By Eric Arnold

Friday, Dec. 9, was a special night for Oakland’s cultural arts community.

The date marked the 10-year reunion of the Oakland Box Theater – originally known as the Black Box; the name was changed to prevent confusion with the Black Dot Café – a performance space, located where the Uptown now sits, which was a cultural incubator for emerging artists.

One of those artists was Rico Pabon – the first performer ever to play at the venue, according to Box founder Steve Snider, who has gone from being a developing emcee to a veteran who has played with John Santos and been featured in hip-hop opera shows.

“The Box was another place, here in the Bay, that was open for artists like myself: conscious artists, artists that weren’t doing necessarily the most popular mainstream sound, the more politically-edged folks, and that’s what the Bay is all about,” Pabon said. “It’s not like this everywhere in the world, particularly [in the] United States, and the Box was part of why the Bay Area was special for us artists.”

The Box’s legacy, Pabon said, is reflected in the amount of artists currently on the scene who came up through that space.

“Ten years later,” Pabon said, “you have artists who are now grown, who wouldn’t have had the space to grow if it weren’t for spaces like the Black Box. Artists like myself, who are now doing multitudes of things … If you see video of shows I was doing at the [Oakland] Box 10 years ago and see shows I’m doing now, it’s exactly the same. It’s just more refined.

“It got better because they let me start it way back when. I’m sure there are many other artists who can say that.”

Many of those artists were present Friday night for the reunion show at the Kaiser Center, which was attended by hundreds. The list of performers included Pabon, Jennifer Johns, X-Roads feat. Kimiko Joy and Paris King, Aya De Leon, Sonia Whittle, Tommy Shepard, Ise Lyfe, Drew Dellinger and others. They were joined by supporters like Ashel “Seasunz” Eldridge, Ambessa Negus, Darian Grey and Kev Choice.

Performances ranged from hip-hop to spoken word to jazzy soul, and an art exhibit – featuring works by Refa Sanay, K-Dub, and others – underlined the emphasis on culture and multiculturalism, which was the Box’s signature.

All in all, it was a fun night, as the photos from the event show.

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