Oakulture

Documenting the Oakland cultural renaissance


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This Week in Oakulture: Alta California & Sonido Baylando Sound System, Xtigone World Premiere, Kahil El’Zabar & The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Con Brio & The Seshen, Kyle Abraham in Conversation with Alicia Garza (Feb 11-17)

Alta California & Sonido Baylando Sound System

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Sonido Baylando is a new weekly Latin-themed music night at Berkeley Underground, the new night club venue Oakulture reviewed a little while back. Hosted by Baylando Records‘ DJs El Kool Kyle, Ras Rican and Erick Santero, event goers will be treated to all-vinyl music sets throughout the evening. Tonight’s installment of Sonido Baylando features live musical guest Alta California. The all-star Oakland band calls their take on Latin music “Rumba Esquina” — a mix of Afro-Cuban, Rumba, Flamenco, Salsa, Samba and soul. The 11-piece ensemble, fronted by vocalists Piero Amadeo Infante and Orlando Torriente,  includes dancers Melissa Cruz and Anya De Marie, who compliment the infectious rhythms with graceful, emotive interperative movements. Come as early as 7 p.m. for salsa lessons with Nicholas Van Eyck (complimentary with admission). The full music program kicks off at 8 p.m., with Alta California taking the stage at 9:30 p.m.

Alta California & Sonido Baylando Sound System, 2/11, 8 p.m., $8 Advance, 21 and over, Berkeley Underground, 2284 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. » Buy Tickets.

Xtigone (World Premiere)

Xtigone

From an artivist perspective, art is used a tool to communicate ideas and inspire action around issues of social justice. Today’s contemporary artivists are empowering communities and building movements through music, film, dance and theater. Nambi E. Kelley, an emerging playwright from Chicago, was inspired by the murders associated with gang violence in her hometown to revisit Sophocles’ “Antigone,” renaming it “Xtigone.”  In Kelley’s contemporary urban adaptation of the classic Greek tragedy, music plays a big part of telling the story of violence in our communities. The Bay Area’s Tommy Shepherd is the play’s musical composer, and the cast includes Oakland’s RyanNicole. Directed by Rhodessa Jones, and presented by the African American Shakespeare Company, “Xtigone” opens this Valentine’s Day at AAACC’s Buriel Clay Theatre in San Francisco, with weekend shows on Saturdays and Sundays through March 8th.

“Xtigone” (World Premiere), Sat-Sun 2/14-3/08, 8 p.m. (Sat), 3 p.m. (Sun), $15-$34, Ages 9 and over, Buriel Clay Theatre at the African-American Art & Culture Complex, 762 Fulton Street, San Francisco. » Buy Tickets.

Kahil El’Zabar & The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble

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This St. Valentine’s night,  Oakland’s EastSide Cultural Center will host a celebration for the 50th anniversary of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Founded and based in Chicago, AACM is one of the oldest collectives of Black musicians indentified with the influential Black Arts Movement. The musical program will feature Kahil El’Zabar and the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, featuring percussionist and composer El’Zabar, with Ernest Dawkins on saxophone, Corey Wilkes on trumpet, and special guest conguero John Santos.

Kahil El’Zabar & The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, 2/14, 8 p.m., $20 ($30 for Couples), All Ages, EastSide Cultural Center, 2277 International Blvd., Oakland. » Buy Tickets.

Con Brio Kiss the Sun EP Release with The Seshen

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SF’s super-sexy soul-funk outfit Con Brio has just released their latest EP, Kiss the Sun, and they want you to celebrate with them at The Independent on Valentine’s Day evening! Having built quite a buzz around town, including playing the recent Sly and the Family Stone Tribute at the Fox, the Ziek McCarter-fronted band seems poised for big things. Opening for them are another buzzworthy local outfit, East Bay electro-soul The Seshen, whose wonderfully trip-hoppy live show is worth getting to the venue early for.

Con Brio with The Seshen, 2/14, Doors 8:30 p.m., Show 9 p.m., $15-$18, 21 and over, The Independent, 628 Divisadero St., San Francisco. » Buy Tickets.

The Movement of Movement: Kyle Abraham in Conversation with Alicia Garza

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Alicia Garza, Oakland-based co-founder of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, joins dancer and choreographer Kyle Abraham for a conversation about “The Movement of Movement.” With such a powerful title, we have high hopes for the discussion, which revolves around interconnectivity between artistic and social justice movements – a topic Oakulture recently explored in Why Black Art Matters. The talk will be presented at Impact Hub Oakland and is hosted by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (where “ABRAHAM.IN.MOTION: PAVEMENT” will have its Bay Area Premiere from February 19-20).

“The Movement of Movement: Kyle Abraham in Conversation with Alicia Garza,” 2/16, 7 p.m., Free with RSVP to rgutierrez@ybca.org, All Ages, Impact Hub Oakland, 2323 Broadway, Oakland. » Facebook Event Page.

This Week in Oakulture is curated by Zsa-Zsa Rensch.  Connect with Zsa-Zsa on Twitter at @zsazsa.

Subscribe to receive Oakulture blog posts directly in your inbox (click “Follow” to subscribe), and stay in touch on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Thank you for reading!

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This Week in Oakulture: A Conversation with Michael Franti, “Code Oakland” West Coast Premiere, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett, Oakland Flamenco Sessions & Black History Funk II (Jan 30 – Feb 3)

Music, Justice and All Love: A Conversation with Michael Franti 

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As part of the 112th Earl Lectures and Leadership Conference, Berkeley’s Pacific School of Religion presents Be|Art|Now, a public conference for activists, artists and progressive people of faith. The program, which is held from January 29th through the 31st at various East Bay locations, will feature a talk with Oakland-born (and San Francisco resident) activist-musician Michael Franti on Friday, January 30th at the First Congregational Church of Oakland.  Franti is known for founding groundbreaking Bay Area bands The Beatnigs, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and Spearhead, producing the decade-long Power to the Peaceful free concert series in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and directing the documentary film, “I Know I’m Not Alone.” With a touring schedule busier than ever, Franti — who is also a practicing yogi — infuses social justice and activism into his music, which covers a diverse range of stylistic genres, from folk to rock to reggae to hip-hop. He will discuss integrating arts with social justice as well as how the arts can catalyze social change, followed by a short performance at the end of the event.

Music, Justice and All Love: A Conversation with Michael Franti, 1/30, 7:30 p.m., $45.00 in advance, $55.00 at the door, All Ages, First Congregational Church of Oakland, 2501 Harrison St., Oakland.  » Buy Tickets.

TEACHED: “Code Oakland” West Coast Premiere

Kelly Amis is a former teacher turned filmmaker and education equality activist. Inspired by education inequality, she founded Loudspeaker Films in 2009. In 2013, Amis received the Teach for America Social Innovation Award for TEACHED, a short film series, which examines the causes and consequences of the U.S. “achievement gap,” particularly as experienced by urban youth of color. “TEACHED: Code Oakland” is the first of three new short films comprising TEACHED Vol. II, and will have its West Coast premiere screening in Oakland this Saturday. “Code Oakland” examines  tech-minded social entrepreneurs who are determined that youth of color not be left on the sidelines as Silicon Valley spreads across the Bay and into the home of the second largest black community in California. The film features Qeyno Labs co-founder Kalimah Priforce, Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant and ‪#‎YesWeCode‬ founder Van Jones. The premiere screening and celebration is presented in partnership with D’Wayne Wiggins’ West Wind Artists at Mindseed Soundstage. Due to limited capacity, there are only a few seats left, so hurry to secure your spot for this FREE event!

TEACHED: “Code Oakland” West Coast Premiere, 1/31, 6:30-9:30 p.m., Free Admission, All Ages, Mindseed Soundstage, 926 85th Ave., Oakland. » RSVP required at screenings@teached.org.

The Art of Elizabeth Catlett

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Elizabeth Catlett, an African American sculptor and printmaker known for politically charged sculptures and prints, made her mark as one of the 20th Century’s most revolutionary artists and a leader of the black expressionism movement. Catlett, who was born in Washington DC in 1915, studied design, printmaking and drawing at Howard University. She made history in 1940 when she became the first student to receive a Master’s degree in sculpture at the University of Iowa. Using her art to address society’s ills, Catlett celebrated the resilience of African-American and Mexican working-class women. After partaking in civil rights protests, which resulted in her arrest, she was barred from visiting the United States for a decade. Eventually settling in Mexico City, she worked with People’s Graphic Arts Workshop, married, and became a Mexican citizen. She taught sculpture at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City until retiring in 1975.  Selections from the collection of Samella Lewis, a former student and life-long friend of the artist, opened Jan. 16 at MoAD; the exhibition runs through April 5th.

“The Art of Elizabeth Catlett.”  All Ages, Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission St., San Francisco. » Free-$10;  Museum Hours.

Oakland Flamenco Sessions Presents ‘La Nota Azul’ with Alex Conde & Jose Blanco

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Widely respected as one of the most brilliant pianist-composers of his generation, Alex Conde is already getting rave reviews for his soon to be released album, Descarga for Monk, which explores flamenco versions of beloved Thelonious Monk tunes with Bay Area heavy hitters John Santos, Jeff Chambers and John Arkin.  In anticipation of his record release — out on ZOHO, February 10th — Conde performs this Saturday at Oakland’s intimate Birdland speakeasy with flamenco singer and cajon player Jose “El Grillu” Blanco, as well as surprise guest artists. Aimed at nurturing the improvisational and community conversation that is at the heart of flamenco, the new monthly Oakland Flamenco Sessions presents ‘La Nota Azul’ in reference to the blue note in jazz – an unidentifiable sweet spot of raw emotion and honesty which informs both jazz and flamenco.

Oakland Flamenco Sessions Presents ‘La Nota Azul’ with Alex Conde & Jose Blanco, 1/31, 9 p.m. – 11 p.m., $20, $10 for Birdland Members (tickets available at the door only), All Ages, BYOB, Birdland Jazzista Social Club, 4318 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland.

Black History Funk II with John Wesley Payne & The Hurt Band

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Isn’t it only fitting that we kick off Black History Month with a tribute to funk music’s legends? On the heels of last week’s Sly & the Family Stone’s “Stand!” tribute at the Fox Theater, Oakland keeps the funk flowing with the upcoming Black History Funk celebration at Yoshi’s Oakland this Tuesday. The show will feature Oakland-born songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist John Wesley Payne — who has recorded and performed with George Clinton, Larry Graham, Rick James and many others — and his Hurt Band, paying tribute to James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic, Rick James, Teena Marie and Prince. Special guests include saxophonist Ric Alexander and singer/songwriter Carmen Jones. Rounding out the lineup are comedian Kalvin Lathan, who’ll share hosting duties with Elise Hollywood Evans.

Black History Funk II with John Wesley Payne and The Hurt Band, 2/03, Doors 7:30 p.m., Show 8 p.m., $20, All Ages, Yoshi’s Oakland, 510 Embarcadero West, Jack London Square, Oakland. » Buy Tickets.

This Week in Oakulture is compiled by Zsa-Zsa Rensch.  Connect with Zsa-Zsa on Twitter at @zsazsa.

Subscribe to receive Oakulture blog posts directly in your inbox (click “Follow” to subscribe), and stay in touch on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Thank you for reading!


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This Week in Oakulture: The Lower Bottom Playaz Present “Jitney”, Bahamadia, The African Film Festival National Traveling Series, Martin Luther McCoy & The 18th Annual Bringing The Noise for Martin Luther King, Jr. (Jan 14-20)

The Lower Bottom Playaz Present “Jitney”

Jitney

West Oakland’s Lower Bottom Playaz have been cycling through August Wilson’s 10-play Century Cycle, a series of works focusing on black life in the 20th Century. This Saturday, they present a one-off encore performance of “Jitney,” at West Oakland’s McClymonds High School. “Jitney,” which had an earlier run at the Flight Deck, chronicles the travails of a gypsy cab company in 1970s Pittsburgh, and is the eighth installment in Wilson’s series. The play is a fundraiser for the “CultureKeepers” program, which hopes to send 20 adults and 10 students to South Africa.

MACK Presents: Lower Bottom Playaz in “Jitney”, 01/17, 7 p.m., $20, All Ages, McClymonds High School Auditorium, 2607 Myrtle St., Oakland. www.lowerbottomplayaz.com and www.sendmacktoafrica.com. » Buy Tickets.

Bahamadia, Jern Eye, Kandi Cole, Miki Vale, DJ Davey D & DJ Pam the Funkstress

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One of hip-hop’s legitimate Queens, Philly MC Bahamadia, is set to play Leo’s Music Club this Saturday in a makeup show for a December date. Known for her meticulous, soul-affirming lyrical flow, Bahamadia’s twenty-year career has yielded critically-acclaimed albums, as well as collaborations with Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, Sweetback, Dwele and numerous others. Bahamadia will be joined by Oakland MC Jern Eye and LA’s Kandi Cole and Miki Vale, plus DJs Davey D and Pam the Funkstress will hold down turntable duties for the night!


Bahamadia
, Jern Eye, Kandi Cole, Miki Vale, DJ Davey D & DJ Pam the Funkstress, 01/17, Doors 8:00 p.m., Show 9:00 p.m., $15-$20 (Under 21 must buy $5 drink ticket at the door), 18 and over, Leo’s Music Club, 5447 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. www.clubleos.com. » Buy Tickets.

The African Film Festival National Traveling Series

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Every year around this time, UC Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive (PFA), in partnership with the Department of African American Studies and the Center for African Studies at UC Berkeley, hosts The African Film Festival National Traveling Series. New York based African Film Festival (AFF) programs the annual National Traveling Series in collaboration with cultural institutions in ten to thirteen cities nationwide to make African cinema more available to a wider audience. This year’s focus of films from Africa and the African Diaspora, will be Liberation movements in Africa — past and present. There’s also a noticeable gender-balance with women filmmakers represented in this year’s lineup. Six evenings of film screenings will take place between January 15th and February 15th.

The African Film Festival National Traveling Series, 01/17-02/17, Days and screening times vary, $5.50-$9.50, All Ages, Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. www.bampfa.berkeley.edu. » Buy Tickets.

Martin Luther McCoy

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SF’s “Rebel Soul” Rocker Martin Luther McCoy, who is known as simply Martin Luther, heads East to Yoshi’s Oakland for his annual MLK weekend concert tradition. The soulful singer/guitarist and his band will celebrate the release of Extra Terrestrial Brother Vol. 2, a follow up to 2011’s self-released Extra Terrestrial Brother Vol. 1, which you can stream in full to get a taste of what’s to come.


Martin Luther McCoy
, 01/18, Doors 8:30 p.m., Show 9 p.m., $18, All Ages, Yoshi’s Oakland, 510 Embarcadero West, Jack London Square, Oakland. www.yoshis.com. » Buy Tickets.

18th Annual Bringing The Noise for Martin Luther King, Jr.

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We close this week’s picks with Youth Speaks’ annual celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and legacy at the historic Nourse Auditorium in San Francisco. Some of the Bay Area’s best and brightest poets will share their work in honor of Dr. King along with a musical performance by members of the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars, as well as performances by UNIVERSES, Young Gifted and Black, Youth Speaks alum Dahlak Brathwaite, Youth Speaks Grand Slam Champions, and more!

18th Annual Bringing The Noise for Martin Luther King, Jr., 01/19, 7p.m.-9 p.m., $10 ($5 for Youth Under 24), All Ages, Nourse Auditorium, 275 Hayes Street, San Francisco. www.youthspeaks.org.  » Buy Tickets.

This Week in Oakulture is compiled by Zsa-Zsa Rensch.  Connect with Zsa-Zsa on Twitter at @zsazsa.

Subscribe to receive Oakulture blog posts directly in your inbox (click “Follow” to subscribe), and stay in touch on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Thank you for reading!


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This Week in Oakulture: Pharoah Sanders, BLACK<3MATTERS, Jennifer Johns, “Made in Oakland” Inaugural Festival & Mark Curry (Jan 8-12)

Pharoah Sanders

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The new year is off to an eventful start in our beautiful city!  We kick off this week’s list of best event bets with tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, a former John Coltrane collaborator and free jazz pioneer. Sanders got his start playing music professionally in Oakland in the 1950s, and lived in the Bay Area off and on through the early 2000’s. If you’ve never seen him live, prepare for a near-religious experience as he takes audiences to church with abstract, spiritual melodies and prayer-like chanting. Sanders kicks off a four-day SFJAZZ Center residency tonight through Sunday.

Pharoah Sanders, 01/08-01/11, 7:30 p.m. (7 p.m. Sunday), $25.00-$65.00, All Ages, SFJAZZ Center (Miner Auditorium), 201 Franklin Street, San Francisco. www.sfjazz.org. » Buy Tickets.

BLACK<3MATTERS: Opening Reception & Artist Talk

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On Friday, start off your weekend at the opening reception and artist talk for  the “BLACK<3MATTERS” art show at Impact Hub Oakland’s Omi Gallery.  Prolific husband-wife dynamic duo Karen Seneferu and Malik Seneferu will unveil what they call “Afro-futuristic technokisi”: mixed media artworks featuring assemblage, paint, sculpture, and textile. The show runs until January 30.

“BLACK<3MATTERS” Opening Reception & Artist Talk with Karen Seneferu and Malik Seneferu, and Gallery Director, Ashara Ekundayo, 01/09 (Exhibition closes 01/30), 7:00 p.m. – 10 p.m., Free Admission, All Ages, Omi Gallery at Impact Hub Oakland, 2323 Broadway, Oakland. www.oakland.impacthub.net/omi-gallery. » RSVP.

Jennifer Johns, Aisha Fukushima, Coco Peila & RyanNicole

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Also on Friday, Oakland Indie Mayhem curates a can’t-miss show at one of Oakland’s newer and more intimate music venues, Leo’s Music Club. This evening presents a triple threat all-female lineup, featuring food justice activist/soulful vocalist Jennifer Johns,  raptivist Aisha Fukushima, and self-described feminist/panther/hip-hop heroine, Coco Peila. The host and Mistress of Ceremonies for the night is spoken word artist/actress/rapper RyanNicole — look for her to join Johns on the Oakland anthem, “Town’d Out.”

Oaktown Indie Mayhem presents Jennifer Johns, Aisha Fukushima and Coco Peila, Hosted by RyanNicole, 01/09, Doors 8:30 p.m., Show 9:00 p.m., $9.00 – $15.00 General Admission (Under 21 must buy $5 drink ticket at the door), 18 and over, Leo’s Music Club, 5447 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. www.clubleos.com. » Buy Tickets.

“Made in Oakland” Inaugural Fest

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On Sunday, join Mayor Libby Schaaf at an Oakland-themed, free arts and community celebration. The “Made in Oakland” Inaugural Festival will take place at the country’s largest industrial art warehouse, American Steel Studios, and will feature live music by the Kev Choice Ensemble and the Bay Area Blues Society, a dance performance by vertical dance pioneers BANDALOOP, a Burning Man-style sculpture exhibit, art cars, a curated art gallery, aerialists, local filmmakers, an interactive kids zone, local food vendors and trucks, Oakland wines and craft beers, and much more. Special guest Glynn Washington, host of NPR’s Snap Judgment, will emcee the event.

“Made in Oakland” Inaugural Festival with Mayor Libby Schaaf, Glynn Washington, Kev Choice, Bay Area Blues Society, BANDALOOP, and more, 01/11, 3:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., Free Admission, All Ages, American Steel Studios, 1960 Mandela Parkway, Oakland. www.americansteelstudios.com and www.libbyforoakland.com/inauguration.

Mark Curry

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We round out this week’s picks with a good laugh Monday evening, with none other than Oakland native, Los Angeles-based, actor/comedian Mark Curry. Known for his acting roles in TV sitcoms “Hanging’ with Mr. Cooper” and “See Dad Run,” his cameo in the Too $hort video “I Ain’t Trippin,” and performing standup comedy on Comedy Central, Curry returns to his hometown on Monday to perform his signature classy stand-up routine at Yoshi’s Oakland.

Mark Curry, 01/12, Doors 7:30 p.m., Show 8 p.m., $23.00, All Ages, Yoshi’s Oakland, 510 Embarcadero West, Jack London Square, Oakland. www.yoshis.com. » Buy Tickets.

Oakulture’s event picks are compiled by Zsa-Zsa Rensch. Connect with Zsa-Zsa on Twitter at @zsazsa.

Subscribe to receive Oakulture blog posts directly in your inbox (click “Follow” to subscribe), and stay in touch on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Thank you for reading!


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2014: The Year in Oakulture

Town Representer: Kev Choice

Town Representer: Kev Choice

2014 started out with a bang, with the release of Kev Choice’s Oakland Riviera album last January. The album, released independently through Choice’s own label, received little national attention. But it was easily one of the best releases of the year in any genre, and one which not only proved that Choice’s progression from sideman to bandleader was complete, but also galvanized Oakland’s urban music scene in the direction of conscious messages and aesthetic quality. Oakland Riviera established a local benchmark for virtuosity and musical intersectionality, as Choice fluidly alchemized hip-hop, R&B, soul, and jazz grooves with a hint of electronic finesse, in the process showcasing not only his own prowess as an emcee/producer/arranger/maestro, but also the considerable talents of a long list of local collaborators, which included Jennifer Johns, Lalin St. Juste, Erk Da Jerk, Viveca Hawkins, Mr. FAB, Phesto Dee, Zumbi Zoom, Howard Wiley, Marcus Shelby and many more. Yet for all the album’s collaborative nature, it was Choice’s solo material which heralded the most praise, from the moody and melodic urban instrumentals named after Oakland streets (“Int’l Blvd,” “MacArthur’s Mood,” “Foothill Dip”) to the uber-socially-conscious, Gil Scott Heron-esque “Crazy Illusions,” which closed the album.

The album’s title, Choice said in an interview, isn’t an actual place, but rather a reflection of his life experiences: “There’s no specific place called Oakland Riviera, but it kind of grew as a concept in my mind and I started thinking how could I express that. With me being a musician from Oakland and traveling around the world and also, me being an emcee and being a pianist and a composer, it’s almost like bringing different elements together to make one world.”

Choice proved to be a ubiquitous presence throughout the year, dominating the live music scene and even weighing in from social media-land on town business and international runnings while touring Europe with The Coup. Some other Oakland music artists who built up strong momentum this year include Jahi, the veteran conscious hip-hopper who is now a part of the Public Enemy family and its next-generation outfit PE2.0, and The Seshen, the retro-futuristic band headed by St. Juste, who signed to the Tru Thoughts label and won Best In Show at the Oakland Indie Mayhem Awards on the strength of their trip-hoppy single “Unravel.”

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

The Shadowbox opens

Speaking of The Coup, not only did they firm up their international credentials, touring France, Germany, Italy, and England, but their frontman Boots Riley also proved fairly ubiquitous, expanding his artistic repertoire with “The Coup’s Shadowbox”—a  performance art piece at the Yerba Buena Center For the Arts featuring installations by Jon-Paul Bail, surprise guest performers, and dancing puppets—and “Sorry to Bother You”—a darkly ironic, infinitely humorous screenplay published in McSweeney’s Quarterly, a segment of which was performed during SF’s Litquake festival.

Boots Riley holds up a copy of his screenplay

Boots Riley holds up a copy of his screenplay

February saw the 51Oakland folks team with the Elevate Foundation and the tsarina of the timbales, Sheila E., for the “Elevate Oakland” all-star benefit at the Fox Theater – one of the few shows at the renovated, iconic venue to prominently feature local artists.

The concert, a benefit for music programs in Oakland schools, emphasized the community-oriented nature of the city’s musician contingent, which sometimes seems to be more weighted toward social awareness and activism than outright commerciality. Not saying that’s a bad thing, but it is a thing you’ll find here.

Sheila E. at the Elevate Oakland fund-raise

Sheila E. at the Elevate Oakland fund-raiser

In addition to Ms. E—fabulous as always—featured artists included Choice (who took the stage with a group of young musicians he’d been mentoring, the Future Shock Quartet), Goapele, Michael Franti, and the Castlemont Choir.

Jennifer Johns performs live at Oakstop

Jennifer Johns performs live at Oakstop

The intersection of tech and culture—played out against a backdrop of encroaching gentrification, reports of displacement, and the influx of silicon-coated dollars into the city’s coffers as well as the dubious new “techbro” demographic—was a definite undercurrent of Oakland in 2014. Two new co-working spaces, Oakstop and Impact Hub, opened within a half-mile of each other and immediately established themselves as Uptown destinations; both went out of their way to emphasize arts  and culture as part of their mission, hosting book release parties by painter James Gayles and vegan soul food chef Bryant Terry, as well as various film screenings, panel discussions, and live performances.

Author and chef Bryant Terry at Impact Hub

Author and chef Bryant Terry at Impact Hub

After taking a month off, First Fridays returned in style in March. While the monthly street party may have jumped the shark in late 2012, when it topped out at 15,000 attendees, it remains an important part of the city’s cultural arts fabric.

First Fridays jam session with Kev Choice, Hassan Hurd, Uriah Duffy, and King Theo Sambafunkquarian

First Fridays jam session with Kev Choice, Hassan Hurd, Uriah Duffy, and King Theo Sambafunkquarian

While many locals may be over First Fridays as a must-be-at happening, the Uptown street crawl is still an important draw for non-residents, and the distillation of all that energy has resulted in more micro-scenes and curation/activation of venues both on and off the Telegraph/Broadway strip. In short, we’re seeing more events, more parties, and more action around FF, which helps to further the notion of Oakland as an arts-friendly town that is starting to overtake San Francisco as a cultural incubator, if it hasn’t already.

One example of a socially-aware happening you probably wouldn’t have seen in SF was the Betti Ono Gallery’s “Stop Telling Women to Smile” exhibition, which combined performance and visual art, documentary and social commentary to address the issue of catcalling.

"Stop telling Women to Smile" at Betti Ono

“Stop Telling Women to Smile” at Betti Ono

As Oakulture wrote at the time, “Envisioned by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, “STWTS” includes both gallery exhibitions and a street art campaign… Fazlalizadeh’s striking large drawings of local women with captions imparting their responses to unwanted attention.” The campaign not only garnered international recognition, but made the front page of the culture section of the New York Times; the fact that Fazlalizadeh debuted the work at an Oakland gallery speaks to the city’s growing cultural gravitas.

Crow twists like a pretzel at Art & Soul.

Crow twists like a pretzel at Art & Soul.

Fast-forwarding to this past August, we saw the first-ever exhibition of turf dancing—the Oakland-originated dance craze which has gone international, thanks to the efforts of the supremely talented Turf Feinz—at the Art & Soul Festival. It’s always interesting to see how an underground-born art form does when exposed to a wider audience, and turf dancing came through with shining colors.

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

Dream tribute

Street art was also huge in 2014. Significant public murals were painted around town by the Attitudinal Health Collective, Community Rejuvenation Project, Vogue TDK, and a collaborative effort in solidarity with Palestine which included Spie, Deadeyes and Emory Douglas.

Dream Day, the annual event celebrating the legacy of Mike “Dream” Francisco, brought out several generations of graffiti artists and their friends and families to a West Oakland location which was then blessed with on-the-spot pieces, as well as live performances from rappers Richie Rich and Equipto. One of the defining characteristics of Oakland’s urban art scene is the crossover between street and gallery mediums, and the intersectionality between art and activism – which revealed itself at galleries like Warehouse 416, Betti Ono, Oakstop, SoMar, and SoleSpace. If you weren’t being exposed to mind-blowing art, much of it aerosol-oriented, this year, chances are you didn’t get out much.

Umoja Festival

Umoja Festival

Speaking of getting out, 2014 was a great year to be out and about in Oakland, thanks in large part to the many festivals around town which built community, offered peeks into cultural windows, and otherwise allowed large crowds to get their groove on simultaneously. In addition to old favorites like Art & Soul, Life Is Living, and the Malcolm X Jazz Arts Festival, relative newcomers like the Ethiopian culture celebration Home Away From Home and the Umoja Festival spotlighted diversity and Pan-African unity, while the Oakland Music Festival transformed the downtown into a large concert venue, complete with massive stage. We can’t forget the Oakland Indie Awards, either, held at the beautiful Kaiser Rooftop Gardens, which again featured an impressive promenade and performance by the SambaFunk Funkquarians, in full carnival attire.

Funkquarians at the Oakland Undie Awards

Funkquarians at the Oakland Indie Awards

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

Hiero Day: 20,000+ strong — and growing

The third annual installment of homegrown hip-hop heroes Hieroglyphics’ free event Hiero Day swelled to more than 20,000 folks this year, representing a triumph for the non-mainstream, underground hip-hop culture Hieroglyphics has helped to cultivate for more than two decades. Highlights included Los Rakas’ simmering performance and a surprise Deltron 3030 set.

ESAA mural in the San Antonio district

ESAA mural in the San Antonio district

It was also nice to see East Side Arts Alliance’s first-ever block party in the San Antonio district, one of the most culturally-diverse neighborhoods in the entire country.

Live performances were part of the fuel which kept Oakland percolating in 2014. Some of the memorable ones Oakulture witnessed in 2014 included:  Queendom, an all-female hip-hop throwdown which established an alternative narrative to hoodrat hip-hop and rachet rap; the Town Futurist Sessions, a progressive, Afrofuturist space where creativity and experimentality freely mingled; Bang Data’s en fuego record release party at SF’s Independent; Jose James’ wonderfully sinuous rendition of Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” at the New Parish; and the Funky Meters’ ear-pleasing extended jam session, also at the New Parish.

Fantastic Negrito at Town futurist Sessions

Fantastic Negrito at Town Futurist Sessions

Melissa Cruz at Birdland's Oakland Flamenco Sessions

Melissa Cruz at Birdland’s Oakland Flamenco Sessions

Two new music venues, Leo’s Music Club in Temescal, and Birdland Jazzista Social Club in North Oakland, expanded the music scene past the Uptown/downtown nexus, offering everything from legendary New Orleans drummers to up-and-coming jazz acts to international hip-hop and intimate flamenco gatherings.

Quite possibly the best live performance Oakulture saw in 2014, though, also took place at YBCA, whose “Clas/Sick Hip Hop: 1993 Edition” revisited the much-storied Golden Era of hip-hop with a mostly Oakland-based group of emcees performing classic by 2Pac, Souls of Mischief, Saafir, Black Moon, Queen Latifah, and others.

U.N.I.T.Y.: the women of Oakland hip-hop

U.N.I.T.Y.: the women of Oakland hip-hop

Choice, unsurprisingly, was all up in the mix as bandleader, arranger, and occasional rapper, and the emotional crescendo was a mindblowing rendition of the female empowerment anthem “U.N.I.T.Y.,” featuring Zakiya Harris, Aima the Dreamer, Ryan Nicole, Viveca Hawkins, and Coco Peila. As Oakulture wrote at the time,  the performance “evoked a sea of epiphanies, none greater than the notion that Harris and Co. had tapped into hip-hop’s elemental womb and stuck a chord of long-overdue gender balance, releasing a flood of amniotic lyrical fluid which coated the audience’s ears with sticky bliss. Hip-hop may be a mostly male-dominated art form, but in keeping with YBCA’s Left Coast ideology, the Bay Area’s female emcees reigned like queens.

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

Kufu paints for #Ferguson

There was a lot of positivity within Oakland’s cultural arts community, but everything wasn’t all good nationally. Simmering tensions over race, injustice, and the ongoing deaths of young black males at the hands of the police boiled over in 2014, resulting in coast to coast protests and the beginning of a long-overdue conversation which threatened to overshadow every other topic worth discussing. The national reverberations of the Mike Brown and Eric Garner incidents resonated strongly with a community which had already been in activist mode, ever since the death of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009, and which had also taken last year’s Trayvon Martin situation to heart.

Author Jeff Chang at SoleSpace Gallery

Author Jeff Chang at SoleSpace Gallery

So when the Ferguson decision came down, Oakland’s artivists were ready. Oree Original, Favianna Rodriguez, Refa One, the Dignidad Rebelde collective, and the Trust Your Struggle collective were among those who helped spread the #Blacklivesmatter meme through political art. During the protests, the Solespace Gallery held down much-needed space in what seemed like the eye of the hurricane for a moment, offering a safe place for art and community gathering, and refusing to board up its windows. It also hosted a book release party for Jeff Chang, the Berkeley-based author of “Who We Be” – a timely, ultra-relevant look at the intersectionality between the politics of race and the cultural debate over multiculturalism.

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

Palestine Solidarity mural by Spie TDK

Where national politics are concerned, Oakland represents a bit of a bubble – it’s both more diverse and more progressive than most of the rest of the country, and that progressive diversity informs its culture in many ways, both overt and subtle. The creative arts, it seems, are never too far from what’s happening on the streets, the blocks, and the boulevards. Count Oakulture as among those who wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 


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Oakulture NYE Picks 2015

It’s been a fantastic year for Oakland, which is one of the most vibrant cities, culturally speaking, in the world!!!  If you’re still wondering what to do for NYE (your last chance to go out this year!), scroll down for our curated list.

There’s something for every taste and age group happening at a diverse range of venues: a world music-themed boat cruise on the bay; a free admission option with art and black roots music at Blackball Universe; bass and electronic sounds at The New Parish; Top Ten Social’s annual NYE extravaganza happening at three different venues; and funk heroes Con Funk Shun at Yoshi’s.

We’re excited to announce that in the new year, Oakulture will bring you our weekly list of hand-picked, music, arts and cultural events, starting January 6th. From the Oakulture crew, we wish you a happy new year!

“Destino: Nuevo” New Year’s Eve 2015 Boat Party

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“Destino: Nuevo” New Year’s Eve 2015 Boat Party featuring music by DJs Jose Marquez, Cecil, Emancipacion and special guests, 12/31, 8:30 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. (Boarding begins at 8:30 p.m., boat departs at 9:30 p.m., and returns at 1 a.m.), $70.00, 21+, “Bay Celebrations” (Vessel), Jack London Square’s Webster St. Pier (base of Webster St.), near Il Pescatore Restaurant, Oakland. www.skinworldwide.net. » Buy Tickets.

Blackball Universe “YouTag” New Years Party 

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Blackball Universe “YouTag” New Years Party with Fantastic Negrito, food, drinks, and art, 12/31, 7 p.m. – 3 a.m., Free Admission (donations encouraged), All Ages, Blackball Universe, 230 Madison St., Jack London Square, Oakland. www.blackballuniverse.com.

Top Ten Social’s OAK NYE 2015

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Lungomare party with DJs Hector, Manny Black, Nina Sol, and Platurn, hosted by Kev Choice, Kola & Sayre Piotrkowski, 12/31, 7:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. (dinner), 9:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m. (party), $30.00, $66.00 with dinner, 21+, Lungomare, 1 Broadway, Oakland. www.oaknye.com. » Buy Tickets.

Ozumo party with DJs heyLove* and Sake One, hosted by Bryant Terry, Sterling James and Tyranny, 12/31, 9 p.m. – 2 a.m., $20.00, 21+, Ozumo, 2251 Broadway, Oakland. www.oaknye.com. » Buy Tickets.

Parliament party with DJs Davey D, Dion Decibels, and Lady Ryan, hosted by Chaney, 12/31, 8 p.m. – 2 a.m., $20.00, 21+, Parliament, 811 Washington St., Oakland. www.oaknye.com. » Buy Tickets.

Con Funk Shun NYE Throwdown

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Con Funk Shun NYE Throwdown, 12/31, 8:00 p.m., 11:00 p.m., $69-$99, All Ages, Yoshi’s Oakland, 510 Embarcadero West, Jack London Square, Oakland. www.yoshis.com. » Buy Tickets.

Wormhole NYE with Haywyre, Freddy Todd and Kool A.D. & More

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Haywyre, Freddy Todd and Kool A.D. and more, 12/31, 9:00 p.m.-4:00 a.m., $27.00-$35.00 (limited $20.00 family discount tickets are available here), 21 and over, The New Parish, 1743 San Pablo Ave., Oakland. www.thenewparish.com. » Buy Tickets.

Oakulture’s Event List is compiled by Zsa-Zsa Rensch. Connect with her on Twitter at @zsazsa.

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