Memorial to Mpozi Mshale Tolbert
The friends of Mpozi Mshale Tolbert organized two tribute shows to the late photographer, artist and DJ last week, mourning his passing as a heavy blow to the city’s artistic community.
The longtime Indianapolis Star photographer was also a DJ of rare and impeccable taste, as his friends who came to the shows at Therapy and the Casbah testified.
I didn’t know him well personally, but I was quite familiar with his photography. He had that rare talent for catching his subjects in unguarded moments, an invisible eye capturing their actions. This is a useful trait for any photographer, all the more so for a guy as distinctly unmissable as Mpozi.
I saw him DJ his distinct fusion of reggae and modern beats exactly once; I’d long had it in mind to write something about him, when I found the time. Never going to happen now. There’s probably a lesson there.
Mpozi died unexpectedly July 4; his friends and frequent musical partners John Larner and Slater Hogan quickly assembled a tribute at Therapy Nightclub two days later.
The show featured an interesting musical mix, starting with DJ Noah spinning the sorts of reggae and worldbeat tracks Mpozi was known for, combining classic forms with modern pop tracks overlaid, leading into the more traditional throbbing rhythms from Slater Hogan.
Though Therapy wasn’t Mpozi’s home territory, the vibe in Therapy’s side room seemed uniquely suited for this initial tribute — relaxed, casual, surrounded by art and décor of distinctly elemental and international themes.
Those who knew Mpozi remembered him for his compassion, his talent and his very ubiquitousness.
“He was everywhere,” DJ LeahAnne said. “I’d go to a Pacers game, go to a Colts game, he’s there. You go to a community picnic and he’s takin’ pictures. He’s everywhere.”
DJ John Larner, who frequently worked with him, spoke of his support for all forms of art.
“He really appreciated all kinds of art; it didn’t matter what,” Larner said. “Whatever we were doing, whatever kind of music, he’d show up and support us. Heck, I never figured out how he even knew about half the house parties we did, but there he was.”
Slater Hogan summed it up nicely: “He was an asset to Indianapolis. He brought great things to this city. There wasn’t anyone else like him.”
“The ironic and sad thing is, I’m learning more now about all his accomplishments than I ever knew before,” Larner said. “Photography for the Roots, the Digable Planets, all the awards he got for photography in Philly; he never made a big deal of all that.”
“He wasn’t a black man; he wasn’t a DJ; he wasn’t a photographer; he was an everybody kind of guy,” said DJ LeahAnne. “He could talk to a farmer in Putnam County or a guy in a business suit. The city will miss him because that persona was a good presence. He was one of those people you’ll never, ever forget.”