Backstage at the Utah Arts Festival 2022: The beautiful metaphysical muses of Tree Hill, Ami Divine

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Two Las Vegas musicians who started as poets and spoken word performers and admire each other greatly — Tree Hill and Ami Divine — are set to perform at the Utah Arts Festival, as part of the Emerging Artists program.

Tree Hill with DJ DuwopRose The Vinylist: June 24, The Round, 3:15 p.m. and June 25, 2 p.m.

Tree Hill’s journey toward becoming the poetic and musical muse of her own Galactic Gospel included stops in such places as Akron, Ohio and Greensboro, North Carolina before landing in Las Vegas.

In her childhood, she attended an elementary performing arts school and remembers vividly going to see The Lion King on Broadway at the age of nine. 

Tree Hill.

“I realized then that I wanted to inspire an audience like the way the show inspired me. I had tears in awe of the experience,” she says in an interview with The Utah Review. Growing up in Ohio, she absorbed many art forms including drawing and dance. She started writing poetry in her mid-teens and continued to perfect her delivery through her college years. Along the way, she developed a love for all types of literary and musical expression from Shakespeare to old school hip hop, R&B, Lauren Hill, Pink, Avril Lavigne and the Isley Brothers, among others. 

Theater gave her the skills to develop rhythm and cadence and her musical interests sparked her inventiveness for taking and blending melodic lines from these eclectic paradoxes of styles. Thus, the rhythm and melodic flow could absorb a jagged edge feel without disrupting its core. This would make Hill a formidable artist in Las Vegas, one of the nation’s leading destinations for poetry slam competitions and a veritable center of this literary art form. She was a member of the Vegas poetry team FreeVerb.

Her single Jupiter, released last year anchors her creative expression as her form of the Galactic Gospel. The lyrics come from a spoken word piece she wrote a decade ago and the time to let it marinate to become a fully matured creative expression has paid off beautifully. She worked with Steve ‘Jacaranda’ Wilmot, of OneRepublic fame, who was producer. Adding the right beat and a hook chorus, Hill had the melodic elements of the track tuned to 432hz, which is the quintessential point for producing the meditative sensation, which often is associated with metaphysical and cosmological contemplations with chakras and similar practices. 

Hill sees the elegance of simplicity as vital to her lyrics and overall lyricism, reflecting back on the constructive counsel she received in her younger days as she worked toward perfecting her poetic voice. Thus, the spiritual codes that are embedded in tracks such as Jupiter become more accessible to the listener. How does Hill explain the spiritual code? “Whenever thoughts become heavy and dark and there is a lot of noise interference, then it probably is not the truth and certainly not the individual’s truth,” she says. The sonic vibrations allow the individual to take the moment to breathe and ease into expanding and elevating themselves to the motivation of pushing through all forms of resistance and looking for their truths. 

Hill is thriving in many realms. Her artistic interests are tapped into ways of making the environment more sustainable, such as the materials that go into building homes, and thinking more creatively about how the broader goal can be achieved. Tree also was a coordinator for the collaboration between the Life Is Beautiful Festival and SocialWorks, a nonprofit led by Chance The Rapper. 

They also presented the OpenMikeLV youth initiative on the evening before the Las Vegas event.

Joining Hill at the UAF will be DJ DuwopRose The Vinylist, whom Hill says is “the perfect DJ for an MC like me.” Hill adds that the DJ facilitates the “profound transitions” between songs, working with effects that make it like the smoothest peanut butter. 

Ami Divine: June 25, Park Stage, 6:15 p.m.

Construction of the road to The Divine Sound for Ami Divine began when she was old enough to start writing, she says in an interview with The Utah Review. A week before the Utah Arts Festival, she was named by Las Vegas Weekly as the Best Music Artist on the Rise.

Divine’s family background was rich in the arts. Her father was a published poet and philosopher and her mother was a chef, painter and dancer. Divine remembers the first poem she wrote as a child: Rainbow, which was “super simple,” she recalls.

Ami Divine.

Like artistic colleague Tree Hill, whom Divine speaks about with genuine warmth and appreciation, Divine’s journey to Las Vegas included stops of major significance in her artistic development along the way, including Japan and Virginia. There was the connection to the sound of neo-soul and in Virginia, she was introduced to the world of open mic sessions and Poetry Out Loud events. In Las Vegas, she perfected her poetic voice and delivery and others were encouraging her to take up singing and songwriting professionally. “I hesitated because I didn’t like how my voice sounded,” she adds. Ten years later, her debut album Spells was released to excellent reviews. 

Divine, who was adopted, says, when it came to music she heard growing up, it was not in “a traditional Black house.” Her father was Puerto Rican and her mother was German. She remembers listening to lots of music in Spanish and rock such as Fleetwood Mac and Phil Collins. Stevie Nicks was a particular favorite.

With encouragement from her post father, Divine developed a deep appreciation for some of the 20th century’s greatest poets, especially in verse which celebrates love, the single most important muse in her work. One example is To Be in Love, a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, the Pulitzer Prize winning writer whose verse is best known for how it depicted her coming-of-age in her Chicago neighborhood. To Be in Love is a brilliant piece, opening with the joy of newfound love but it eventually becomes darker as the promises of that relationship shatter, all capture in the space of 31 lines of verse. 

Other poets which are part of Divine’s collective muse include Maya Angelou and Pablo Neruda, notably the book of 100 love sonnets. “I often thumb through the book and I am always taken by how the choice of words and intentions in his poems are like short films, complete in 20 lines or less.” Other vital examples for her are the collections of poetry and prose in Lang Leav’s Sea of Strangers and Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey.

Spells has reminded some reviewers of Erykah Badu, which satisfies Divine tremendously, as she is a prominent muse in her creative development. Other principal musical inspirations for Divine include Billie Holiday as well as R&B and neo-soul as mentioned earlier, along with psychedelic soul which Divine says bring many new ideas to her table setting of creative possibilities. Indeed, it seems that with musical artists who first found visibility as spoken word performers and poets have translated metaphysically to their respective voices, with Hill as a vessel for cosmological and spiritual meditation and Divine, who articulates the holistic manifestations of love in its highs and lows, much akin because her experiences in marriage and divorce are mirrored in the pure language of Brooks’ poem. 

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Les Roka
I am a native of Toledo, Ohio, having received my Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication from Ohio University's Scripps School of Journalism in 2002. In addition to teaching at Utah State University and the University of Utah, I have worked extensively in public relations for a variety of organizations including a major metropolitan university, college of osteopathic medicine, and community college. When it comes to intellectual curiosity, I venture into as many areas as possible, whether it’s about music criticism, the history of journalism, the practice of public relations in a Web 2.0 world and the soon-to-arrive Web 3.0 landscape, or how public debates are formed about many issues especially in the political arena. As a Salt Lake City resident, I currently write and edit a blog called The Selective Echo that provides an entertaining, informative, and provocative look at Salt Lake City and its cosmopolitan best. I also have been the U.S. editorial advisor for an online publication Art Design Publicity based in The Netherlands. And, I use social media tools such as Twitter for blogging, networking with journalists and experts, and staying current on the latest trends in culture and news. I also have been a regular monthly contributor to a Utah business magazine, and I have recently conducted a variety of editing projects involving authors and researchers throughout the country and the world, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Lebanon, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan. I’m also a classically trained musician who spent more than 15 years in a string quartet, being involved in more than 400 performances.

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