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Spotlight: Swamburger leaves Orlando after 20 years of art and advocacy

Swamburger (Asaan Brooks) speaks with Nicole Darden Creston as people browse wares  at Swam's final yard sale before he leaves Orlando for good. Photo: Julian Bond
Swamburger (Asaan Brooks) speaks with Nicole Darden Creston as people browse wares at Swam's final yard sale before he leaves Orlando for good. Photo: Julian Bond

Even if you don’t know Asaan Brooks - aka Swamburger - if you’re a Central Florida arts lover, you probably know his work.

If you ever attended Phat-N-Jazzy night at the Social on Orange Ave, or an exhibition by the B-Side Artist Collective at City Arts Factory, or a performance by his conscious hip-hop group Solillaquists of Sound, you’ve enjoyed one of the many contributions Swamburger made over more than twenty years as a creator, performer and tireless arts advocate in Orlando.


But now, he’s leaving Orlando and heading to Seattle.

Swamburger is so prolific and well-known as an artist that when Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer learned of the move, he wrote Swamburger a letter saying in part, “You have been dedicated to making Orlando more vibrant, unique and exciting. I hope that you are proud of your many accomplishments and proud of the role you have played in Orlando’s emergence as an arts and cultural hub.”

WMFE’s Nicole Darden Creston speaks to Swamburger outside his home as he holds the last of his series of yard sales, selling off his belongings before his move to the Pacific Northwest. Also for sale and on display facing the busy roadway in front of his house: pieces of his art, t-shirts commemorating his various projects, and of course, his music.

Even though he sits behind a table underneath his carport, it’s hot as a furnace outside. But people brave the blistering temps to come browse Swamburger’s wares, and some of Orlando’s most prominent musicians and visual artists stop by throughout the afternoon to say farewell.

[caption id="attachment_202666" align="alignright" width="250"]

Among the items on sale as Swamburger (Asaan Brooks) sells off his possessions before leaving Orlando, some of his art. Photo: Julian Bond[/caption]

In between visits and sales, Nicole asks about Mayor Dyer’s goodbye letter. She observes that it’s a kind of love letter from a city to a person. She asks Swamburger, if he could write Orlando a love letter in return, what would it say?

WATCH: Behind the scenes video with Nikki and Swamburger

Swamburger: Thank you for making me a real and honest artist with someone who recognizes opportunity and appreciates it when it comes my way. Thank you for making me a seeker in these things and taking the chance on these things when they pop up. Thank you for acknowledging that...this sh*t ain't easy. Not at all. I mean, at this point it's really just, you know, thank you. I really appreciate the time and being able to kind of leave my mark, you know, and continue the legacy elsewhere. Take over another city (laughter).

Nicole Darden Creston: What do you want your Orlando legacy to be? And what did you learn here to take with you there?

Swamburger: What I want the Orlando legacy to be - the Swamberg Orlando legacy to be. Hmmm...

Nicole Darden Creston: No pressure (laughter).

Swamburger: Wow, wow. Okay, so at the base - love, always. Love and patience together. Then, if we're to build, like, a little layer cake of this legacy, on top of that would be progressive action. And then, I guess on top of that, as far as like, another piece of the layer cake as far as the legacy is concerned, would be motivation and inspiration. And mean what you say and do what you say, right? And then, interact with folks. I guess that would be the top, is have some sort of collaborative effort, allow for that collaborative effort to really shine and help other people acknowledge their own greatness as well. So that would be on top of the layer cake.

Nicole Darden Creston: I'm loving the layer cake legacy analogy (laughter).

Swamburger: And then you said...what was the second part?

Nicole Darden Creston: What did you learn here? To take with you there?

[caption id="attachment_202724" align="alignleft" width="250"]

Cover art from the newly-released album "The Adventures of Mugs and Pockets." The group consists of Swamburger and Scarlet Monk.[/caption]

Swamburger: Oh, man, the biggest thing that I learned here is that this place is a secret weapon. What I mean by that is, like, for instance, you have a presentation of what looks to be like swamp land, what looks to be like "Bible belt." But the things and people [and] the ideas here that thrive, especially in the inner city...it's like, "Wow!" Some of the greatest artists, some of the greatest minds. In doing research before going to Seattle, I learned about their state fair. And they really kind of winged it - it got to a point where they were kind of faking certain things, in order to become who it is that they are now. So it's not necessarily the whole "fake it till you make it" thing, but it is going above and beyond with a certain amount of confidence that allows you to say to yourself and others, this is how we see ourselves. And that's exactly what Orlando needs. Orlando is almost scared of its own progress. And I don't mean that in a bad way, because all it does is just harbor more and more greatness. But at some point, that thing's got to get let out! You've got to take the top off the pot if we're gonna bake this cake, you know?

Nicole Darden Creston: Taking that cake analogy as far as it'll go (laughter).

Swamburger: Yeah! (laughter) That's a really dope question. I really appreciate that.

Nicole Darden Creston: Why are you leaving us?

Swamburger: So, the biggest reason that I'm leaving Orlando is to follow my heart, which is definitely with this new Mugs & Pockets project. So it's me and (Seattle-based songstress and producer) Scarlet Monk, and we just met over a year ago. As soon as we started one song, we knew it was the hit! You know, we knew it was it. We just got signed to a distribution deal. We've already completed about four albums. Yeah, that prolific. It's a lot.

Nicole Darden Creston: Tell me what Mugs & Pockets means.

Swamburger: How this even came about was, she loves mugs. She's a coffee drinker, tea drinker...

Nicole Darden Creston: Well, it's Seattle, so coffee sounds right (laughter).

Swamburger: Oh, yeah. And book reading, and everything. We're all into it (laughter). So, she saw this sticker on the street that had girls with hands in their pockets, and they were happy about having pockets. And it just says "pockets"...

Nicole Darden Creston: Exactly! (gestures to pockets on her sundress) I feel that (laughter).

[caption id="attachment_202725" align="alignright" width="250"]

Photo of a painting by Swamburger. Text says, "See Jack run out of options. Innocent."[/caption]

Swamburger: So [Scarlet] combined them together was like "Hey, what do you think about Mugs & Pockets?" And I was like, "Yo, that is amazing." Because in the hip hop world, sometimes things get to be a little too...serious. And since it's male-dominated, a lot of the names might reflect those things. So for us, it being a male/female dynamic, this is a lot more up our alley. So, Mugs & Pockets just fit. But it was also kind of a medicine-in-the-Twinkie kind of thing, where you get the best of both worlds... because Mugs & Pockets sounds like it could also be like a gangster kind of alias, you feel me?

Nicole Darden Creston: What do you think about the state of Black arts and artists right now in Central Florida?

Swamburger: Black art and artists? I mean, until we figure out this whole racism thing...like, don't forget, it's black art that has been stolen from - we're not too far from knowing that. And it's been going on forever. And the fact that it's now become like a separate thing - it's almost outcasted. I mean, I think it starts like this, let's, if we're gonna get just a little real for a little moment, all right? If you're not a part of the whole, and you're being talked about separately, like you get your own days, you get your own time to celebrate, you're being pushed to the side. If we're going to do the labels, then I feel like we have to have a complete understanding about why we're doing these labels. So if we're gonna say "Black art" and you're just basing it off of the fact that this person is Black...then come up with another label. Right? And, you know, there are times where I don't want you to know the color of my skin - that's the reason why I'm an artist. That's the reason why I would hide behind some of this paint, or some of these canvases, some of this color, you know? But now you've just kind of outed me, and now I'm the "Black artist." To some folks, that's - I don't want to say it's an accidental mask, because people do wear those - but I do want to say sometimes it's a purposeful mask. As an artist, you're not trying to reveal who you are, because you want people to pay more attention to the actual art than you do the person who made it. So, for me, I think that art in itself tries to, most of the time, paint the world that we feel that we deserve. And when it gets labeled, you know, as something that we're not even painting, it kind of gets minimalized.

[caption id="attachment_202726" align="alignnone" width="250"]

Swamburger at Orlando International Airport as he sets off for Seattle. Photo: Swamburger's Facebook page[/caption]

More information on Swamburger, his art, and his new music project is available on the Mugs and Pockets Facebook page.

Nicole came to Central Florida to attend Rollins College and started working for Orlando’s ABC News Radio affiliate shortly after graduation. She joined WMFE in 2010. As a field reporter, news anchor and radio show host in the City Beautiful, she has covered everything from local arts to national elections, from extraordinary hurricanes to historic space flights, from the people and procedures of Florida’s justice system to the changing face of the state’s economy.
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