Black Student Assembly showcases student talent at GearFest

Thornton junior Jairus Edwards, who performs under the name JAiRUS, brought his R&B style to an audience of hundreds during the music festival portion of the event. (Caleb Griffin | Daily Trojan )

Performers and attendees flocked to McCarthy Quad on Saturday. where the Black Student Assembly’s Creative Experience Committee hosted the 10th annual GearFest. This year’s theme, “Ascension,” served as the festival’s mission statement: to elevate and empower Black students, artists, musicians, performers, creatives and vendors to find their higher calling.

The music festival component of the event primarily highlighted student talent, save for the headliner — Maryland-born, Los Angeles-based singer Brent Faiyaz — and special guest Troi Irons, a Los Angeles-native musician. The lineup included performances from student artists Ayoni (Ayoni Thompson), Kabwasa (Etienne Kabwasa Green), JAiRUS (Jairus Edwards) and Vietta (Stephenie Lawrence). 

Since summer, the Creative Experience team has been working to make this year’s GearFest a reality. Creative Experience co-director Gogo Chilaka developed the theme as early as last summer. Chilaka, a senior majoring in business administration, spearheaded the event alongside her co-director Kionte Hickman, a junior majoring in architecture.

“The idea with ‘Ascension’ was that we wanted everyone in attendance to feel like being at the event put them in line with their future,” Chilaka said. “I wanted the event to be bigger, to ascend into a bigger thing so that it continues.”

When Faiyaz took the stage for his headlining performance, he seamlessly transitioned between songs from his latest release “Fuck the World” and select cuts from his 2017 project “Sonder Son.” He played nearly every track from “Fuck the World,” including crowd favorites “Been Away,” “Let Me Know” and the album’s title track.

“USC, how y’all feeling?” Faiyaz asked the crowd of USC students gathered at McCarthy Quad. “This is a good ass crowd, I’m fucking with y’all. Appreciate the love, for real.”

One of the standout student sets of the day came from JAiRUS, accompanied onstage by a nine-person band composed of Thornton School of Music jazz students and alumni, brought a soulful energy indicative of his musical origins — he grew up singing in his church.

“I’m really pleased with how everything came out and everything that I heard,” said JAiRUS, a junior studying music (jazz voice). “The crowd’s energy was really great and I thought it was a pretty groovy time … I tried to apply [this year’s Ascension theme] to my own message that I like to give about love, so taking love to the next level.”

GearFest featured more than just music. In line with the event’s name, the festival hosted a fashion show in which students sported gear made by stylists from the USC community. A month before the event, Creative Experience crowdsourced its models by sending out a casting call on Instagram.

“It was really nice to see such a diverse and inclusive cast of models being represented at USC,” said Netra Bhat, a freshman attendee majoring in mathematics. “The clothes in the show were unlike anything I’d ever seen before.”

Opposite the quad from the stage, Creative Experience set up installations, including a chalkboard for attendees to write how they will ascend and an immersive experience dubbed “Vibe Check” where students could have their tarot cards read in a tent made of holographic, multicolored material. 

For photo ops, the committee set up a reflective, three-tiered pedestal with a wicker chair beside it to evoke an iconic photograph of Black Panther Party leader Huey Newton. 

Tents lined the quad displaying artworks, crafts and clothing made by students and community members. Companies like The Dublife Co., which creates Western clothing with African aesthetics and BLEX, which features prominent Black figures on their clothing, sold their products to festival goers. 

“There was a lot more participation with student artists [and] vendors selling stuff, so I like that in comparison to last year,” Hickman said. “We had three community vendors that we reached out to and then we had six student vendors that reached out to us.”

Attendees were satisfied with how the festival met its goals through art, culture and community.

“I feel happy — it went well, I’m really glad,” Chilaka said. “To have gone through that whole process to get [Faiyaz] here and then to have been there felt really good, felt very full circle.”