Malcolm X Jazz Festival 10th Anniversary
"Twenty-ten" was an interesting year for Oakland.
Amidst rebellion and protest in the streets, the invasion of an occupying army of police in riot gear and senseless shootings on both sides of the law, there was actually quite a bit of hopeful positivity where arts, culture and entertainment was concerned.
Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are 10 things that Oakland Local believes helped improve Oakland’s cultural index in 2010.
Oakland’s unofficial new favorite bar became an instant institution. Funky, thrift-store décor hinted at an unpretentious, laid-back vibe, which made the place hella fun to hang out at. Add specialty cocktails, infused with locally-grown produce, some of the Bay’s best deejays playing everything from hip-hop to house to classic R&B and an art gallery next door showcasing local talent, and you have a winner.
Era Art Bar
A lot of new nightspots opened up in 2010, giving local residents less reason than ever to venture to SF to get their groove on. At the top of the list of new clubs with new energy and new flavor is Era.
Slightly upscale in décor and ambience and with a selection of top-shelf tequilas and mezcals to match, Era quickly became a go-to spot for the musically-inclined. Whether it was live salsa and Latin jazz bands, or David Harness’ sweat-inducing house night, Evolve, Era presented Oaktown with the hip, happening club experience, which only a few years ago was only possible across the bridge, with one key difference: Its regulars were folks you’d actually want to spend non-clubbing time with.
With the release of their fifth studio album, "Atomic Clock," Oakland hip-hop duo Zumbi and Amplive celebrated a decade in the music industry — no small feat. The new album is quite possibly their best to date, which is saying something, considering their catalog. Amplive’s electronica-injected sonic landscapes balanced body-rocking boom-bip and cerebral sophistication, while emcee Zumbi veered between fist-pumping exhortations, introspective reflection and magnanimous metaphors.
A heavy (and long-overdue, in the ears of this critic) dub influence pervaded "Atomic Clock," resulting in resonant, ambient textures with plenty of breathing space. Once again, Zion-I proved they are innovators in a field rife with imitators.
Malcolm X Jazz Arts Fest
This free annual festival, produced by the wonderful folks at East Side Arts Alliance, marked its 10th anniversary this year.
Turf dancing? Check. Capoeira? Check. Hip-hop ciphers? Check? Colorful graffiti-style canvases? Check. Mellow, rhythmic jazz from ultra-talented players? Check. Lots of folks laying out on the grass, dancing or talking? Check. Most of all, the festival creates a community space where cultural empowerment — not to mention good people, good food and plenty of music and art — happens, reminding us that art and culture belong to the people.
East Bay Bke Party & East Bay Bicycle Coalition
The urban bike movement gathered up a ton of steam in 2010, with people of all ages, races and social backgrounds taking to the streets — for fun, for exercise and to build community while reducing dependence on fossil fuels and automobiles.
A big part of that was the monthly East Bay Block Party, put on by a group of volunteers. Imagine a large group of cyclists, many dressed in costume, from fixed-gear hipsters to road bike warriors to casual cruisers to scraper bike urbanites reclaiming the boulevards, avenues and throughways of Oakland for their own, with an aesthetic somewhere in-between Critical Mass and a mobile two-wheel disco party, and you’ve pretty much described the experience of an bike party event. We also applaud The East Bay Bicycle Coalition, who get so many people riding on the road. All power to the pedals!
Erk Tha Jerk
Local product Erk Tha Jerk - who grew up in both Oakland and Richmond - was one of the year’s most pleasant musical surprises.
His breakout debut album, "Nerd’s Eye View, catalyzed the post-hyphy era in Bay Area hip-hop, by offering catchy hooks, infectious beats and a knack for honest testimonials rarely found in the genre. It all made for a refreshingly appealing combination.
Erk’s ascension to the top slot on commercial station KMEL seemed like a victory not just for him, but for us locals as well - it's been four years since a Bay Area artist has made that much impact.
The Raiders’ speedy rookie, a fourth-round pick out of Clemson, almost single-handedly awoke the Silver-and-Black Attack from its long slumber, turning into an electrifying big-play receiver and returner, while outshining several players picked higher than him in the draft.
Ford’s coming out party was the Nov. 11 game against the Chiefs, during which he returned a kick 94 yards for a score and also hauled in six receptions for 148 yards, which led to the Raiders’ thrilling overtime win. He later had a 101-yard return against Miami, and shocked the Denver Broncos with a 71-yard end-around on the game’s first offensive play, setting the tone for yet another Raiders’ victory. And in the Dec. 26 game against the Indianapolis Colts, he again busted the opening kickoff for a TD, ascending to NFL elite status as a speed demon, along with Devin Hester and DeSean Jackson.
Beyond the individual statistics, Ford has made his teammates better, giving QB Jason Campbell a bonafide deep threat and inspiring underachieving wide receivers Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey. As the Raiders’ resurgence continues, look for No. 12 to be in the thick of it.
The long-lackluster Oakland A’s shed some of the cloud of indifference, which had surrounded the team since they went from a roster of lights-out starting pitching, Gold Glove defenders, and long-ball sluggers to a group of nobodies, also-rans and never-was’s when they signed former Yankee Hideo Matsui - known as “Godzilla” in his native Japan for his prodigious clouts.
Hmm, maybe the A’s do want to win after all, fans and sportswriters collectively thought. The signing is a good one; not only does it give the Athletics a proven superstar - and a multicultural one at that - with some much-needed pop in the middle of their lineup, but it should result in increased attention from overseas, as hordes of Japanese journalists descend on the Coliseum to obsess over Matsui’s every-at-bat. Oh no, Godzilla!
Trust Your Struggle Collective
This past July, when news of the Mehserle verdict came down, a cloud of apprehension and tension descended upon Oakland, along with thousands of heavily-armed and armored cops with hi-tech weaponry, agents from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security and throngs of mainstream media reporters. As it turned out, peaceful protests did give way to destructive acts, though the damage was largely limited to the looting of Foot Locker and a few other stores.
Amidst all the confusion, a mural of a smiling, angelic Oscar Grant painted on plywood covering the offices of Youth Radio came to symbolize the call of social justice - in a constructive, positive way. The mural’s creators, a bicoastal collective of socially-conscious artists known as Trust Your Struggle, later reprised their feat after Mehserle’s sentencing, painting another mural in the same spot, honoring Grant’s memory as well as other lives lost due to police violence. To channel anger, rebellion, and indignation into beauty - and to do it in a public space - is a wondrous thing indeed. Through its efforts, the collective reaffirmed the role art (and culture) can play in transforming society, while reminding us to have faith in the power of our own truth.
Hibiscus/The New Parish
For Oakland to truly be a world-class city, it needs a world-class live venue booking national touring acts and world-class restaurants with culinary appeal. We got a bit of both all in one with the emergence of the New Parish and its sister restaurant, Hibiscus.
From debut performer Alex Cuba all the way to the NYE bill of Lyrics Born and The Coup (not to mention unforgettable nights with The People party, a Haitian relief benefit featuring indigenous Haitian music and dance, an album release party by Meshell Ndegeocello and shows by Mos Def and Dave Chappelle), the New Parish filled a void in the live music scene - once again, giving Oakland’s culturati less reason to cross the Bay Bridge. Meanwhile, Hibiscus fulfilled the promise offered by its fusion of Caribbean and Southern cuisine - and then some.
Chef Sarah Kimon’s rotating menu mixes comfort food with exotic touches - Maroon-style jerk quail, anyone? - and the low-key ambience is nicely offset by the bold, savory and frequently spicy goodness.
What were your big cultural moments, culture-changers in 2010? Share in the comments or email email@example.com
12/29: Correction: OL conflated the East Bay Bike Party and the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and we fixed it.