A performer at a Cuban hip-hop show at the New Parish
Martin Luther on MLK day? In Oakland? At Yoshi’s? Yes.
Count Oakulture in.
It’s hard to think of a more apt performer to honor Dr. King than Martin Luther McCoy, a golden-voiced soul man who can be judged both by the content of his character and the quality of his songwriting. On Monday night at Yoshi’s, Martin Luther conducted a clinic in showmanship which affirmed both his affable personality and his musical mastery.
He started out nearly naked on stage, with just an acoustic guitar. His band morphed into a three-piece, then a six-piece unit. He touched on all three of his albums, tracing well-worn faves like “Rise” and “Daily Bread,” then covered Gil-Scott Heron’s “Home is Where the Hatred Is,” Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell,” Bob Marley’s “Crazy Baldheads,” and Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” The latter segued into a dope rendition of “Superstar” which showed his mellifluous falsetto and upper register tones to be in working order. Somewhere in there was a sweet version of “Killer Machines,” the “conscious” track from his not-yet-officially-released album, “Love is the Hero.”
By the time he was done, the audience had been treated to a masterful exhibition of soul to the highest degree. Yet “Marty,” as his friends call him, remained humble. After the show, he was greeted by a homeboy. Marty recalled playing kickball in second grade with him. There were no star vibes, no ego in his interaction. Just friend to friend, person to person, relating, conversating. That’s the type of artist the Bay is proud to claim as its own.
Oakland’s own Favianna Rodriguez is quickly becoming an art icon. It’s easy to see why: not only is her work compellingly expressive— with its signature stylized faces, butterfly-winged patterns, and vibrant color palettes – but more often than not it conveys deep sociopolitical messages. She’s taken a stand on immigration rights, women’s rights issues, and other equality-based topics in a way that has all but redefined the term “artivist.”
Rodriguez is featured in a new Voice of Art documentary, “Migration is Beautiful,” which explores the connection between art and social activism. The film follows the artist as she rides in a vehicle called the “Undocubus,” campaigning for immigration reform in Tucson, Arizona and the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Writer Jose Antonio Vargas compares the Undocubus to the Freedom Riders of the ‘60s; Julio Salgado’s cartoons tell a story of proud immigrants asking for liberty in the face of oppression. Yet Rodriguez is a focal point of and a fulcrum to the story; her voice is not only the most expressive, but among the most authentic.
“Fruitvale,” the new film by Ryan Coogler about the murder of Oscar Grant, premiered at Sundance (where Oakland International Film Festival honcho David Roach is reportedly making the rounds) this week. A review in the Hollywood Reporter had high praise for the film and the director: “Coogler stages the chaos with a breath-shortening combination of frenzy and ambiguity, with the latter providing enough legal wiggle room for the cop to eventually get off with a light sentence, furthering the sense of injustice. It’s an awful tale, fraught with political, social and moral weight symbolic of numerous contemporary ills, and one with an unshown ugly aftermath of violent protests that further sullied Oakland’s reputation.”
I’m definitely short-listing “Fruitvale” as a must-see; here’s hoping it receives wide distribution.
Food and art. Which is tastier? Thanks to the Oakland Museum of California’s new weekly series, Friday Nights @OMCA, folks no longer have to choose one or the other. The series debuts this Friday, January 25, and offers half-price adult admission after 5 pm, and free admission for those 18 and under, along with music, DJs, dance lessons, and special in-gallery programs and activities. Did we mention the night will feature 10 local food trucks courtesy of Off the Grid? A hot cocoa bar with specialty liqueurs? A food demo with Blue Chair Fruit? Lunch bag puppet-making? It may be all part of OMCA’s master plan to make the museum more accessible, more family-friendly, and more a part of the community, but it’s working.
I don’t know whether it can be said that we’re in a post-hip-hop era as much as it can be said that the definition of hip-hop has evolved. Or has it simply made a full circle back to its point of origin? Watching Shabazz Palaces live results in bugged-out thoughts like that.
At last Tuesday night’s show at the New Parish, the duo of Ishmael Butler aka 'Palaceer Lazaro' and multi-instrumentalist Tendai 'Baba' Maraire demonstrated why they should be considered the first great Afrofuturist hip-hop group. ‘Outside the box, in the pocket’ could have been their mantra as they took the crowd on a journey to the crossroads of tribalism and technology.
Their stage set-up essentially consisted of two mics, a bunch of electronic equipment and an equally impressive array of analogue percussion instruments – djembes, cymbals, hand drums and the like.
Shabazz Palaces aren’t about clichés. They deal in tropes and memes. Their show didn’t feature any catchy yet tawdry singles; it was more about determinedly building a resonantly spiritual vibration around a fist-pumping, tribal groove. “This is some 21st-century hip-hop shit,” I overheard someone say.
Shabazz Palaces’ origins trace back to Digable Planets, a ‘90s hip-hop group unfairly pegged as a one-trick, retro-jazz act thanks to the classic yet constraining “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat).” The Shabazz formula performs alchemy on the ‘90s hip-hop blueprint, adding more live instrumentation, more experimentalism, and a more overt African sensibility, which owes as much to Fela Kuti as to Kraftwerk. Shabazz had obviously come to the right place; the Parish crowd embraced the stripped-down, loping grooves and pumped their fists when exhorted to. The audience remained enrapt, reveling in a improvisational, experimental vibe perhaps only surpassed by the last time Robert Glasper was in town.
I had a good conversation with Dave, the New Parish’s rugged yet kind-hearted security guard, who I’ve known since he did a similar job at the old-school Justice League. I mentioned the Oakland Local column I’m writing and how frequently the Parish has been featured, after only two weeks. I’ve known owner Michael O’Connor for years as well, but the fact is that the venue is doing a bang-up job of booking -- some folks return as many two or three times a week in some cases, Dave said. Besides being probably the most consistent venue for live hip-hop on both sides of the bay—check Friday’s upcoming show with Blackalicious, Raw-G, Kev Choice and DJ Davey D — the Parish is also becoming a go-to spot for reggae and world music, and has been known to foray into indie rock and even metal. Oh, they also feature the monthly “People” party, whose next installment is this Saturday, January 26.
In addition to highlighting diversity in its bookings, the venue has hosted a number of community-centric or community-building events supporting various causes, from the Haitian earthquake to the current effort to save the historic UNIA building’s tenants from eviction. No club venue is perfect, but clearly, the New Parish is doing a lot of things right. If other venues would step up and book an equally-impressive array of cutting-edge acts, both nationally-known and local, they’d get the love-love from Oakulture too.
If you go:
Blackalicious, Raw-G, Kev Choice, DJ Davey-D
Friday, 1/25, 9 pm, the New Parish, 579 18th St.
Friday Nights at OMCA
Friday 1/25, 5-9 pm, Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St.
Adult tickets half-price; free for 18 and under
The People Oakland
Saturday 1/26, 9 pm, the New Parish, 579 18th St.
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