Holly Saucy

Holly Saucy

Longtime Oakland hip-hop femcee Chela Simone has relocated to NYC and reinvented herself as a singer named Holly Saucy. On her new album, Death of a Mermaid, she offers an interesting, quirky, and eclectic hybrid of electronic, alt.pop, indie rock, and R&B styles.

In an exclusive interview, Simone explained that the album “gives another side to me. People are used to me rapping” – something she hasn’t done in three years, she added. Death of a Mermaid is a concept album—“each song is a story”—which offers a critique of fairy-tale notions in which women are perfect—and unattainable—creatures. It also allows her to inhabit the persona of Saucy, a “cute little bad girl” with a proclivity for saying “all the things you don’t say.”

“A lot of empowered women, they’re just saucy bitches,” Simone says, adding that Holly is “a woman who commands attention… because of what’s in her head.”

The Saucy character and her decision not to rap on the album grew out of Simone’s increasing distaste for the rachetization of hip-hop and the industry constraints placed on contemporary rap artists. “I’m not a hip-hop chick. I’m not Nicki Minaj… I needed a break, but I didn’t want to stop making music,” she says. “[Saucy] is a way to express music that’s not necessarily related to hip-hop.”

Produced by Korise Jubert, J. Sampson, and Jaswho? with a retro-futuristic bent which frequently references ‘80s synth-pop, at times, DoaM’s sound approaches EDM, yet with much more substance lyrically. Eschewing the easy lure of tawdry, overly-commercial songs, Saucy’s words stay with you long after that apple martini hangover has worn off.

Chela Simone

Chela Simone

Saucy’s at her most provocative on “Whatever,” where she smirks, I know the rules and regulations/ of your silly games/ tell the truth when you fu*k her/ you just want to scream my name  over minimal synths which recall “Let’s Work”-era Prince. “We Are Young”’s chorus treads into Aimee Mann territory (if Mann was a former battle MC): We are young with no sense of responsibility/ so how can we possibly know what we are saying / yeah we are young but your sense of truth well its killing me/ I mean you gotta be playing. “Nothing Matters” chugs along on a mid-tempo beat which builds and builds, letting Saucy’s emotive phrasing coalesce until it reaches epic awesomeness status.  It’s the most accessible and fully-realized song on the album, one that wouldn’t feel out of place on the soundtrack of a Hollywood rom-com flick angling for indie cred.

Download the album here.

And be sure to catch Simone/Saucy—who’s also the co-owner and creative director of sustainable ethnic fashion sneaker company Control the Alternatives –at this year’s Hiero Day, which may be her last Bay Area gig for a while.
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Deuce Eclipse

Deuce Eclipse

Bang Data frontman Deuce Eclipse, meanwhile, has been a busy boy, with not one but two new albums: Get What You Give, a collaboration with Bavarian producer Mind&Matta; and Indigenous Noise, an “official” Deuce Eclipse solo album released on the bilingual singer/emcee’s own Oywalk label.

Both albums offer welcome relief for those in search of creativity in hip-hop, and showcase Eclipse’s considerable lyrical talents and penchant for creative experimentation. Imagine a more evolved, un-coked-up version of Pitbull with a better singing voice and a stronger traditional music influence if you must, although it must be said that Eclipse is a Bay Area original.

Eclipse has the benefit of being able to sing choruses and rap verses in both English and Spanish, but his versatility doesn’t end there. His melodic delivery lends itself well to excursions into Latin musica styles, from reggaeton to son to cumbia, and though he has a knack for dropping punchline-worthy sound bites, he doesn’t feed into stereotypical rapper clichés. His lyrical bent tends toward the conscious, if not overtly political, while still rocking braids and Chuck Taylors. And, he’s capable of making club-worthy songs which somehow manage not to insult your intelligence.

The indigenous aspect of his noise comes through on “De Nicaragua,” an ode to Deuce’s native land and “Movimiento” (produced by El Kool Kyle), as infectious a nueva cumbia track as you’ll hear all year.
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The Oakland Museum of California’s Friday Nights at OMCA events are an interesting social experiment. Basically, you take the image of a staid, dusty museum and flip it, Oakland-style. That means extending gallery viewing hours, inviting a block’s worth of food trucks offering multicultural bites, highlighting a family-friendly interactive activity, and showcasing an uber-cultural musical guest, while serving wine and beer. The idea is not only to highlight Oakland’s much-ballyhooed diversity, but also to make the museum a part of the community and not something which exists in a separate, sequestered space.

Mission accomplished.

Last Friday’s event was a gas. It had that block party feel, as a stage was set up at the 10th street side entrance, which offered attendees easy access to the plethora of cuisine options from the row of food trucks, which resembled a small armored division–except with adobo and curry.

Food trucks @OMCA

Food trucks @OMCA

Oakulture didn’t make it to the Maker exhibition because we were too mesmerized by the updated take on Fela’s sound being offered by Soji and the Afrobeat band, who performed two sets, each segment apparently requiring a costume change from Soji. Following the previous week’s heavy dose of Afrobeat, Soji’s performance felt like a continuation, as well as a reminder that the genre didn’t die with Fela Kuti.

Soji

Soji

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Thomas Mapfumo is the Fela Kuti—or Bob Marley, if you prefer—of Zimbabwean music . The man they call the “Lion of Zimbabwe” is far less-well known, but no less a musical icon and symbol of cultural resistance. Like Kuti (and to some degree, Marley), Mapfumo invented a new genre of music—Chimurenga—which essentially translates to “revolutionary struggle” and was the rallying cry of an indigenous movement to reclaim native Shona culture after years of colonialism. Mapfumo was on the bill at the famous Marley performance in the then-newly-named African state (formerly Rhodesia), a victory celebration for then-newly-elected President Robert Mugabe. Eventually, Mapfumo criticized Mugabe’s government—most famously, in the song, “Corruption,”—and was forced into exile, relocating to Oregon.

Mapfumo is one of the last of the giants of the post-colonial surge of Afropop, and his weathered, textured face sure looked it on Saturday night at Ashkenaz. In performance, he seemed to hover on the verge of trance, closing his eyes frequently, as if attuning to a higher spiritual frequency. Chimurenga music essentially blends traditional Shona rhythms with highlife and other East African musical forms—its tempos tend to be slower than Afrobeat’s, but no less rhythmic, and filled with expressive call-and-response chanting.

Mapfumo’s lyrics, delivered in Shona, meant much more to the expat Zim crew in the house than to the rest of us, but were nevertheless quite moving. The Zim crew, as it turned out, was celebrating the return of master dancer and clan-mother Julia Chigamba, just back from two months back home. Welcome back, Julia!
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This Week’s Picks:
Migration Now! Pro-migrant prints and posters. Through June 29 at Solespace, Artist Talk June 26, 6-8pm, free, 1714 Telegraph Ave.

El Kool Kyle presents Cumbia vs. Reggae, June 19, 10 pm, no cover, Legionnaire Saloon, 2272 Telegraph Ave.

Bang Data @ Afrolicious, June 20, 10pm, $5-$8, Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, San Francisco

TurfInc. 5 All Turf All Styles Dance Battle, June 22, $8-$15, Firehouse, 3192 Adeline, Berkeley

Soji and the Afrobeat band

Soji and the Afrobeat band

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