Rhythm of change

Street performer Baba Lawrence gives insight into his life and the pros and cons of living in Dallas.


Lawrence sits at his usual spot outside Hunky’s Diner at night, face illuminated by the red neon sign. He regualarly comes to this spot to play his music and take in the surroundings of the Bishop Arts District.

In the Bishop Arts District of Dallas, on the corner of Hunky’s Diner off North Bishop Avenue, a pair of drums echo a mellow tune. The man who sits behind them has his eyes closed, face illuminated in the electric glow of a red neon sign, tempering the beat to the rhythm of his soul. It matches the pace of the quiet, street-lit bustle of the passersby. Occasionally, those with attentive ears stop and listen to the man play. Lost in his world, lost in his corner, Baba Lawrence is a friendly face with a dream for the world ahead.

“Everybody get together for the good of the whole, now that’s what I would like to see,” said Lawrence. “I know it’s kind of a dream to state, but you gotta have a goal to shoot for. That’s what it is.”

In order to accomplish that, Lawrence thinks everyone should cooperate harmonically in society. He sees the world as a place where everyone should be appreciated for what they have to bring to the table, opposed to the competitive and harsh society that is the reality today.

“If everyone were to work in a complementary matter, you know, I bring this and you bring that and we all bring it together in a complementary manner for the good of the whole, the world would be a better place,” Lawrence said. “But instead what we [are] today is like a hierarchy, and this guy is trying to get up to the next step, and this guy is [too], and so what happens is we are all fighting.”

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he started playing the congas at the age of eight years old. As a child, his neighbor would play for the children of his neighborhood, inspiring his love for the drums that would one day grow to be a lifelong passion.

“I went home, and I noticed how a pot, when you hit the top of it, will make a nice little ring,” Lawrence said. “So I got my mom’s pots and pans and I started beating on em, and she yelled ‘BOY! GET THAT NOISE OUT OF HERE!’ And i just kept on and kept on, and I got old enough that I could buy some drums.”

Lawrence’s path in life, as both a professional life coach and conga (pronounced koon-gah) player, has taught him skills of perseverance and tenacity. He believes those skills can help anyone truly cultivate their passion, and learn any ability they set their mind to.  

“You can do anything you want to do, if you got the passion to persevere through it.”

— Baba Lawrence

Lawrence said. “If you think something’s hard in the beginning, that voice in your head saying ‘Oh! I can’t do this!’, don’t listen to it. If you got the passion to persevere, you can do it.”

Having lived in many different places throughout his life, he has found that, to him, a city with a strong middle class is better than one without one. He believes the middle class offers more opportunities for the population and the cultural diversity provides a more thrilling day-to-day experience.

“I came from Puree, Illinois and I would see the same people every week because the people who have money, they did their thing, the people who didn’t did their thing, and it was always boring,” Lawrence said. “Do you ever hate for a weekend to come? Well, there you would hate for a weekend to come, because there you were going to run into Joe, and he was going to tell you about how bad his wife had been treating him, and every weekend you would hear the same old thing.”

Lawrence’s life as a street artist has brought him to many cities and towns, eventually leading him to Dallas, which he says has a good middle class system. He appreciates getting to meet all sorts of different people due to the mingling of multiple economic classes.

“I think diversity really is a good thing, because you can learn a lot from other people that are different from your culture. That’s one of the reasons I come down here,” Lawrence said.

In his conga playing, he provides a backdrop of sound to all sorts of city-goers; young, old, a tourist or a lifelong citizen of Dallas. He plays for everyone, hoping to ease the minds of his listeners as they stroll by in the Bishop Arts District.

“I don’t play to entertain, I play to soothe,” said Lawrence. “What really tickles my fancy is when someone will come out of a restaurants and say ‘Thank you, that was nice ambience behind the meal I was having.’ That’s what I wanna do. See, drum beats are therapy. So I try to be therapeutic to the people that walk up and down the street.”

From the autonomy-inducing taps on the drums, to his preaching of dreams and hopes for a better world, Lawrence oozes hope, laughter, and spirit. He is a man who lives life in his own way and uses his perception of the world to better himself. He gives the world his music and his thoughts, and one day hopes someone can breathe the change he wishes for.