“Women Runnin It” features women in dynamic positions of cultural leadership in Oakland. Our first focus in this series brings a spotlight to Oakland female producers and promoters. Usually behind the scenes, these women are the ones bringing your favorite concerts, shows and nights for you to soak in and live the culture of Oakland. How do they build community and social arts networks? How do they curate a meaningful event or a club party?
Important to many of us, particularly women and LGBTQi persons, is the ability to go out at night, share our art, enjoy dancing or conversation and not have to defend our bodies and presence. The promoters who are committed to holding this ground for us and advancing it are bringing female artists, gender fluid and non-ratchet parties, and holding down inclusive, ‘safe’ spaces through curating social arts. They are cultural stewards that we at Oakulture value and support. We think you should too. Check out previous women highlighted in the series, including Candi Martinez, Chaney Turner, Nina Menendez, Gina Madrid aka Raw-G and DJ Zita.
Up to this point, every edition of our series, “Women Runnin It,” has focused on a woman promoter; This edition of “Women Runnin It” focuses on three women engaged in an all-female collective and what they are able to achieve together.
“Soulovely” is a monthly party on the second Sunday of each month produced by Lady Ryan, Aima the Dreamer and DJ Emancipacion. Each of these women in their own right have been runnin’ it for years.
Lady Ryan is a Bay Area favorite with a wide network of followers who has been a full-time DJ for eight years. Originally from West Virginia and grown up in Oakland, Lady Ryan has both an eclectic and often nostalgic taste; she always has me dancing when she’s on the tables and contributes her technical knowledge to maintaining the high sound quality which the Soulovely party prides itself on.
DJ Emancipacion (also a resident of SKIN) brings her background as both a cultural worker and a sound engineer to the game. As an American-born Egyptian, Emancipacion is also currently one of few female DJs that cater to the Arab/North African community in the US specializing in Arab weddings, bridal showers, hennas, and graduation parties.
Repping the Soulovely crew on the mic, is MC and vocalist Aima the Dreamer, a veteran known for her work with J-Boogie’s Dubtronic Science and holding down the next generation of the Femme Deadly Venoms crew. In a review of the Clas/sick Hip-Hop show last year, Oakulture praised Aima’s performance: “The first song, performed by Aima the Dreamer and Sayknowledge, sent shivers through the sold-out crowd, as Aima channeled Ladybug Mecca’s cool breeziness over an acoustic bassline originally played by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.”
Attended by mostly women both queer and straight–but open to allies–Soulovely’s supportive, Sapphic aesthetic is evident from its tag line “We are Soulovely. Oakland is Soulovely. Ya’ll are Soulovely.” This summertime day party is made for the dancefloor (as evidenced by their promotional video), presents performances by a wide range of female artists, is grounded by an altar, and reflects the diversity of Oakland. Not to mention its dope logo done by DJ/aerosol writer Agana (TDK Crew). “Soulovely” premieres this Sunday, Mother’s Day, and features guest DJ Pam the Funkstress of The Coup and Bay Area Sistah Sound (BASS) crew.
Oakulture: What approach or strategies do you use for creating and maintaining an inclusive space?
Aima the Dreamer: Inclusivity is something I am passionate about and a space I strive to hold in any project I am working on. My approach is celebrating diversity. My strategy is advocating for high contrast when it comes to curating and participating in an event. I like to create spaces that allow us to see our differences as strengths and utilize them. The exchange of energy, ideas, and resource gets me so hyped about facilitating safe places for us to interact. Much like a choir singing in harmony, for me it’s about bringing together all the unique “voices.”
Oakulture: What values do you bring to promotion and/or production and how do they impact your decision making?
DJ Emancipacion: I come from a social justice background. I was an organizer for many years, so this informs my community work, including the gigs I take and the gigs I produce. At “Soulovely,” we build altars for our fallen youth. We chant #blacklivesmatter during our sets. We honor the work being done to better our communities. We play music that most queer parties don’t play (we don’t play Top 40/radio), and we play it all under one roof– Latin, bhangra, deep house, soul, R&B, old school hip hop, electronica, etc. So I think this question about values is very important to ask of party promoters and entertainers– we NEED more values infused in the work we all do in the clubs. We want all our queer folks to feel safe at our parties– we are very careful and strategic about our music selection. We play music that inspires joy and happiness on the dancefloor. We support local queer performers, drummers, dancers, food vendors, and we celebrate every victory for our communities at every opportunity!
Oakulture: Compared to the largely male-dominated music industry in which you work, what are some of the differences for you producing “Soulovely” in an all-female collaboration?
Lady Ryan: One of the things I most enjoy about collaborating with Eman and Aima is that we all three are hard working with strong belief systems and strong personalities. It creates an amazing sort of checks and balances in our decision-making process that I believe is always to our benefit. I am accustomed to producing and working events alone and participating in the collaboration has taught me a lot about when to speak up, when to listen, and what it takes to effectively work with a group of people as dynamic as we are.
Aima the Dreamer: I think a major difference is being taken seriously. Our experience and skill is respected. I have found in male-run productions, as a feminine woman, I have to constantly ‘prove’ that I am capable and knowledgeable in my craft. I have to be 10x more on it in every way than a male counterpart. Also, in a female collaboration we take center stage. We are not the ‘token’ female on the bill. WE ARE the bill. When a man produces an all-female event, it is often coined and promoted as such. When a woman produces an event with women taking on all the roles from production to performance, it is an event of peers — much as if a man were to do the same.
“Oakland is a beacon for the West Coast and beyond of progressive thought, art, and action. It’s exciting to be in a Town with such a strong social political opinion and voice in music, visual art, performance art, organizing and demonstration. I love how the Oakland culture uses every opportunity, even on the dancefloor, to build together as a community.” — Aima the Dreamer
Oakulture: What relationship is there between your artistic work and your work as producer and director?
Aima the Dreamer: I don’t assume a space will be made for me. I make noise and claim space for that visibility. That relationship is vital to also setting precedent for other women in the same field.
Oakulture: What is your unique contribution to Soulovely’s promotion/production strategy?
Lady Ryan: The value I bring to the promotion of “Soulovely” is my outgoing personality and the network of followers I have gained in the last eight years of full-time DJing. I still believe that hand to hand flyer promotion can be most effective in that you are able convey the personality of party and that contact or conversation is more likely to draw a person to attend vs. a social media click. The value I bring to the production of “Soulovely” is my first-hand knowledge of DJ equipment. With technology constantly changing and having guest DJ’s with different needs, I am able to step up and ensure that the event runs smoothly on the technical side.
Oakulture: What’s exciting to you about Oakland culture right now?
DJ Emancipacion: I’m a proud Oakland resident for over 15 years — Oakland culture has always inspired and excited me! I think what used to be underground back in the day is now shining bright in the light of the sun — so things are more accessible and loud and proud. Right now I’m loving that there are more art venues, more cultural spaces, more public gatherings of people of African descent (like Oakland Fam Bam’s 4th of July bbq), more businesses owned by queer people of color, and more parties for queer folks.
Aima the Dreamer: Oakland is a beacon for the West Coast and beyond of progressive thought, art, and action. It’s exciting to be in a Town with such a strong social political opinion and voice in music, visual art, performance art, organizing and demonstration. I love how the Oakland culture uses every opportunity, even on the dancefloor, to build together as a community.
Oakulture: Who are your Oakland heroines?
DJ Emancipacion: I love love love this question. So many dope women doing big things in Oakland! Aima the Dreamer, Alicia Garza, Reem Assil, the Mamacitas Cafe girls, Sara Flores with RECLAIM Midwifery, Gina Breedlove . . .
Aima the Dreamer: I LOVE this question too! It’s impossible to name all of my Oakland sheroes, but here are a few, in no particular order: Emancipacion, Lady Ryan, Ladyfingaz, Chaney Turner, Miz Chris, Candi Martinez, Florencia Manovil, DJ Zita, Devi Genuone, Zakiya Harris, Lila Rose, Raw G, CeCe Carpio of Trust Your Struggle, Kin Folkz of Spectrum Queer Media, Mona Webb, Samara Atkins of Mix’d Ingrdnts, Magik, Emily Butterfly, Thailan When, Janaysa Lambert, and Charleen Caabay of Kain’bigan.
Oakulture: If you could book anyone, who?
DJ Emancipacion: Sade!
Aima the Dreamer: Janelle Monae.
Oakulture: Role models? Who do you admire artistically and why?
Oakulture: Any upcoming projects or collaborations you’re particularly excited about in Oakland right now?
DJ Emancipacion: “Soulovely” of course 🙂 The new “Soulovely” mix coming out this summer!
Aima the Dreamer: So many!!! From my own; “Soulovely” (2nd Sundays) to my EP “Planet Femme” release by my group Femme Deadly Venoms (June 12th) feat. LadyFingaz, Aima the Dreamer, Madlines, Persia, Deeandroid, & ZMan . . . to all the incredible folks who hold down the Town on the regular with quality events: Social Life, Living Room Project, Devi Genuone’s MayMuns at ERA (live performance showcase), Impact Hub, Malcolm X Jazz Festival, Oakland Pride, Oakland Indie Mayhem, First Fridays…. I could go on and on! Oakland is RICH.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length.
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The New Parish Courtyard, 1741 San Pablo Ave, Oakland
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