Sometimes the Bay can feel like the cute step-sister of Los Angeles. We get a friendly smile and a side hug as people pass through to pick up the sister they’re really trying to get with. Many say that the reason for this is because there’s no real “industry” for art up here in Northern Cali, and artists often find themselves moving to L.A. or New York to gain bigger shine. Here’s the thing: The Bay is overflowing with talented creatives in all mediums, and should not be slept on.
Joshua is a visual artist painting the future. When I first saw his work, I immediately thought of Octavia Butler and how intricately her stories were woven. If she were able to resurrect herself and choose an illustrator for her words, I believe she would choose Joshua Mays. His work transports viewers, always taking the observer to another space, another time, and possibly another planet. It focuses on women of color and has been featured in murals and galleries around the country. You can keep up with his work on Instagram, and even purchase some of his art here.
This Bay Area artist is in her early 20s and already killing the game. Walking past an Oakland art gallery, I saw an advertisement for an exhibit called “Cosmograms: Visions of Black Matter.” I quickly noted the dates in my phone so that I could come back and experience what I knew would be something phenomenal. Though Sydney is a San Francisco born and bred artist, her work resonates with Oakland natives, harkening back and paying homage to the ancestors. During her artist talk for Cosmograms, she talked about seeing her ancestors and drawing them, and how her grandmother told her that many of her drawings bore a striking resemblance to her actual predecessors.
Right now, Malik’s wife Karen Seneferu is being hailed across the state for her groundbreaking work in creating “The Black Woman is God.” Perhaps the most well-known creative couple in the Bay Area, Karen and Malik created a joint exhibition “Black Love Matters,” which brought art lovers from all over to appreciate the power of their work together. Karen often credits Malik as her first art teacher, and his work in the Bay Area spans decades.
Melinda James’ work focuses on cinematography, but she also dabbles in photography. Working under her company’s moniker, About Her Films, her site describes her as having “shaped a body of work that places women and underrepresented communities in positions of power and recognition, yet the messages behind her work are tangible enough to reach many.”
“Byron Malik Photography specializes in compelling, creative portraiture that strengthens individual and corporate brands.” That’s what his site says, and it’s very true. You can find Byron everywhere from The People Party at the New Parish to First Fridays taking shots of the community enjoying art, to one of San Francisco’s top tech firms taking professional photos for an executive. His work is clean and agile enough to attract clients from all walks of life, who trust in his ability to capture the image that they want to portray.
The host of the long-running Thursday night open mic for singers at Liege in Oakland, Naté is much beloved by the Northern California community. Last year, she won Artist of the Year, Best Vocalist, and Bay Area Rising Star in the Bay Area Black Music Awards. Her passion for music is always illustrated in her live show, and one thing that I love about Naté’s music is that it sounds just as good in person as it does on wax. We all know how some singers try to get their engineers and producers to cast spells on their vocals, but here’s a true example of ability and skill.
Have you ever heard of a classically-trained pianist who raps? That’s Kev Choice. Having played for everyone from The Coup to Too $hort to the legendary Ms. Lauryn Hill, his instrumental skills have long been lauded by artists at every level. He’s also released several solo projects, including the most recent 88 Steps to Eternity, a mostly instrumental album. You can hear and purchase some of his work here. 88 Steps will be available for purchase on iTunes and available to stream on Soundcloud, Pandora and Spotify this coming August.
DJs often get written off of the “creatives” lists, but they’re the ones who keep parties going with their curatorial skills. DJ D-Sharp (also from the Bay) is deservedly getting lots of shine as the Golden State Warriors official DJ. But DJ Lady Ryan has been kicking great mixes and throwing great parties for nearly 10 years, representing for the ladies in a male0dominated industry.
Whether people know it or not, the Bay is chock-full of women who rap. Queens D. Light stands on the shoulders of rhymers such as RyanNicole, Melina Jones and pioneers such as Conscious Daughters. Having released her debut album, California Wildflower, Queens has been performing regionally for a few years, and is linked to collectives including The House of Malico, Malidoma Collective and Them Hellas.
Netta Brielle was Oakland’s darling before picking up to move to Atlanta after signing with Atlantic Records. A short time later, she to part ways with her label and has continued to push forward as an independent artist. This plight is one that many artists are experiencing in the current climate of the music industry. She released a project named after a Bay Area freeway, 580, which documented her feelings and experiences post-record-deal. Netta’s got a great voice and stage presence, and her hometown is rooting for her, label or not.
A Tisch School of the Arts graduate, Obatala returned to the Bay to kill the game and put on for his city. He’s the creator, co-writer, and director of Clouds: The Series, and has everyone hyped for some melanated TV magic focused on Oakland’s beauty and not its perceived brokenness. From the teasers and trailers, Clouds is authentically written to sound like Oakland, which is important to supporters, and therefore vital to the success of the series.
Niema is a student of journalism who graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. She went on to attain a Master’s of Journalism from UC Berkeley, so it’s only right that publications such as Ebony and Essence would be regularly reaching out to her for her work. Niema is also a filmmaker, exemplifying the Bay Area creative who tackles more than one medium.
My favorite children’s book was and is Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. This book was one of the first books I saw as a child whose images reflected me and my experience (my dad wasn’t a king, but you get the point). Tiffany Golden’s Midnight Series is giving my favorite a run for its money! “The Midnight Story Series is a collection of children’s chapter books focused on the journeys of Midnight, the Keeper of Dreams and Protector of Children, in the mystical land of Shina,” says the site. Tiffany’s work is important for empowering black children to read stories that are creative, relatable and accessible.
This group is kind of unfair. A group of brilliant black men come together to form a spoken word and theatre supergroup. The five are Prentice Powell (Arsenio Hall), Shawn William (Showtime at the Apollo), Rudy Francisco (National Slam Champion), Andrew Tyree (Slam Champion), and Javon Johnson (Def Poetry Jam)?! They’ve all appeared on Verses and Flow, and are so in-demand that they were tapped to open for Jill Scott on her national tour and at the Essence Festival. To be clear, the Bay Area can only technically claim Prentice and Shawn, but nah… y’all are all Bay-dopted now.
SoJari is the poet every poet is trying to be. Unapologetically vulnerable, her poem “To Time Travel While Black,” is a prime example of how she uses her chosen written medium to tackle important discussions around black culture, life and current events. Her site says, “The driving force behind Sojari’s body of work, artistry, and performance is the culmination of her desire to shatter traditional notions of race, gender, and class while simultaneously serving as the orator of her family’s history.”
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