This week in Oakulture: a long-running reggae party celebrates its birthday, Earth Day comes to Oakland, and an Italian reggae star chants down Babylon.

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Last Saturday was a good day for the Green movement. It happened to be April 20th, or 4/20, which for very convoluted reasons, is the High Holy Day for marijuana smokers and hemp enthusiasts. This being Oaksterdam, the Northern California capital city of the medical marijuana movement, there are a lot of those here. Green represents the herb itself, which the Rastafarians believe to be a holy sacrament which not only eases stress, but spreads consciousness and positive vibrations.

But green also represents the eco-friendly, progressive mentality which has inundated Oakland, a sustainable living philosophy which comes from maintaining and honoring a connection to the land—originally a Native American belief—which is where Earth Day comes in.

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Urban Releaf, an Oakland-based urban forestry non-profit I work with, was called on to participate in two Earth Day events on Saturday. Both turned out to be community-oriented  gatherings which really honored the spirit of Earth Day—something green non-profits live every day of the year. It’s hard to imagine anything more Earth Dayish than planting trees, and that’s just what happened.

The first event, held at Cesar Chavez Park in the Fruitvale and sponsored by District 5 City Councilmember Noel Gallo and theUnity Council, began with an invocation/ceremony by an Aztek folkloric dance troupe—burning sage and recognizing the four directions before breaking into song and dance. I’ve seen the Oakland Azteks many times before, but it never gets old watching them perform their native rituals. I couldn’t help but think how important it is to reconnect with our spiritual roots, something which frequently gets lost in the concrete jungle of an urban city.

The second Earth Day event was out in Deep East Oakland, at the Tassafaronga Recreation Center on 85th Avenue. Sponsored byCommunities for a Better Environment, it featured a bunch of volunteers from all walks of life, including some elderly Asian Buddhists, and an African American troop of Girl Scouts. What was cool about that event was the location: as CBE’s Nehanda Imara pointed out, East Oakland is a community which really needs eco-awareness, since it suffers disproportionately from environmental health hazards. Good to see the young people getting involved too.

I wont go into too much detail about Urban Releaf’s program here, but for those interested, more info is on their website. Oh, and look for footage from the Earth Day tree plantings coming soon on KQED and NBC11.

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After Earth Day, it was a 420 kind of evening, and what better place to honor that than a roots reggae concert? Luckily, Oakland had it covered: Alborosie played the New Parish, which has been stepping up its dreadlocks game of late (more on that later).


Alborosie’s an interesting character, to say the least. A Sicilian-born singer and 2011 MOBO Award winner for Best Reggae Artist, he currently resides in Kingston, Jamaica. One typically doesn’t think of authentic Rasta reggae emerging from the land of Rome, Mussolini, and Versace, but as the saying goes, who feels it knows it. While dancehall—the slick, pop-oriented variant of reggae—has taken over the Jamaican scene in the past decade or so, Alborosie has held it down for the purists. His track record includes scores of tunes practically indistinguishable from the classic roots period of the late ‘70s-early ‘80s, delivered with unfailingly conscious lyrics. His New Parish set hit in all the right places, capping off a memorable day. As for the 420 vibe, it was certainly evident everywhere in the venue, making it impossible not to catch a contact high (cough).

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Speaking of the New Parish, you may have noticed that in the past few months, the venue has been featuring more reggae – both artists and DJs. It’s no coincidence that that’s happened since venerable Sunday club night “King of Kings” moved from the now-defunct Shattuck DownLow, where it had resided for a practically-unheard-of ten years.

Sunday night, KOK celebrated its 11th anniversary with an all-star lineup of local “selectas.” The next day, I caught up with promoter/DJ Smoky aka DJ Smoke 1, who reflected on the significance of running a club night for such a long time period.

Smoky, an Oakland native, told me what KOK means to him is “DJ culture, sound system culture, and community.”

The night has become more than a party, he added: “it’s a brand, a movement representing Bay Area DJs, positivity, and the progression of music old and new.”

KOK “was supposed to be dead as of last October,” he confided, but got a second life when the opportunity came to do a weekly at the New Parish, which was looking to do more world music to distinguish it from all the indie rock and hip-hop clubs. Smoky jumped at the opportunity, which was a challenge to work even harder, he said. Not only was the venue physically larger than the DownLow, but it had an ”actual stage” where big-name acts could play.

Of course, Smoky had previously crammed plenty of what he calls “heavy hitters” onto the DownLow’s tiny stage, including Jr. Reid, Cutty Ranks, Capleton, KRS-One, Ranking Joe, Shinehead, Rocker-T, Don Carlos, Buju Banton, and Beenie Man. Over the course of a decade, KOK had amassed a faithful following, who were stoked to hear reggae in a venue with actual sightlines, as well as a balcony—and a patio.

The first night in its new location, KOK featured roots harmony trio the Abyssinians, which Smoky says was a “blessing, getting the roots foundation of reggae.” Since then, he’s rotated old-school veterans and upcoming local DJs in and out of the KOK mix and hosted live concerts by Barrington Levy and Queen Ifrica and Tony Rebel, both on Sundays and other nights of the week.

Having resurrected his party, Smoky’s revitalized his promotional game, launching a new website and a merchandise line. But what he feels proudest about is his reputation for consistency—which can’t always be taken for granted in the nightclub scene.

“When you see KOK on a flyer, you know the artist is gonna show up and there’s going to be quality music,” Smoky says.

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This week’s picks:
“Makers: Women Who Make America” Film Screening and Panel, April 23, 6pm-9pm, free (RSVP required), Hub Oakland 1423 Broadway

Oakland Poetry Slam & Wide-Open Mic, April 25, $10, New Parkway 474 24th St.

EleFUNk Gallery Wall Jam and Closing Reception
, April 26, 7pm, Loakal, 550 2nd St.

“FunkJazzCafe: Diary of a Decade,”
 April 30, 7pm, $10, New Parkway, 474 24th St.

Got tips? eric@oaklandlocal.com

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