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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Perfecting the Vibe: Wisdom From Four Brooklyn Barbers

Interviews by Akornefa Akyea
Photographs by Sam Polcer

Written by Nigerian-British poet and playwright Inua Ellams, international sensation Barber Shop Chronicles, which comes to BAM Dec 3—8 for its US premiere—is set in cities across the African continent (Lagos, Johannesburg, Accra, Kampala, and Harare) and London, and conjures the sacred space where men—in this case Black men—come together not only for a good trim, but for necessary and unfiltered discussion on black masculinity, immigration, identity and more.

While the services provided at barber shops around the world are similar, each shop has its own unique atmosphere and distinct character. We visited four shops on Fulton St., home also to the Harvey Theater at BAM Strong, where the play will be performed, to find out how they foster a sense of community.

Respect for Life Barber Shop: Positive Thinking
Claim to fame: was Biggie Smalls’ preferred barber shop

“I deal with the law of attraction. I try to always give positive energy and keep a positive head, because my energy definitely goes into people whose heads I’m touching. A guy came in the other day complaining about his job. I told him he shouldn’t do that anymore because there are people sitting here right now without jobs. You have a job! You gotta find the positive thing in that job that makes you go to work and make the best of that situation. No matter where you work, you chose to work there. Because everything that happens to you is what you’ve allowed or made happen. Thoughts become things. Words are powerful. That’s how I live, through the law of attraction. We see hundreds of people that come through here and everybody’s going through all their different situations, so you have to stay in a positive mind.” —Reggie, barber, 52

Added attraction: boasts a tattoo parlor within

“I was going to FIT for book illustration. That’s what I really wanted to do. I kind of always had this craft in my back pocket. It just ended up that I got into barbering and fell in love with it. Drawing, painting, sculpting, eye-hand coordination: I’m using all the same creative skills. If you look around the shop, you’ll notice that there are a lot of paintings on the wall. I got a painting in the back that’s mine. I used to have just my paintings but other artists used to come in and ask who the artist is and if they could show their work. It started to become like a rotation, just representing artists in the neighborhood. I do it every two months—rotating the walls for local artists. It’s decor, it’s a good look and I like the different energy and feel of change and different art coming in. And each artist kind of just changes the whole feel of the shop. That’s what I really like.”—Rahkeem, barber/owner, 42

Proof they’re doing something right: there are seven branches across New York City

“We play music in here all the time! What it is, is we have songs that we’ve played too much that will cause a problem in here. So one song we cannot play in here—we don’t play in here—is ‘No Diggity.’ They have so many versions of ‘No Diggity’ it don’t make sense. They said they heard it too many times. If it comes on, everyone’s like, ‘Oh! What you doing?’ We don’t play ‘No Diggity!’”—Damian, barber, 39

The Stoop: Balance 
It’s a family affair: owned by fun-loving twin brothers Quan and Tav 

“People always leave here with a smile. I feel like people just embrace the fun and love that we give off because I think that we embrace it all. People come here and they just talk. Whether they’re whispering just to their barber or talking to everybody, they’re able to get it off their chest. Just like people go into the church and do their Hail Marys, they come in here and do their Hail Marys, but it’s judgement free in here.

“Since we’ve opened up the shop, I’ve never seen so many grown men cry out in public. Like literally bawling in here. And you know it isn’t a bad thing, because like I said sometimes you just need to get it out and then move forward.

“We do everything in here. We have game nights, we do Karaoke Fridays; we do Cutting Karaoke. The customer can pick a song and then we sing along. But none of us can really sing, we’re just doing it for fun. Don’t try to book us!”—Quan, barber/owner, 33

Barber Shop Chronicles will be at BAM Dec 3—8, as part of Next Wave 2019, a season of artists making their BAM debuts.

© 2019, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

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