Let’s start this week’s Oakulture with an update on the RespectOurCity  campaign. You may have seen some of your Facebook friends with the ROC profile pics and status updates, and wondered, what is this campaign all about?

We’re glad you asked. ROC is a collaboration between 38th Notes, Oaklandish and Oakland’s arts and culture community, aimed at addressing youth violence and giving youth a sense of ownership in keeping peace in The Town.

The campaign centers around the iconic green ROC t-shirts, available at the Oaklandish store and through this link. For every shirt purchased (at an affordable price of $10), another shirt will be donated to a youth via non-profit orgs and schools. Everyone who receives a shirt is asked to take a pledge of nonviolence.

ROC is also a partner in this Friday’s Peace Concert during OaklandFirst Fridays (disclosure: I am a member of the Communications Team for OaklandFirstFridays.org), which organizers hope will help steer the event and the city down a path of safety and sanity, while honoring the memory of the victims of youth violence and celebrating Oakland’s youth and its diversity of cultural expression.

Expect to see the ROC shirts in full force during the concert, which will feature a bunch of local artists and special guests. I can’t tell you exactly who is performing, due to security reasons, but suffice to say the list of already-confirmed artists is indeed special (hint: one of them plays at Yoshi’s the previous night and another has been seen on FB sporting an ROC shirt).


Oakland’s urban art scene is becoming more dynamic by the minute. How dynamic, you ask? It’s getting to where it can no longer be contained within the city’s walls.  Case in point: on Friday night, art aficionados had a choice of not one, but two exhibits curated by, and largely featuring, Oakland artists, in San Francisco. The African American Art and Cultural Complex hosted the closing night for Refa 1’s third installment of his massive, annual aerosol art and urban hieroglyphics show, “Aerosoul 3.” Across town, Ras Terms, Safety First and Sage Stargate had an opening for “Black Bucket Base,” a new collection of individual and collaborative works, at the House of the Rising Sun, an underground art space.

This turn of events represents considerable irony, given that one of the main reasons usually cited for the Town’s creative comeuppance has been the exodus of artist types out of Frisco and into Oakland – a result of gentrification and rising rents.

While Oakland is a place where art can be safely created amongst a community of like-minded individuals, SF has been annexed by yuppies, hipsters and techies. However, given the short distance between the two cities, it was perhaps inevitable that Oakland’s visual alchemists would manifest in SF sooner rather than later.


The “Aerosoul” exhibit was frankly, huge, with 140 pieces occupying the better part of two whole floors at the AACC. One floor was entirely dedicated to art drawn by youth; the other contained a treasure-trove of mostly graffiti-style inscriptions, canvases, burners, and portraits painted or written by a prolific list of legendary artists from the Bay Area, L.A., New York, even Europe and Africa. Emphasizing aerosol art’s identification with urban hieroglyphics, a Kemetic (Egyptian) theme ran throughout.

Curator Refa 1 broke down the science behind this year’s show: “Aesosoul 3 is a testament to us continuously doing this work in the community, to represent the African narrative in spraycan art, as well as bringing our cultural craft back into the community and building with our youth.” The show, he continued, was representative of work done all year round, through classes, workshops, and community murals—“especially in some of the communities that are struggling with youth violence.”

What’s different about the show from last year, Refa added, was the addition of “seasoned veterans from the brown community,” in addition to African and African American artists. Their inclusion, he emphasized, recognizes “that we both come from the same cultural root, that we both share in the same struggles.”


The next stop was the lower Mission. Walking inside a nondescript dwelling and climbing a flight of stairs, I observed a scene of vibrant cultural expression: super-selectors Jah Yzer and Ras-G alternating on the turntables with dread reggae vibes, as people danced in front of what looked like a future primitive ritual space, decorated with spiritually-affirming artwork everywhere.  If the AACC’s long hallways and cavernous rooms resembled a museum, the House of the Rising Sun was more like a sanctuary/temple.

Feeling very small, like Alice in a proverbial Wonderland, I stood in awe of what I saw on the walls, almost all of it covered with art, as dub plates massaged my ears. There were large paintings, small paintings – even a chair decorated by the three artists. The feeling was one of inspiration, or creation, manifested from the deep subconscious into concrete physical space.


After exchanging greetings, Ras Terms graciously consented to a quickie interview. As Yzer spun Sizzla’s “Solid as a Rock,” the mysterious metaphysical master painter, also known as Terockatron, explained the concept of the show: “’Black Bucket Base’ is kind of like talking about, out of darkness comes light. Out of the original comes the created power. So that was the whole ordeal of this show, we focused on dark matter, and what comes out of it. The creativity that comes out of it. A lot of the images here have an African focal point. Again, it’s ancient… it’s modern antique style, going from old to new. And then, coming to San Francisco, where things are changing.”

What’s changing in San Francisco?, I asked. Terms replied with a laugh, “well you know, it’s getting a little Seinfeldish,” he explained. “We’re just trying to express ourselves. The things we experience in life, we’re just putting it in image. That’s it.”


Not enough can be said about Kev Choice, who reps the creative side of Oakland’s urban music scene with the same progressive fluidity as Terms and Refa rep its artistic side. If you’ve yet to see the Oakland native and master pianist do his thing live, by all means cop a ticket or two for this Thursday’s performance at Yoshi’s with the Kev Choice Ensemble.

I’ve written a lot about Choice in the past five years, but I never run out of things to praise about him. Here’s a few more platitudes: If he was just a rapper, he’d be an inspiration to conscious positivity in lyrical content. If he was just a musician, he’d be on a short list of the Town’s most talented composers, arrangers, and performers. The fact that he not only can do both, but is also a humble character whose heart overflows with love for his city, is even more impressive.


It’s always a little sad to say goodbye to Black History Month. Each February, the outpouring of black-themed programming which floods typically diversity-challenged spaces — from schools, to galleries, to PBS–always results in a wave of cultural information one wishes could be kept up all year round. This week being the finale for BHM 2013, if you haven’t already, be sure to check outthese events, as well as Walter Hood’s “What I Hear, I Keep: Stories from Oakland’s Griots”, an audio/visual installation and storytelling exhibit.


The reminder that black history not only happens all year long, but is continually being created, is brought home by Oakland artist and culture-keeper Karen Seneferu, curator of a new exhibit, “the Black Woman is God,” which opens February 28 at the AACC. As one might expect, the exhibit, which runs until May 30, challenges our base notions about God and patriarchy – and not a minute too soon, I might add.

The show emerged from a landmark conversation a few months back with black woman artists discussing their contributions “to the realm of being,” which was thankfully captured by Idris Hassan of ChocolateBeats Media.


This week’s picks:

  • Respect Our City Peace Concert, March 1, 5:30-8:30pm, 25th and Telegraph, free.
  • DJ Z-Trip, March 1, $25-$30, 9pm, New Parish, 579 18th St.
  • After Murmur Dance Party and Bikes4Life fundraiser,with DJs Sake 1, J.A.M.S., March 1, 10pm –??, $5-$20, Solespace, 1714 Telegraph. Adv. Tickets at tix@onefam.org
  • The Coup’s Shadowbox (collaboration with artist Jon-Paul Bail), March 2, 8pm, $20 (presale)  Inner Mission, 2050 Bryant, SF
  • Oakulture appears weekly on Tuesday; send info for stories to eric@oaklandlocal.com

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