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Documenting the Oakland cultural renaissance


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Women Runnin It: Interview with DJ Zita

Women Runnin It” features women in dynamic positions of cultural leadership in Oakland. Our first focus in this series brings a spotlight to Oakland female producers and promoters. Usually behind the scenes, these women are the ones bringing your favorite concerts, shows and nights for you to soak in and live the culture of Oakland.  How do they build community and social arts networks? How do they curate a meaningful event or a club party?

Important to many of us, particularly women and LGBTQi persons, is the ability to go out at night, share our art, enjoy dancing or conversation and not have to defend our bodies and presence. The promoters who are committed to holding this ground for us and advancing it are bringing female artists, gender fluid and non-ratchet parties, and holding down inclusive, ‘safe’ spaces through curating social arts. They are cultural stewards that we at Oakulture value and support. We think you should too. Check out previous women highlighted in the series, including Candi Martinez, Chaney Turner, Nina Menendez and Gina Madrid aka Raw-G.

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DJ Zita

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Zita’s Current Monthly DJ Residencies

ESCAPE 4th Fridays
at The Layover, Oakland

ELEVATE 1st Fridays
at John Colins, SF

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

 

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Fantastic Negrito’s Voyage into Voodoo Soul

Fantastic Negrito

Fantastic Negrito

Live music review/Fantastic Negrito, April 17th @ New Parish.

If Nina Simone was the “high priestess of Voodoo Soul,” who was the high priest? Some may point to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, he of the wailing baritone, bugged-out eyes, and bones-through-the-nose gris gris shtick, complete with skulls for accoutrements. Others might mention Jimi Hendrix, the self-appointed “voodoo chile” of the psychedelic era, whose mellow hippie vibe contrasted his aggressive infusion of the blues with lysergic mojo. Still others might say D’Angelo, the falsetto crooner whose 2000 post-neosoul opus Voodoo is equally suitable for making love, sweaty juke joint boogie sessions, or sacrificing goats to. Miles Davis might even get a nod for “running the voodoo down” on his Bitches Brew album, a potent stew of experimental jazz-funk fusion. But the current title-holder may be none other than Oakland’s Fantastic Negrito, who has seemingly come out of nowhere to captivate audiences with his reloaded take on bluesy rock-n-roll, delivered with a hefty helping of N’Awlins-style boogie-woogie piano.

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Only a few months ago, Fantastic Negrito, aka Xavier Dphrepaulezz, was performing in small rooms like Oakland’s Legionnaire Saloon (as part of the Town Futurist Sessions). Prior to that, he busked in front of Colonial Donuts and at Broadway and 25th and could be found regularly hosting informal jam sessions at his Blackball Universe gallery-headquarters in the jack London Square warehouse district. But after beating out thousands of other unsigned, indie entrants to win NPR’s Tiny Desk contest, which led to a much-hyped SXSW appearance and an SF Chronicle Datebook cover story, the 46-year old Dphrepaulezz now finds himself headlining sold-out shows at the New Parish, attracting a crossover audience who had never heard of him until very recently.

Although nowhere near as dramatic as Hawkins (or Simone for that matter), Dphrepaulezz has more than a little bit of voodoo in him. He describes his music as “black roots,” and “blues with a punk attitude,” and his bio talks about his creative rebirth after failed record deals and near-death experiences (he spent several months in a coma after a car accident and had to teach himself how to play instruments again) which catalyzed into a cathartic transformation following the birth of his son. The concept of resurrection is a central one in African-based spiritual traditions like voodoo, as is the notion of cyclical time and ancestor worship. Dphrepaulezz’s drawing of inspiration from field hollars, Delta blues and early rock & roll is as much as a tribute to the pioneers of American black music as it is a refutation of the superficiality of modern R&B. Fantastic Negrito’s sound is all about going as deep as possible into the soul-affirming paradigm of these music forms, creating original blues without being derivative.

During Friday night’s show, even Dphrepaulezz seemed a little surprised at the recent turn of events which revived his dreams of music industry fame. At times, he seemed to be wondering if someone was going to pinch him and wake him up. Mainly, though, he was content to take his blessings in stride and just roll with his current situation.

There was quite a contrast between Mara Hruby’s somewhat restrained performance at the same venue the previous evening and Dphrepaulezz’ engaging stage presence Friday evening. He cut a strikingly dapper figure in a silk shirt, silk tie, and red vest, a nappy, spikey Afro crowning his head. Like a classic soul man, he was in constant motion, striking frequent poses, turning to all corners of the stage, and doing his own dances when he wasn’t singing, pleading, testifying, or cajoling. He rapped with the crowd in-between numbers in a way which seemed more sincere than slick. Though not as raw or profane as Hawkins, he belted out vocals with a similarly intense urgency, albeit a much smoother delivery. There was an improvisational quality to his performance, like, what is he going to do next? Having finally gained our attention, he seemed determined to earn it.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Fantastic Negrito’s sound would be embraced by a wider – and whiter – audience than was imaginable six months ago. After all, African American music and pale hipsters go together like bread and butter – Hawkins once released an album called Black Music for White People – and the New Parish’s robust ticket sales were a testament to Dphrepaulezz’ current buzzworthiness.

What was interesting, though, was that the NPR crowd was multi-generational, if not terribly multicultural, encompassing both youthful 20-somethings and grey-haired aficionados. There’s also a certain irony in the fact that here, we have a black man as the frontman of a black rock & roll and modern blues outfit, genres in which legitimate voices are unfortunately infrequently found in this day and age. At the end of the day, though, what matters is the music, and on tracks like “Night Has Turned to Day,” “An Honest Man,” and “Lost in a Crowd,” Dphrepaulezz not only sounded authentic, but made his retro stylings seem relevant.

Though Dphrepaulezz is mining a rich vein of gospel-soaked handclaps, talking blues, and workman chants, there’s no cliché in his songs, which balance their throwback framework with brilliantly postmodernist lyrics which blend evocative imagery with self-referential humility. One need look no further than “An Honest Man” – a song which grapples with the realities of dependence and addiction –  to see what all the hype’s about:

Now I’m in love again
No this time it’s not with my hand
Wandering murdering
Every time that I get the chance
I’m a human but remember first I’m a man
You painted pictures for me
that I refuse to understand
Cause I want everything for no reason
Cause yesterday it felt so good
But today it feels so bad

Afterwards, Dphrepaulezz held court at an after-party at Blackball Universe, as he mingled with fans and friends, winding down from the show. The chances that sudden fame might go to his head seemed slight; for all his spectacular freakiness under the stage lights, he’s a laid-back cat offstage who appeared grounded in his renewed purpose. The same might not be said of someone who wasn’t on their third act, who hadn’t been spiritually and physically reborn, who hadn’t learned not to take the adulation of an enrapt audience for granted.

A final comment: while Fantastic Negrito might seem like an anomaly, the reality is the talent level of Oakland’s underground indie music scene is quite high. What artists lack isn’t skill or originality, but exposure. When given a chance to be heard and seen, they tend to win people over, if not blow their minds outright. A case in point was the bro in the New Parish courtyard who couldn’t stop raving about opener Antique Naked Soul’s innovative mix of a cappella vocals and looped beatbox rhythms.  Suffice to say that Dphrepaulezz is just the tip of the iceberg; one hopes NPR and similar outlets will discover other Oakland artists, just as they have Fantastic Negrito.

For more info, visit http://www.fantasticnegrito.com/ ; Purchase Fantastic Negrito’s EP here


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

Women Runnin It” features women in dynamic positions of cultural leadership in Oakland. Our first focus in this series brings a spotlight to Oakland female producers and promoters. Usually behind the scenes, these women are the ones bringing your favorite concerts, shows and nights for you to soak in and live the culture of Oakland.  How do they build community and social arts networks? How do they curate a meaningful event or a club party?

At a recent Bahamadia concert at Leo’s produced by Chaney Turner of Social Life Productions, the emcee spoke to the need to be actively engaged in creating inclusive community — a crucial component of a culturally-positive nightlife and cultural arts scene. Important to many of us, particularly women and LGBTQi persons, is the ability to go out at night, share our art, enjoy dancing or conversation and not have to defend our bodies and presence. The promoters who are committed to holding this ground for us and advancing it are bringing female artists, gender fluid and non-ratchet parties, and holding down inclusive, ‘safe’ spaces through curating social arts. They are cultural stewards that we at Oakulture value and support. We think you should too. Check out previous women highlighted in the series, including Candi Martinez, Chaney Turner and Nina Menendez.

***

Gina "Raw-G" Madrid

Gina “Raw-G” Madrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Gina Madrid Oakulture 018


Oakulture: Who are your Oakland heroines?

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

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

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

Oakulture: Words to live by?

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

Visit Gina Madrid at:  www.raw-g.com

Gina Madrid Oakulture 151

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Steelo Entertainment’s upcoming shows:

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

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

Steelo Entertainment on Facebook & Youtube

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The Unveiling of “Her Resilience”

"Her Resilience"

“Her Resilience”

April 5, 2014 was the first time I’d heard about Kimberly Robertson. Her lifeless body was found early that morning beaten, raped and left for dead in F.M. Smith Park, just two blocks from my house. Initial media reports said she had moved to Oakland six months prior from Texas with her three year old daughter and was last seen around the corner the night before. Later it was reported that she had been waiting for a bus when a man, known to be a vendor of clothes at local farmers markets, picked her up in his SUV where the assault occurred. I kept imagining her brutalized body lying in the park. Thinking about how she was a newcomer to our town, twenty-three years old and here to make a life for herself.

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Pat Parker was another young Black woman who came to the Bay Area from Texas. From the late 60s through the 80s, she became an important revolutionary poet in the Gay Women’s Liberation, Women’s Press Collective and Black Power movements of Oakland. Her influential 1978 poem, “Womanslaughter,” described the murder of her sister as she was leaving an abusive marriage – a particularly dangerous time for anyone trying to end a domestic violence situation – and the immunity from prosecution that the ex-husband received for, Parker wrote, being “a quiet Black man” who “works well’ and “only killed his wife.”

Parker ends the poem resolutely:

          “Hear me now, it has been three years and I am again strong.
          I have gained many sisters and if one is beaten or raped or killed
          I will not come in mourning black.
          I will not bring the right flowers . . .
          I will come to my sisters not dutiful. I will come strong.


Hazel Streete is another Oakland woman who lives only a couple blocks from where Kimberly Robertson’s body was found. In response to yet another heartbreaking womanslaughter, Hazel began speaking to others and looking for a way to respond. She initiated the “Her Resilience” project and invited others to join her vision. They wanted to paint a mural in the park where Kimberly’s body was found, yet it became clear that the city’s restrictions would not allow it, due to the park’s historic landmark status. So they moved the home base of the project to Park Community Garden, the terraced garden maintained by neighborhood volunteers located about five blocks up Park Street. On Saturday March 21, 2015, almost a year after Robertson’s death, the mural was unveiled.

“Her Resilience” is an arts-based and woman-centered inquiry project centered around addressing violence against women in our community. The amount of violence that women experience both on the streets and in our homes leaves very few who don’t have a direct or indirect relationship with this struggle, yet the silence and separation from each other’s struggles contributes to a feeling of powerlessness. Through curating public imagery of women’s struggles and survival, “Her Resilience” highlights the ability of art and ritual to express and transform. Engaging the community through an open call, “Her Resilience” reached out to female-identified artists, survivors, family members and volunteers who wanted to contribute to this project.

"Greshanda" by Magick

“Greshanda” by Magick

Central to the vision of the project is its community outreach coordinator, Gabrielle Rae Travis, who gathered images and stories from families and loved ones of women lost to violence. Some of these stories were related to the artists who then sought to pay honor and witness these women through their art. Other artists addressed the history of violence within their own families.

Sixteen-year old Greshanda, who was killed by a stray bullet, is depicted twice on the wall by two different artists, insistent upon being seen. In her artist statement, one contributor, Magick, asks “What is one to do with these painful and traumatic memories that become stored inside with nowhere to go?” Another contributor, Shana La Reina, reflected on her own artistic process in her artist statement. “Addressing the cycle of violence against the women in Oakland has encouraged me to process what got broken in my own family. To create an active prayer for the five generations of women who have come up. For the ghosts that remain and for the lives that are both vibrant and vulnerable in this wounded town.”

Phase one of the “Her Resilience” public art installation (additional phases are planned) saw twelve individual panels hung on the outside walls of the community garden as well as a large central piece designed by lead artist Nicole Gervacio which was completed at a Community Paint Day, held on March 8th. The twelve artists include Melody Shaiken, Kira Marriner, Shana La Reina, Joanne Ludwig, April Lelia, Adee Roberson, Ines Ixierda, Kindah Khalidy, Angelica Padmavati, Summer “Solstiz,” Kate Klingbeil, “Magick” Monica Santos and Nicole Gervacio. These powerful works of art now hold a strong presence on Park Street as witness, storyteller, and guardians of resilience.

"Her Resilience" on Park Street

“Her Resilience” on Park Street

The day of unveiling was initiated with an opening ceremony by Calpulli Huey Papalotl, an indigenous dance group led by Maestra Pati Juarez. Ceremonial and ritual dances known as Danza Azteca called out the name of Tonantzin, mother earth Goddess of this land, over and over again. It was a prayer and an opening, a sacralizing of the ground and a call to this deity of sustenance for support of women warriors. After burning sage inside the garden and on the street, and honoring the four directions, Calpulli Huey Papalotl danced to honor our ancestors, and for Tonantzin, as well as a dance to plant the corn —  jumping and leaning in low, to nourish the new seeds of what will grow.


Throughout the day, a wide diversity of people came to the community garden, including families, loved ones and community members, who continued to arrive into the late afternoon. Organizers facilitated open dialogues about gender violence, and BAWAR was present to provide counseling. Mamacita’s Cafe–a youth-run economic development project for young women of color– provided fresh donuts and coffee, while Tamales la Qaxaqueña — another woman-run business– offered fresh traditional Mexican fare. It was quite appropriate on this day of birthing the mural project that bathroom facilities were offered by the Bay Area Midwifery Center across the street.

The mural unveiling itself was a testament to women’s memory and to the powerful energy created when women speak up and come together. In her artist statement, Angelica Padmavati spoke to the experience of the day: “this poem reflects on how it feels to be in the women’s skin and go through a transformation into freedom.”

Padmavati, who mixed her son’s ashes with her paint in order to bring forth his presence, said in the poem which she’d written on her mural panel, “my children and i ride the cloud in the sky and we are eternally bonded in the power of love.”

The heartless murder-rape of Kimberly Robertson– whose alleged assailant has been arrested, but not yet tried– motivated a collective reaction from women artivists which could have long-term impact. Thousands of cars a day pass by the Park St. garden on their way to the 580 freeway. They will see the mural panels and perhaps wonder how they came into existence, why has this beautiful art been created, what is the message being put forth?

More than a memorial, “Her Resilience” speaks to the need for public art created by and focused on the lives of women of color — an important consideration for the project’s organizers. Much like the freedom fighters revered on many of Oakland’s murals, the fight against violence towards women must be fed by public recognition, support and an honoring of women’s courage and leadership. “Her Resilience” is a meaningful step in that direction.

Untitled by Adee Roberson and Ines Ixierda

Untitled by Adee Roberson and Ines Ixierda

Visit “Her Resilience” on their FB page at: https://www.facebook.com/herresilience


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KRS – One Brings Boom Bap to Yoshis

Live review/ KRS-One, March 22, Yoshis.

Mar 22 2015 013

Blastmaster KRS, a synonym for fresh

Hip-hop legend KRS-One should have a spot in any purist’s Top Ten list of greatest emcees. In the list of greatest emcees at live performance, the “Blastmaster” is probably a Top 5 finisher. His greatest weaknesses offstage—bluster, arrogance, and an ego which probably gets its own seat on airplanes—are indeed his greatest strengths when the mic’s in his hand.

How many other almost-50-year-old hip-hoppers could rock a jazz-identified venue with just a DJ for over an hour and one half and make it seem like an event?

And how many artists could effortlessly rip off string after string of classic hits, peppering them with lesser known yet slept-on material, while keeping the intensity level high, throughout?

Because it was a KRS-One show, Sunday night’s live performance at Yoshi’s—his first time at the Oakland location—also included, gratis, a long section where KRS engaged the audience with an a cappella monologue like a motivational speaker. That was the “edu-“ part of “edutainment,” the term KRS coined during the Afrocentric 90s to describe his style. There was plenty of “–tainment,” however, especially in the last 20 minutes of the set, when a flurry of greatest hits had grey-haired 40 somethings reliving the glory days of their hip-hop youth, reciting lyrics along with the Blastmaster.

Mar 22 2015 093KRS’ accomplishments are many, as are his contradictions.  The leading force behind the Stop the Violence movement, which called attention to Black on Black crime, he committed a major PR blunder by opening up a can of whoop-ass on PM Dawn’s Prince Be – which Afrocentric rap, once a legit commercial force and cultural tastemaker, never quite recovered from. He once opened up for Nelson Mandela and crossed over to MTV via R.E.M., and may have been the first Bronx emcee to work the college and lecture circuit – despite being a vocal critic of academia. He decried the corporate commodification of rap, but once made a Nike commercial.

In more recent years, KRS has battled scholarly types over whether hip-hop is a religion and put out an uneven smattering of releases, as the boom bap style of hip-hop he championed has been almost completely overshadowed by simplistic and/or nihilistic rap — seemingly as unconnected to the genre’s late 80s-early 90s golden age as inner-city African Americans are to the history of African kingdoms like Kush and Nubia.

But his legacy should include the right to say “I told you so.” KRS was right to address such topics as the correlation between the dirty money of the drug economy and the wave of violence in the streets of America’s urban cities on tracks like “Love’s Gonna Get Ya” and “Illegal Business.” He outlined the dichotomy between culture and commodity in “Hip-Hop vs. Rap.” He stressed the value of black self-education in songs like “You Must Learn.” He examined the correlation of animal rights and diet on “Beef.” And he unwrapped police brutality and the historical role of the slave overseer in “Sound of Da Police” – a song which, in the wake of current events, has recently become an anthem for Oakland youth a cappella singing group YGB.

Through it all, one thing has remained certain: KRS is hip-hop incarnate; when he’s in the building, so is hip-hop—the real hip-hop, not the culturally-appropriated version. That was very much the case Sunday night, as KRS—wearing a hand-painted shirt with his emcee name under a plain black hoodie—turned Yoshis’ swank environment into a temple of boom bap.

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Hearing “Sound of Da Police” live was worth the price of admission alone. He followed that with his breakthrough single/history lesson  “South Bronx”—a minor hit at the time which has become an endearing classic: way back in the day when hip-hop began/ with Coke La Rock, Kool Herc and then Bam/ b-boys ran to the latest jams. The hits kept coming: “(Who Am I?) The MC,” “(Step Into a World) Rapture’s Delight,” as did lots of ad-libbing and freestyling; on several occasions, KRS directly addressed a random audience member and made an impromptu rhyme about them – creating an instant hip-hop memory.

Having warmed up the audience, he then switched into lecture mode, dropping a flurry of sound bites:

“This is KRS, not a bullshit rapper on stage.”

“It’s not Egypt, it’s Kush.”

“Don’t expect rappers to be responsible for what comes out of their mouths because they got no soul.”

“The government you’re angry with is you”

“Nothing in the US Constitution says you deserve education.”

“No one guarantees you knowledge, and if you don’t have it, you’re a slave.”

“I don’t attract bullshit people to me, because I love you all.”

“I can’t police the culture.”

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Love it or hate it, it was vintage KRS. He prefaced a new song, “Enter the Boom Bap,” by remarking on the endearing popularity of 90s hip-hop (of which the sold-out crowd was a testament to). He showed his solidarity for immigration issues on another recent song, “The Invaders,” which continues his almost 30-year tradition of fusing hip-hop lyrics with reggae beats.

He juxtaposed the Criminal Minded oldie “9mm Goes Bang” with 2013’s more emphatically anti-gun answer track, “Nina.” He rapped over the melody from Pachelbel’s Canon.  And he sandwiched the Return of the Boom Bap track “Higher Level” around a track exploring America’s failed drug policy (“they declared a war on drugs but drugs won”) and another oldie, “A Friend,” whose looping strings make it one of the most emo hardcore hip-hop songs ever.

KRS entered the home stretch with a speed round incorporating “My Philosophy,” “The Bridge is Over,” “Hip Hop vs. Rap,” “Love’s Gonna Get Ya,” “Jimmy,” and “Mad Izm,” all of which had the audience verbalizing and fist-pumping along with the Blastmaster. The finish line sprint saw Oakland’s Jahi take the stage for yet another freestyle session, before the crowd exited into the night with a renewed appreciation for KRS’ artistry, his longevity, and his gumption.

Jahi and KRS

Jahi and KRS

Well-played, Blastmaster.


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Kev Choice: Love and Revolution (album review)

Kev Choice

Revolutionary: Kev Choice

Everyone’s talking about how K.Dot (Kendrick Lamar, for the unhip) just reinvented the hip-hop wheel with his new album, which drops the same day (today) as Kev Choice’s latest, Love and Revolution. It says here, however, that an equal amount of praise is due to the Oakland pianist/bandleader/composer/emcee, whose third full-length album is destined to be a classic, although it’s doubtful Choice will be trending on FB or sell platinum units.

Choice comes through with a solid effort which is topical, relevant, conscious, highly musical, adventurous, fearless, groovy, intelligent, mature and community-oriented (maybe even family-friendly, if your family enjoys shutting down 580 as much as BBQing at the Lake). While K.Dot can afford to enlist the services of pianist Robert Glasper, it’s worth mentioning Choice can play any note on the piano Glasper can play. No, there’s no gimmicky dialogue with a dead rapper to get tongues wagging, but Choice is far from a lyrical slouch. His musical skills were already beyond reproach—he holds a masters degree in jazz, is a bonafied classical pianist, and digs deep into funk and R&B—but it took him awhile to hone his rapping technique to perfection.

On earlier efforts, like the single “Definition of a Star,” Choice seemed to be aiming for KMEL airplay which never came, while holding back his musical gifts. But last year’s excellent Oakland Rivera broke that mold with forward-thinking tracks which raised the bar for hip-hop musicianship. Oakland Rivera also hinted at the lyrical butterfly Choice was cocooning into, particularly on the Gil Scott Heron-esque “Crazy Illusion,” which eschewed me-first braggadocio for poignant sociopolitical observations on gentrification and the changing nature of Oakland, and the hooky yet substantive “That Life” (recently treated to a club-melting remix by DJ D-Sharp).

With Love and Revolution, Choice doubles down on the conscious content, using today’s murky racial politics and growing community response to perceived systemic injustice as inspirational fodder for some ridiculous lyrical fusillades, which sounded unbelievable a couple of months back, when he debuted the album one memorable night at Yoshis. He might not be as quotable as Kendrick, but he’s not all that far behind.

It’s a testament to how well Choice has developed its themes that Love and Revolution feels like a concept album at times. Instead of tracks just slapped together willy-nilly, we get an honest-to-God song cycle, something which has been increasingly rare since the advent of the compact disc.

Choice’s “Revolution” refers to flashpoints like Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin, which have resonated nationwide, resulting in DOJ investigations and counter-resistant viral movements like #BlackLivesMatter. However resonant the response to Ferguson, the fire this time really began with Oscar Grant five years ago. Given that context, it’s only natural for Choice to address those topics, in an extremely Oakland kind of way. How Oakland is the album? There are instrumentals named “Oscar’s Revenge” and “Blues for (Alan) Blueford.”  Most of Choice’s supporting cast is local; there are zero throwaway cameo tracks featuring big-name artists for the sake of featuring big-name artists. But rather than a minus, that becomes a plus, allowing Choice to concentrate on substance, not superficiality. The result is a sense of cohesiveness and collaboration missing from many of today’s celebrity-studded albums – Love and Revolution is perhaps best described as a family affair which furthers Choice’s individual musical vision.

Jennifer Johns, Antique, and Kev Choice

Movement Music: Jennifer Johns, Antique, and Kev Choice

Content-wise, Love and Revolution is arguably a “street” album, albeit an extremely jazzy, soulful and progressive one which imparts its messages without being overly ghetto  — one hopes it will be played in the ‘hood as well as at non-profit organizing rallies. But while protests, marches and rallies have informed Love and Revolution’s content, the album’s righteous indignation—anger might be too strong a word for it—is well-tempered by a drive for innovation, creative juice-tapping, and a need to create beauty, even in an uncertain, unfair world. Choice is mature enough to realize that revolutionary militancy must be balanced by passionate love, and smart enough to figure out the two together are unstoppable.

It’s a testament to how well Choice has developed its themes that Love and Revolution feels like a concept album at times. Instead of tracks just slapped together willy-nilly, we get an honest-to-God song cycle, something which has been increasingly rare since the advent of the compact disc. Well-placed instrumental interludes help to pace the album without bogging it down, giving the vocal-heavy tracks “Room to Breathe” – to paraphrase the title of one of the interludes.

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The album opener, “Feel the Love” (featuring Viveca Hawkins) bookends the track it segues into, “Gone Too Far,” setting up the love/revolution dichotomy which underscores the remainder of the disc. The combination of Choice and Hawkins is a potent one; a simple piano riff anchors the song, which swerves between soaring neo-soul expressions, down-to earth lines (“As long as justice escapes us, we live for the struggle/we keep holding on”), and a near-symphonic arrangement complete with crashing cymbals. Sampled TV news soundbites introduce an element of tense realism on “Gone Too Far,” which finds Choice commenting on police brutality and community protests “from Oakland to Ferguson, New York to Palestine” over a guitar-driven melody. “Fist up, hands up, stand up,” Choice repeats, adding, “we ain’t gon’ take it no more.”

Choice’s outrage is channeled into a jazz-fusion eulogy on the aforementioned “Oscar’s Revenge,” which sandwiches the energy-lifting “So High” (featuring Netta Brielle) around another instrumental, “Compatible,” which in turn segues into the single “My Cause” – whose lyrics fuse the love/revolution dichotomy into a single purpose (“ride for you like you was my cause”).

Lyric heads get treated to a showcase of verbal dexterity on “Noose”, which continues the social commentary and includes a blistering verse by Locksmith, as well as the super-duper soul vocals of C Holiday. A sampled monologue from the sci-fi classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still” goes on a bit too long – one of Choice’s few missteps – before giving way to “Another World,” which features HNRL’s Trackademicks and 1-O.A.K. (who supplies the mind-elevating hook, “when it all sets on fire/ for tonight brings truth to the light”).

1-O.A.K.

1-O.A.K. brings truth to the light

Perhaps the album’s best song, though, is “Movement Music,” another posse cut which showcases some of Oakland’s finest talents: Jennifer Johns, Ryan Nicole, Antique, K.E.V., and Aisha Fukushima. The uptempo pace goes well with the song’s lyrical themes of rhythmic uprising. Each guest slays when it’s their turn, while Choice takes a swipe at commercial radio: “they say we’re not hot in the streets/ but every time I’m there, you are not in the streets.”  Ouch. An exclamation point is added on the following track, “Young Oakland Interlude,” which literally features the voices of the next generation, chanting “jobs, peace and justice, if we want the dream, it’s up to us.”

After another instrumental, “Meet Me At The March,” Choice returns with “Daddy,” a heartfelt dedication to his daughter, Anya, which solidifies the “love” theme. The album closes with the melancholy solo piano track “Ballad for Blueford,” whose sad notes spotlight Choice’s composing skills.

When it’s all said and done, Love and Revolution accomplishes what every album’s objective should be: to be a soundtrack for our lives. Undoubtedly contemporary, there’s nothing especially trendy or faddish on the entire disc, which means it will remain relevant, as long as its themes continue to resonate. And while this album loudly screams “Oakland,” it’s worldly, sophisticated and nuanced enough to escape the trap of regional limitations – providing one has a chance to hear it.

Love and Revolution is available for digital download here.


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Women Runnin It: Interview with Candi Martinez

In honor of International Women’s Herstory this month, Oakulture premiers “Women Runnin It,” a new interview series featuring women in dynamic positions of cultural leadership. We begin with Oakland female promoters. Usually behind the scenes, these women are the ones bringing your favorite concerts, shows and nights for you to soak in and live the culture of Oakland.  I’m sure many of you have wondered, how do they build community and social arts networks? How do they curate a meaningful event or a club party?

Recently, at a Bahamadia concert at Leo’s produced by Chaney Turner of Social Life Productions, the emcee spoke to the need to be actively engaged in creating inclusive community — a crucial component of a culturally-positive nightlife scene. Important to many of us, particularly women and LGBTQi persons, is the ability to go out at night, share our art, enjoy dancing or conversation and not have to defend our bodies and presence. The promoters who are committed to holding this ground for us and advancing it are bringing female artists, gender fluid and non-ratchet parties, and holding down inclusive, ‘safe’ spaces through curating social arts. They are cultural stewards that we at Oakulture value and support. We think you should too.

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Candi Martinez of Skin

Candi Martinez of Skin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SambaFunk shakin it at a SKIN party

SambaFunk shakin it at a SKIN party

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Oakulture: Who are your Oakland heroines?

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

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

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

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SKIN World Wide’s next show:

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

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