This week in Oakulture, we’ve got visual art, music, and film, served hot on a platter, er, monitor or smart phone display. As the weather heats up in Oakland, so too are the cultural arts, it seems – which are busting at the seams across a variety of disciplines. All systems are go, so let’s go ahead and get into it.


If I had to pick just one Oakland art gallery to watch, it would probably be Betti Ono. What I like best about them is the connection between their exhibits and what’s happening, which is usually on-point. The fact that they are a multi-use space which envisions itself more as a cultural center and place to build community more than just a place to show (and sell) art doesn’t hurt. I’ve also been impressed with the scope of their past few exhibits, which have presented visual art as part of a larger, ongoing dialogue happening throughout the African Diaspora, and places influenced/touched by it.


Case in point: Wendell McShine’s “the Storytellers.” First impression: wow! An amazingly dynamic and interesting showing by an original and highly talented artist firmly in command of his own aesthetic. McShine is a native Trinidadian whose paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media creations are influenced by Disporan mythology, folklore, and symbolism – much of it revolving around the concept of spirituality as a connecting point which unifies human existence.

McShine’s fascination with ancestral cultures, such as the Dogon tribe of Mali and their traditional yet metaphysical sensibility, translates into some interesting commentaries on societal disconnects in an age of technology. Some of his work is very disconcerting and represents a state of flux and conflict which is not supposed to be comfortable, i.e. the notion of people as puppets controlled by huge monsters, or fighting an inner war with themselves, or being pulled in different directions by politics and media.

“The discomfort was intentional,” he says when asked about some of the themes in “The Storytellers.” So, too, was his use of soft colors which represent what he calls the “kundalini energy” of the “spiritual realm.” By pointing out the disconnects and unease with which our daily lives are conducted, McShine hopes to bring viewers to a space where they can “come to themselves,” i.e. reclaim their humanity and spirituality. McShine’s paintings and drawings show the importance of ritual in his methodology: “each piece has coffee,” he says, “that’s my morning ritual.”

The largest piece in the exhibit, “The Home is Where the Spirit is,” a multimedia installation combining canvas, wire, acrylic, and plywood with animation on a digital screen, was inspired by McShine walking around Oakland and reflecting on the homeless people he saw, and how people turn away from the “displacement of society.”  With so much going on around you outside of one’s control, he says, “you’ve got to create your own story.”


For some time now, Oaklandish has been presenting live in-store performances on First Friday. Last Friday, the bill included Los Rakas, and two up-and-coming acts: Glam-I-Rock, and Armani (of Team Backpack).

I wouldn’t normally toot the horn of an artist I’ve written a press release for in my column, but I have to say I was impressed by Glam’s rapid-fire flows and stage presence. The recent trend in rap has been toward lazy, almost uninterested verses, so it’s refreshing to hear an emcee who completely destroys that with her lyrical content and delivery.

What made the performance even doper was that the artist’s mom—who happens to be OG Oakland rapper Nic Nac, whom some might remember from classic ‘90s songs by the Luniz and Dru Down—was in the house, silently mouthing her daughter’s lyrics. At first, I thought Nic Nac was just a fan—she’s aged well—until it was pointed out to me that her and Glam are related. How cool is that? Also cool: a free copy of Glam’s EP, The Feel, is available for download here.

When Los Rakas appeared at the “stage”—actually the space in front of a DJ set-up—they were surrounded by female fans. It’s not surprising that the two Rakas—who burst through nationally in 2012 after years of paying local dues—have attained heartthrob status: they have infectious energy and know how to get the party started. Raka Rich (who was celebrating his birthday) took time out to salsa dance with one of his fans, while Raka Dun held down the mic, and held up the new limited-edition “Soy Raka x Oaklandish” snapback cap on sale at the store. Los Rakas have amassed somewhat of a cult following—their followers call themselves “Rakas” and sport variations on the group’s iconic gold-toothed logo, such as a Raider-like pirate, complete with eyepatch—but beyond being popular, their music affirms the link between Spanish and African culture, in an ancestral sense. Which isn’t too far removed from where McShine is coming from, if at all.


I only made it out to one film at the Oakland International Film Festival, but I’m really glad I did. That film was “Oakville,” a story about two couples, one white, one black, whose personal lives intertwine against the backdrop of Barack Obama’s historic 2008 election. The film’s storyline and character development was good in an indie-film kind of way—which is to say, not too contrived or predictable—and so were the performances; by the end of the movie, I felt like I cared about the characters—especially the female protagonist Missy—and that they could be people I knew.

But the real star of the film was the city itself. Half of the fun of watching “Oakville” was recognizing the locations where scenes were shot, mostly in the neighborhood around the West side of Lake Merritt, like 17th Street, the Malonga Casquelord Center, even Frank Ogawa Plaza made cameos in the movie, which is really about hope and perseverance, as well as how a singular event can affect the lives of many.

Folks I talked to who attended other screenings during OIFF had universally-positive feedback, so it’s safe to say the festival was a success. On another note, this was my first time watching a film at the New Parkway, and—dare I say it—the venue might even be an improvement over the much-beloved original Parkway: the furnishings are newer, for one thing, they have many more menu options, and any theater where you can order beer and pizza counts as a winner in my book.


This week’s picks:

Orisa Lifestyle Moon Ritual, Wed. April 10, Ifa Divination, 1409 35th Ave.

East Bay Bike Party: “Grease”, Fri. April 12, 7:30pm, free, Ashby BART.

All Turf vs. All Styles Battle, Sat. April 13, 3pm-8:30pm, Firehouse Collective, 3193 Adeline St., Berkeley.

Soul Sonic: The Grease Traps live, Sat. April 13, 9pm, $5 before 11pm, Legionnaires Saloon, 2272 Telegraph Ave.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.