Minecraft concerts on Brown’s virtual College Green offer a pandemic-induced music alternative

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — It’s been a year since most live music venues went dark to stem the spread of novel coronavirus — and performers and audiences alike are beginning to realize they miss more than just the music.

“I miss the community aspect of it,” said Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, a rapper and postdoctoral research fellow in international humanities with Brown University’s Department of Music. “I miss interacting with the crowd in real time, actually seeing how they’re responding to my words and gestures. And I miss being in the audience, dancing along with other people and moving around venues to find the best view of the stage.”

For the first nine months of the pandemic, Lumumba-Kasongo — who raps under the pseudonym Sammus — felt unable to replicate the heady experience of a live show on virtual platforms. But then came November 2020, when Providence musician and filmmaker B. Dolan invited her to perform as part of a concert in Minecraft — the ubiquitous virtual world sandbox game where players build alternate realities or reconstruct favorite real-life locations.

“I felt like I was really in a performance space in a way that I hadn’t felt with all the Zoom live-streamed performances I’d done in the spring and summer,” she said. “You can ‘see’ other people, you can ‘stand’ next to them, you can ‘dance’ with them and see them respond in real time. I knew instantly that I wanted to see more of these kinds of shows.”

This spring, Lumumba-Kasongo is teaming with the Brown Arts Initiative, Dolan and musicians on and off campus to present a series of Minecraft concerts open to the University community and the public. Performers include Brown and Rhode Island School of Design students, popular Ocean State acts and other musicians from across the country. Concertgoers can choose to participate in Minecraft or watch the livestream on YouTube or Twitch.

The concerts, which kick off on Saturday, March 27, are intended to provide a respite from Zoom, said Sophia LaCava-Bohanan, assistant director for programs at the BAI.

“Students at Brown were very interested in exploring alternative ways to host online events this semester,” LaCava-Bohanan said. “Earlier this winter, they mentioned a few different gaming platforms they thought might work. I reached out to Enongo for her thoughts, because I knew her to be an avid gamer.”

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