Well, that was fun. As the Spring Equinox rolled around, Oakland’s bubbling arts and culture scene found itself in full-on “turnt-up” mode, with lots of activity happening to greet the warmer weather. From comedy to dance, to music videos, to DJ parties, it all went down last week.

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W. Kamau Bell at New Parish

W. Kamau Bell at New Parish

W. Kamau Bell  is a black comedian. No, really. He’s black. And he’s a comedian. When asked what he does, it’s easy to say, tongue in cheek, ‘black comedy’. Except that’s not exactly it. Bell’s style of comedy isn’t especially dark, nor is it especially blue. It’s more conversational, in a sense –  if it was easy to get into conversations about race that weren’t awkward. Bell’s brilliance is that he’s able to have those conversations in the course of his routine. Race isn’t a comfortable subject, by any means, and even when addressing racial themes in a stand-up set, it’s far too easy to lapse into cliché or for things to go horribly wrong.

Bell did just everything right in his recent sold-out two-night stand at the New Parish—there were no Kramer moments. Back on the stand-up circuit, after a cable show he hosted on the FXX network—admittedly, not an easy station to find amongst the thousands of cable offerings—tanked, due to poor ratings, he seemed pleased to be able to talk to real people, instead of having to explain his ideas to corporate suits. He started with self-deprecating jokes about his “historically low” ratings, but his set was so masterful, it didn’t seem like his charisma was the problem.

Ha ha: W. Kamau Bell

But seriously, folks: W. Kamau Bell

Bell riffed on a bunch of different topics, among them: New York vs. the Bay Area; white privilege in airline boarding conventions; mixed-race children (“the iPhone of 2014,” he said); the implications of the frequent use of the words “ethnic” (1/8 of the n-word, according to Bell) and “thug”; why every restaurant is an “ethnic” restaurant; Yelp reviews of fast-food restaurants; Flight 370 (“red meat for conspiracy theorists”); “12 Years a Slave” vs. “Fruitvale Station”; Mandela’s sign-language interpreter;  people who live in Florida; white Muslim terrorists; aetheism; being mistaken for Questlove of the Roots; and transgender nightclubs.

The entire routine got a lot of laughs, which is good, considering that most of those subjects aren’t inherently funny at all. Bell must have been feeling the Oakland crowd—perhaps he was savoring that audience in anticipation of doing an upcoming show in Florida—because he extended his time onstage by more than an extra half hour.

Very funny: W. Kamau Bell

Very funny: W. Kamau Bell

While he’s doing the talk-show circuit, touring stand-up clubs, and generally remaining highly visible, apparently, he’s also in talks for a new TV show, this time maybe on a channel that people have heard of. It may have been insincere stage patter, but he did indicate his wife’s preference to live in Oakland, where, presumably, interracial couples with mixed-race kids won’t be met with wide-eyed, mouth-agape stares.

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Sheila E. is one of Oakland’s favorite daughters. That’s in addition to being one of the baddest timbale players in the universe. So when Sheila decided to shoot her new music video, “Fiesta,” in downtown Oakland, of course lotsa local folks came out to support and participate. The shoot was situated in the warehouse district just east of Jack London Square, which lent it an industrial-cool aesthetic.  Around 20 percussionists showed up, and  the sight of all those drummers, who naturally started playing before the director and star arrived on set, was fairly impressive; they looked, collectively, like a loco street gang with an impeccable fashion sense.

Sheila's stylish arrival

Sheila’s stylish arrival

When Sheila E. rolled up, she did it in style, emerging from the passenger door of a black Lincoln SUV in a multihued pinkish dress with custom-studded  Timberland heels in a leopard pattern—shoes to die for, no doubt.

Sheila was accompanied by her co-star, the equally-stylish vocalist B. Slade, who  trades hooks with her on the song, and also matched her pose for pose during the video shoot.

The shoot wouldn’t have been complete, however, without the presence of the SambaFunk Funkquarian dancers, who arrived in full carnaval regalia:  thigh-high boots, feathered wings, and glittered bodies, adding infinite amounts of visual appeal.

The song itself, the first single off her upcoming album Icon, is a surprisingly contemporary club banger which features a lot of killer timbale percussion, wrapped around the hook, “party people get your hands up in the building.” It’s not especially deep, but it is infectiously fun, and by the third or fourth run-though, the entire crowd was “feeling like a super California dream,” just like Sheila sang. (Another preview of her new material can be heard this week, when she headlines Yoshis Oakland location for three nights.)

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Awhile back, Oakulture reported on the emerging flamenco scene in the East Bay, an exciting development for aficionados on the highly-stylized Spanish dance form. Flamenco took another step into Oakland last week, with the debut of Mi Alma Flamenca at the Awaken Café. The performance brought a packed house, which was impressive considering it was the first time the dance form had been featured at that venue.

Mi Alma Flamanca's Masako Yura

Mi Alma Flamenca’s Masako Yura

Mi Alma Flamenca is a new group, consisting of dancers Masako Yura and Hilit Maniv, performing their first solo tablao (traditional bar/club flamenco performance). Yura and Maniv were accompanied by guitarist  Bill Burgess and singer Azriel Goldschmidt, both of whom were excellent .

Flamenco guitarist Bill Burgess

Flamenco guitarist Bill Burgess

The dancers started out with a duet performance, followed by individual solos. What they lacked in polish, they made up in energy and enthusiasm. They both seemed genuinely thrilled to be living out their dreams by performing for a live audience, and their wide smiles proved contagious.  They both did quite well, considering it was their first performance, and were a joy to watch.

A flamenco cipher at Awaken Cafe

A flamenco cipher at Awaken Cafe

If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing flamenco live, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It’s an emotional, passionate, and often improvised dance form which features plenty of twirls and angular hand motions, set to sparse accompaniment to which the dancers themselves supply the percussion through the click-clack of their heels on wooden floors. There are also the handclaps, known as palmas, which call out the tempo; the Awaken crowd actually did a decent job of picking up the palmas rhythms on a couple occasions, and at the end of the performance there was a freestyle flamenco cipher. According to Awaken/Oaktown Indie Mayhem talent booker Sarah Sexton, flamenco may become a regular event at the venue, perhaps bimonthly, so check your calendars.

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It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since the 45 Sessions  started out as an experiment by DJ Platurn and his 7-inch-loving DJ friends. In that time, the party has grown into a nationally-recognized brand and provided real music lovers with umpteen thrills while rescuing club nights from the tired, predictable, and formulaic.

The 45 Sessions

The 45 Sessions

Last Friday’s shindig at the Legionnaire Saloon was appropriately celebratory and festive, and also drew a packed house; just more evidence that Platurn and his homies are doing something right. 45 Sessions regulars Jern Eye, Willie Maze, Delgado, and E Da Boss were all in the house, as was newly-minted resident and West Coast turntable legend Shortkut.

45 Sessions is the type of party where there are no rules on what music can be played, as long as it’s on 45 rpm vinyl, and E Da Boss tested the boundaries by playing Hammer’s “Pumps and a Bump,” as well as C&C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now).” Both songs qualify as guilty pleasures, and Oakulture is not ashamed to say we shook our tailfeathers along with the rest of the Legionnaire crowd. Another highlight was Shortkut scratching 7-inches, a supremely technically-difficult feat which he, of course, made look easy. The 4-year anniversary happened to coincide with Platurn’s birthday, adding even more festiveness to the get-down.

Happy birthday Platurn!

Happy birthday Platurn!

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This week’s picks:

Our Town, Our Stories, 3/26, 7pm, Solespace, 1714 Telegraph Ave.

The Comfort Workshop feat. Jennifer Johns, Martin Luther McCoy, DJ Russ,  3/27, 7pm, Kingston 11, 2270 Telegraph Ave.

Queendom: Women, Media & Hip Hop with DJ Zita, Aima the Dreamer, Pam the Funkstress, Queens D’Light, Aisha Fukushima, Coco Peila, Shy’an G, B’Girls, Mix’d Ingredients, Ladies United, Fluidgirl, 3/28, 6pm, $10, Betti Ono, 1427 Broadway

Sheila E., 3/28-3/30,  $33-$36, Yoshis, 510 Embarcadero

Ozomatli, 3/28-3/29, $30-$35, New Parish, 579 18th St.

 

 

One Response

  1. Mario

    W. Kamau Bell is certainly a godsend to stand-up comedy for someone who feels an absence of mirth since Carlin died.

    Reply

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