Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ’Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’
Marina “Skye” Williams helped Jidenna with the intricate stage design of his recent “85 to Africa Tour.” That was the first tour the 30-year-old set designer/art director from Los Angeles, California worked on.
“He did the ‘Classic Man’ moniker so well that people didn’t think he had a personality. He’s actually one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. His management team wanted to make sure this album showcased who he is,” Skye told REVOLT. “They wanted to showcase his fun side and his dancing side. He goes to bashments (Dancehall parties) all the time, so that was really an organic thing to include in the rollout of the album and tour.”
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” Skye explains how she made Jidenna’s vision of the American and African ghettos translate on the stage, viral lap dances from the tour, and more.
As tour designer, what were your responsibilities on Jidenna’s “85 To Africa Tour”?
From a pre-production standpoint, my responsibility was to make sure the vision that I understood and basically lived for the world we created for the album was represented on the actual stage. That’s part one. Also, communicating with Jidenna to see if he wanted any new inclusions to the stage that we didn’t get to capture during the rollout of the album. I had to make sure that was represented onstage as well. From a production standpoint, when you’re on the road, every night, the stages are going to be different sizes. Initially, when we’re creating the buildout, we want for the stage design we’re using [to be] one set of dimensions, but that changes every night.
So, in essence, in order to have a stage that is functional each night, it’s best to have props that are either retractable if they’re big. So, if the stage is too small, we can take props off. If the stage is bigger, then we can add props to the vision. My responsibility was to make sure the baseline vision of the stage was clear and represented on every single stage despite the size of the stage. There’s also a different set of stagehands that comes with the venue. So, I’m responsible for making sure these people aren’t breaking any of our stuff, handling it with care, and not being lazy with anything.
What did Jidenna convey to you as his vision for the tour?
Initially, when we started conversing about what that would look like, he was very clear that he wanted the stage to be a well-proportioned representation of both the American ghetto and African ghetto. He wanted to make sure people understood and could clearly see the connection between the two, and similarities between the two in the props that we used on stage. If you take a step further, he wanted it to be bright, welcoming and warm. So, we had to make sure the colors we used were represented in both places and also represented him.
The tour started in October. How long before that did it take for the stage to come together?
Paying 100% attention to the stage probably took two months. A lot of that was constantly changing because the vision of things was changing. It was a two-month process of full focus. Even with being fully focused on that, we had two music videos we were planning for.
Which venue on the tour presented the biggest difficulty?
Our very first show in Sacramento. It was challenging because we had so many issues, logistically, that happened on the backend. We had to scrounge up alternate props for that show. Our truck got into an accident and the top of it was skimmed. The only material in the truck that were harmed were the props because we were very particular about putting the props in the front of the truck, so they wouldn’t be squished with everything in the back. For that show, the vision had to be compromised so much because we literally had none of our stuff. So, everything we wanted for the first show was not there. He had other things he was worried about, so we were trying to keep as much of the stress away from him as possible. But, there came a time when we realized we need to tell him the stage is not going to be what we thought.
At that point, we had already come up with a contingency plan and sourced other things to add to the stage to take our original vision’s place. We still had the same colors and props, but [things] weren’t the way we wanted it to be. At that point, he was like, “I know y’all had been stressing over this for many hours. Just let me know what the plan is and how I need to adjust to it.” Every once in a while, there are pieces of his vision that if he doesn’t want to compromise on, he definitely lets us know, and we make it happen.
What was on his rider?
He’s a no-must, no-fuss kind of person. He’s not really high strung. He doesn’t have all these crazy demands. But, he is very particular about what he puts in his body and his health because he is on the go all the time. His rider is usually things that are healthy. So, he has to have his fruit, tea, and we are a group of tequila drinks (laughs).
What are some fun activities you all have gotten into as a group on tour?
In New Orleans, we had a day off. We literally ate the whole day. We ate every single thing in sight and we wandered through the streets. It was amazing. We roamed through the French Quarter. We walked past cemeteries. He’s a big fan of eating as it relates to the culture he’s in.
Those bashments thrown in support of the tour were the things of legends. What was the thought process behind them?
This album for Jidenna was very important and special. He did the “Classic Man” moniker so well that people didn’t think he had a personality. He’s actually one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. His management team wanted to make sure this album showcased who he is. They wanted to showcase his fun side and his dancing side. He goes to bashments all the time, so that was really an organic thing to include in the rollout of the album and tour. It happened organically and we just kept on rolling with it.
On the tour, what songs got the biggest reactions?
“Sou Sou.” There was an entire lap dance challenge that happened through that. That was something that came about in a random conversation the team had about how we wanted to work on the rollout of the show. It was an experiment. We wanted people to have fun, so we brought some girls onstage and wanted to see what would happen for one show. It took the fuck off (laughs). It became this thing that had to happen. It couldn’t have worked out better for us. So, we kept on going.
What are the craziest things you’ve seen result from that challenge?
The Atlanta one went viral. That was the one that got picked up on every social media platform and media outlet. The girl did a whole split and fell into it. She was working so hard, our chair almost broke. I’m under the stage watching the chair lean and I’m praying to God, “Please, let it hold on for just two seconds.” That one got crazy in a good way. Had that chair broken, they probably wouldn’t have known.
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I have to say I was so grateful to receive these affirmations from @janellemonae and @wondaland @natewonderful @romangianarthur....man, I learned so much from them as far as performance. I can’t count how many @janellemonae shows I’ve been to. She is easily one of the greatest performers on earth and I’m blessed to have come up watching her. I wouldn’t be where I am without being able to study under her and @wondaland. What a night
Janelle Monae came out onstage at the L.A. show, but also spoke with Jidenna backstage. What was the energy like?
For him, his favorite shows would probably be San Francisco, L.A., and Atlanta. San Francisco would be one because he has a very special connection to that place. It’s where he went to school and he has a lot of friends there. The L.A. one had a lot of his Wondaland family. We stayed backstage for literally two hours after that show. There had to be probably 100-120 people backstage. That show was so big. That was our last show. I live in Atlanta and I was in Atlanta running errands before the show. He called me at 4 o’clock like, “Hey, I just booked you a ticket to come to L.A.” I was like, “Nigga, what?” He was like, “Yeah. Your flight’s at six. You have to be here.” So, I threw clothes into a backpack, called an Uber, rushed to the airport, and got to L.A. at probably 8:30. The show started at 8. I got to the show by 9:45.