One of the best things about the Denver music scene is its generosity. You can see it in the preponderance of benefit shows that crop up all over the city. For sheer breadth, though, it’s hard to imagine anything surpassing the upcoming benefit for poor Kenyans, organized by SAFI at 3 Kings Tavern.
On Sunday, Feb. 21 at 10 a.m., more than 15 bands will descend upon the South Broadway music venue for a full day of music. However, those bands won’t see a penny of the absurdly affordable $7 cover. Instead, that money will go to SAFI, a Denver-based non-profit organization dedicated to empowering Africans and helping them find ways out of poverty.
Founded by Dr. Lucas Shamala, an assistant professor of African and African American Studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver, SAFI currently focuses on improving the quality of life in the rural Kenyan village where Shamala was raised. In the town of Kambiri, SAFI has helped the residents create a well, a church and a nursery school. Rather than simply donating resources to the community, however, the organization focuses on empowering its residents to improve their own lives.
One of SAFI’s most ambitious projects right now — to which some of the benefit’s money will be applied — is to create a vocational school that will focus on giving local residents the skills they need to earn a living, support their families and improve the village’s quality of life. “We’re about giving a hand up, not a handout,” says benefit organizer Brian Erickson.
But what does all of this have to do with local music? It turns out that Erickson, who sits on SAFI’s board and frequently assists with fundraising, is the bridge. The 27-year-old organizer first encountered SAFI while in Kambiri during college. The cycle of poverty that he witnessed there made Erickson wonder what he could do to make a difference. “I was sitting on the bus, leaving Kambiri, and I was thinking, ‘I know Ian Cooke. I know the folks in Paper Bird. I know Laura Goldhamer and all these fantastic people with generous hearts,'” remembers Erickson. It took a while, but about 18 months later, the idealistic Denverite had organized his first SAFI benefit show.
This month’s benefit show will be SAFI’s fourth, and each one has grown in scope and complexity. Visual artists will be creating art while the bands play, and those fresh works will be available for purchase via a silent auction. Erickson himself — who was one of the founders of local Beatbox Bakery — will be serving a homemade breakfast.
And then there are the bands. Munster Boogie, Joshua Trinidad, Sunland, Warsaw Trio, Tim the Band, Dicky Jaguar, Dugout Canoe, Radical Knitting Circle, Alan Alda, Hunter Dragon, Fight Spider with Spider and Astrophagus are just some of the acts that have agreed to get involved. “I’m just shameless,” explains Erickson. “I ask everyone. And I’m not ever going to tell anyone no. I’m here to inspire and empower people, but not to control them. That’s why there are so many bands.”
“He’s just really excited about it,” says Astrophagus’s Jason Cain. “He gets other people excited to be involved.” For Erickson, that is precisely the point of an event like this. “It’s sort of that old idea of ‘think globally, act locally,'” he says. “SAFI is about empowering people to empower people to empower people. And that’s what I’m trying to do on the home level. I just want to inspire people with these shows. I want to see Denver do good things.”
Eryc Eyl is a veteran music journalist, critic and Colorado native who has been neck-deep in local music for many years. Check out Steal This Track every Tuesday for local music you can HEAR, and the Mile High Makeout every Friday.