Oakulture

Documenting the Oakland cultural renaissance


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Women Runnin It: Interview with Lalin St. Juste

Lalin St. Juste can sing. In a way that your ears cannot fail to hear. A young Haitian-American woman, Lalin fronts The Seshen, an electronic/soul band whose sound emphasizes emotional resonance. After rising to the top of the Bay Area music scene, they were recently signed to Tru Thoughts, a record label out of England, and are earning a national and international following. This September, they launch “Love, Oakland,” a month-long Tuesday residency at Leo’s Music Club which also spotlights some extremely talented local artists. According to St. Juste, “Love, Oakland” is about celebrating “a place, a community, and an artistry which is hard to ignore.”

I first heard Lalin sing when she was with Rara Tou Limen, a powerful Haitian dance company and culture keepers here in Oakland. She was part of the small choir of Haitian singers who would change the chemistry in the room everytime they’d sing the souful, deep music for performances, classes, and rituals. She has also played with an indie rock band, St Tropez. Now with The Seshen, Lalin has performed with acts such as Macy Gray, Les Nubians, Thundercats, Hiatus Kaiyote, and Tune-Yards. She also did the vocals on Karen Seneferu’s potent and searing video “From Fruitvale to Florida: Strange Fruit No More.” In addition to her own songwriting and singing, Lalin tells us that she is launching a therapeutic songwriting group for young girls. In this interview, Lalin is forthright and open about the power of music in her life and what moves her.

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Lalin St. Juste

Oakulture: What is the concept behind your upcoming September residency at Leo’s named “Love, Oakland”?

Lalin: Love, Oakland is about celebrating a place, a community, and an artistry that is hard to ignore. Oakland is powerful and I found my voice in it. I played at BART stations and started a couple bands until The Seshen was formed with my partner Aki and close friends. Being an artist is a vulnerable existence and the love Oakland has shown to The Seshen is, to me, what dreams are made of. So, in turn, we are reflecting this love back by curating a show every Tuesday that features artists who are passionate and who have big, beautiful hearts.

Each night, you step into a different world with heavyweights like Kev Choice, Naima Shalhoub, Lila Rose, a new band called Meernaa. Beyond the music, we’re also offering chances to win gift cards and gear from a few different Oakland spots such as Kingston 11, OwlNWood, Oaklandish and a gym called Four Elements Fitness as a way to highlight and support local businesses.

Oakulture: I used to hear you sing with Rara Tou Limen, and every time, your singing would crack the sky open. Can you speak about the influence of Haitian music on you?  

Lalin: Rara Tou Limen has been a blessing in my life. The influence of traditional Haitian music is basically like a missing puzzle piece. It fulfills a hunger that had existed within me. It creates a reckoning with what I’ve known but have forgotten and with what I love but have been distanced from. It has challenged me, it has brought me to tears, it has moved me to heights previously unknown. Haiti and Haitian culture is special . . . and in Oakland with Portsha Jefferson and Daniel Brevil and the company of Rara Tou Limen, I finally delved into it in ways I hadn’t before.

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Oakulture: Many of your songs and the projects you have supported over the years address pain, loss and human suffering. What role does spirituality play in your music?

Lalin: A few years ago I realized that my first time singing was in tribute to my maternal grandmother, Vertulie Dame Valbrun, who had just passed away. I had been devastated by her death. I was five and had spent most of my days with her. But what I hadn’t realized up until recently, was that she had given me my voice. I was a quiet child, but I have always loved to sing. The spirituality in my music is related to my connection with my ancestors, with the earth, with what is beyond me. I feel it all when I sing. I feel the sense that there is a force that lifts me up.

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Oakulture: Who are your role models? Who do you admire artistically and why?

Lalin: I admire artists who are unafraid to be vulnerable and authentic. Erykah Badu is a huge example of this. I can feel her heart as she sings. Bjork is another role model for her infinite expansiveness.

Oakulture: Do you have any Oakland heroines?

Lalin: There are so many powerful women that I could name but just a couple would be Karen Seneferu because her art and mere presence rocks my world. And I get chills just thinking about Zakiya Harris . . . she’s quite a changemaker who can really rock the stage. There are countless others.


“From Fruitvale to Florida: Strange Fruit No More” by Karen Seneferu Productions. Music by Lalin St. Juste and The Seshen

 

Oakulture: As a songwriter and frontwoman, what leads your artistic process?

Lalin: I’m compelled by the world around me. I’m fascinated by how we view each other, by our various stories and identities.  I’m moved by injustice but also by our beauty.  It all pushes me to write and sing. My artistry has also paved the way for me to be my truer self, to speak when for so long I never thought I could be heard. It’s continuously healing.

Oakulture: When can we expect a full-length album from The Seshen? Do you have any upcoming side projects?

Lalin: We’re planning to release our next album in 2016!  In the meantime we’ve got a remix ep out now on Tru Thoughts.  I’m also inching myself towards performing solo again, which you may get a sneak peek at during our residency!  So look out for me and my guitar.


The Seshen Residency: “Love, Oakland”

Tuesdays in September
9/8 with Kev Choice
9/15 with Naima Shalhoub
9/22 with Meernaa and Naytronix

9/29 with Lila Rose
Doors 8pm, Show 9pm, Adv Tix $8
Leo’s Music Club, 5447 Telegraph, Oakland


Connect with The Seshen:

Website
Facebook

Twitter
Soundcloud


Get to know the women previously highlighted in the series, including Candi Martinez, Chaney Turner, Nina Menendez, Gina Madrid aka Raw-G, DJ ZitaSoulovely crew Lady Ryan, Aima the Dreamer and DJ Emancipacion, Ramona Webb, Naima Shalhoub, Joanne Ludwig, Tracie Collins and Effie Tesfahun.

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Women Runnin It: Interview with Sarah Sexton

“Women Runnin It” features women in dynamic positions of cultural leadership in Oakland. Our first focus in this series brought 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?

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This installment of the “Women Runnin It” series features Sarah Sexton, owner and creative director of Oaktown Indie Mayhem Productions. Ambitious and hard-working, Sarah has forged a noticeable steam train as a promoter in the last five years. She produces concerts and events, co-founded the Mayhem Fest along with Awaken Cafe’s Courtt Dunlap (an online song and video contest exclusively for Oakland-based bands), and most recently held down a monthly residency at Leo’s and co-founded a new record label out of Oakland, OIM Records. Currently the booker for both Awaken Cafe and Legionnaire, the eclectic diversity of Sexton’s programming displays a commitment to community strength, engagement, and capacity-building.

A Texan-born Southerner, Sarah grew up in Alabama and Florida and spent time in Seattle before eventually moving to the Bay in 2005. She has been producing events here since 2009. She says her drive to share the resiliency of the cultural arts of Oakland was a motivating factor in her work. “Art, music, & nature are the only things that could ever express both the beauties & the atrocities I felt on the inside about life,” she explains. “[It’s] like a secret moment between the artist & myself. Some things are too hard to voice without a vessel, but art can be that vessel. That is why I created Oaktown Indie Mayhem.”

Her newly established OIM Records, focusing on the indie rock scene in the Bay Area, is a collaboration with producer and engineer Jeff Saltzman and Angelica Tavella, the founder of Oakland Drops Beats. Their debut release, set to be released June 23rd, is a compilation album featuring tracks from thirteen Bay Area bands; the first video release “Frayed” has already received positive reviews for its use of dance and 40,000 still photographs. A special limited edition run of vinyl will be pressed and free cassette tapes are offered at OIM’s June residency tonight at Leo’s with Lila Rose.

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Sarah Sexton

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

Sarah Sexton: The collaboration factor seems pretty amazing to me right now. There seems to be this overwhelming feeling of musical camaraderie, rather than competition, that seems to be boiling over in this ever glorious puddle of creativity. Artists here genuinely seem excited and inspired by other musicians. I think thats pretty exciting.

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

Sarah Sexton: If you mean, my own creative craft, it’s been an interesting path. I have found that although my passion growing up was painting, writing, and performing. I hit a wall several years ago and got a kind of artist’s block. I had started booking and promoting music and for a while blamed my work for sucking the energy out of my art . . . but in time I realized that the way that I express myself artistically has always changed throughout the years. I hadn’t lost my passion, my medium had just changed. I’m currently learning piano and it’s the perfect accompaniment to my career. It can totally mellow me out after a long day of deadlines and emails and scheduling, which I’m really grateful for.

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

Sarah Sexton: It definitely has always been important to me to be conscious in my booking so that i offer a wide array of artists opportunity to express themselves. However, it’s not something that is always easy. It takes breaking out of comfort zones to approach new communities, and taking risks on bands that you don’t necessarily have personal connections to or the inside scoop on. There’s also the whole factor of stepping on toes…I don’t believe I can cover everything on my own . . . it’s not possible. So I might be really strong at promoting/booking indie rock and world music lineups, but that doesn’t mean I know the local hip hop or electronic communities. And if I did, what a boring world it would be if Sarah Sexton thought she had enough taste to book everything. So I prefer to try my hand at an array of styles, but also invite others in to curate their own shows, highlight their communities, and make the venues i work with feel like their home for a night too! I believe diversity is what keeps art forever evolving and blossoming in new incarnations, and hope to support that.

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

Sarah Sexton: It’s all out of love. Love for the music and how it makes me feel inside. Love for the community that deserves a platform for expression. Love for the venues that understand the impact art & creativity has on people and how desperately we need it to heal. There are a lot of other careers that would guarantee a lot more security, but I follow my heart, and my heart says Oakland.

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

Sarah Sexton: This may sound kinda cheesy, but i’m really enamored by Bill Graham. How people associate him today in some ways is neither here nor there for me, anytime someone gets big enough there is bound to be the ups + downs of their contributions to society I suppose. But it’s what he helped to build that blows my mind every time i think on it. As a young kid separated from his family in Europe, and coming to America post-Holocaust, he managed to grow up to play a pivotal role in a movement that drastically changed the entire world of rock n roll. That’s pretty epic in my opinion.

May 28 2015 053Oakulture: Oakland heroines?

Sarah Sexton: I have a few Oakland femme fatales that keep me ever striving upward and forward in the hopes of bringing their level of ferocity and classiness to the game. Women like Jennifer Johns, Antique (Naked Soul), and Zakiya Harris all have inspired me endlessly in their undying commitment to both their music and their community. Strong minds, hearts, and drive show that you can reach great heights if you allow yourself to be the glorious you.

Oakulture: Words to live by?

Sarah Sexton: There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; my philosophy is kindness. -The Dalai Lama

‘Frayed’ by Waterstrider from OIM Records on Vimeo.

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OIM Records Residency at Leo’s TONIGHT!
June 4th
Lila Rose, Emily Afton, Yassou Benedict, + El Elle
$12 DOS / $8 ADV

Doors 8pm, Show 9pm 18+

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Oaktown Indie Mayhem Productions
Facebook
Twitter @HellaOIM

Instagram

Get to know the women previously highlighted in the series, including Candi Martinez, Chaney Turner, Nina Menendez, Gina Madrid aka Raw-G, DJ Zitathe Soulovely crew Lady Ryan, Aima the Dreamer and DJ EMancipacion and Ramona Webb.

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


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

The Lower Bottom Playaz Present “Jitney”

Jitney

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

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

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

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


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

The African Film Festival National Traveling Series

AFF_BAMPFA_Soko_Sonko

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

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

Martin Luther McCoy

martin_luther_photo

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Pharoah Sanders

pharoah_sanders_SFJAZZ_010815

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

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

BLACK<3MATTERS: Opening Reception & Artist Talk

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

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

Jennifer Johns, Aisha Fukushima, Coco Peila & RyanNicole

OIM_jenn_johns_010915

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

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

“Made in Oakland” Inaugural Fest

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

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

Mark Curry

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

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

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

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


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Leo’s and Birdland Expand Oakland’s Live Music Scene Past Uptown

It’s perhaps no surprise that ground zero for Oakland’s much-ballyhooed cultural renaissance has been the Uptown area, a region centered around the Fox Theater. After all, the city poured in upwards of $90 million to renovate the art deco auditorium, so it makes sense that much of the emerging nightlife, not to mention the monthly First Friday street festival, has been within a half-mile-to-one-mile radius of the Fox.

Zigaboo Modelliste plays with the New Ahkestra at Leo's

Zigaboo Modeliste plays with the New Aahkesstra at Leo’s

But for Oakland to truly be an arts city and cultural destination, it’s in everyone’s best interest to cultivate other sectors of the Town. That’s why it’s gratifying for longtime Oakland arts enthusiasts to see the beginnings of arts districts in areas other than Uptown, and the development of new venues for music and arts. Two recent additions to the nightlife scene in Temescal and nearby North Oakland have done just that: Leo’s Music Club and Birdland Jazzista Social Club.

Legendary Drummer Zigaboo Modeliste

Legendary drummer Zigaboo Modeliste

Leo’s takes its name from the former pro audio shop located there, which was the place to buy musical equipment in the days before Guitar Center. This lends it some unique character and history, as well as a particularly advantageous facet: the place has excellent acoustics and is what you’d call a “loud” room. The dimensions are such that the sound bounces quite easily from the stage area to the slightly tilted ceiling, which should make it especially attractive for acoustic acts. It also makes for better views for the audience, whether you’re in the front or the back. It’s a small but cozy room, with a capacity for 200 or so folks, although it only takes a quarter of that to make it sound full. Operated by the Parish Entertainment Group, who also own the New Parish and Brick and Mortar, Leo’s plugs a needed hole—that of a smallish, professional venue outside of Uptown’s nightlife nexus.

Guest emcee CB jams with Zigaboo Modeliste

Guest emcee CB jams with Zigaboo Modeliste

Thusfar I’ve seen two shows at Leo’s: STRFKR and Zigaboo Modeliste and the New Aahkesstra. For the former, an indie/alternative rock act, the background lights were set to full disco illumination. Glam on. But for the latter, the lighting changed up and was much softer overall. That suggests Leo’s is a chameleon, a venue which can adapt according to who’s inside on any given night.

members of the New Aahkesstra

Members of the New Aahkesstra

A quick word about Zigaboo: do Temescal residents know how lucky they are to have a legend like him play in their neighborhood club? Modeliste is, of course, the original drummer of the Meters, “the” NOLA swamp funk band, and one of the most-sampled drummers in history. As a skinsman, he’s still top-notch, and the opportunity to play authentic New Orleans-style funk explains why he was surrounded by young sidemen with chops. Modeliste also supplied a fair amount of lead vocals, and most of the band’s originals were party-oriented jams with lots of call-and-response chants.

This cat can blow!

This cat can blow!

What makes a music club special is the feeling that anything can happen, and that expectation was totally vindicated by a cameo by CB of jazz-hop veterans Alphabet Soup, who rocked an energetic freestyle rhyme that got the crowd into it. Another special moment happened when a guest trumpeter–i didn’t catch his name–sat in and added some brassy punch to the Aahkesstra’s vibe. Though it’s technically a “new” venue, Leo’s has a bit of an old-timey feel to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a go-to spot for bands with enough of a following to sell out a small-to-medium venue. And it’s a no-brainer as a drop-in place to catch a show and check out the crowd for Temescalians, who have long lacked a neighborhood live music club.

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Moving right along, how does one even explain Birdland to someone who’s never been there? Let’s try: jazz space, blues space, salsa space, flamenco space, comfy feel, great ambience, low-key vibe. That’s for starters. Oh yeah, the walls are lined with birdhouses everywhere, and there’s a hookah lounge in the back. A former speakeasy gone legit, the Birdland Jazzista Social Club is probably the best new live venue in Oakland, in spite of itself.

Remember those special moments I talked about, awhile back? In just a few weeks, I’ve seen jazz guitarist Terrence Brewer, the debut of the monthly Oakland Flamenco Sessions with guest cantor MC Rai, and Chilean emcee Ana Tijoux with her live band. That’s a lot of heat for just one venue.  Every weekend, the venue hosts two full programs of live entertainment, and they’ve just added a Salsa program (“Salssista”) on Sundays. There are also classes and workshops, with more TBA.

Jazz guitarist Terrence Brewer at Birdland

Jazz guitarist Terrence Brewer at Birdland

But the best part of Birdland is the effect it’s had on the neighborhood. Jazzista #1 “Birdman” Mike Parayno, aka “Kuya Meng” and his team of volunteers have helped to organize several other venues in the neighborhood — including Marcus Books and the MLK Cafe — to create a pop-up arts district, with plans to hold a monthly festival. That’s creative placemaking at its best. Since the venue is at present a private club and BYOB spot, holding a BJSC membership card even gets you a discount at the two local liquor stores – that’s called going the extra mile.

"Birdman Mike" Parayno

“Birdman Mike” Parayno

Having said that, in the interests of full disclosure, I should also note that I am the official Birdland photographer and have known the Birdman for fifteen years; also, my girlfriend is the promoter of the Oakland Flamenco Sessions. But BJSC clearly stands on its own merits: its move to its new nest accumulated an armful of positive press without Oakulture stoking the fire, and positive press around the cultural arts is exactly what Oakland needs more of, especially in parts of town which are not Uptown.

Birdland Marquee

Birdland marquee

It wasn’t that long ago that nighttime robberies were common a few blocks down at the legendary Eli’s Mile High Club, which happens to be in “Ghosttown,” and has turned into primarily a punk/indie rock spot (with an in-house tattoo parlor) under current ownership. While MLK Ave can still be sketchy late at night, Birdland—which is just north of the Ghosttown “border”—has brought authentic blues and jazz back into the area, and even has a tuk tuk-style shuttle for patrons using BART (just two blocks away). With every week that passes, it seems to become more a part of the cultural fabric of the neighborhood, and a good example of organic development fueled by culture-keepers – as opposed to inorganic gentrification fueled by developers.

Leo’s upcoming shows are here; BSJC upcoming shows are here. If I were you, I wouldn’t miss LoCura at Leo’s 11/8 or the next OFS at Birdland 11/15.