Oakulture

Documenting the Oakland cultural renaissance


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The OakQ&A: Lyrics Born (Part 1)

Hip-hop's David Byrne: Lyrics Born

Hip-hop’s David Byrne: Lyrics Born

There’s a very short list of Bay Area hip-hop artists active in the mythologized year of 1993 who are still releasing quality new material in 2015. 1993’s “Send Them” – the first appearance on wax of the dude y’all know as Lyrics Born (then named Asia Born) is a long way from 2015’s “Rock Rock Away,” from LB’s fresh-off-the-presses album, Real People.

It’s mind-blowing, in fact, to realize both songs were made by the same artist, although upon close inspection, one can hear traces of what LB has evolved into in his 20+plus year career on his very first recording: never lacking for confidence or at a loss for words, on “Send Them,” LB displays a fast delivery over a DJ Shadow beat built around a looped sample.  But “Rock Rock Away” shows a polished, veteran rapper who has matured into his voice and become comfortable with both live musicians and a more conventional song structure.

Real People represents the latest evolution of LB, a pioneer of what has been termed alternative hip-hop, and an artist who has continually rebooted his musical persona with every release. Like a gemstone with many facets, LB has never been content to make the same album twice. A core member of the Solesides/Quannum collective, he’s explored the outer regions of experimental hip-hop as a member of the duo Latyrx, contributed to albums by labelmates Blackalicious, and released an impressive catalog of solo records which have delved into influences ranging from the neo-funk of his 2003 breakthrough album Later That Day, to old-school R&B/soul leanings of 2008’s Everywhere at Once and the electro-boogie bounce of 2010’s As U Were.

On his new album, he drew inspiration from the musical culture of New Orleans, where he recorded with old friends Galactic. That would seem like a huge stylistic leap for almost any other emcee, but for LB, it makes perfect sense. We wouldn’t think twice about an R&B, rock, or country artist soaking up NoLa flavor, but the idea of a Bay Area rapper doing it seems cringe-worthy, until we remember that a) LB was one of the first emcees in the region to work with live musicians; and b) N’Awlins is the source of many of the musical forms he has invoked over the years.

Recently, LB sat down with Oakulture’s Eric Arnold for what ended up being a long-ass interview. So long, in fact, that it must be presented in two parts. In the initial segment, LB—who plays May 15 at the Independent; tickets are here—discusses his opinions on the hip-hop artform, his evolution as an artist, his creative process, and why he chose New Orleans to record his new album. Stay tuned for Part Two, which further explores the making of Real People (and promises much more witty banter). (Editor’s note: Part Two is here.)

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Oakulture: Feelings about the state of hip-hop? Is it in a good place?

Lyrics Born: That question is so hard for me to answer now. At this point there’s generational differences in hip–hop listeners, there’s stylistic differences in hip–hop listeners, there’s independent vs. major label, that gap is wider than ever now. If you’re asking me, it’s probably the most diverse that it’s ever been. That goes without saying, because of all those factors that I just mentioned.  On the other hand, it’s probably the most intense than its ever been if you are an artist. Your output has to be high, your album cycles, if you do albums, they’re much shorter, the quote-unquote traditional press major label machine, even as an independent, is a lot different now. I think you need to be prepared these days as an artist who wears many many many many hats.  How’s the music? I think the music sounds very immediate to my ears. And that’s all I can say. It sounds like people are making music in the moment. Its good and bad, depending on what you’re into. I like sort of the stream of consciousness, off the cuff, let’s make it, put it on Soundcloud, not think about it too much. I like that aspect. But I also like classic recordings. That’s just a different way of recording music, in my experience. I like it both ways. For me, for my generation of artists, yes, it’s about gaining new fans, but it’s also about really being tight with the fans that you’ve developed, in my case over the past 20+ years. I’m not necessarily–at this stage in my career—looking for a platinum hit. Im just looking to connect with my fans each and every single time I make a record. It’s just different. My career aspirations now are not necessarily to be #1 at radio, as they once were. I wanna continue to make good music for the people that support me. It’s just me and them at this point.

LB aka Sir Racha

LB aka Sir Racha

Oakulture: The new record is NOT a very immediate record. You obviously took some time to craft it and make it a very musical record, as opposed to, let’s throw on some Fruity Loops and make a trap hit in ten minutes.

Lyrics Born: There’s nothing wrong with that. I can do that too. 2010, As U Were was kind of an electro-boogie, electro-funk-inspired album, Latyrx’s second album was a very diverse, very experimental hip-hop album. This album, I got all that out of my system,  I wanted to go back to something really funky and organic, and music and very live-sounding. To me, there’s no other place to do that in the world at this point, than perhaps the first and last music town, which is New Orleans. You talk about resiliency, I mean, Katrina couldn’t stop New Orleans. One of the biggest natural and human disasters in American history, and yet, there New Orleans is, still with its sound. The musicians all came back, for the most part. Most of the locals came back… and that to me is really inspiring, to believe in your culture so much that you will return to a place that’s just been decimated. It really speaks to the fortitude of the music and the strength of the culture… for me as a lifelong musician that still wants to learn, where else do I go?

This is my 8th album. I’ve done well over 125 guest features. I’ve done literally what, 1200-1500 gigs in my life,  but I still want to grow, and I still want to learn things as an artist. Where else do you do that, but in a city that’s playing music 24 hours a day? What city can you really say that about? That there’s live music happening… that has a native indigenous sound to it. Where else can you say you can see this seven days a week?

Oakulture:  Let me just pull this back for a second. When you get into the process of a new album, do you feel it’s necessary to reinvent yourself with every album, or is it, here’s another side to me that I haven’t fully explored yet?

Lyrics Born: It’s that. The second part. But ultimately, to people’s ears, it ends up sounding like oh he’s reinventing himself again. He’s rebranding. But really, when I make an album, I’m like, what have I not done yet? That’s really it, what haven’t I done yet?

Oakulture: Balkan.

Lyrics Born: (laughs).  Right. Klezmer? That’s next.

Oakulture:  It’s interesting, too, because you’ve positioned yourself to be able to do that, from a very long time ago. You didn’t place yourself in a box. Do your attribute your longevity to that?

Lyrics Born: Yeah, of course. You know Karen Dere, from Giant Peach? She told me I was the ‘David Byrne of hip-hop.’ And then I kind of thought about David Byrne’s career and I could see where she would say that. Maybe, maybe. For better or worse, this is the path that I’m on. Until I decide to stop…

Oakulture: Especially looking at Bay Area hip-hop, where there’s now sort of a division between eras. There’s really only a few artists which have transcended stylistic limitations and been active in every era. I’m thinking about you, and I’m thinking about Boots from the Coup. You guys are two guys who have not done the same album over and over again.

LB in deep concentration

LB in deep concentration

Lyrics Born: For better or for worse… and I think for a lot of people, some people wish I would keep doing Latyrx albums or Later That Day or Everywhere At Once. But I think, honestly, Real People is the closest I’ve gotten to revisiting Later That Day and some of the earlier Lyrics Born stuff. Even though it’s definitely not the same. But it’s probably the closest I’ve done, because it is so organic feeling. In that sense… you talk about Boots, you talk about me, I feel like it is our cast in life to be artists, whether I got a million dollars in the bank or five dollars in the bank. That’s just how I’m wired, and I accept that. I accept it’s gonna be difficult at times. I also accept that it’s going to be very fulfilling at times. I don’t know, I look at a lot of artists, and I don’t know that there’s a lot of artists who have very long careers doing the same thing over and over again. You have to grow.  Even if you’re just growing with in your lane… you don’t necessarily have to make albums with different genres every time, but you do have to grow.

Oakulture: That’s really interesting when we get to hip-hop and start looking at that as a genre, because there’s sort of this unspoken rule that you have to stop doing hip-hop once you get around that 40 year-old mark. When, actually, you might just be reaching your peak—as a lyricist, as a writer, as a stage performer, you have all this experience that you didn’t have when you were 20 or 25.

“When I make an album, I’m like, what have I not done yet? That’s really it, what haven’t I done yet?” -Lyrics Born

Lyrics Born: Right. I think that’s psychological. I think the whole, I’m gonna go X amount of years and then quit. I think that’s all psychological. I remember when we first started, we would read interviews with like the Pharcyde and I would think to myself… because at that time, in the 90s, hip-hop was still a pretty young artform. It was only about 15-20 (years old). It was growing pretty fast, but it was still a pretty young artform. Because it was so young, and because it changed so fast, you didn’t see a lot of artists with multiple albums. Artists at that time would kind of top out at around two or three albums.

But, see, me, being a record collector, being a guy that’s making sample-based music, I would see records by John Coltrane, this guy had 15-20 albums. 30 albums, y’know.  I would see these reggae singers with 40,50,60, who knows?… but you see Miles making 2-3 albums in a year. And hip-hop is a genre that has more commercial viability then those genres did at that time. Why not? Why can’t I? Someone like Art Tatum or Lou Donaldson, one of these jazz guys, they’re making records in their 70s. why cant I if I choose to do so? I’m not speaking to how much they sold or how commercially successful those artists were, but it’s right there… So, that changed my idea, and then when I started to hear guys say, oh I’m gonna quit at 40, how’s that gonna look? That’s all psychological. It looks how you want it to look. Certainly when you hit 60, 70, it becomes physically difficult, you might have other priorities in life, your body changes, but … as long as I have that spark and that desire, I’m gonna keep going.

Real People is out now on Mobile Home Recordings. For more info, visit the Lyrics Born website.


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Women Runnin It: Interview with Soulovely crew’s Lady Ryan, Aima the Dreamer and DJ Emancipacion

“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.

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The women of Soulovely: Emancipation, Aima, Lady Ryan.

The women of Soulovely: Emancipacion, Lady Ryan, Aima.

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

Lady Ryan

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.

Emancipacion

Emancipacion

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.

Aima the Dreamer

Aima the Dreamer

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.

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SOULOVELY

SOULOVELY

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!

May 04 2015 047

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.

May 04 2015 012

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.

May 04 2015 100

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.

 

SOULOVELY

SOULOVELY

Oakulture: Role models? Who do you admire artistically and why?

DJ Emancipacion: Hmmm…I don’t really have role models, but I respect strong revolutionary women leaders who have changed the world like Leila Khaled, Rasmea Odeh, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Ella Baker, Yuri Kochiyama, Assata . . . I do admire so many artists who keep me inspired for life and remind me how amazing the human race is – Fairouz, FKA twigs, Egyptian artist Mahmoud Said, Ibeyi, local artist Amaryllis deJesus Moleski, Nnedi Okorafor, Shadia Mansour, Black Coffee . . .

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.

***

SOULOVELY

Every 2nd Sunday
May 10, June 14, July 12, August 9, September 13, & October 11

3-8pm
Tix $6, Free before 5pm with RSVP to: soulovely@gmail.com
The New Parish Courtyard, 1741 San Pablo Ave, Oakland

Follow Soulovely:
FB: www.facebook.com/wearesoulovely
Soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/soulovely
IG: @wearesoulovely #soulovely

Lady Ryan:
www.ladyryan.com
www.soundcloud.com/djladyryan
www.facebook.com/ladyryan
Instagram @djladyryan

Aima the Dreamer:
www.aimathedreamer.bandcamp.com
www.soundcloud.com/aima-the-dreamer
www.facebook.com/Aima-the-dreamer
Instagram @aima_the_dreamer

Emancipacion:
www.djemancipacion.com
www.soundcloud.com/dj-emancipacion
www.facebook.com/djemancipacion
Instagram @djemancipacion

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Women Runnin It: Interview with DJ Zita

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 and Gina Madrid aka Raw-G.

***

DJ Zita

In this edition of “Women Runnin It,” we are proud to turn the spotlight on DJ Zita. To be truthful, this series could have been named after Zita and her years of spearheading and cultivating women-centric events, collaborations and culture in the Bay and beyond. For almost fifteen years now, Zita has been a moving force to be reckoned with as a DJ, promoter and organizer. She has performed with some of the best, including DJ Q-Bert, Shortkut, DJ Apollo, DJ Shortee, Mr. E, Medusa and J-Boogie. Illuminated in her popular mixtape series, DJ Zita spans musical genres from hip-hop to R&B and neo-soul to reggae dancehall with her selections and is known for her commitment to true vinyl skills and her rep as a party rocker.

A true leader knows how to share power. Zita has been a leader in understanding the importance of female solidarity. As she clearly articulates in her interview, her methods have been directly aimed at creating woman-centered culture. Her annual “Queendom” event, coming up on its sixth year, is an inspiring throwdown showcasing women in all four elements of hip-hop artistry (MC, DJ, dancer and graffiti artist). Over the years, “Queendom” has given opportunities to many emerging women hip-hop artists, DJs and dancers, which in turn helps grow the community. Most importantly, “Queendom” models a value of respect for all as non-negotiable. It illuminates what we miss out on when we allow our culture to neglect and degrade women’s voices and skills.

Zita currently holds court in the BASS crew (Bay Area Sister Sound) along with Pam the Funkstress, a Bay Area legend and hip hop pioneer who has been known to scratch not only with her hands but with that most powerful female appendage – the breast. Zita also maintains residencies in both San Francisco and Oakland, and regularly teams with her partner DMadness in the DJ duo Golden Soundscapes. She can accurately be credited with transforming the landscape of Bay Area club culture, helping to further woman-positive hip-hop, and uniting female DJs, performers, promoters and audience.

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Oakulture: What values do you bring to promotion and/or production and how do they impact your decision-making?

DJ Zita: Initially inspired by my passion for music as a DJ, my purpose has always been to provide a platform for women artists to shine in a male-dominated music industry. As a founding member of the “Sisters in Sound” women DJ collective in Hawaii (2001-2003), as promoter of my “Do My Ladies Run This M*tha F@#ka?!” event series in 2007, as the founder of “Bay Areas Sistah Sound” (BASS) lady DJ crew in 2008, and since then, individually as promoter DJ Zita, I have been able to create spaces where women’s talents are spotlighted and celebrated.

At the core of my efforts is a call for sisterhood. It’s important to me to unite women DJs and performers. When I entered the Bay Area scene back in 2003, I noticed that there were so few of us women DJs, but we were all doing our own thing. The female hip-hop DJs then were: Stef, Pam the Funkstress, Neta, Celskiii, Deeandroid, Olga T, and me. This was my inspiration for curating and producing my series of “Queendom: Fly Women Reppin’ the 4 Elements of Hip Hop” events and in 2008, establishing the BASS crew. I chose veteran DJs Pam the Funkstress and Neta to join me on my mission to create the only female-DJed and female-promoted event in the Bay at the time. By reaching out to women and collaborating with them on my projects, I built my extensive network of women DJs, MCs, dancers, singers, and artists, and I created a sense of solidarity among us that was previously nonexistent. I am often introducing artists to one another at my events because they haven’t met before. At the BASS 2-Year Anniversary event at 111 Minna SF in 2010, I was able to book 18 Bay Area women DJs to spin together under one roof. My approach stems from my values of collaboration and community – over competition and isolation.

In my booking considerations, talent reigns even over the artists’ image, age, affiliations, or following. There’s no substitute for the necessary hard work, creativity, and talent required to represent women in a powerful way and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our best male counterparts. I want to let it be known that a fly sister in the club ain’t just eye candy. Additionally, I have a focus on booking women of color because it’s important that this group in particular has real opportunities to shine.


Oakulture: What’s exciting to you about Oakland culture right now?

DJ Zita: Since I used to be only one of a handful, it’s an exciting time in Oakland with the emerging women artists and promoters, such as dope hip-hop heroine MCs MadLines, Ryan Nicole, and Coco Peila. As I observe more women entering the scene, I only hope for further collaboration and community building among them to ensue because that is a critical piece of our progression.

On a personal level, I hold dearly the value that family comes first. Now that I have two young children, I am prioritizing my energies towards raising them and advancing in my career as a college teacher. To keep it real, it’s impossible to support a family off of DJing and promoting events, especially with the lack of health benefits. I’ve chosen to cut back on promoting to have more time dedicated to my family. To fulfill my love for DJing, you can still find me behind the turntables at my local monthly DJ residencies, which are currently: “ESCAPE,” Fourth Fridays at The Layover in Oakland (since 2010); “ELEVATE,” First Fridays at John Colins SF; and “GOLDEN,” Third Saturdays (since 2006) at Laszlo SF alongside my Golden Soundscapes crew partner/husband, DJ Dmadness. I support and proudly pass the torch onto the next generation of women promoters leading the pack, including my sisters: Oakland’s own Chaney Turner of Social Life Productions and Candi Martinez of SKIN and Spread Love Media.


Oakulture: What approach or strategies do you use for creating and maintaining an inclusive space?

DJ Zita: The inclusivity of my events is rooted in my already diverse following that includes youth, the LGBTQi community, and people of color. I employ strategies to embrace all communities through the diverse representation of talent that I book and the avenues I promote the event. My Queendom events at La Pena and Betti Ono have been all-ages, extending my audience to showcase youth performers and to allow the younger generation to witness them.

I have hip-hop in my heart but love for all genres of music. With my Queendom events, I wanted to take it back to hip-hop’s roots by featuring all four elements. I was able to curate a series of these events that featured women beyond the DJ realm, by also inviting MCs, B-girls, and graffiti artists to bless the stage. I’ve used my Queendom events to bring attention to women’s issues and to support the local women’s community by donating a portion of the ticket sales to: a domestic violence shelter, an organization working to end sexual violence, and several organizations that empower young women.

 

Oakulture: What do you wish people knew or understood more about the behind-the-scenes?

DJ Zita: Event production and promotion is hard work! It’s not only very competitive, but it also requires a broad skill-set to be successful: vision, business marketing, networking, negotiation with venues, stage management, flexibility, strong communication, people skills, patience, and creativity. While it requires so much love and commitment, the return is not equivalent. When I successfully held down the BASS monthly residency with a packed club and line down the block  featuring local women DJs, Conscious Daughters, and the amazing DJ Shortee, the club owners ended my night because they “wanted to make more money.”

Oakulture: If you could book anyone, who would it be?

DJ Zita: I dream of booking these queens: Missy Elliott, Erykah Badu, and Sade.
A dream come true for me would be to assemble a crew of the Bay’s fly, fierce, bad-ass women DJs, MCs, dancers, and artists, and we get booked for a world tour.

Follow DJ Zita at:
djzita.com
GoldenSoundscapes.com
Facebook: djzita
Twitter: @djzita
Instagram: @djzita

***

Zita’s Current Monthly DJ Residencies

ESCAPE 4th Fridays
at The Layover, Oakland

ELEVATE 1st Fridays
at John Colins, SF

GOLDEN 3rd Saturdays (since 2006)
with DJ Dmadness
at Laszlo, SF

 

Follow Oakulture by entering your email above
and Like Us on Facebook to keep up.


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Women Runnin It: Interview with Gina Madrid, aka Raw-G

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?

At a recent Bahamadia concert at Leo’s produced by Chaney Turner of Social Life Productions, the emcee spoke to the need to be actively engaged in creating inclusive community — a crucial component of a culturally-positive nightlife and cultural arts scene. 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 and Nina Menendez.

***

Gina "Raw-G" Madrid

Gina “Raw-G” Madrid

The latest installment of “Women Runnin It” features Gina Madrid, aka Raw-G. Madrid is the co-founder and director of Steelo Entertainment, a marketing, production and multimedia company, as well as part of the Parish Entertainment Group. She is also a veteran of the international hip-hop movement and a force to be reckoned with on the stage.

Born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, Madrid first immigrated to the U.S. in 1999 with her husband Steelo Cesar and son Hugo and settled in Oakland. A founding member of the all-women collective, Mujeres Trabajando — one of Guadalajara’s pioneering hip-hop crews — she learned English by translating hip-hop lyrics from The Fugees, Tupac Shakur and KRS-One.

Her work as both an artist and promoter represents the social consciousness and raw heart of both Mexico and Oakland. The list of artists she has performed with includes Ghostface Killah, Mobb Deep, KRS-One, Gift of Gab, Ozomatli, Royce Da 5’9”, Ana Tijoux, La Mala and DJ Premier; Steelo Entertainment’s past shows have brought everyone from Chilean emcee Tijoux to Argentinian dancehall queen Alika to Blue Note jazz-soul singer Jose James to Oakland. Recently, Steelo Entertainment produced “Concert for Justice,” a benefit show for the family of Eric Garner hosted by his daughter Erica Garner, with guest speaker Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant.

Oakulture was able to catch up with this powerhouse producer and artist just as Raw-G’s musical career seems poised for another step. Her new music video “Sangre” (Blood) is a song, rap and prayer in both English and Spanish, which names and calls out the blood, tears and pain of people’s struggle for dignity, and the certain knowledge that our time is a coming. Be on the lookout for Raw-G’s new EP, which is due to be released this month.

***

Oakulture: What values do you bring to promotion and/or production and how do they impact your decision-making?

Gina Madrid: First of all, I love what I do. When you put love into what you do you’re simply giving your best which sets your mind to push your limits on every aspect. Bringing people together has been something I enjoy doing. And what’s better than through music? When it comes to making decisions it’s like anything else in life, I just follow my heart. That definitely makes the technical part less heavy.

Gina Madrid Oakulture 088
Oakulture: What’s exciting to you about Oakland culture right now?

Gina Madrid: Oakland has always had a very unique flavor but some people are just finding out now. Being in this city, seeing it grow, seeing it change is exciting to me. Unity and love is the core of the town. And I can say that no matter how many people move into Oakland, we definitely make sure the core stays intact. Thanks to all the artists, organizers, visionaries, activists and the people who really love and run this town.

Oakulture: What relationship is there between your artistic work and your promotional and production work?

Gina Madrid: Both are very connected, being an artist took me to start producing events. I didn’t like waiting to be asked to perform and felt the need of sharing my craft. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to co-found Steelo Entertainment and started producing The Oakland Lyricist Lounge where I found out how many of us really just need a platform and space to share, connect and support each other.

Oakulture: Tell me about your new music video, “Sangre.”

Gina Madrid: With everything that’s been going on in the world lately I just felt the need to say something. SANGRE is ‘us’ the people. Tired of the system, fighting for peace and change, fighting for justice, to end racism, not really just talking about the U.S. but the whole world. The people are fed up and hungry for a better life. As the last part of my song states ‘’No need of guns to shut the system down, the people soon will turn this world around.”


Oakulture: What approach or strategies do you use for creating and maintaining an inclusive space?

Gina Madrid: It’s not really a strategy. It’s mainly about the people, the Bay Area especially Oakland. When people come together it’s so diverse that one can’t help but feel welcome. On the production side it all starts by having the right vision from the beginning and the rest just flows naturally.

“Oakland has always had a very unique flavor but some people are just finding out now. Being in this city, seeing it grow, seeing it change is exciting to me. Unity and love is the core of the town. And I can say that no matter how many people move into Oakland, we definitely make sure the core stays intact.” – Gina Madrid


Oakulture:
Role models? Who do you admire artistically and why?

Gina Madrid: That’s a big question. My list would go on forever.. But I can say artists who started with nothing but love and passion for what they do and set their minds to win regardless of the struggle. Those artists are a huge inspiration to me. Looking up to them helps me push even harder, dream bigger and stay focused.

Gina Madrid Oakulture 018


Oakulture: Who are your Oakland heroines?

Gina Madrid: I have love and respect for all my sisters in this city. And I hope to continue seeing the new generation of women expressing themselves through arts and sharing their voices and talent.

Oakulture: If you could book anyone, who would it be?

Gina Madrid: I would book more independent local artists. We gotta support our own.

Oakulture: Words to live by?

Gina Madrid: Always give your best and set your mind to win. Giving up is not an option.

Visit Gina Madrid at:  www.raw-g.com

Gina Madrid Oakulture 151

***

Steelo Entertainment’s upcoming shows:

May 7th, 7:30pm
Lila Rose record release show for WE.ANIMALS
with Squid Inc Quartet, LYNX and Mariee Sioux
Tix $15-18
The Independent, 628 Divisadero, San Francisco 

June – Sep 2015
“Immigrant Dreams”
A four part event series based on immigration and social justice featuring performances, panel discussion, and live painting. In partnership with La Peña Cultural Center (details TBA).

Steelo Entertainment on Facebook & Youtube

Follow Oakulture by entering your email above and Like Us on Facebook to keep up.


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Women Runnin It: Interview with Nina Menendez

This month Oakulture premieres “Women Runnin It,” a new interview series featuring women in dynamic positions of cultural leadership. We begin with 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?

Recently at a Bahamadia concert at Leo’s produced by Chaney Turner of Social Life Productions, the emcee spoke to the need to be actively engaged in creating inclusive community — a crucial component of a culturally-positive nightlife and cultural arts scene. 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 and Chaney Turner.

***

The third installment in the “Women Runnin It” series features Nina Menendez, the Founder & Artistic Director of the Bay Area Flamenco Festival (BAFF). Flamenco is the creative expression of a culturally resilient people; an improvisational and exquisitely aged art form of Gitano or Gypsy singing, fierce footwork and dancing, percussive clapping, snapping, body percussion and guitar.

The Bay Area is currently one of the best places in the world for flamenco outside of Spain. A major reason for that is the entrenchment of authentic flamenco dancers and musicians in the region, dating back decades, who have inspired generations of local artists, many of whom have gone on to acclaim in the flamenco world. As both a grassroots arts organizer and world class producer of concerts and workshops, Nina has contributed her lioness’ share to the curation of these bridges of cultural exchange.

Nina boasts a rich cultural background herself: she comes from a musical family of both Cuban and Spanish extraction. Her mother is folk singer Barbara Dane and she is a singer herself, as well as being a former professor of Latin American and women’s studies. She brings her deep knowledge and respect for cultural legacy, resistance and pride to all of her programming and productions, making her a valued resource for the flamenco community. Nina’s commitment contributes to maintaining and building on the cultural legacy of flamenco. This year, she celebrates a major milestone: ten years of producing the Bay Area Flamenco Festival, which begins this week.

Nina Menendez, Founder and Artistic Director of the Bay Area Flamenco Festival

Nina Menendez, Founder and Artistic Director of the Bay Area Flamenco Festival

Oakulture: Tell us about the Bay Area Flamenco Festival shows this year and your inspiration for producing them.

Nina Menendez: It has been and continues to be a true privilege and honor to work with such extraordinary artists over the past 10 years. We’ve presented some of the most important figures in the history of flamenco – from Manuel Agujetas to Manuela Carrasco and Angelita Vargas – as well as prodigies from today’s scene – Diego del Morao, el Carpeta, el Farru – and we’ve also presented groups like Son de la Frontera or artists like Diego el Cigala who are known outside of the flamenco world as well.

The centerpiece of this year’s festival is “Generations of Gypsy Flamenco” which I am presenting here in San Francisco on Sunday, March 22. The idea is to bring together dancers from three different generations, three different pueblos and three different approaches to Gypsy flamenco dance.

Concha Vargas, Pepe Torres and Gema Moneo are dancers who I know well and have worked with on numerous occasions. All three are internationally respected dancers who are at the same time deeply rooted in the grassroots traditions of their local communities. They are each key exponents of their respective generations and are among the finest and most “flamenco” of the flamenco dancers active in Spain today. Together they illustrate the passing down of flamenco dance traditions as an expression of cultural identity and oral history. Their artistry illustrates the continuity of the traditional forms as well as their ongoing reinvention.

Nina Menendez at Oakland Flamenco sessions

Nina Menendez at Oakland Flamenco Sessions

They will be joined by a group of musicians who I hand picked for this production because of their compatibility with all three of the dancers. This will be the first time guitarist El Perla and singer Jose Valencia come to perform at the Festival and we are very excited to host them and to welcome back guitarist/singer José Gálvez and singer Luis Moneo. It will be an unforgettable evening. We are also thrilled that Latin-Grammy nominated cantaora, Esperanza Fernández and the outstanding cantaor, José Valencia with be performing at the Brava theater in the Mission on Friday, March 27th. This will be a concert emphasizing flamenco cante and a rare chance to experience two of the finest flamenco singers of today’s generation, both representing deep family legacies and rooted in a rich legacy of Gypsy flamenco singing.

And finally, in celebration of International Women’s month, we close the Festival in Santa Cruz on Sunday, March 29th with ¡Flamencas! where dancers Concha Vargas and Gema Moneo and singer Esperanza Fernández will come together will blend their intense female energy and telluric chemistry to present an evening of flamenco puro, reminiscent of what you might witness at a Gypsy family gathering in a pueblo in Andalucia.

Video footage of dancer Gema Moneo, one of this year’s BAFF performing artists with El Momo at the Festival de Jerez in memory of Barullito Moneo.

Menendez with flamenco dancer Farruquito

Menendez with flamenco dancer Farruquito

Oakulture: What values do you bring to your work as a producer and how do they impact your decision-making?

Nina Menendez: Certainly values of social justice have a fundamental impact on my work. These values inform my curatorial vision and the decision I make as regards programming. They also have a lot to do with the community partners I seek out for collaborative work and mutual support. I believe that the arts should be a part of everyday life for all human beings and all communities. Increasingly culture is seen as corporately produced goods meant to be purchased and consumed rather than a shared community activity that expresses individual creativity and a common cultural legacy; a part of everyday life that is key to a community’s survival and growth. Much of our programming features Gypsy artists from Spain who share their expressions of cultural resistance and pride through music and dance with Bay Area audiences. These events help to increase awareness of the culture, traditions and history of the Gypsy/Romani people and illustrate the role of the arts in the everyday life. The culture of flamenco is rooted in the legacy of Spain’s Gypsy population, a marginalized subculture with a strong history of resistance to oppression and cultural co-optation. By creating cultural exchange opportunities through performances and workshops by visiting artists from Spain’s Gypsy community, we foster increased understanding and respect among people of diverse backgrounds. Our programming emphasizes how music and dance traditions can serve as a vessel for the transmission of cultural identity and oral history through the generations.

 Nina Menendez on NBC Bay Area's "Comunidad del Valle"

Nina Menendez on NBC Bay Area’s “Comunidad del Valle”

Oakulture: What relationship is there between your artistic work and your work as producer and director?

Nina Menendez: I put a lot of thought and intention behind it. Which makes it a little easier to promote/produce. Flamenco-singing has been a major creative outlet for me but most of all I’m an “aficionada” which in flamenco-lingo refers to a person who is immersed in the culture of flamenco, loving it deeply. For me it’s been a life-long passion that started in my teens when I fell in love with cante gitano (Gyspy flamenco singing). In my 30s and 40s I sang with many of the local flamenco groups and was a professor of Spanish and Latin culture. Later I directed the Encuentro del Canto Popular in San Francisco’s Mission district for several years and managed tours for Cuban artists. So when I founded the Bay Area Flamenco Festival 10 years ago in 2005, I brought all of those parts of me together.

“So many artists and people of all ages and walks of life are making creative waves at the grassroots and bringing the arts and culture into Oakland neighborhoods that have been plagued by urban blight, making them vibrant and exciting places to live and work. There is some degree of gentrification but it is counterbalanced by the inclusive, open and affordable cultural initiatives that are blossoming all around us.” -Nina Menendez

Oakulture: What approach or strategies do you use for creating and maintaining an inclusive space?

Nina Menendez: We are in the process of deepening our partnerships with several grassroots community arts organizations and applying for funding that will allow visiting artists from Spain and local Bay Area-based flamenco artists to offer free or highly-subsidized classes according to economic need on an ongoing basis to low-income children and youth. This goes hand-in-hand with our plan to build and expand our Artist Residency programs, making them a regular feature of our year-round programming, allowing for a deeper level of cultural exchange and tradition sharing.

Oakulture: What do you wish people knew or understood more about the behind-the-scenes?

Nina Menendez: That this is a labor of love and requires endless hours of planning and work. That we don’t have an endowment or any consistent source of funding and depend almost exclusively on ticket sales to cover all the expenses entailed in bringing world-class artists from Spain’s Gyspy flamenco community to the Bay Area. We depend on community support – it truly does take a village – and we are committed to finding ways to make this work sustainable through increased involvement of dedicated volunteers, expanded support from grant making agencies and foundations and the development of a pool of committed donors.

Nina Menendez at Oakland Flamenco Sessions

Nina Menendez at Oakland Flamenco Sessions

Oakulture: What’s exciting to you about Oakland culture right now?

Nina Menendez: So many artists and people of all ages and walks of life are making creative waves at the grassroots and bringing the arts and culture into neighborhoods that have been plagued by urban blight, making them vibrant and exciting places to live and work. There is some degree of gentrification but it is counterbalanced by the inclusive, open and affordable cultural initiatives that are blossoming all around us.

Nina Menendez with her mother, singer Barbara Dane

Nina Menendez with her mother, singer Barbara Dane

Oakulture: Role models? Who do you admire artistically and why?

Nina Menendez: Role models in the realm of producing: Chris Strachwitz (more of a record producer but key for roots music), artistically: My mom, Barbara Dane. I’m her number one fan.


Oakulture: Who are your Oakland heroines?

Nina Menendez: Trombonist Angela Wellman founded the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music downtown on Broadway in a storefront in 2005, several years before the current “renaissance” began. This is the first and only public conservatory of music in the United States where youth of all backgrounds have affordable access to world-class multi-cultural music education. Bobi Céspedes, Afro Cuban vocalist, educator and Yoruba-Lucumi priestess. Does Barbara Lee qualify as an Oakland heroine? Well she is definitely a heroine. Yoshie Akiba, founder of Yoshi’s jazz club is also on my list.

Oakulture: If you could book anyone, who would it be?

Nina Menendez: Diego del Gastor, el Perrate, la Fernanda. La Niña de los Peines and Melchor de Marchena. Terremoto de Jerez and Manuel Morao. Carmen Amaya. Moraíto.

Oakulture: Words to live by?

Nina Menendez: Ole! Aché! THANK YOU!
Honor your ancestors, contribute to your community, stand up for justice, love your family, appreciate your friends, be yourself and don’t buy into the mainstream media’s version of reality.

Bay Area Flamenco Festival:

Sunday, March 22nd, 7pm
Generations of Gypsy Flamenco
Featuring dancers Gema Moneo, Pepe Torres & Concha Vargas
with singers Jose Valencia & Luis Moneo

Guitarists Jose Galvez & El Perla
Percussionist Luis de la Tota
Informal pre-show festivities in lobby from 6-7pm

Tix $35-75
Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St., San Francisco

Friday, March 27th, 8pm
Cante Jondo – Cante Gitano
Featuring singers Jose Valencia & Esperanza Fernandez
with guitarists El Perla & Jose Galvez
Percussionist Luis de la Tota

Tix $30-75
Brava Theatre, 781 24th St., San Francisco

Sunday, March 29th, 7pm
!Flamencas!
In Celebration of International Women’s Month
Featuring dancers Concha Vargas, Gema Moneo & singer Esperanza Fernandez

with guitarists El Perla & Jose Galvez
Percussionist Luis de la Tota
Tix $30-65
Crocker Theatre, Cabrillo College, Aptos (near Santa Cruz)

Monday, March 23rd through Saturday March 28th
Festival Workshops & Classes
Featuring singing, dance, guitar, palmas and improvisational skills with artists from the Festival
East Bay, San Francisco & Santa Cruz locations


Bay Area Flamenco Festival Twitter & Facebook

*Also check out Oakulture’s Guide to International Women’s Month Events in Oakland and Beyond for more woman-centric events throughout the month of March!

Follow Oakulture by entering your email above and Like Us on Facebook to keep up.


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Women Runnin It: Interview with Chaney Turner

This month Oakulture premieres “Women Runnin It,” a new interview series featuring women in dynamic positions of cultural leadership. We begin with Oakland female 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?

Recently at a Bahamadia concert at Leo’s produced by Chaney Turner of Social Life Productions, the emcee spoke to the need to be actively engaged in creating inclusive community — a crucial component of a culturally-positive nightlife scene. 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 part one in the series, featuring Candi Martinez, here.
Follow Oakulture by entering your email above and Like Us on Facebook to keep up.

***

Our second Q&A interview is with Chaney Turner, founder of Social Life Productions, an event promotion and production company. Chaney is beloved by many and holds down a realness which contributes to the degree to which she is valued in many different communities. An Oakland native and one of the most well-known promoters inside and outside the LGBT community, she is a cultural activist, community organizer, dance floor igniter and style trendsetter who has helped to shape Oakland’s inclusive, gender-fluid club scene with parties like “The Social Life” and “SpeakerBoxx,” as well as being the former Entertainment Director for Eden Pride SF co-producing EDEN San Francisco Pride from 2012 to 2014 and co-owner/producer of fiveTEN Oakland Pride. “The Social Life”‘s mantra “Be Seen on the Scene” has resonated through Chaney’s work, which continues this month with the Check the Rhyme: Women’s Herstory Hip-Hop & Art Showcase” this Saturday. Oakulture highly recommends joining their events on Facebook to check out the posted videos.

Chaney Turner stays reppin The Town

Chaney Turner stays reppin The Town

Oakulture: What values do you bring to club promotion and how do they impact your decision- making?

Chaney Turner: I take the relationships that I have with venue owners and their staff seriously. Communication is very important when creating space, it’s a team effort. I work with clubs that are about building community and respecting the patrons who support their business.

Oakulture: What’s exciting to you about Oakland culture right now?

Chaney Turner: Oakland has always been full of culture. That’s what attracts so many newcomers. These young up-and-coming artists are doing some amazing work! I’m really loving the music and fashion that’s coming out of the town. Many talented artists might not be recognized in mainstream media, but are making an impact world-wide and putting Oakland on a larger map.

Oakulture: What relationship is there between your artistic work and your promotional work?

Chaney Turner: I consider myself a visionary, when curating an event I put a lot of thought and intention behind it. Which makes it a little easier to promote/produce.

Hip-hop legend Bahamedia performs at a Social Life produced-show.

Hip-hop legend Bahamadia performs at a Social Life produced-show.

Oakulture: What approach or strategies do you use for creating and maintaining an inclusive space?

Chaney Turner: When creating events, I try to bring together the perfect elements and people. I’m a Queer Black Masculine Identified Woman who’s an Oakland native. I consider myself to be a part of multiple communities and I try to represent that in the events I produce. Bringing together like-minded individuals who respect and admire each other is important to me. Oakland has always had an inclusive scene, especially in the art community. I’m just trying to remind people of that and preserve the culture.

chaney turner oakulture 013

Oakulture: What do you wish people knew or understood more about the behind-the-scenes?

Chaney Turner: LOL, great question! I love the work I do, but people think it’s easy because they only see the results of the work and it looks fun. This is my full time job, I have to wear multiple hats on a daily basis. There’s tons of logistics involved, meetings, contracts and schedules that have to be met. You need guts, integrity and a backbone for this work. Event production, promotions & nightlife, period, is a boys club. Women are rarely recognized for the work we do. [That’s] one of the main reasons why I take this work so seriously and grind hard.

“Oakland has always been full of culture. That’s what attracts so many newcomers. These young up-and-coming artists are doing some amazing work! I’m really loving the music and fashion that’s coming out of the town. Many talented artists might not be recognized in mainstream media, but are making an impact world-wide and putting Oakland on a larger map.” — Chaney Turner

Oakulture: Role models? Who do you admire artistically and why?

Chaney Turner: Oprah is my #1 role model. I admire Sean “P. Diddy” Combs for his work ethic and hustle. I really love and admire the art that Ava DuVernay and Shonda Rhimes are doing, creating opportunities for Black women and black people as a whole and being unapologetic about it. I’m proud of the work they’re doing and I’m beyond inspired. 

chaney turner bandw

Oakulture: Who are your Oakland heroines?

Chaney Turner: My Grandmother, Ida Mae Crisp. I thank her and my Grandfather for moving here and raising five children. She also played a major part in raising me. So she is my hero. Also I love admire and respect my sistas. Candi Martinez, Brianna Smith, Chinaka Hodge, Amy Nabong, Traci Bartlow, Jahmese Myers, Alicia Garza.

Oakulture: If you could book anyone, who would it be?

Chaney Turner: Erykah Badu. Missy Elliot.

Oakulture: Words to live by?

Chaney Turner: Create the life you want.

Oakulture: Your next show is the second one this month celebrating international women’s month. Could you tell us a little about why you are producing this next one “Check the Rhyme: Women’s Herstory Hip-Hop & Art Showcase”?

Chaney Turner: Women are still under-represented and over-sexualized in this industry. I wanted to highlight the four elements in a positive light. Dance, Art, MCing and DJing are the foundation of hip hop and women have been a part of it since the beginning. Each artist involved is extremely talented, diverse and I respect their craft. I hope our allies and brothers come out to support us as we take charge.

chaney turner oakulture 087

Social Life Productions’ next show:

Saturday, March 14th, 9pm
Check the Rhyme: Women’s Herstory Hip-Hop and Art Showcase
Featuring MC MADlines, DJs Lady Ryan, AGANA & Thatgirl
Live Painting by Joanne Ludwig
Hosted by Mona Webb
Vendors
Free Before 10:30pm/$10 After.
Berkeley Underground, 2284 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley.
Social Life Productions Twitter & Facebook

 

*Also check out Oakulture’s Guide to International Women’s Month Events in Oakland and Beyond for more woman-centric events throughout the month of March!

**This version has been updated with additional details from an earlier published version.


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Women Runnin It: Interview with Candi Martinez

In honor of International Women’s Herstory this month, Oakulture premiers “Women Runnin It,” a new interview series featuring women in dynamic positions of cultural leadership. We begin with Oakland female 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.  I’m sure many of you have wondered, how do they build community and social arts networks? How do they curate a meaningful event or a club party?

Recently, at a Bahamadia concert at Leo’s produced by Chaney Turner of Social Life Productions, the emcee spoke to the need to be actively engaged in creating inclusive community — a crucial component of a culturally-positive nightlife scene. 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.

***

Candi Martinez of Skin

Candi Martinez of Skin

Our first Q&A interview is with Candi Martinez. As an industry vet of twenty years, Candi has booked for numerous local venues and worked with internationally-known artists including James Brown, The Wailers, Les Nubians, Antibalas, Zap Mama, and Carlos Santana. Currently, Candi is the master dreamer and curator for SKIN World Wide, a dance party dedicated to sharing and celebrating the music, art and tradition of the African and Latin Diasporas. This Oakland-based collective brings unique events like their recent boat parties on the Bay with DJ, dance performances and live drumming. Tomorrow night (Friday the 13th), SKIN brings Osunlade, the legendary “Messiah of Ancestral House Music” of Yoruba Records to an Oakland country club (!), which is sure to be a spiritually-transcendant dance experience.

Oakulture: What values do you bring to club promotion and how do they impact your decision- making?

Candi Martinez: All of my work stems from a genuine joy in bringing people together. The intersections of different musical and performative traditions are defining elements in how we engage in the world. Music can be traditional, ritual, remixed and expressive. I’m inspired by the ways diaspora, urban migration and intercultural fusion speaks to a Bay Area experience. I’m interested in drawing community into a conversation through rhythm and movement, and keeping art integral to social change.

candi martinez oakulture 011Oakulture: What’s exciting to you about Oakland culture right now?

Candi Martinez: Oakland has it’s own flavor because of the many diverse communities that call our city home. We are known for our unapologetic display of creative passion. We are known for community resilience through various forms of art and music. The energy behind sustaining an artistic and culturally vibrant community is crucial in our response to oppression, police brutality, gentrification, displacement and environmental racism.

Oakulture: What relationship is there between your artistic work and your promotional work?

Candi Martinez: It feels very symbiotic. I DJ, dance, teach yoga, and play upright bass. These avocations give me an understanding of what it means to create, to embody a practice, to be disciplined and to collaborate. It’s important to me to build inviting spaces that allow artists to showcase their work and experience a shared narrative in addition to shaking it on the dancefloor.

SambaFunk shakin it at a SKIN party

SambaFunk shakin it at a SKIN party

Oakulture: What approach or strategies do you use for creating and maintaining an inclusive space?

Candi Martinez: My shows come with lots of intentional planning and love. The artists, the space, the location, the outreach all have to align with what I hope to create and offer to the community. Whether it’s safe environments, wheelchair accessible spaces, affordable tickets, promoting emerging artists, creating links between communities and genres or traditional and modern rhythms…when I see a room full of people of different ages, backgrounds, orientations and interests all getting down, I know I’m exactly where I want to be.

“Oakland has it’s own flavor because of the many diverse communities that call our city home. We are known for our unapologetic display of creative passion. We are known for community resilience through various forms of art and music. The energy behind sustaining an artistic and culturally vibrant community is crucial in our response to oppression, police brutality, gentrification, displacement and environmental racism.” — Candi Martinez


Oakulture: What do you wish people knew or understood more about the behind-the-scenes aspect to being a promoter?

Candi Martinez: Doing what you love can be risky business. As an artist, every day is a choice. Every event for an artist is a commitment without the promise beyond doing what they love. Most artists and curators do this because we can’t imagine doing anything else, it’s an experience that makes us feel alive and connected. I’ve never taken any of it for granted.

SKIN's boat parties offer Bay views and plenty of room to dance

SKIN’s boat parties offer Bay views and plenty of room to dance

Oakulture: Role models? Who do you admire artistically and why?

Candi Martinez: I get my kindness and perseverance from my Mom. My commitment to social justice comes from my Father. My fiance holds me accountable to my dreams. Artistically, I’ve admired Frida Kahlo since childhood. I relate to her tenacious spirit and her fight for life. Chinaka Hodge because she is an amazing scholar and kills it in a dance cypher. Angela Davis, Chimamanda Adichie, Sandra Cisneros and Ntozake Shange, for writing toward the change they want to see and for offering a voice and light to follow.

Oakulture: Who are your Oakland heroines?

Candi Martinez: Amy Nabong, Chinaka Hodge, DJ heyLove*, Dr. Shari Hicks, Favianna Rodriguez, KinFolkz, Naima Shalhoub, Nayomi Munaweera, Shadi Rahimi and Zakiya Harris, and if I can throw in a past Oakland resident, Nanci Pili Hernandez.

Oakulture: If you could book anyone, who would it be?

Candi Martinez: I’d like to pair Seu Jorge and Sergio Mendes up with San Francisco’s Bomberas De La Bahia and then get Oakland’s Sistahs of The Drum on stage with the “Fela!” Broadway [cast] and see what happens.

candi martinez oakulture 193

SKIN World Wide’s next show:

Friday, March 13th 8pm
with Osunlade of Yoruba Records
Resident DJs: Cecil and Son of Son
Percussion Line: Jeff Pierre & Soul Mojo
Oakland Songstress Zena & Upright Bassist Gary Johnson
Artisan village with James Gayles, Nikila Badua, All Attractive, Brass, Bone & Honey, and Sankofa Vine.
Complimentary Hor D’Oeuvres
At the unique Sequoyah Country Club with patios, fire pits, cigar bar and Bay views.
Tix $30-35

**Also check out Oakulture’s Guide to International Women’s Month Events in Oakland and Beyond for more woman-centric events throughout the month of March.


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The Oak Q & A: Jahi as PE2.0 (Part II)

 

Jahi performing at the New Parish, August 2014

Jahi performing at the New Parish, August 2014

In Part One of this interview, Oakland-based educator and rapper Jahi talked about how he became the lead emcee in PE2.0, a musical and cultural initiative created by Chuck D, Professor Griff, and the Public Enemy organization, which aims to revisit the group’s legacy while pushing forward for a new generation of listeners searching for consciousness, sanity, and dignity in rap music. In this continuation of the discussion, Jahi breaks down some of the specific songs on the new album People Get Ready, and the connection between himself, Public Enemy, Tupac Shakur, the Black Panther Party, and the city of Oakland.

Oakulture: Let’s talk about some of the original PE2.0 songs, like “Mind For Malcolm.” What are you dealing with on that song?

Jahi: “Mind for Malcolm” is actually not on the album, “Mind for Malcolm” is kinda like how you shoot a flare, send a signal. The fact is, if you know Public Enemy’s history, I believe it was Chuck or maybe Keith or Hank, they were out promoting, and they put up a poster of Malcolm, and somebody said, ‘who is the dude with the glasses?’ Or something to that effect. I’m paraphrasing.  What Chuck realized is, wow, not only could we make music, but we also could lift up some messages and really say something that matters.

"Mind for Malcolm" single

“Mind for Malcolm” single

So when Malcolm [X]’s birthday was approaching, I reached out to Chuck and asked if it was okay, if I took that track, name the song “Mind For Malcolm,” and use it as a signal to let people know that PE2.0 was coming. So that’s where “Mind For Malcolm” came from. So that was really like, one of the first, you know, I had recorded maybe 7 or 8 records, and none of those records ended up on the final cut of the album, but “Mind For Malcolm” stuck so we sent it out as a signal on Malcolm’s birthday.

Oakulture: What inspired “People Get Ready”?

Jahi: Ah, man. “People Get Ready” is not a song. It’s not a song. What it is, is a call to action to save the people. Get ready, ‘cause you might have to physically fight for your freedom. We were trying to decide on some album titles, and Chuck hit me with “People Get Ready,” and I was like, I mean, number one, Curtis Mayfield, he’s probably in my top ten of all time. And just thinking about Mike Brown, thinking about Marlene Pennock, thinking about Eric Garner, thinking about all these things, and not just current events, but historical events. And, it just feels like, it needs to be said that sometimes, we slip.  Sometimes we so social with having good times, partying and kicking it, that we not ready, we be getting blindsided, and the idea of… my grandfather used to say,’ it’s time to get ready.’ That means you organize yourself, you prepare yourself, you get things in order.  So you’re able to handle the task, and right now, the task of freedom, justice, and equality, we need to be ready.  And, the more we are not ready, the more we put ourselves at risk of losing our lives at this point.

People Get Ready album cover

People Get Ready album cover

So, “People Get Ready,” once we diagrammed the album and just be thinking about… here’s where I’m at: if you think about it, I’m really not rhyming, it’s really a mantra, it’s really a chant, it’s really a meditation. Chuck comes with the rhyme. I’m not busting bars at all. But Chuck is. And then there was also a little play on that and Chuck said it.

Oakulture: “Panther Power” obviously references the legacy of the Black Panther Party. As an Oakland resident, how do you see that legacy shaping up in 2014?

Jahi: Well, “Panther Power” really first is a tribute and ode to Tupac Shakur, because on his first record, 2Pacalypse Now, he did a song called “Panther Power,” and in the chorus, he was actually cutting part of Chuck’s voice. So, the first part of it really was for him, for ‘Pac. Which connects to Oakland. I mean, the reality of it is, that in 2014, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, their beliefs, in terms of what they wanted for the community, in terms of the community services they wanted to provide, the cultural unity and pride, those are things that I feel like are as much alive now as they were then. I don’t look at the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense like they in a museum or something like that. I feel like it is very active in our lives and part of my job, as an emcee, is to attach to that. So, you know, I also got to say Rickey Vincent had a lot to do with it too, I gotta shout out to Rickey Vincent, because he wrote that book…

Oakulture: Party Music …

Party Music, by Ricky Vincent

Party Music, by Ricky Vincent

Jahi: Party Music, where he talked about the Lumpen band. So if you hear my second verse, We talking 1968, Jah called on Tommie Smith, the band in Oakland, giving the soul mix. I mean, that comes directly from Rickey Vincent. Once I got turned on to the Lumpen band, it was like, yeah, it really informed the rest of that record. And then, originally Griff was supposed to be on that record, but he wasn’t able to get on it. But we had this concept of taking songs, and putting speeches inside the song. I got plenty of quotes at the beginning and end. But in “Panther Power” in particular, Kwame Ture, when he first said Black Power, I took that whole clip and put it in there. To give a context of just that spirit. It wasn’t about freedom, he said, we’re not talking about freedom, we’re talking about power. And right now, as much as we need freedom, justice and equality, black people, we need power.  And when you say Black Power or Panther Power, there’s a certain energy that comes with that. So I wanted not so much to resurrect that, but to continue it in 2014, to inspire a 9 year-old or 8 year-old, as well as a 40 year-old.

Oakulture: There’s some cultural authenticity there too. It’s not like you live somewhere else. I mean, you’ve been an Oakland resident for 15 years, right?

Jahi: That’s right, that’s right. I live here. When I said, writing rhymes late night in the home of the Panthers, I was in Oakland, California when I said that right there. When I felt like I had a first draft, I actually was watching sunsets at Merritt College. Like, these are facts. We in a time when most people’s rhymes are so fantasy. Sometimes, we be getting in metaphorical and lyrical exercises, nah, this is like right in your face. I mean, I’m in Oakland, and I’m thankful that I’m in Oakland. I lived a lot of places, I moved around a lot of places. But I’m thankful to be in Oakland, I’m thankful of the history here. I know that I’m standing on shoulders of ancestors. I don’t take it for granted. You know, just being in Public Enemy stands on the shoulders of the Panthers. You know what, I couldn’t have been in a better place anywhere else in the world to be able to do this first project.

Oakulture: “What They Need” is another strong one. What are you addressing with that one?

Jahi on the set of "What They Need"

Jahi on the set of “What They Need”

Jahi: Mmmn. “What They Need” is a revisit, give the people what they need was [an] original lyric by Public Enemy. So I really like how they did the chorus, cameras, lights, action, look out, human rights, whiplash, po-po, Fed killers, killing kids. I mean, we are experiencing that right now. So, I think about kids, if you say here’s some ice cream, or here’s a home-cooked mean, you know, beans and rice and all of that. All of the kids will go pick what they want, they’ll pick the ice cream. But the reality is what we need is more wholesome and important for us. So “What They Need” was really kinda diving in to say that, you know, there’s a certain level of lyricism with emcees that are around the world, and represent a particular lane. And that lane is socially-conscious. It is aware. It is forward-thinking, and it is life-affirming, it is revolutionary. And I wanted to send a signal that, I’m not dissing nobody in nobody else’s lane, but I’m in my lane. And my lane is just as valid as anybody else. And when you look at it from a world perspective, you realize that. So, in mentioning “What They Need,” don’t just be social, be committed and vocal. It’s some ancient context. I said, we giants, we not just talking baseball, we talking ancient scrolls that was left on the wall, that best represent the renaissance people. We are still those renaissance people. It’s almost like a reminder back and a push forward at the same time.

 


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The Oak Q & A: Jahi as PE2.0

Jahi as PE 2.0 on the set of the "What You Need" video

Jahi as PE 2.0 on the set of the “What They Need” video

Being asked to be a part of your favorite group is a dream come true for a music fan. That rarely happens in real life, but it happened for Oakland-based emcee Jahi, who was asked by rap icon Chuck D to be the lead emcee in PE 2.0, a continuation of the legendary hip-hop outfit Public Enemy. The chess-like move made sense: there was a need to update the PE formula for a new generation of listeners, and Jahi—who’s been making conscious rap music for more than fifteen years, and is a father and educator who works with youth to boot—fit the bill to a tee.

With the release of People Get Ready, the first PE 2.0 album in a planned trilogy, the dream has become reality. On the album, Jahi swerves between faithful remakes of some of the lesser-known, but still relevant, classics in the PE catalog, and new songs which update the PE ethos. Recently, Oakulture founder and Editorial Director Eric K. Arnold spoke with Jahi about the project, which not only rebrands PE’s movement politics-over-beats-and-rhymes-style for the 21st century, but also entailed a number of inherent challenges for the emcee, who was passed the torch of a historical and cultural legacy and expected to run with it. In the first part of a lengthy conversation, Jahi runs down the story of how PE 2.0 came about, and how he approached the task of making People Get Ready.

People Get Ready album cover

People Get Ready album cover

Oakulture: What’s the concept behind PE 2.0?

Jahi: The concept is two-fold. One, my job is to go inside of Public Enemy’s catalog and find songs you haven’t heard that still have power and punch, and either cover those, or what we call revisit. Where I may cover a portion of it and write some new material. Second part is, I create brand new songs over either Bomb Squad production, or the new production team we have within PE 2.0., which also really is a part of the Public Enemy family. So, it’s those two things, but the goal is, when you do something with Public Enemy, you find it’s a tree with many branches. And the trunk is the main part, but also it’s a lot of other things. The other thing I want to add is songs, movement, and mindsets. We’re trying to create strong songs, in the spirit of Public Enemy, which could either be the soundtrack to the movement, or allow our music to create movement, and ultimately to create better mindsets. PE 2.0 is just another branch on the tree that is Public Enemy. Over the next five to seven years, PE 2.0 will slowly emerge into the core of Public Enemy. Chuck D is not retiring, he’s an elder statesman, meaning that so instead of doing a two-hour show, he can do a one-hour show, but you still get a two-hour experience, because PE 2.0 is myself as the lead emcee, but it’s the rhythm section of Public Enemy currently.

Oakulture: So you had access to the entire PE vault then?

Jahi: I do.

Oakulture: How did this come about? What was the discussion between you and Chuck D?

Jahi: Hmm. Well, the discussion kinda started, it started on the 20th anniversary tour of Public Enemy, where Chuck had kinda said, James Brown, Bobby Byrd.  I was like wow, cause he wanted me to emcee the tour and host, and also perform, so he hit me with that concept and I understood what he meant: the call and response, the connection between James and Bobby so, if you know that history… I knew exactly what he was saying. Over a period of time, we have just been talking about how to extend Public Enemy and how I can become an integral part. We bounced around a couple of ideas, but we landed on PE 2.0 because it represents the second generation. I’m the second generation, right under Public Enemy. Chuck and I have known each other for fifteen years. I have to say, the main way that PE 2.0 really took off was, I got a call from [Professor] Griff, and Griff was like, we gotta make this happen, this is an opportunity, get on it. I had already bought into the idea with Chuck. But I didn’t know how to address some of the songs. I’ll give you an example. “Yo” was the first record to come out in Cleveland by Public Enemy. So when Chuck was like, revisit that, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I was like, I can’t say nothing else on this, ‘cause I just hear the original version. But it just took a bit of time, and us having conversations that just really mattered. You know, Chuck is very strategic, this is not a rap group, this is a strategy. And a lot of those conversations about what the strategy would be and all of that, we realized, you have to get out of conversation stage and simply start, and this is the starting point.

Jahi performing live. Photo credit: PE2.0

Jahi performing live. Photo credit: PE2.0

Oakulture: What’s it like for you now to play the Public Enemy #1 position, as someone who came up during the Afrocentric era, during the height of the 1.0 version?

Jahi: You know, one of the biggest words is humble. Humility, honored, appreciative that I’m in this position. Not so much for me individually, but what I can bring to the table that can add—repave the lane of Public Enemy. We know that Public Enemy in the ‘80s was really our voice, you know, for social, conscious, political, black movement. And I think we are at a time and space where we continue to do that, and I’m just humbled to be a part of it, and have the Public Enemy brand, and I guess more than brand, the Public Enemy overstanding, the Public Enemy energy and spirit to guide my work as an emcee.

Oakulture: How did you approach this project from a lyrical standpoint?

Jahi: I have to say that in my career, this is one of the two toughest challenges I’ve had as a lyricist. This would be number one, because there’s only one Chuck D, you’re not dropping Chuck D, you just have to accept that. Chuck D is a one on one. In terms of covering, I was with Blackalicious for a while, and trying to cover Gift of Gab was definitely not an easy task. So that was kind of my proving ground. But the way I approached this lyrically was, number one, what would Chuck say, number two, I’m not trying to be an imitation of somebody, but also bring my own voice. Pay attention to what’s happening. In my own way, I had my own ministers of information over the years, giving me information or saying, oh you should come to this, you should talk about this. Because that’s part of the Public Enemy formula. Griff and Chuck, Hank, Keith, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler, they would have a lot of conversations and put a lot of things on the table. And out of that is where a lot of those songs came from. In a lot of ways, I tried to use that same energy and spirit, I mean, Chuck counselled me a lot, just on… I wouldn’t say counselled like go back and say this or change this, but Chuck set a standard, and I did my best job to meet that. So lyrically, it took some time. The longest time I’ve ever taken to write an album. Ever.

Jahi on the set of the "What We Need" video

Jahi as PE2.0 on the set of the “What We Need” video

Oakulture: Some of the songs are faithful remakes, like “Rightstarter.” On others, like “Yo!,” you add your own lyrics. What was the process like in choosing what PE songs to update?

Jahi: “Rightstarter (Message to the Blackman)”, Chuck was able to get the original instrumentals to Yo! Bum Rush the Show, he hadn’t had those instrumentals in over 20 years. So when they were unearthed, immediately, I just knew I was gonna cover “Rightstarter (Message to the Black Man),” because number one, it was an incredible challenge, number two it was a song that in the ‘80s really set my consciousness: mind over matter, mouth in motion, can’t deny it cause I’ll never be quiet, let’s start this… I really had freedom of choice to some degree, and then there were certain times, when Chuck was like, yo, I want you to cover this. Like “Yo” was a song, the record was almost done, but like you need to go and do “Yo.” Like, yo, pay attention. So, it was part freedom and part guidance. When I did “What Side You On,” to me that just felt like a complete Public Enemy moment. Just the whole way the record comes in. So I wanted to have healthy challenges. And then the other thing is, I can’t do “Don’t Believe the Hype,” “Shut Em Down,” “Fight the Power,” those are Public Enemy staples. You can’t touch those. So it took me a while to go through the catalog. But I wanted to be intentional: let me go to this period. Ok, let me go to this. Let me get away from It Takes A Nation of Millions to a large degree, and let me go to these other spaces and places. Because again, you gotta think about a 28-year catalog of music Public Enemy has. So, you know, and then the other thing I understood is that this [next] record comes out February, and the next record comes out this summer. So we’re doing a trilogy before we come up for air. So I also understood, ok, I didn’t get to that one, but I’ll get to it on the second record, or I’ll get to it on the third record.

People Get Ready is available here and here.


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The OakQ&A: Oakland Underground Film Festival’s Kahlil Karn

Now in its sixth year, the Oakland Underground Film Festival celebrates independent, DIY, and otherwise non-mainstream cinematic fare. It’s one of many Oakland-centered film festivals which have popped up in the past few years; some of the others being the Oakland International Film Festival and the Matatu Film Festival. The emergence and co-existence of these festivals supports the idea of Oakland as a city which appreciates non-standard, un-Hollywoodized movies, many of which deal with subject matter which rarely makes it onto cineplex screens.

A quick glance at this year’s OAKUFF schedule shows there’s plenty of celluloid diversity to go around, from the opening night double bill of “The Infinite Man,” a time-travel romcom, and “Falcon Rising,” a black martial arts actioner set in Brazil featuring yakuzas;  to subsequent screenings of “Que Caramba Es La Vida,” a documentary about women mariachis in Mexico; “Lost Landscapes,” a collection of archival footage of Oakland through history; three programs featuring short films; “Out in the Night,” a documentary about “killer lesbians”  which examines race, gender, crime, and mainstream media narratives; and “Giuseppe Makes a Movie,” a comedy about an independent filmmaker trying to make a feature, despite having no budget. The festival runs Sept. 25-28; the complete festival program is here ; all screenings are $10.

What follows is a Q &A with Kahlil Karn, OAKUFF’s Director/Founder, who explains his motivation for presenting the festival, the logistical challenges inherent in such an undertaking, and how the festival fits into Oakland’s cultural mix.

Oakulture: What’s OAKUFF’s mission?

KK: OAKUFF’s mission is to serve fresh independent and unconventional films and film events to one of the smartest and most dynamic audiences in the world. Cinema that speaks to the culture and character of the Oakland, the East Bay and beyond.

OAKUFF"S Kahlil Karn and Cate Freyer

OAKUFF”S Kahlil Karn and Cate Freyer

Oakulture: The festival is now in its sixth year. What were some of the highlights of previous festivals?

KK: Some of the events and films we are most proud of are; our Northern California premiere of “Black Dynamite” to sold out audiences at the Grand Lake and Castro theaters, our outdoor screenings at the Linden Street Brewery, our screenings at NIMBY, and more recently our Northern California premieres of “Bones Brigade” and “The Punk Singer.”

Oakulture: OAKUFF is a labor of love and a grassroots effort. How much do the organizers really have to love these kinds of movies to put the festival on every year?

KK: Members of our all-volunteer staff work at Sundance, Frameline, Mill Valley, Jewish, Latino, and San Francisco International film festivals and have other jobs in media and art as well and they all give hundreds of hours a year to put OAKUFF on because they love Oakland and what it stands for and they love movies and the power of cinema. There is no financial reward but there is massive joy in connecting with your community and helping shine a light on some of the most fabulous aspects of living in the Bay.

Screenshot from "Que Caramba es la Vida"

Screenshot from “Que Caramba es la Vida”

Oakulture: What’s the biggest challenge in presenting the festival every year?

KK: We have not entered any agreements with corporate sponsors and yet we make great efforts to host a festival with relatively high production value and an exceptional audience experience. We are lucky to be sponsored by the East Bay Express for some print advertising, but we rely heavily on grassroots and word of mouth to get the word out about the festivals. If folks don’t show up to enjoy some films together with us, we cannot continue to do what we do.

Oakulture: In terms of this year’s offerings, what are you particularly excited about?

KK: Personally, I am most excited about “Lost Landscapes,” “True Son,” “Out in the Night,” and “Giuseppe Makes a Movie.”

Oakulture: What’s the selection process? If I’m an independent filmmaker, how do I get my film, documentary, or short screened?

KK: OAKUFF takes submissions from January 1 through June 30. Filmmakers are invited to submit on the website under submissions. We are taking all submissions in the form of password protected online screener links next year (a first). Also filmmakers can submit through Film Freeway if they prefer.

Oakulture: Why watch indie films? What do they offer that you can’t get elsewhere?

KK: Cinema is, to quote [author and OAKUFF programmer] Shawn Taylor, the last campfire. And cinema is like bread. It is an essential part of a healthy and full life. It helps us understand ourselves and each other. To remind us of where, who, and what, we have been, are and may become. Cinema is the written word, it is visual arts, it is music sound and light. It is best served fresh and local. And also, there is something sacred about watching movies together as a community.

Oakulture: When OAKUFF started, the only other Oakland-based film festival was David Roach’s Oakland International Film Festival. Now there’s the Matatu Film Festival, the Fist Up Film Festival, Briefs (the collection of erotic shorts), and probably some others I can’t recall. Do you see these other festivals as competition, or are you more like, it’s good to have them around, because it creates more of a dedicated fan base for the types of films you screen?

KK: It is so exciting that the Oakland film culture is widening and deepening. OAKUFF works closely with David Roach and the fantastic Oakland International Film Festival as well as the EBX Scream and Briefs film competitions. We have from the beginning made a point of never adopting a competitive posture towards other festivals for philosophical reasons and because it doesn’t make any sense. The only way Oakland will be recognized as a destination and a home for film culture is if we work together, that simple. Together we are stronger and Oakland wins.

Screenshot from "Lost Landscapes"

Screenshot from “Lost Landscapes”

Oakulture: How soon after the end of one year’s festival do you start thinking about the next one?

KK: Ha! Good question. We are usually exhausted but we try to have a meeting soon after the festival and start discussing for the next year in earnest starting in January.

Oakulture: Where do you see OAKUFF being in four years, which will be the tenth anniversary?

KK: It is my hope that OAKUFF continues to grow and thrive. It is essential that we become an organization with a few all-year part time employees. To be honest, if we cannot make that step in the next few years, I am not sure that our model of simply “doing it for the love of cinema and Oakland” is sustainable. I am hoping we can enter into an agreement with a like-minded organization that will take OAKUFF under its wing and share some resources. OAKUFF has built an organic, bottom-up film festival infrastructure and takes pride in quality presentations. I believe there is a film organization out there that would love to prop up OAKUFF as a vehicle for good, while allowing OAKUFF to do what it does best and continue to represent our communities.