Memoirs of a Hip Ole Black Man' brings Vinx back to Atlanta
Moving doc about the indie singer/percussionist who's worked with everyone from Sting to Stevie Wonder screens today at Atlanta Technical College with Q&A to follow
Dutch filmmaker Ivar Iding didn’t necessarily set out to make a documentary on world-renowned singer/songwriter/percussionist and one-time Atlantan Vinx. It just sort of happened. Which, in some ways serves as a metaphor for Vinx’s career. Like the time he was performing in a small café outside the Montreaux Jass Festival and noted bluesman Taj Mahal dug him so much he invited Vinx to join him on the spot at Montreaux’s main stage. Or the time Sting caught him giving another random performance after coming in from the rain and ended up asking Vinx to be the opening act for his 1991 world tour. Equally blown away by Vinx when the tour stopped in Germany that same year, Iding began following his career. In 2007, he started shooting the footage that would lead to Memoirs of a Hip 'Ole Black Man. The title comes from an album title Vinx wound up ditching, but in this new context it becomes an unintended analogy for the career of an independent artist defined by pop anonymity yet simultaneous ubiquity among those in the industry hip enough to know.
? Just know that Vinx is likely your favorite jazz musician’s favorite musician, with credits that include performing, writing, and recording with heavyweights including Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Stevie Wonder, Cassandra Wilson, Omar, Sheryl Crow, Branford Marsalis, Herbie Hancock and, well, you get the picture. Shot in a total of 15 days over seven years, the documentary tells the story of a man who overcame personal tragedy to share his musical gift with the world and hone it in others. Vinx may be most familiar to locals from the time he lived outside Atlanta several years ago when he regular opened his home for weekend singer/songwriter workshops called Vinx’s Soul Kitchen. This week he’s returned to Atlanta for a screening today of Memoirs of a Hip 'Ole Black Man, with a performance and Q&A to follow ($10. 7-10 p.m. Friday, Sept 11. Atlanta Technical College, Dennard Conference Center, 1560 Metropolitan Parkway, SW.) Ivar Iding spoke to Creative Loafing from the Netherlands about what drove him to tell Vinx’s heartfelt story and the challenges he had to overcome in the process.
? Talk about the impression Vinx made on you the first time you saw him open up for Sting in 1991.
? Ivar Iding: It was Sting’s world tour and Vinx was his opening act. So I was there, and I was a fan of Sting at the time and, of course, like me the whole audience wanted one thing. It was Sting and that’s what we paid tickets for. We didn’t want an opening act so everyone was a bit rowdy in the hall. Then Vinx entered the stage. And in my memory, within 10 seconds, three bars of his music, and the whole audience was completely silent and was listening like “Wow this is great.” And that had an effect on me; that this guy could play this audience into silence in just a few moments or a few notes that he sang.
? Then I rediscovered him in 2007 and saw that he was playing in Berlin. My dad and I went there and saw him. He was still great and I started reading his biography on his website. I thought, this guy is interesting. When he was back in Germany a year later, I sat down with him just before a show and we had a chat for about two hours about his life story. So that’s actually the start of the film that I started in 2007 with this research interview, and once in a while, every year or two when he was in Germany, I’d go with a cameraman and do some filming and stuff. Now it’s 2015 and we’ve got a film.
? What about his story spoke to you?
? The many setbacks he had in his life and how he just kept on going. Of course, he was sad in the moment of his setback, but then he used that to get new energy to move on forward. He didn’t stand still too long after these setbacks. Take his athletics career, for example. He was selected to go to the Olympics in 1980, but those Olympics were boycotted by America. He told me that a lot of his fellow athletes ended up on drugs, drinking, beating up girlfriends, and stuff like that. But he had music to vent his frustrations. So he used this enormous frustration of not living up to his dream to make music. He used it as fuel for his creativity. I found that fascinating.
? I don’t know how it is in the Netherlands but over here in the U.S. we talk a lot about the music industry and the fact that oftentimes, because of the way the business is, the most talented artists aren’t always the most popular artists.
? I think it’s the same over here. I experienced that also with trying to promote the film. Getting it broadcast and getting a deal to have it screened somewhere, the first question is, “Yeah, but who is he? He’s not Dutch.” That’s also one of their arguments. They don’t know him and they don’t feel like getting to know him. Because I think after seeing the film you really know the guy. So I think that’s probably the same over here. You need to have good PR as an artist to get you known. And I think you probably sometimes have to do what you really don’t want to do.
? How much of that — wanting to increase his exposure — served as your motivation for this documentary?
? None. Maybe I was a bit naïve starting this. I just thought this is a great guy who makes great music and has a great story. The story of his life was interesting and it wasn’t that much a goal of mine to tell the story about how hard it is as an independent artist to survive and make a living out of your art. It is in it, though, a bit. But it wasn’t the goal of this film.
? What was Vinx’s reaction when you told him you wanted to do a film on him? Or was it happening before you all realized it?
? You’re completely right. We realized it was happening when it was already happening. But there was one moment that, in hindsight, was really funny. I was struggling with the storyline. Then I finally had an idea. At the time he was still living in Georgia, and he was living in a small town. He told me there was this railway in the town, which was like a border. One side of the tracks were poor and black, the other side was white and rich. And he was the only black man who was living in the white area. And I thought, that makes a nice contrast and I can do something with that. So I wrote a sort of script and met Vinx when he was in Germany again. I was telling him about my plans and my ideas and he said, “Great idea, Unfortunately, I just moved to New Hampshire.” There goes the idea, down the drain. It was really a bummer. But at that moment I decided, alright forget the script, just go on my instinct. I knew there was an interesting story there. I just had to trust my gut feeling and get my cameraman, who did a marvelous job all for free. We did a good job, actually, without a planned story. Just go where the story takes you.
? Memoirs of a Hip Ole Black Man. Performance and Q&A with Vinx moderated by Leatrice Ellzy of Beatrix Moss. $10. 7-10 p.m. Fri., Sept. 11. Atlanta Technical College, Dennard Conference Center, 1560 Metropolitan Parkway, SW, Building B.