Oakland Local

December 31st, 2013
Oakulture 2013 Year in Review

Rickey Henderson by TDK

Rickey Henderson by TDK

What a year it’s been here at Oakulture. We’ve been blessed to witness the phenomenal cultural movement taking place here in Oakland, California, as we speak. Some call it a renaissance, others a revival, but it’s honestly more than that. There’s something new and exciting happening here, a cultural osmosis of different artistic and cultural elements being blended together in a very cool way.

In 2013, Oakulture was many things: visual art; dance; music; spoken word; film; theater; literature. Even community, social, and political activism at times took on a cultural bent – and not always an obvious one. Who would have thought that graffiti crew TDK, legendary aerosol outlaws and still-reigning kings of the yard, would get plugged in the mayor’s newsletter and Yahoo news for their crowdfunding campaign to finish a mural begging the A’s to “StAy”?

Grand Lake marquee for "Fruitvale Station" premiere

Grand Lake marquee for “Fruitvale Station” premiere

The biggest Oakultural story of the year was indubitably the making and Hollywood release of “Fruitvale Station,” the Oscar Grant biopic, written and directed by Oakland native Ryan Coogler, shot by a local crew, and featuring an Oscar-worthy star turn by Michael B. Jordan. Indeed, in a year when the black film resurgence was one of Hollywood’s top storylines, “Fruitvale Station” was easily the most poignant and heartfelt of any of those films, and one which showed Oakland pride in the face of tragedy.

"Fruitvale Station" star Michael B. Jordan

“Fruitvale Station” star Michael B. Jordan

Redemption isn’t too strong a word for the film’s success, because for two years prior to the film’s release, Oscar Grant’s memory was dogged out almost daily in the comment pages of mainstream media outlets, always with the same epithets applied. Yet Jordan portrayed Grant as the way he was: someone you knew, who had a life with love in it. A struggler, perhaps, but someone who could have made it, who deserved more opportunity than he was ultimately given. To see that played out on screen was monumental for Oaklanders, even if we cried at the ending we knew was coming. Best of all, “Fruitvale Station” felt like an indie film, not a major Hollywood release, even though it was picked up for national distribution.

“Fruitvale Station”’s success topped what was actually a promising year for film in Oakland. Independent film “Licks” detailed the grittier, cutty-ier side of Oakland; the Oakland International Film Festival and Oakland Underground Festival kept the quirky, indie flavor going with heartfelt, hand-picked selections; and the Broaklyn Film and Theater Co. emerged as a source for interesting, off-the-beaten track cinematic fare with the African-flavored Matatu Film Festival and screenings of community-oriented films like “Jamel Shabazz: Street Photographer” and Joshua Bee Alafia’s “Let’s Stay Together.”

Betti Ono Gallery

Betti Ono Gallery

2013 also saw the premiere of “the Institute,” the documentary about the pseudo-cultish Jejune Institute, a social experiment engineered by Oaklandish founder Jeff Hull.  “Free Angela,” a documentary on feminist icon and onetime Black Panther Angela Davis  screened at the venerable Grand Lake Theater, as did the Alice Walker documentary, “Beauty in Truth.” And the New Parkway Theater became a venue not just for indie and classic films, but a cultural center that hosted everything from A’s playoff viewings to spoken word slams – something even the original Parkway never was.

Deltron 3030 at Stern Grove

Deltron 3030 at Stern Grove

The second-biggest story was probably the uncere- monious firing of popular, beloved Bay Area radio icon Chuy Gomez from KMEL after 20 years. Oakulture nabbed an exclusive interview with Gomez, who said, ““Radio has never changed for me. I’ve been about connecting with the people, and being as one with them – being where they are, supporting what they do, and embracing the Bay Area.”

Yet the fact of the matter is radio has changed; it’s no longer 1993, when it was easy for local acts –many of whom had major-label interest—to get plugged up into KMEL’s airwaves. With the dismissal of Gomez, and the subsequent shedding of equally-legendary DJ Mind Motion, it will be difficult for anyone to think of KMEL as “the People’s Station” ever again.

Hiero Day

Hiero Day

Speaking of 1993, 2013 marked the 20-year anniversary of Souls of Mischief’s landmark ’93 til Infinity album, which put Bay Area hip-hop on the map like no other record. The Hiero crew celebrated with a national Souls tour, a dope new Hieroglyphics album, The Kitchen, a new Deltron 3030 album (and an orchestral Deltron performance at stately Stern Grove ) and the second iteration of Hiero Day, a  free hip-hop festival which drew even more folks than its 2012 debut (estimated attendance: 15,000). Hiero Day was a uniquely-Oakland event, with an amazing crowd of core hip-hop devotees enthralled by a plethora of live performances all day, capped off by a triumphant Hiero live set tailor-made for the history books. If you’re looking for poetic justice, you might find some in the fact that Hiero has really only had one record in KMEL’s rotation—“’93 til”—during its entire career.

Kev Choice at Latham Square

Kev Choice at Latham Square

Hiero reps Oakland to the fullest or, more precisely, they embody Oakland’s fierce independent spirit. That spirit was also evident throughout the year with good folks like Boots Riley—possibly the only emcee ever to be mentioned in a Wikileaks cable—who spent a good part of the year touring overseas with the Coup. The Coup’s keyboardist, Kev Choice, was a ubiquitous presence in the Town when not on tour, playing gig after gig whether as sideman or bandleader, heightening anticipation for his new album, Oakland Rivera, dropping in January.

Mara Hruby at Yoshis

Mara Hruby at Yoshis

Another reflection of Oakland’s indie spirit in its musical output was found in the talent-laden lineup of killer female vocalists. As Oakulture noted, Omega Rae, Kimiko Joy (Dynamic), Vivica Hawkins (the Memorials), Mara Hruby, Jennifer Johns, and Femi Andrades (Punk Funk Mob) are all awesome talents who we’re blessed to have here.

Antique Naked Soul at Legionnaire Saloon

Antique Naked Soul at Legionnaire Saloon

Probably the most innovative local album we heard all year, however, was the R&B/beatbox project issued by Antique Naked Soul, whose lead singer Antique has enough raw power to cover James Brown classics and not skip a funk beat. Furthermore, ANS originals like “Lay Low” were better than most anything currently in rotation on KMEL.

One possible exception was Oakland heartthrob Adrian Marcel, a babyfaced urban soul crooner championed by Raphael Saddiq, who mixed equal parts street smarts and emotional sensitivity into his debut mixtape/EP, Seven Days of Weak, spawning the radio-friendly tunes “Killa” and “I’m Still.”

Adrian Marcel at the New Parish

Adrian Marcel at the New Parish

On the live music and DJ scene, venues like the New Parish, New Karibbean City and Legionnaire Saloon provided the cultural spark to power this so-called renaissance with consistent bookings all year round. Yoshis remained a go-to destination for the upscale, dinner-and-a-show crowd, and the nightlife scene gained a new spot with the addition of Venue, a great space with lots of promise.

SambaFunk at "Skin"

SambaFunk at Venue

There were plenty of sublime discoveries to be made for culture aficionados and true music lovers, like the existence of a full-fledged, world-class flamenco scene in the tiny upstairs stage at Duende (Ole!), or the Legionnaire’s weekly Reggae vs. Cumbia night and monthly 7-inch party 45 Sessions, the New Parish’s local DJ love-fest Oakland Massive, and the baile funk and other percussive worldly goodies being thrown down at Venue’s monthly party, Skin. Look for the Oakland music scene to expand even further in 2014, when Leo’s opens on the site of the former Pro Audio retail spot.

Flamenco at Duende

Flamenco at Duende

Music wasn’t just indoors in 2013.  Outdoor festivals—including Life is Living, Malcolm X Jazz Arts Festival, the Oakland Music Festival and a concert series at the Latham Square pop-up (which brought Kev Choice, Dynamic, Ensemble Mik Nawooj, and others to the heart of the downtown) were wonderful exercises in community-building that showcased Oakland’s diversity in serendipitous ways.
Where do we start with visual art? Betti Ono, Solespace and Warehouse 416 helped to give multicultural artists a firm launching pad in the ground zero of Oakland’s turned-up Uptown district, where the art-murmuring buzz has continued to grow louder. There were so many dope visual technicians to name them all—from Favianna Rodriguez  to Deadeyes to Sage Stargate to Ras Terms—that we won’t even try.

"16 Cowries"

“16 Cowries”

The most inspired exhibit featuring Oakland artists all year, however, may have been AAACC’s “16 Cowries,” a collaboration between Eesuu Orundide, Reshawn Goods, Karen & Malik Seneferu, Aswad Aarif, Rich Ejire, and others, which focused on representations of Ifa divinatory rituals. Or maybe it was Karen Seneferu’s “Fruitvale to Florida: Strange Fruit No More,” an installation and mini-documentary touching on Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, and the value of black life, which showed at OMCA’s annual “Day of the Dead” exhibit.

Trayvon Martin mural by Trust Your Struggle

Trayvon Martin mural by Trust Your Struggle

Oakland art wasn’t just visible in galleries, however. One of the most inspired responses to the George Zimmerman trial was Trust Your Struggle’s mural of Trayvon Martin on the side of the Youth Radio building, a piece which incorporated YR staffers wearing Martin’s now-iconic hoodie. The piece remained up for several weeks, serving as a highly visible, silent, yet powerful commentary on the value of black life.

Malcolm X Jazz Arts Fest

Malcolm X Jazz Arts Fest

Any talk of Oakland’s artistic come- uppance, however, must be balanced against the local resistance to gentrification –which was part of the backdrop against which Oakculture happened in 2013. Oakland’s adherence to its indigenous culture was evident in everything from the Black Cowboys Parade to Ricky Vincent’s book on Black Panther Funk band the Lumpen, “Party Music,” to the ongoing Dia Do Los Muertos Fruitvale celebration, to neighborhood spots far outside the Uptown bubble like One Fam’s West Oakland kick-back spot and the Laurel District’s Lounge 3411. While KQED blogger Serena Cole blurted out to her fixie-riding, skinny-jeaned pals to stay out of the West and the East, the truth is, we don’t want any (more) hipsters there, anyway.


This Week’s Picks:

Reign 2014 w/ Slick Rick, Adrian Marcel, Sebastien Mikael, 12/31, Oakland Marriot, 1001 Broadway

OAKNYE 2014, w/ Vikter Duplaix, Nina Sol, Davey D, Wonway Posibul, Naima Shalhoub, 12/31, Lungomare, 1 Broadway

Family Affair, 12/31, Legionnaire Saloon, 2272 Telegraph Ave.

Oakland Massive w/ Chuy Gomez, Steelo, Davey-D, Shortkut, Hey Love, 1/3, New Parish

Pharaoh Sanders Quartet, 1/3-1/5, $26-$32, Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadeo

11 thoughts on “Oakulture 2013 Year in Review

  1. PS One item that may have been inadvertently left out: Ise Lyfe’s art installation at an abandoned Oakland Housing Authority building in Deep East Oakland. He gave a great talk on KPFA about the vision behind the project. It was great to see such creative use of a condemned space.

  2. its none of the above…us native been doing what is “now occuring” in tha town way before any media outlets decided it was cool…this article sucks. ~from a public school oakland native with mad roots in tha town!

  3. This was a nice article about Oakland culture up until the last sentence about “fixie-riding, skinny-jeaned hipsters” not welcome in Oakland. These “hipsters” are part of Oakland and contribute to the culture. Some are artists some are musicians and some give back to Oakland. They are not “fixie-riding, skinny-jeaned Serena Cole’s”.

    Don’t create hate.

  4. Hmm, let’s see here… Do hipsters really contribute to Oakulture? What about the ones who don’t give back in any way, who are as oblivious as Ms. Cole? Should they be coddled, even as native artists and musicians, along with other longterm residents, are displaced?

    Obviously, gentrification is a hot-button issue, and one on which community voices have been very outspoken. However, there’s no need to celebrate hipsterism here, so if you’re looking for someone to co-sign on ironic mustaches, i suggest you look elsewhere.

  5. FYI. Intercepted this.

    ———- Forwarded message ———-
    From: “The Meng”
    To: “Johnny Mountain”
    Subject: RE: Operation Opportunism (outlier districts)
    Date: Monday, January 5, 2014


    At last, it appears as if OO is taking hold in the both of the Oakland districts. I would estimate that 50-60% of targets have fully accepted our premise. We will continue implementing the procedures outlined in ABC until we reach effective saturation.

    I must admit, I am impressed with how well this has worked. Using social remainder to power opportunism is brilliant.

    You should understand that I never meant to suggest that somehow Internal Conflict was not a necessary condition. I just thought — since the social remainder from the Western Region’s IC had been dumped into the Oakland districts for so long — that there would never be a way to achieve saturation there.

    That was why I suggested control and containment instead. I stand corrected. I never would have thought to use the negatives to reinforce the positives.


  6. @Eric

    I gotta agree with Winston on this one. Why are you hating on hipsters so much in an article about Oakulture? As individuals some of them suck, some of them are great. Same as with any other group of people.

    I don’t think that wearing skinny jeans makes you a bad person. I don’t think riding a fixie makes you a bad person. Honestly, I would say that facial hair, pants and bicycle type don’t tell you all that much about a person.

    I’m not saying someone who looks like a hipster couldn’t be totally detestable, I’m just saying that I think its dumb to make sweeping judgements based on appearance.

  7. @Philip, let me address your points. First of all, the actual cultural contribution of so-called “hipsters” is debatable. Second of all, the original line referenced was in context to an alleged ten-year resident of Oakland who couldnt find a single good thing to say about 75% of the city, in a widely-distributed blog post, directed at hipsters and gentrifiers, which was loudly criticized by Oakland residents.

    Thirdly, let’s answer the question, do hipsters need defending? Hold on, let me check the Magic 8 Ball… and the answer is: “definitely not.”

    Perhaps you are confused about Oakulture’s mission statement: it’s not a celebration of hipster culture and gentrification. Glad we could clear that up.

    What it has done, over the past year, is document some of the ways that local artists and musicians have expressed themselves, sometimes as a direct response to gentrification and as a reaction to the influx of hipsters. The column has also reported on the incredible range of cultural expression here, which goes far beyond monocultural ways of thinking.

    Hipsters, by definition, are superficial, trendy folks who have a high amount of disdain and/or ignorance for indigenous culture wherever they appear. They are different from bohemians, artistically-minded individuals who embrace and integrate themselves into multicultural surroundings without the slightest bit of irony.

    If you’d prefer more pro-hipster, pro-gentrification coverage of Oakland, you really should look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you want to read a critical/cultural analysis of what’s happening which includes historical context at times, and focuses on indigenous expression, emerging artists and scenes, and talent which might otherwise fly under the mainstream radar, then Oakulture is for you.

  8. @Eric,
    Yes there are people in our city who don’t give back. Every type of person. I think the analytics of this based on a person’s fashion is completely ignorant.

    The next time you see someone with a fancy mustache and skinny jeans why don’t you ask them why they live in Oakland. Find out first hand if they are here displacing long term residents. What if turns out that this hiptster is a native Oaklander? Then what?

    There is more culture in Oakland than you realize, you just choose not to see a portion of it based on someone’s appearance. Thats unfortunate. You’ve definitely sold me on looking other places on the subject of “Oakulture”. And I hope you get the opportunity to experience more from our Oakland.

    All the best


  9. @Winston: i dont know any Oakland natives who qualify as “hipsters.” and OaklandNative is right, any analysis of hipsters is not solely based on appearance. That perception came from the hipster defenders, who refused to address any of the other points raised.

    If any hipsters are reading this, it must be even more ironic to you to be called out than the fact you probably do own a fixie, wear skinny jeans, have ironic facial hair, and listen to trap music played in hipster-friendly dive bars, along with indie rock.

    But why make such a big fuss over a throwaway line? Is that the only takeaway from the article? What about all the visual artists, musicians, films, etc., mentioned? That left no impression? Instead, some people want to complain about being stereotyped as cliches –even if the cliche holds true. That kind of proves my point, that hipsters are not all that deep, and may be obsessive-compulsive about entirely superficial things.

    A final, grammatical note: placing a paraphrased, as in not verbatim, quote in parentheses, is actually libelous, i.e. an intentional misquote. in this case, i did not say, “fixie-riding, skinny-jeaned Serena Cole’s”; one of Ms. Cole is quite enough, thanks.

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