Freestyling through Formless

The melodic voices of those that previously went unheard rang loud throughout the halls of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Memorial Union Play Circle. 

Formless was the culmination of months of collaboration between Moda Magazine, The Wisconsin Union Performing Arts Center, The Social Justice Hub and The Black Voice. 

It was an event that worked to highlight, amplify and celebrate the work and the talents of artists and students in the Madison area who identify as members of marginalized communities. 

Freshman singer Alicia Obiakor took the breaths of the audience away as she performed a rendition of “I’m Tired” by Labrinth and Zendaya. She felt the song was relatable for not just college students, but marginalized people as a whole. 

“I felt very disconnected from UW–Madison for a very long time, and I almost was reluctant to come here, because of how much I thought that I wouldn’t fit in,” she says. “I know that I still don’t fit in, but I think the things that make me different, and things that make me stand out are exactly my gifts.”

Obiakor saw adversity and how it infiltrated her life but instead of letting it hold her down, it inspires her to recognize her talents.

“I’m fully aware of all the circumstances and the obstacles and the literal social constructs that are working in favor of me failing, but I cannot allow that to happen because I just don’t feel like it’s in my destiny,” she says. “I will always rely on music, I will always rely on my art.”

Shane Austin, junior rapper and self-producer from New York, refers to himself as Shane Finesse when performing. He blessed the ears of listeners with music from his last album and a slew of unreleased songs, as the Formless space allowed him to expand his audience and meet more creatives in his community. 

Growing up, Austin was always surrounded by music. He saw the difficulties for artists trying to break into the field and he went through them himself. 

“You gotta do it yourself man,” Austin says. “You can’t go looking for handouts, especially out here. You just got to go look, and you got to go searching and if you don’t find anything, you have to do it yourself.”

Rapper Fred Steinmetz, also known as Fred The Black Kid or FTBK, also recalled how being Black and working in the music industry in a predominantly white place like Wisconsin has thrown him into spaces where he hasn’t felt like he belonged.

“It’s harder for a lot of people of color and in the LGBTQ community because there’s not a lot of spaces that are just there to promote them,” he says.

Steinmetz reflected on his childhood and remembers questioning his Blackness.

“As I met more Black people, I was able to find out about Black culture and just who I am,” he says. “It became more solidified and I started to just own that and be like, no, I am Fred The Black Kid and no one can take that away from me.” 

Other artists such as rapper Jaylen Poole, singer Princess Vaulx and South Asian a cappella group Wisconsin Waale also shared their crafts at the artivism concert. 

President of Waale Simran Katyal reflected on Formless, its mission, and the opportunities it presented.

Formless was a memorable performance that I’m grateful to have experienced with Wisconsin Waale,” she says. “The energy from performers and audience members on and off the stage was indescribable and it was a great space and opportunity to share our voices as members of a marginalized community who often goes unheard.”

Waale started when Katyal was a freshman and she has got to grow and evolve both vocally and as a person with fellow members of the group. In her leadership role, she looks to make a difference in years ahead. 

“It excites me for there to now be a space for the younger and future members to be able to share their voice and shine in ways that are not always presented to them on a regular basis,” she says. 

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