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Documenting the Oakland cultural renaissance


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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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“Clas/sick Hip-Hop”: Female Emcees Show “U.N.I.T.Y” In Landmark Live Performance

Live review/ “Clas/sick Hip-Hop: 1993 Edition,” Nov. 7 & 8, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

The "Clas/Sick" Crew chilling after the show

The “Clas/Sick” Crew chilling after the show

In a two-night run filled with memorable moments, “Clas/sick Hip-Hop: 1993 Edition”’s biggest flashpoint came about halfway through the second night. A remarkable set of canonical hip-hop, played live by the Kev Choice Ensemble, segued from Digable Planets’ “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat),” to the Conscious Daughters’ “Fonky Expedition,” to Queen Latifah’s “U.N.I.T.Y.” 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. The second, performed by Coco Peila and Ryan Nicole, brought back memories of a time when good local rap regularly earned rotation on commercial stations. And the third, which featured a strident, commanding Zakiya Harris, flanked by Aima, Peila, Nicole and vocalist Viveca Hawkins, evoked a sea of epiphanies, none greater than the notion that Harris and Co. had tapped into hip-hop’s elemental womb and stuck a chord of long-overdue gender balance, releasing a flood of amniotic lyrical fluid which coated the audience’s ears with sticky bliss. Hip-hop may be a mostly male-dominated art form, but in keeping with YBCA’s Left Coast ideology, the Bay Area’s female emcees reigned like queens.

Do the ladies run this mother____er?

Do the ladies run this mother____er?

As if to underline the point, Coco Peila followed with a jaw-dropping cover of 2Pac’s “Keep Ya Head Up.” The song—one of the rap icon’s most positive and uplifting—took on an even deeper meaning with a woman rapping its words: And since we all came from a woman/ Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman/ I wonder why we take from our women/ Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?/ I think it’s time to kill for our women/ Time to heal our women, be real to our women/ And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies/ That will hate the ladies, that make the babies/ And since a man can’t make one/ He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one/So will the real men get up/ I know you’re fed up ladies, but you gotta keep your head up.

It Ain't Hard to Tell: Musical Director Kev Choice

It Ain’t Hard to Tell: Musical Director Kev Choice

Hawkins killed it on the hook— an interpolation of the Five Heartbeats’ “Ooh Child”—then, after 1-O.A.K. responded with a dead-on Mayfield-esque falsetto during HNRL’s take on Outkast’s “Player’s Ball,” she returned to tackle SWV’s underrated yet seminal R&B hit “Right Here,” completely nailing the high notes of the hook. As if that wasn’t enough, bandleader Kev Choice crept out from behind his array of keyboards to rap a verse from Nas’ “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” – whose remix sampled the same Michael Jackson “Human Nature” melody as the SWV song. It was that kind of night.

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If social media chatter is to be believed, “Clas/sick Hip-Hop: 1993 Edition” is already being talked about as being legendary. It’s difficult to disagree with that assessment, although the word “epic” might work equally as well. The brainchild of YBCA’s Marc Bamuthi Joseph, the impetus for the production was simple but brilliant: revisit 1993, a particularly great year for hip-hop albums, with not one but two live bands and a gaggle of local emcees – all doing music which came out that year. Into that mix, add an a cappella youth chorus, some of the best local deejays and hip-hop dancers, montages of music videos of the songs performed by artists, and interviews with local culturati explaining the significance of ’93 in a cultural, social, political, and personal sense.

DJ Fuze on the 1 and 2's

DJ Fuze on the 1 and 2’s

Both nights started out with a DJ set – Kevvy Kev on Friday; DJ Fuze on Saturday – which was punctuated by a flash mob consisting of the YGB Gold a cappella singers, who performed a medley of KRS-One’s “Black Cop” and “Sound of Da Police.” The medley underscored the relevance and timelessness of the ‘93 hip-hop canon (though it’s somewhat dubious to note both songs address police misconduct, of which the latest flashpoint is #Ferguson).

Howard Wiley and Geechi Taylor

Howard Wiley and Geechi Taylor

The set list flowed like a mix tape; Calafia Zulu member K-Swift followed with Black Moon’s “How Many Emcees,” a song based around a KRS sample, then jumped into “I Got Cha Opin,” which afforded the musicians the opportunity to wrap their instruments around the Barry White sample which informs the song. Hornsmen Geechi Taylor and Howard Wiley were up to the challenge.

Coco Peila and Ryan Nicole

Coco Peila and Ryan Nicole

Two braggadoccious epochs of masculine bravado, Masta Ace’s “Born to Roll” and Dr. Dre’s “Ain’t Nothing But a G Thing” were sandwiched around Del’s lyrical sucker punch, “Catch a Bad One” (performed by Wonway Posibul of the Latin Soul Brothers). Not that the Del track lacks for boastfulness, but it’s decidedly less commercial and contrived, and built around a sublime Eric Dolphy sample – replayed with aplomb by the KCE, who had the daunting task of having to learn 20 songs in a short period.

Zakiya Harris

Zakiya Harris

The other live band performing was Ensemble Mik Nawooj. The hip-hop/classical fusion outfit performed songs by Wu-Tang and Snoop Dogg, and emcees Do D.A.T. and Sandman were energetic and animated. However, an opera singer notwithstanding, the static nature of their set (and, perhaps, the absence of a bass player) couldn’t compare to the vibrant dynamic laid down by Choice, his band, and their guests at the other stage. By the second night, the differences were painfully apparent; some people walked out during Mik Nawooj’s second set. Which was unfortunate, because they missed the Tribe Called Quest medley which vamped around the bassline from Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay” and brought the show to a groovy simmer, as well as the closing free-for-all freestyle rhyme cipher. Which was ridiculous on both nights.

Conscious curation: Marc Bamuthi Joseph

Conscious curation: Marc Bamuthi Joseph

The female emcees brought the spark which ignited the show’s flame. But credit must be given to Choice as a musical director for the way things turned out. The KCE flipped samples inside-out, returning breakbeats to their jazzy essence and reminding folks that the ‘93 flavor was as musical as it was lyrical. Choice himself spent most of the night behind the keyboards, paying tribute to the Bay Area’s contribution to the year by rapping on Saafir’s “Light Sleeper” and Souls of Mischief’s “93 til Infinity.” There were other subtle nods to the Bay, like the melodies from Mac Mall’s “Sick Wit Tis” and Too $hort’s “Getting It” the band played during the freestyle cipher.

A young hip-hop dancer at YBCA

A young hip-hop dancer at YBCA

The night was billed as one which gave long overdue props to the poets of one of the most remarkable years in hip-hop’s Golden Era. But it ended up being much more than that. True, ’93 was a year when hip-hop’s creative expression was at its peak and the music industry hadn’t yet figured out what parts of the culture it wanted to emphasize and what parts it wanted to suppress. Yet in retrospect, the beats emcees rapped on back then were at least as much a part of the era’s greatness as the rhymes. We’ll never see those days again, not just because rap has changed, but also because the sampling aesthetic no longer plays such a central part in hip-hop.

Trackademics in the cipher

Trackademics in the cipher

“Clas/sick Hip-Hop: 1993 Edition” reveled in nostalgia for a bygone era, but that’s not all it did. It brought an appreciation of hip-hop culture to an institutional space without killing the jazzy, funky, lyrical vibe of that culture. And it did so through live instrumentation, in effect going above and beyond how the music was presented at the time of its emergence. By raising the musical bar, the production ushered in another refutation of space and time, to paraphrase Digable Planets, which shone a bright spotlight on the current generation of Bay Area hip-hop artists (most of whom hailed from Oakland). But the brightest lights blazed on the local female emcee contingent. So often an afterthought on hip-hop bills, or consigned to a segregated performance space, in “Clas/sick Hip-Hop’s” re-envisioning of ‘93’s cultural legacy, the women of hip-hop not only played a central role, but manifested a sisterhood of solidarity while showing that they indeed had the props.