Ian Caven chooses his words carefully, sensitive to the layering of their meaning, sound and texture. By day, this meticulousness is on display at a Delray Beach hair salon, where he specializes in tight, precision cuts for men (and adventurous women). But on Wednesday night, it will find new life at Bailey Contemporary Arts in Pompano Beach.
The British-born Caven is the emcee of Lyrics Lab, a series of weekly open mikes devoted to poetry, rap and spoken word. This week is the official opening of the series, which has had a few recent introductory sessions.
“What makes it unique is having a two-piece house band — two seasoned professionals, Doug Carter and his son, Anthony. The live music backdrop really opens things up,” Caven says. “It’s a way for everyone to connect.”
Caven, who lives in Delray Beach and styles hair at In the Grove Hair Studio, also is a performer whose work with the Delray Beach band Plaid Blazer at the Arts Garage led to his role at BaCA, where the Arts Garage handles the programming. His job at Lyrics Lab is to warm up the crowd and, if necessary, show them how it’s done.
Last week, he read works from one of his most important influences, Langston Hughes’ “Jazzonia” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” over live music.
“They were playing a really cool jazz beat, and I said, ‘Let me see if I can spit this poem over that sound.’ [‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’] is one of his most powerful pieces, but it’s got a riff that’s a lot like hip-hop and rap. A nice, easy cadence,” says Caven, who moved to the United States while in middle school with his Jamaican parents.
It was his father who started Caven's musical journey with classic reggae storytellers such as U-Roy, Dennis Brown and Bob Marley. For a while Caven lived in Hackensack, N.J., where a neighbor and friend of the family was Guy "Master Gee" O'Brien, author of one of the most famous lyrics in hip-hop: "Hotel, motel, Holiday Inn. Say, if your girl starts acting up, then you take her friend."
The audiences at the soft openings of Lyrics Lab have been modest, Caven says, but he is encouraged by the number of returning regulars. This Wednesday’s official debut will have a broad list of visiting musicians, he says.
Caven believes there is a community looking for a new spot to gather and, citing its versatile exhibit and performance spaces and nostalgic design, he says BaCA fills the need.
“The feedback I’ve been getting from people is they are super excited about it,” he says. “But people need to come out.”
IF YOU GO
Lyrics Lab will begin 8 p.m. Wednesday at Bailey Contemporary Arts, 41 NE First St., in Pompano Beach. It will be preceded from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. by a free Art Hall meet-and-greet with local and guest artists, including N! Satterfield, Lori Pratico, Diana Contreras and Ivan Roque. Lyrics Lab tickets are $5 before 7:30 p.m., $10 after. Call 954-284-0141 or go to BaCAPompano.org.