Frankie Watts and Dominick “Mardi” Byrd are the driving forces behind FREEWATER, a multi-faceted platform offering services in photography, filmography, music and—as expressed on their website—”whatever else we feel like doing.”
Together, the two have placed themselves at the forefront of what some would call a renaissance in New Orleans’ creative scene; FREEWATER has become synonymous with the diverse, self-actualized 20-somethings looking for a place to showcase the city’s vibrancy and talent. Like the Pink Room Project, Abstract Nola, Mind of Art and a bevy of other arts and music-focused collectives, FREEWATER is built on a foundation of empowerment and expressionism. And then, the parties. Oh, the parties.
Frankie and Mardi are responsible for throwing some of the best parties in New Orleans, which are self-sustaining creative goldmines. Armed with their respective skills in camera work and execution, the duo and their parties document what is happening in New Orleans, right now.
“A lot of the things we were doing, nobody was telling us to do it,” Mardi tells me. “In the beginning, we was just documenting our friends, going out with our cameras.”
The two would edit the footage of their nights out with friends and, as Frankie points out, cleverly opted to put FREEWATER branding on the videos and photos. As Frankie says, “Once people saw that, it was like ‘Oh, shit. This is it. FREEWATER is something.'” The two began throwing their own events.
Frankie and Mardi put out “volumes” of content on a consistent basis, digital scrapbooks of projects they’ve worked on, events they’ve organized and more. It’s all part of an effort to share with the world that New Orleans’ Black youth culture is more than the bygone heyday of rap dominance and post-Katrina fallout.
“We’ve been around the world, and when people think of New Orleans, they think about Hot Boys, baggy clothes, just this old era,” Frankie tells me. “It’s like, no. It’s lit now. We swaggin’ now. People doin’ new stuff. Y’all need to tap in and see what’s going on. I think that’s what we’re here for.”
“It sucks,” Mardi adds, “because the cultural gaps in New Orleans are so wide. “Like Frankie said, it’s Cash Money/No Limit, then it’s Katrina, then it’s everything that’s happening right now. Each of those are ten-year gaps. Nobody is here for this part of the rebuilding of the city. It’s our job to be there and be the forefront of what’s happening in New Orleans.”
On Friday, October 26, FREEWATER will host a Haunted House costume party with a performance from Mhadi G, an artist with whom Frankie and Mardi are working directly as creative directors. Girls get in free with costume and RSVP. Though men will be charged a $20 cover, don’t forget: the wave is always free.