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Music for a cause

Henna Roso fights hunger one concert at a time

Henna Roso playing at Guthrie Green

Derrick Weber

Henna Roso is more than just a band—it’s an organization dedicated to feeding the hungry. 

At its first Tulsa show earlier this summer at Guthrie Green, billed as a “food drive and launch party,” the group played a genre-bending combination of jazz, soul and funk, to which few could resist dancing. 

It also raised 2,166 meals and 1,090 pounds of food for the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. Combined with the subsequent three shows played in Norman and Fayetteville, the project has raised over 8,000 meals for people in need. Founding member and bass player Taylor Graham is still in shock. 

“These numbers have blown away my projections, and the great thing is, this is just the beginning,” said Graham, who is joined in the group—billed “a musical collective”—by guitarist and co-writer Justin Dupuis, keyboardist Bobby Moffat, Jr., saxophonist Andy McCormick, drummers Jerry Jones and Nicholas Foster, and percussionist Kristin Ruyle, who is also VP of operations.  

Every time Henna Roso plays a show, it asks that each concertgoer donate 10 non-perishable food items. They also raffle off prizes from local companies like yoga classes from Be Love Studio, barbeque from Burn Co., concert tickets to Cain’s Ballroom and passes to Easter Island Music Festival. Roso’s director of operations, Armawn Asgari, oversees the raffle as well as the food drive. The Regional Food Bank and The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma receive 10 percent of all monetary proceeds and of course, all of the donated food. 

I asked Graham what caused him to narrow in on hunger as his main cause. 

“Food insecurity was an issue I thought I could start helping right away. One in six Americans can be classified as food insecure, and one in four children. To me that number is staggering and Henna Roso wants to do what we can to change that. People are going to come out, drink and dance anyways; they might as well have something they can contribute to help people in need.” 

Before Henna Roso launched, Graham himself spent his birthday doing what he could to fight hunger in Tulsa. Using cash donations from a show with Branjae and the Filthy Animals (with whom he plays bass one Sunday a month at Fassler Hall), Graham bought enough eggs, cheese, and tortillas to make 30 breakfast burritos in his home kitchen. He took to the streets with no direction or plan but to give the food to people in need; the burritos were gone in an hour. Now, Graham works with friends who donate money or help with the cooking process, and he tries to hit the streets of downtown once a week. 

“The experience has been so rewarding. I’ve been able to establish relationships with the people I’m trying to help and this gives me a better understanding of who they are and what they need the most.”

Having volunteered with food banks before Henna Roso came into being, Graham had some first-hand experience with Tulsa’s homeless. 

“They are out in the elements all day long, no place to lay their head at night, yet they are really pleasant people with a sense of humor and most importantly, a sense of hope … I have been making a point to meet with various organizations around town that work within the same realm as Henna Roso. Iron Gate was the one that stuck with me because of the work they do every single day.” 

Iron Gate’s work within the community resounded with Henna Roso so much that they booked a show on Black Friday (November 25) at Fassler Hall specifically to benefit the organization. 

When it comes to the organization’s long-term goals, Graham is aiming high. 

“We want to not only inspire people musically but we want to inspire people to get involved in helping within their communities. Food insecurity can’t be solved overnight, and it’s going to take many people getting together and providing collective support. I hope other bands latch on to this idea and find a way they can combine music and helping the community.  Because at the end of the day, helping people through music is a pretty special thing.”

Henna Roso will perform at Higher Plains Music Festival on Saturday, September 24 at The Vanguard. For more information on the festival, visit thevanguardtulsa.com.

To learn more about Henna Roso's mission, visit hennaroso.com.