails off, it still isn’t the same. This weekend’s trail off will likely be an escape from the chaos that is the present world that surrounds us during Covid-19.
Brown is a 30-year-old R&B artist who was born at Providence Hospital in Brookland and raised in Oxon Hill in Prince George’s County. His name is pronounced “Chah-Keh-Tay.”
“My father is from Liberia, West Africa,” he says. “[Cheakaity] is a combination of two of my great-grandfathers’ names. From Kru [people] in Liberia, it means warrior, the one who can split unbreakable things into two.”
Brown currently lives in Clinton, Maryland. Those familiar with the area will find it no surprise that he’s from where he’s from. The soil of Prince George’s County has uprooted many soulful voices – too many to recall. It’s a culturally rich area that prides itself on being the wealthiest black county in the country and is home to amazing gospel choirs with a preponderance of churches.
Take the YouTube video of Brown performing “Goku.” There are stylistic elements in that song like the relaxing piano intro, vocal tone changes and octave shifts that are typically only learned in one institution: the church. When asked whether he grew up singing gospel, I could hear the smirk through his voice.
“Yes, there be but one factory.”
A prominent factory indeed, one that fights for its identity in these difficult circumstances.
“Honestly, there’s no blueprint for any of this,” Brown says. “I will say that background [growing up in the church] has helped me more [than] had I not had it. It’s something about being contained in your house and not having an option.”
His story is one of many: a talented artist with a question mark placed on his or her future. He’d been holding down a job as a server for Bantam King, the former Burger King turned popular ramen spot in Chinatown.
“I’m used to fast money. All servers are in a band or something. The money is not demanding on your schedule.”
But fast money done slowed up – to a screeching halt – in mid-March when he was laid off from Bantam. Still, Brown put himself out there in early April by performing his album Grown Man live from his living room and broadcasting it on YouTube Premiere.
He did a superb job of making the space where his blue chaise sits look completely different, with greenish-blue lighting, the appearance of plants through projections and whispers of smoke, which came from either a smoke machine or the lighting itself.
In the days leading up to his performance, I was curious about the recording process. Pulling off anything livestreamed can be difficult, and room for error just doesn’t exist. He mentioned wanting to have a full band, but given social distancing pressures, that would’ve proven difficult. When the live performance started after an amazing two-minute countdown with a colorful montage, the musician appeared lonely.
His DJ remained off camera while Brown sang his tunes, trying his best to keep it lively by dancing and adding extra vocal emphasis during certain parts. It wasn’t until the track “Hennessy Blues” that I felt Brown was reaching his comfort zone. He was preaching to us. There’s a razor-sharp guitar lick that made me miss the presence of an actual guitarist, and that’s when I began to feel sad. It’s not his fault. It was just another sobering reminder of where we are right now.
Artists often rely on the backing of a band musically and emotionally. There’s comfort in looking over your shoulder and knowing you have a drummer who is basically a metronome or a guitarist who arrives right when you need them. As I watched him from my couch on the TV in my apartment, I struggled to find the connection he likely had been seeking to create.
“The livestream was definitely a learning curve for me,” he says in retrospect. “Next time, I want it to be a literal livestream and not prerecorded, although I appreciate the control and freedom prerecording gave me.”
Luckily, the one thing some of us have been granted is the gift of time. When I ask Brown about his plans during self-quarantine, he says, “I’m just going to keep plugging,” which is all any of us can really do.
His album Grown Man is a great achievement: a nice sugar cube dropped in this abyss of sadness we’re living in right now. But unfortunately, this sadness doesn’t seem to be retreating anytime soon.
When I ask what his ideal performance is once the dust settles, he tells me, “A big live show in person: [the] same show with the entire band [and] physical copies of the album.”
It is my sincere hope that we are able to return to such a world soon enough so we can witness talented artists like Brown provide the live human experience he’s been dreaming about.