Last Friday’s fatal shooting at the monthly Oakland First Fridays artwalk cast a pall of gloom over what had been a celebratory, and mostly positive, event, up until then. While the death of 18 year-old Kiante Campbell was undeniably tragic, in the wake of the incident renewed calls for increased community engagement have come from the artist, DJ, and musician community.

On Monday evening, a bunch of Oakland’s cultural heavyweights gathered just two blocks from the murder scene, at the former Paradiso nightclub, soon to be known as The Legionnaire Saloon.

Had the attendees been a lineup for a party, it would have been among the best Oakland’s ever had. The assembled crew included Kev Choice, Jennifer Johns, Ryan Nicole, Platurn, D-Sharp, Davey-D, Malachi, Smoky, El Kool Kyle, Tim Diesel, Willie Maze, Delgado, Styles, Aebl Dee, Chaney Turner, Soulprofess, Lukas Brekke-Meisner, Justin Warren, Pendarvis Harshaw, Chris Riggins, Michael Orange, Needa Bee, Prozack Turner, Old School Copes, and many more.

The conversation centered around the need to do more youth-specific programming and outreach, monitoring lyrical content, culture-keeping and messaging, getting buy-in from artists with street cred, and keeping Oakland’s history and culture intact. There were more ideas being thrown around than there was time to discuss, but one comment, by Riggins, really stuck out: “we need to give youth a sense of ownership in the Murmur.”

Platurn, who organized the gathering, said this would be the first in a series of meetings with the aim of community-building. Watch this space for updates, as this new movement’s platform takes shape.

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While the shooting changed the tenor and tone of the buzz around First Fridays, what’s been lost is that, up until that happened, the night had been a peaceful and enjoyable one. As Platurn posted in a Facebook status update, “I’ve been a part of Oakland nightlife for damn near 20 years and I was amazed by the sheer multitude of bodies out on the streets. It was beautiful, honestly.”

Last Friday night, I was out on the streets that night grabbing flicks like I usually do – disclosure: I’m one of the members of the OaklandFirstFridays.org Communications Team, which runs the official OFF website – and I documented scene after scene of people having a really fun time. I’ve heard complaints about art being eased out of the FF mix as crowds have gotten bigger, but what I captured with my camera told a slightly different story: There was plenty of visual art, along with just about every other kind of cultural form of expression, all mixed together like a multiculti gumbo.

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I started the evening out at Betti Ono Gallery, which had a new exhibit, a 5-year retrospective from ArtNouveau magazine. After stopping by the Baylando sound system—which was crackin’ all evening with reggae dancehall, cumbia, and hip-hop, all with serious bass — and chopping it up with the homies El Kool Kyle, Rocker T, and Smoky, I chatted for a minute with local artist Erin Crawford, who had set up a booth and was selling her original artwork for a super-affordable price.  Making my way down Telegraph, I passed a conguero playing live Afro-Cuban rhythms, a guy selling classic vinyl record albums and playing Gil-Scott Heron, and a youth rock group on a stage sponsored by a local non-profit, Kidz ‘N Charge.

I posted up for a minute at the EatUp food pod, which was hosting the RiseUp Gallery, a popup art exhibit of local and international artists. I bugged out at the liberation art posters by Melanie Cervantes, an array of works by painter/DJ Treat U Nice — which contained variations on the themes of “Oakland” and “Love,” as well as indigenous-style animal portraits — and a canvas by SafetyFirst showing an angelic woman, complete with wings. Further down the street, I passed an old school bus on which murals had been painted on both sides, then checked out a bunch of turf dancers around which a large crowd had formed. I passed a family-run food stand run by members of the non-English-speaking community, and then made my way to ”the Art Zone,” a block with art cars, a mobile art gallery, an interactive paint wall, various murals, a brass band, and aerosol legend Crayone TWS.

Crayone was live-painting a vivid, colorful mural which read “Oakland,” with seriously stylistic calligraphic letters. I took the opportunity to do a quick interview with Cray. “I’m very comfortable painting in front of people,” he said. He described the painting he was creating as “typical, old-school Crayone-flavor style… I know a lot of people like to see colors. I wasn’t trying to flex or anything.  As a matter of fact, this is a last-minute decision to do letters. I was gonna do a butterfly with a logo, and I was gonna use a brush. But it wouldn’t [have] dried [quickly enough]. So that’s why I kept to spray can.”

Crayone said he “loved” first Fridays. “I want to paint here all the time,” he said, adding that he may have picked up a mural commission from a local business just down the street.

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Walking back the way I had come, I passed an older gentleman playing a didgeridoo on the sidewalk, weaved through the crush of folks spanning all ages, passed by a fashion show at Uptown studios and a troupe of capoeiristas playing in the streets, then ducked into SoleSpace, the shoe store/art gallery where more of my homies – novelist Adam Mansbach, radio personality Weyland Southon, and artist Favianna Rodriguez were checking out a graffiti-style exhibition for Keo, the NYC-based illustrator of Mansbach’s new novel, “Rage is Back.” The scene was hip, but not hipsterish — it felt more like SoHo than Oakland.

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A little more than an hour later — after First Friday’s designated closure time — the bubble burst and the reality of Oakland came flooding in. In addition to Kiante Campbell, three other people were shot that night in what may or may not have been a random act of violence but was certainly a reminder, as Platurn said, “that we’re still one of the most dangerous cities in the US, and new restaurants, bars, and galleries and intense & swift gentrification isn’t going to make that go away. Violence and gun culture is tragically embedded in the Town, and as a wound has seen multiple cover ups and re-injuries for decades but with no long lasting solutions.”

Art and culture certainly aren’t the problem, and should and can be part of the solution. Please remember to be safe out there in these streets.

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Lastly, here are some picks for this week:
Broun Fellinis live
Friday February 8, 9pm-130am, $5, Disco Volante, 347 14th

Artist Talk with James Gayles, Eesuu Orundide, & Aswad Aarif
Saturday February 9, 2-5pm, no cover, Warehouse 416, 416 26th St.

Pecha Kucha Night with Eesuu Orundide, Alise Randolph, Jack Eastgate, Varun Mehra, Melissa Fernandez, Erica Varize, Dominica Rice, SafetyFirst, Nancy Cato, Refa One
Saturday February 9, 7:30-10:30, $10-$15, SoleSpace, 1714 Telegraph

Warrior King live at King of Kings Reggae Sundays
Sunday, February 10, 9pm-3am, $12 (presale). The New Parish, 579 18th St.

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