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3 local artists explain why Oakland is special to them



Just over two weeks ago, our newsroom hosted the first episode of a new quarterly live event series, Culture Makers, where we celebrate local creatives through dialogue, multimedia and performance. live. The inaugural event took place at the New Parkway Theater and brought together three local talents: documentary filmmaker Niema Jordan, journalist and fashion entrepreneur Akintunde Ahmad, and musician and community advocate Kev Choice.

We would like to thank our guests and all of you who participated and helped make it a resounding success. We covered a lot of interesting topics during the live panel discussion, enjoyed great food and drink, and the evening was punctuated by a moving keyboard and vocal performance from Kev Choice.

We also collected questions from audience members, and there were so many good ones that we didn’t get a chance to ask them all. So we decided to share them with our panelists via email afterwards (some were for a specific guest, some were asked for all three) and you can find their responses below, which have been lightly edited. modified.

If you were there and submitted a question that wasn’t answered, or missed the event entirely and are curious about our guests from that night, keep reading. We’ll also be sharing a video of the entire event in the coming days, so stay tuned.

The next Culture Makers will take place on Thursday, June 23, again at the New Parkway Theatre. We’ll reveal the lineup soon, but you might want to buy tickets now (the first event sold out quickly).

Questions to the three panelists

Can you share a turning point of transformation or change in your life as an artist?

Kev: I think my experience working with Ms. Lauryn Hill really changed my path as an artist. I already had a degree and had toured with several artists in the Bay Area, but the opportunity to work with such an amazing legendary artist – the things I learned working with her, the way I was pushed to my limits and performed at a high level – made me realize that I could achieve anything I wanted as an artist and that my goal was to work hard, be authentic myself and spread my message with music.

Niema: I would say being connected with Youth Speaks. As a kid, I performed at the Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Fest. I loved it and looked forward to reaching an age where I could read my own poems instead of reciting the poems of others. Youth Speaks gave me that platform and helped me grow as a writer and as a leader.

Tunde: For me it was by visiting Ghana in 2016. I was exposed to the world of fashion without any barriers, from the types of fabrics to the availability of tailors who could bring my visions to life quickly and cheaply. . It changed the way I looked at fashion and production and opened my mind to really venture into fashion.

How do you maintain the spirit and vibrancy of Oakland in the light of gentrification? It’s as if we were fighting a losing battle.

Kev: The best way to keep the spirit and vibrancy of Oakland alive is to support those who are actively engaged in representing Oakland culture. Be it musicians, visual artists or cultural practitioners in any capacity.

Niema: I don’t think there is an easy answer to this or an answer. But look at the parts of Oakland that still look like Oakland to you. How do you support people and businesses there? How do you support institutions that have always supported the people of Oakland, but also new things like The Black Cultural Zone. Seek to engage with the people, places, and things that seem to be the force for gentrification. Are there opportunities to educate and connect these people, businesses, etc., with the community? Also, lobby the city government. I think those are great starting points.

Mow: This is a difficult question that I ask myself daily. On the one hand, I think we have to recognize that there are still Oakland residents who are rooted here and who are building on the culture while preserving the culture of the past. But we have to recognize that gentrification is going on regardless of who’s still there, and it’s only getting worse. I think the city and its people need to center longtime Oakland residents on blueprints (cultural, political, social, economic) rather than big tech and real estate developers. We can’t bear to mind without the residents actually being there.

What is your favorite restaurant, bar and store in Oakland?

Kev: Too much! Sidebar, Chop Bar, Baja Taqueria (lobster burrito), JJ Fish & Chicken, Lena’s Soul Food, Neecha Thai. Bars: Room 389, M2 (Mimosa on Grand), Bar Shiru and Bardo Lounge. Stores: Dope Era, Oaklandish and Lake Vendors.

Niema: Such a difficult question. My favorite restaurants are Ensarro and Sidebar. I always tell people to go to Bar Shiru. SoMar will always have a place in my heart. Mushin is always a good time. Really, it’s a long list.

Mow: Restaurants: Everett and Jones, Kingston 11 and Bakesale Betty

Bars: Mushin, Sobre Mesa, and honorable mention at KARIBU by Wachira (a black-owned wine bar in Alameda).

What does a “culture maker” look like? Who are some of your favorite culture makers?

Kev: A culture maker is someone who is actively engaged in the practice of creating, providing space, defending and representing culture. Some of my favorite culture makers are Travis Watts, Hodari Davis, Carolyn Johnson, Rod Campbell, Jada Imani, DJ D Sharp and of course my fellow culture makers Niema and Tunde. Also: Alan Chazaro, Grand Nationxl, Ryan Nicole, Shayla Bang, Drew Banga, DJ Red Corvette, Lady Ryan and so many more!

Niema: A culture maker is someone who has the practice of creating and keeping intact the culture of a city, town, place, etc. This can be through education, the arts, politics, or some other forum. When I think of local culture makers, the list goes on, but let’s start with: Pendarvis Harshaw, Favianna Rodriguez, Michelle “Mush” Lee, Lukas Brekke-Miesner, Candice Elder, Jazz Hudson, Tiara Phalon, Keba Konte, Durell “DCisChillin “Coleman, Iminah Ahmad, Shavonne Graham, Elisha Greenwell, Marty Price, Shawn Ginwright…that’s not a good question. *tears*

Mow: I defer to Niema’s answer here, but add that culture is simply the way we do things, whether it’s how we create and consume music, learn, cook, socialize, dance , etc. Some of my favorite culture makers in Oakland are Adrian Burrell, Adante Pointer, Drew Banga, Jaz Curtis, Kev Choice, Durell “DCisChillin” Coleman, Chadwick and Dr. Chris de Wachira, Creighton Davis and Mike Nicholls.

What hope do you all have for the generations after you, growing up in Oakland?

Kev: I hope they have safe spaces to be authentic themselves, to learn from elders, to experiment and explore creatively, and to continue to build on our community’s legacy as beacons of social justice, our diversity and the defense of the people. I also hope they can see the world outside of Oakland and come home, make a positive impact and maintain our culture. Also, hope they can afford to live here!

Niema: That they will have a deep love for the city, a respect for its history and that they will be able to flourish here.

Mow: That they will have safe and affordable housing in Oakland coupled with adequate public education and access to sports and the arts.

Questions for Kev Choice

Choice Kev | Credit: Jeanette David

Why has the arts commission not allocated resources to restore the Great Performance Fresco under the overpass where I-580 crosses Grand Avenue?

I would need to look into this and see: who were the original creators of the mural and did they ask for more resources? Also where does the seed funding come from? As well, [those of us on the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission] are the spokespersons for our cultural affairs department and the city council. We also respond to community feedback, so if you’d like to talk about it at a Cultural Affairs Committee meeting, we’d be happy to hear from you.

What was the darkest moment of the pandemic for you and how did you survive it?

I think the darkest times were many nights sitting home alone, because I live alone I feel like if I got sick from COVID I would end up dying alone. The only thing that got me through was my music and being able to get out and walk by the lake and see people.

Questions to Niema Jordan

Niema Jordan | Credit: Bobby Gordon

How did you become a filmmaker and what advice would you give to young (or older) black women and men who want to become filmmakers?

I attended the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley. I was focusing on documentary film, so in a lot of ways I would say that’s how I got into the industry. But really, my career in film, like my career in journalism, has been about relationships. So for anyone interested in film, I would say focus on your craft and build meaningful relationships with people, and not just people who you think can make you stand out. Connecting with people who are also trying to do this is so important.

How do we celebrate black lives without being overwhelmed by the trauma of their death?

I don’t think it’s ever overwhelming, but I often think of their joy, the people who loved them, and the possible change that can be created by sharing their stories.

Questions for Akintunde ‘Tunde’ Ahmad

Akintunde Ahmad | Credit: courtesy A. Ahmad

What advice would you give to black men and women who would like to get into entrepreneurship?

That there is never a good time to start, that there will never be “enough” planning and research before getting started, and that you have to be passionate about what you would like to venture into. I have had no shortage of well-researched business plans, but this is the first one I have embarked on due to my passion for infrastructure and economic progress in West Africa.

As an African American fashion designer, how have your designs been accepted in Ghana?

I think because I had spent so much time (literally 5 years) researching and learning about the culture before launching my brand, my brand was well received there. Although my primary audience is the United States due to the fact that most of my clothing is outerwear designed for the cold Bay Area and East Coast, I have received a lot of support from other creators in Ghana as well as other entrepreneurs. Centering fairness and transparency in my brand has been key to garnering support from the Ghanaian community.