Documenting the Oakland cultural renaissance

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Matatu 2015 Packs A Year’s Worth of Culture Into a Week

Still from "Asni"

Still from “Asni”

Ever wonder what youth in Richmond, CA and youth in Johannesburg, South Africa have in common, as well as what separates them? Or what Ethiopian Afro-futurist sci-fi looks like? How about a Senegalese political uprising which received scant media coverage in the US? What about an underground NY hip-hop radio show which became a cultural institution?

These questions and more will be answered by the 2015 Matatu Festival of Stories, the third installment in founder and director Michael Orange’s mission to bring easily-overlooked independent films and documentaries, many of them addressing Afrocentric themes or relating to black culture. This time out, the Matatu—an East African Swahili slang word meaning passenger taxi or minibus, similar to the jeepneys of the Philippines—makes its rounds through the Diaspora, touching the West and East Coast of America, the Netherlands and its former colony Suriname, as well as East, West, and Southern Africa. The ride is rife with adventure and rich in cultural capital, and this year, the festival’s cinematic selections are enhanced by live performances, meet-ups, special guest performers, and a Matatu-inspired art show.

The Opening Night selection, “Necktie Youth,” examines a fast-emerging post-apartheid South Africa, as seen through the eyes of wealthy, suburban, Jo’Burg youth who struggle to find themselves within a newly-open society which still grapples with issues of race and class. “Necktie Youth” is a coming-of-age story which sometimes plays like the African version of “Kids” – there are graphic descriptions of sex and of drug and alcohol consumption. Viewing contemporary Johannesburg through the lens of privileged yet haunted young adults, the film has a semi-documentary feel—nearly all of it is shot in black and white. It is in some ways a perfect bookend to “Dear Mandela,” a 2013 Matatu selection, which examined the bittersweet legacy of Nelson Mandela through the eyes of the poor and politically-unfortunate.

Still from "Necktie Youth"

Still from “Necktie Youth”

But this is a South Africa we haven’t seen before. In “Necktie Youth,” there are no overt politics at play, and interracialism has become a natural course of events, yet the grip of the past hasn’t completely loosened. Promiscuous white women from Pretoria fetishize their black lovers while drawing boundaries between their lustful trysts and their conservative Afrikaaner parents. It’s interesting to see African youth adopt black American slang to their own, and observe their mannerisms, which speaks to the universality of youth culture as well as its regional variations.

“Romeo is Bleeding” also focuses on youth, in this case the young black people of Richmond, CA, who struggle with their own issues—a multi-generational turf war from which there seems to be no escape, the inevitable reality of violence which has become recidivist, and their abandonment by an older generation who fell prey to incarceration and/or substance abuse. The documentary ‘s narrative arc tells the story of Donte Clark, a product of Richmond’s streets whose family members are feared soldiers in the conflict between North and Central Richmond. Clark turns to spoken word poetry as a way of expressing emotions threatened with permanent numbing by losing friends to jail or bullets. He becomes a teacher and mentor to young adults, even though he’s not much older himself in calendar years. When a white friend starts a theater company, they decide to adapt Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” into a Richmond-centered tale, with the town’s two warring factions substituting for the Capulets and the Montagues.

The movie reveals the oft-held belief that the black community is unconcerned with stopping intra-hood violence to be a glaring misconception. Clark’s commitment to being a positive, shining example in the face of adversity is tested by the cyclic nature of violence itself; still he pushes forward, on a mission to prove that “love in Richmond is possible.”

Speaking of love, it’s the central theme of “Crumbs,” a wonderfully-realized story set in a post-apocalyptic future which employs elements of magical realism, like Octavia Butler and Guillermo Del Toro’s progeny. A scavenging dwarf, his love interest, Santa Claus, a shifty pawn shop owner, plastic children’s toys and Michael Jackson album covers highly valued as mystical artifacts, second-generation Nazis, and a mysterious UFO populate this madcap tale, shot in Ethiopia. The film has much to say, even if some of it is cryptic. Like most heroes, the dwarf takes a journey. But instead of achieving the stated goal of his quest, in the end, he finds something far more precious was in his possession all along. A surreal comedy, “Crumbs” is ultimately an affirmation of human compassion and emotion which posits that the future is only as bleak as we allow it to be.

Meanwhile in Senegal, reverberations from the Egyptian uprising which saw the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak echo throughout “Incorruptible,” a documentary tracing the 2012 election which toppled the government of Abdoulaye Wade. The conditions are similar; Wade’s administration, once revered by the Senegalese people, has become a hotbed of corruption and nepotism, falling out of touch with the demands of the long-suffering underclass for better living conditions. After Wade changes the constitution to run for a third term, a protest movement begins to gather steam. Efforts by the government to quell the insurgency using tear gas and even live bullets backfire as the Senegalese take to the streets to demand regime change. Even as mosques are targeted and tanks brought in, the opposition insists it is not seeking violent confrontation with the government, but a democratic election process. After a field of candidates, including singer Youssou N’Dour, whittles down to a run-off between Wade and challenger Malky Sall, state-backed militias engage in political violence as the government tries to tighten its grip on power – “the truth is under attack,” N’Dour says. A Wade speech where he insists the dissent is unimportant is effectively contrasted by footage of protesters throwing rocks at a billboard of the President. Y’en a Marre, a youth activism group which uses rap music as a consciousness-raising tool, helps propel Sall to victory, but warns him that their loyalty is to Senegal, not to any one politician.

Still from "Marga Weinans"

Still from “Marga Weinans”

“Incorruptible” offers an eye-opening view into an African Muslim population which is more interested in dialogue than terrorism – a revelation to an American mindset inundated with Islamophobic propaganda. It effectively captures a historical moment in time which may be seen as a turning point for African democracy. A sense of urgency is conveyed through handheld footage of protesters being tear-gassed; there are many poignant looks at of the faces of the Senegalese people, while a beautiful score by Akon (who also executive-produced the film) and Mark Batson captures the emotion, idealism and dignity of a revolutionary movement all but unknown to the West.

Other highlights of the festival include “Stretch and Bobbito,” a documentary about the long-running hip-hop radio show notable for breaking major hip-hop artists like Nas, Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Eminem, and Wu-Tang Clan; “Fashion House: Marga Weimans,” a black designer who makes waves in both the Netherlands and Suriname; “Asni: Courage, Passion and Glamor in Ethiopia,” a documentary about Asnaketch Worku, a trailblazing female vocalist who became an East African pop culture icon; and “Red Leaves,” an Ethiopian/Israeli film which addresses immigration and cultural assimilation and retention, as seen through the eyes of a 74-year old falasha, Meseganio Tadela.

As if a whole program of inspired films wasn’t enough, the Matatu concept also manifests through an equally-rich schedule of festival-related events to engage your brain, your mouth, and your body. These include a dinner at Miss Ollie’s featuring a book reading by Saul Williams, artist talks with Mahader Tesfai and Donte Clark,  and jazz records spun by chef Bryant Terry; a happy hour hosted by Souls of Society, followed by performances by Williams and avant-garde outfit Black Spirituals; an evening of experimental music with Shafiq Husayn and Mark de Clive-Lowe; an excursion into “four-part communication” with Afro-jazz group Democratics; kora music by Zéna ft. Amaranth String Quartet;  a live set by emerging Eritrean-American artist Eden Hagos; and a dance performance by Alonzo King Lines Ballet.

Shafiq Husayn

Shafiq Husayn

Not only is this the most action-packed Matatu to date, but the level of programming is beyond ambitious, and borders on the insane: a full week’s worth of visceral, intellectual and visual stimuli which may test your stamina. It’s almost as if Orange and festival producer Maria Judice tried to make up for the relative lack of access to Afro-futuristic culture the other 51 weeks of the year, by overstuffing the Matatu to an extreme capacity. Fasten your seat belts, Oakland, and enjoy the ride.

The Matatu Festival runs September 22-26 at various locations, including Miss Ollie’s, Flight Deck, and Starline Social Club.

A complete list of Matatu 2015 films is here

A complete guide to Matatu events is here

For more information about Matatu, visit here


12 More Days of Black History Month! Fall in Love with Black Beauty

So far, 2015’s Black History Month has been an amazing whirlwind of cultural goodness, especially here in the Bay Area — proving the point that Black Art Matters. Here at Oakulture, we thought you might appreciate a handy-dandy guide to the remaining BHM events this month, which include some incredible visual art representations, art workshops, kid-friendly events, musical appreciation nights, tributes to Black Power and Civil Rights martyrs, global reggae, movement-inspired jazz, spoken word, discussions of black love, reflections on Africa, dance exhibitions and classes, second-line parades, drum lessons, food/wine, and much more!!!


Black Artists on Art Legacy Exhibit celebrates the 46th anniversary of Black Artists on Art Volume 1 and commences a series of activities that will surround the new books in their development phases, Through 3/28, Free Admission, Oakstop, 1721 Broadway, Oakland.

"Heirloom" art by Bryan Keith Thomas

“Heirloom” art by Bryan Keith Thomas

Joyce Gordon Gallery presents “Heirloom” by Bryan Keith Thomas. “Heirloom” is the celebration of the Black experience through its historic symbols; cotton, roses and the African and African American image. Through 2/28. Free Admission. Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 Fourteenth St, Oakland.

Jeff Blankfort’s ‘Fight the Power!’ photography exhibition. ‘FIGHT THE POWER‘: Exploring similarities in the lived and photographed expressions of Black American and Palestinian resistance movements against ethnic persecution. Through 2/28. Free admission. African American Arts & Culture Complex (AAACC), 762 Fulton Street, SF.

Ryan Nicole Austin stars in "Xtigone"

Ryan Nicole Austin stars in “Xtigone”

African-American Shakespeare Company presents Xtigone with Ryan NicoleEmerging Chicago playwright Nambi E. Kelley’s contemporary urban adaptation of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone is an impassioned response to the recent untimely deaths of children in her native city as a result of gang violence, which has risen sharply in the past several years. Through 3/8, $15-34, Buriel Clay Theatre, African-American Art & Culture Complex, 762 Fulton Street, SF.

Motown on Mondays (MOM). This popular weekly dance party plays one thing: music from Motown, the groundbreaking Detroit label which gave us Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder. Of course, that also includes cover versions and rare gems. With resident DJ Platurn and special guest DJs. Monday evenings, 9pm-2am, Free admission, Legionnaire Saloon, 2272 Telegraph Ave, Oakland.

"Palestine Solidarity," by Deadeyes

“Palestine Solidarity,” by Deadeyes

“Mindful Visions”Seven black male visual artists offering positivity as a way from ambiguous obstacles during life’s stage. Featuring Deadeyes, Jarvis Corner, Jimi Evins, Raymond L. Haywood, Raymond Holbert, Bryan Keith Thomas, and TheArthur Wright. CD release party 2/17 for Sound Oasis: Composer Darryl Pulley, Keys Dave Moltzen, Bass Gearon Crockett. Suggested Donation $5/adult. Through 3/3, Public Viewing Hours Mon-Fri 12:30-4:30. Contact (510) 208-5651 or receptionist@prescottjoseph.org. Prescott-Joseph Center for Community Advancement, 920 Peralta St, Oakland.

Oakland is Hellzapoppin #4 Lindy Hop Intensive with legendary Norma Miller and other special guests. Ms. Miller is again inspired to share with the black community the rich legacy of dances from the Harlem Renaissance through dance workshops, films and history talks. All levels welcome. Feb 15-25, Eastside Arts Alliance, 2277 International Blvd, Oakland. Buy Tickets.

The Arts Council of San Leandro presents “The Mind’s Eye” a group photography exhibit by Oakland Renaissance Photographers Collective. The show features the work of Kamau Amen-Ra, Edward Miller, Tasin Sabir, Tumani Onbiyi, Jim Dennis, Malaika H. Kambon and Asual Kwahuumba and is a continuation of a series of exhibits that document the life experience of people from Africa to the Americas and beyond. Free Admission. A reception with the artists will be held on Feb 22nd 12-3pm, San Leandro Main Library Auditorium, 300 Estudillo Avenue, San Leandro. Exhibit extends thru Mar 31st. Contact Missy Brooks (510) 567-2621.



MJ's Brass Boppers

MJ’s Brass Boppers

Feb 17th
MARDI GRAS DAY PARADE will start at 5:30 pm at Awaken Cafe (1429 Broadway) and proceed towards The New Parish (579 18th St) including the following groups: East Bay Brass Band, MJ’s Brass Boppers, BatalaBlue Bone Express, Dimensions Dance TheaterSambaFunk! Carnaval Explosion, and more. Family-friendly event.

Fat Tuesday with Katdelic, MJ’s Brass Boppers, East Bay Brass Band & DJ ManCub. 9pm, $10-15. New Parish, 579 18th St, Oakland.

Feb 19th
Afia Walking Tree
 & Drum Mobile Kick-off FunDRUM Raising Party provide the snacks, drinks, irie ambiance, and great experience. You bring your phone, laptop or ipad and come network, sing, and dance! The DRUM MOBILE will provide self-sufficiency skills for people (including peoples of African descent with limited resources) to feed themselves through learning hands-on permaculture practices and bringing the experience of music (drum, dance, songs of the African Diaspora) to children who would otherwise not have access. Free Admission, 5-9pm, Urban Drum Ranch, 320 Oakland Ave., Oakland.

The Nile Projectmore than a dozen instrumentalists and vocalists from Sudan, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Uganda have collaborated to use the power of music to raise awareness of the cultural and environmental challenges along the world’s longest river. The result is a new sound of a shared Nile identity, resulting in the album Aswan, and a world tour which comes to Berkeley in time for BHM. $18-$36, 7:30pm, Zellerbach Hall (UC Berkeley campus).

The Nile Project After-Party: Balkan & Beyond Presents: A Benefit for the Nile Project. Join the Nile Project in a post-Zellerbach homecoming night of celebration with East African music and DJ Zeljko. Proceeds will benefit the Nile Project’s university programs in Africa. Bissap Baobob Oakland, 381 15th St.



Sonido Baylando y Kulcha Latino present ALIKA & NUEVA ALIANZA with Andrés DJ-Stepwise, Deuce Eclipse, DJ EL Kool Kyle, Orlando Torriente, Ras Rican, Erick Santero y mas, Pre-sale $10, 8pm-2am, Berkeley Underground, 2284 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley.

Mau-Mau Tech: The Making of a Black University at Oakland’s Merritt College. On March 15, 1971, Black students took over the administration building at Oakland’s Merritt College to protest the relocation of the campus from the city’s flatlands to the hills. This presentation by journalist and scholar Rasheed Shabazz will cover Oakland history and education politics in the 1950s and 1960s, leading up to the relocation of Merritt College, but will primarily focus on the vision for what might have been called, “Huey P. Newton College.” Free admission, 8pm, Quilombo, 2313 San Pablo Ave.

Feb 20th
“Speeches of A Dream: Black History Month Celebration”: A Night of Poetry, Art, and Music celebrating Black History Month. Open Mic welcomed, Free Admission, RSVP Required. 6-8pm, Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts1428 Alice St, Oakland.

50th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, 1-10pm, Lighthouse Mosque, 620 42nd St., Oakland

Brass Magic,  Zakiya Harris, the Jurassic: Zakiya Harris’ future soul is not to be missed! $7-$10, 8pm, Awaken Cafe, 1429 Broadway, Oakland.

Zakiya Harris

Zakiya Harris

February 21-22nd 
The Art of Living Black (TAOLB) Open Studios 2015 is the Bay Area’s longest running annual African American exhibition of its kind showcasing a wide range of visual media. Artists include Tai BelizeAjuan ManceKaren Oyekanmi, Atiba Sylvia Thomas, Howard Mackey, Valerie Brown Troutt, Lyn Rockwell, and AJ. 11am-5pm, Mills College Student Union, 5000 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland.

February 21-22nd
The 11th Annual Black Choreographers Festival:
Here & Now celebrates the legacy of African & African American dance, art and culture with performances, master classes and special events. Weekend 1 features Byb Chanel Bibene, Antoine Hunter in collaboration with Ellen Sebastian Chang, Brontez Purnell (Sat only), Carmen Roman, Phylicia Stroud, Nafi Watson, Kharyshi Wiginton & Jene Levine-Snipes (Sun only), Jamie Wright (Sun only) 7:30pm. Tix $10-20. Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St, SF.



Feb 21st
Learn to Jook with Ladia Yates
. She is a youtube sensation, has danced with Missy Elliott and was most recently featured in Janelle Monae’s music video “Tightrope.” Currently she is dancing with Usher. 12-1:30pm, $15 Advance TixMargaret Jenkins Dance Lab, 301 8th St, San Francisco.

Turf Inc. dancers at Art & Soul Festival

Turf Inc. dancers at Art & Soul Festival

Feb 21st
TURFinc 14 x The LAB present TURFIN AGAINST THE WORLD Part II All Styles Dance Battle. A 2 on 2 All Style Tournament hosted by Phat Boi & Johnny 5. Special Performances by Oakland Boogaloo Conservatory (OBC) BRYCE – OGMIKE -DOC with special guests YAK Films. All Ages, Family Friendly, Cover $15. 1-8pm, THE LAB, 2948 16th Street, SF. 

Amir Sulaiman

Amir Sulaiman 

Feb 22nd
Amir Sulaiman I & I Poetry Workshop Spend a day with Amir Sulaiman, Visiting Harvard Fellow, Def Poet, author & performer explores how identity and perception impact the creative process. This workshop is not just for writers and artists, but for everyone interested in exploring the spirituality of creativity. Advance Tix. 10am-4pm, Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California,1433 Madison Street, Oakland.

Honoring El Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X), 1-4pm, Oakland Islamic Community Center, 7901 Oakport St., Ste. 4400, Oakland.

Feb 25th 
Opening Night of sfnoir Wine & Food Festival: Shrimp, Grits & Greens. Celebrate Black cuisine, culture, and contributions to the arts. The region’s best in Black Cuisine showcases time-honored dishes with fresh adaptations from within the Diaspora. $30-50. 7-10pm, Impact Hub Oakland, 2323 Broadway.

Afro-vegan chef Bryant Terry

Afro-vegan chef Bryant Terry

Feb 26th 
In Defense of Food: A Spoken Word Affair. Hosted by Bryant Terry – Chef, Educator, Author and Food Justice Activist. The spoken word artists this evening all speak about food in very different ways: its power to create and help define culture, how certain life experiences are shaped around the act of coming together to break bread, or the injustices found in people’s access to healthy and nutritious foods. Advance Tix $15. 7-10pm, Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission St, SF.

Feb 27th
MoAD After Dark in Conversation presents Collaborating Across the Aisles: Continuing the Civil Rights Movement with #BlackLivesMatter featuring keynote speaker Dr. Clarence Jones, Dr. King’s speechwriter, advisor & attorney. Panel and discussion with Dr. Joe Marshall, Dr. Mary J. Wardell-Ghirarduzzi, Ms. Neva Walker, and Mr. Jarvis Givens. 6-9pm, Tix $10-75Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission St, SF.

Feb 27-28th
Yemanja Festival 2015
celebrates the spirit of Yemanja, the African deity that honors the essential, beautiful and sometimes dangerous nature of water. Inspired by the original Yemanja Festival celebrated in Bahia, Brazil the Yemanja Arts Festival brings together celebrated artists and dancers as interpreters of art forms from the African diaspora (Brazil, the Caribbean, and the United States) that pay homage to Yemanja through their respective folkloric and spiritual traditions. Featuring Conceisao Damasceno, Kimberly Miguel Mullen, Tania Santiago, Danda da Hora, Ramon Ramos Alayo, Renni Flores, Wagner Santos, Mestre Beicola, Curumins & Borboletas Dance Group. 8pm. Saturday after-party 10pm. Tix $10-22Casa De Cultura, 1901 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley. 

YGB Gold

YGB Gold

Feb 28th
Black Voices in Love: Africa ft. Marc Bamuthi Jospeh, Antique, YGB Gold, Dayo Milon and Keba Konte. Panel discussion featuring slides from recent journeys to Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, and Ethiopia, African dance and drumming, and Ethiopian coffee ceremony. 6pm. Tix $12Malonga Casquelord Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice St, Oakland.

Concha Buika On her latest and most diverse album, La Noche Más Larga, the Spanish-bred singer of African descent continues to break down the walls that surround flamenco, the root source of everything she does, but a tradition that can’t contain her ever-evolving vision. 8pm. $35-100, 8pm, Nourse Theatre, CIIS, 275 Hayes St, SF.

Black History Month Celebration with Terrence Brewer. The American improvised musical art form called jazz doesn’t exist without the roots of the African-American experience and, particularly, without gospel music. Terrence Brewer will explore gospel compositions through the eyes of a modern jazz improviser and share his own stories of growing up playing in the church and how he was inspired by sacred music and the large role gospel music played in his development. Featuring Terrence Brewer on guitar, Kevin Wong on piano and organ, Dan Parenti on acoustic and electric bass and Deszon Claiborne on drums. Tix $15California Jazz Conservatory,
2087 Addison St, Berkeley.

Feb 28-Mar 1st
The 11th Annual Black Choreographers Festival: Here & Now  celebrating the legacy of African & African American dance, art and culture with performances, master classes and special events. Weekend 2 features Christal BrownGregory Dawson, Mauya Kerr, Robert Moses, Reginald Ray Savage, and Raissa Simpson. 7:30pm. Post-performance Q & A  on Mar 1. Cake & Chat following every BCF performance. Tix $10-20. Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St, SF.



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2014: The Year in Oakulture

Town Representer: Kev Choice

Town Representer: Kev Choice

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

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

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

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

The Shadowbox opens

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

Boots Riley holds up a copy of his screenplay

Boots Riley holds up a copy of his screenplay

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

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

Sheila E. at the Elevate Oakland fund-raise

Sheila E. at the Elevate Oakland fund-raiser

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

Jennifer Johns performs live at Oakstop

Jennifer Johns performs live at Oakstop

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

Author and chef Bryant Terry at Impact Hub

Author and chef Bryant Terry at Impact Hub

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

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

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

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

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

"Stop telling Women to Smile" at Betti Ono

“Stop Telling Women to Smile” at Betti Ono

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

Crow twists like a pretzel at Art & Soul.

Crow twists like a pretzel at Art & Soul.

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

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

Dream tribute

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

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

Umoja Festival

Umoja Festival

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

Funkquarians at the Oakland Undie Awards

Funkquarians at the Oakland Indie Awards

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

Hiero Day: 20,000+ strong — and growing

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

ESAA mural in the San Antonio district

ESAA mural in the San Antonio district

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

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

Fantastic Negrito at Town futurist Sessions

Fantastic Negrito at Town Futurist Sessions

Melissa Cruz at Birdland's Oakland Flamenco Sessions

Melissa Cruz at Birdland’s Oakland Flamenco Sessions

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

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

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

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

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

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

Kufu paints for #Ferguson

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

Author Jeff Chang at SoleSpace Gallery

Author Jeff Chang at SoleSpace Gallery

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

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

Palestine Solidarity mural by Spie TDK

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




Oakulture NYE Picks 2015

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

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

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

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


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

Blackball Universe “YouTag” New Years Party 


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

Top Ten Social’s OAK NYE 2015


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

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

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

Con Funk Shun NYE Throwdown


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

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


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

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

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