By Anika Metcalf
Jirani is a coffeehouse founded by Ken Moorman, across the street from the the train station in Old Town Manassas. Inside this charming coffeehouse is a stage on which Mabuto “Buto” Richardson has performed many times. The 21-year-old local artist, known for his hit SoundCloud song “Blessing,” has spent a lot of time in Jirani, and with good reason. His family owns the coffeehouse.
Jirani was born from the vision of owner Ken Moorman, a dream to open a coffeehouse in a building that had been vacant for over three years. “I knew that it didn’t make any sense to open up a coffeehouse, let alone any business, at that location,” Moorman wrote in his book On the Other Side of My Dream. Now, years later, Jirani has ingrained itself in the community as both a popular and special place, and not just for coffee. It is a place for culture and the arts. Until the pandemic hit, Richardson and many others performed on the coffeehouse stage.
The Impact on Richardson’s Music
The pandemic has significantly impacted Richardson’s music. Not being able to perform has slowed down the artist’s growth greatly. Being a hometown artist, Richardson relied heavily on these live performances to get his name out there. It was before one of these live performances that Richardson’s best friend, Hector Castillo, wrote the phrase, “Live great, die empty” on the singer’s shoes. (Richardson and Castillo met in Jirani.) This very quote is now tattooed on Richardson’s chest. It’s a quote he lives by, and one that inspires him to write music.
“I don’t want to leave here still feeling like I have to write a song,” Richardson said. “To live great and die empty means that I left everything I had: my songs, my heart, and my words all on the field.”
The Beauty in Making Music
For Richardson, part of the beauty in making music is the ability to govern people’s minds through his own words and experiences.
“His songs are all inspired. They are subjective. Lived by him. Experienced by him. But they are not foreign to his listeners,” Castillo said. Richardson’s song “It’s Okay to Cry” was written for a friend of his who was dealing with depression. “7 Minutes from Heaven” was inspired by a past relationship. “1,000 Years” was a written as a song of worship. In making his music, Richardson has gained the ability to “pull something out of someone, bringing them to a different place.”
Achieving the Dream
Since the pandemic, Richardson has been spending a lot of time in Jirani working towards achieving his dream of becoming an established artist. He is currently working on his next album. During such an uncertain time, Richardson describes “keeping the passion alive for the thing that I love” one of his greatest obstacles.
“I haven’t become the artist I wanted to be.”
Yet, sitting in Jirani, initially a vision of his father’s, he is reminded of what can happen and of how his dreams can become a reality despite the obstacles.
“To see him (Buto) be able to develop his gifts in Jirani is so encouraging,” Moorman said. “It’s the moment you realize your dream is connected to other dreams; you have to do it. Your dream is bigger than yourself.”
While Richardson has had to put performing on hold, he remembers the feeling of performing live. He is inspired to keep going by the dream of his father, the words of his friend Hector, and the motivational message his older brother Chuck shared with him before his passing on Christmas Day in 2016. This motivational message takes form in a voice message, with Chuck telling Richardson he believes in him and his music, and to never let anyone stop him from achieving his dream. It’s the last interaction the two had with each other, and it is one Richardson remembers when he doubts his talents. “When I hear that, I think, ‘Keep moving.’”
Right now, Richardson faces an empty stage without a crowd, waiting for the time he can perform again and do what he loves. The feeling of emptiness and vacancy does loom over dreamers during this time, Richardson’s father proved that it is very possible to transform a vacant space into the place of your dreams. When the time comes again, Richardson will return to the stage with the hope of becoming the artist he sees in his dreams.
Buto Richardson’s new album “Star Lit Late Nights” is available on Spotify.
Anika Metcalf is a student journalist at Catholic University of America.