It’s Wednesday evening in the Angel Room at the First Congregational Church of Oakland, and the people are singing. Alto and tenor voices blend, then give way to deep bass tones that work in robust harmony with strong sopranos. The word “Mandela” punctuates the lyrics.
The room’s name calls for ethereal comparisons, and there is indeed an angelic flavor—if heaven has lusty angels who belt out activist messages. The most spirited angel, the one using her
whole body to direct the singers, gestures to still the voices.
Then she raises a clenched fist and, fervor bubbling into laughter, shouts “Amandla!” (Power). The group completes the chant: “Awethu!” (To the people). Appropriate, as this is Oakland’s Vukani Mawethu Choir, which took the stage for the first time 22 years ago, singing South African freedom songs in an anti-apartheid benefit concert held in Berkeley.
Since then, the choir has performed to tumultuous applause at countless fundraisers and before hundreds of thousands of people including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jesse Jackson, Harry Belafonte, Alice Walker and Whoopi Goldberg, to list a handful of the myriad of “big names” who’ve heard the choir and loved it. At the choir’s most famous event—Nelson Mandela’s 1990 World Tour celebration at the (then) Oakland Coliseum, which the choir co-produced and where members went onstage with the legendary leader—the audience numbered 78,000.
When apartheid ended, “We thought people might stop asking us to sing, but they never have,” says Pat Jameson-Amwele, executive director and a member of the ever-evolving, multicultural and multigenerational choir since day one. The 25 singers are all volunteers, says Jameson-Amwele, who works for the Peralta Community College District in her day job. “We are very frugal. None of us takes a penny for what we do.”
Through the years, the choir has kept and added to the collection of Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho songs for which it became famous. A South African leads the singers through regular pronunciation lessons. “Some of the clicks are really challenging,” says music director Andrea Turner, also an original member, who works as a senior services program director for the city of Oakland when she’s not leading the choir with “Amandla!” Vukani Mawethu’s post-apartheid repertoire of gospel songs, spirituals, labor and civil rights songs, and more has a strong Oakland focus and addresses the universality of racism and other human rights issues.
Currently the choir is raising funds for its second South Africa tour next year. Same as last time the singers were there, they will perform at fundraisers and distribute money around the country. “We can cook, clean, sell cookies, fry fish—we’ll do whatever it takes,” a singer at the Wednesday night rehearsal joked. But no joke is November’s gala fundraising event when the choir will present what it’s calling its first Ubuntu Award. It will go to the choir’s founder, Fania Davis.
Vukani Mawethu performs at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the First Presbyterian Church, 2619 Broadway. For details, call (510) 444-5009 or see www.vukani.com.
—By Wanda Hennig
—Photography by Jan Stürmann
You Celebrated the Vince Lombardi Trophy’s Arrival in Oakland
The year was 1977, the sideburns were long, television advertising was cheap and Don Meredith provided color commentary as the Oakland Raiders trounced the Minnesota Vikings, 32-14, in Super Bowl XI at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. True Oaklanders remember the day, Jan. 9, when coach John Madden finally brought a victory home to Oakland after the Silver and Black had been defeated in all six previous playoff appearances. The game featured famous names that still roll off the tongue today such as Kenny “The Snake” Stabler (Oakland quarterback), Fran Tarkenton (Minnesota quarterback), Dave “The Ghost” Casper (Oakland tight end) and, of course, the man of the hour, most valuable player, wide-receiver Fred Biletnikoff.
—By Daniel Jewett
Sherry Koyama and Julia Petho believe that when it comes to art, you can have your cake and eat it, too.
Koyama, of Oakland, and San Francisco–based Petho are artists and, in November 2007, launched an online art gallery showcasing talented local artists, with no piece of art priced more than $350. “We aim to give emerging artists a venue for their work and to provide potential collectors with a comfortable and affordable means of finding and purchasing high-quality, original art,” says Koyama, a graduate of UC Davis and former co-director of The LAB gallery in San Francisco.
The online gallery, Red Cake Gallery, also aims to take the intimidation out of buying art by making the contents of the site minimal. Visitors are not overwhelmed by pages and pages of artwork, and the site introduces new works every month or two. To make finding just the right piece even easier, Red Cake Gallery divides artwork into four categories—collectible, hangable, wearable and readable—allowing shoppers to get right to what they are looking for.
“While we know that art is not a necessity, we do believe it can enrich lives and communities and even bring a little joy to your home,” says Koyama.
Art is available for purchase online or can be viewed in person either by appointment or at open house events held about every three months at various locations.
The next Red Cake Gallery public open house is scheduled for 6 p.m.–9 p.m. Sept. 5 and will feature the work of local artists Allen Stickel and Daniel Ross. To make reservations for the Autumn Open House event or arrange to see the artwork through Sept. 13, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Find Red Cake Gallery at www.redcakegallery.com.
—By Aromrak Luangrath
What do the cranes at the Port of Oakland dream about? Why, growing up to become AT-ATs, of course.
That’s the interpretation of Adam Boroian who screen-printed that image on his first T-shirt in 2003 to launch The Girl and Rhino, an apparel line of T-shirts, hoodies, track jackets and such. Since then, Boroian, 36, with partner-in-crime Elaine Peterson, 35, has introduced his subtle and clever brand of humor into his clothing creations that the Glenview couple market online (www.thegirlandrhino.com), at the Temescal and Old Oakland farmers markets, Crackerjacks and local community fairs. Boroian is a medical researcher with screen-printing roots linked to book arts classes at Mills College, where he earned his master’s of fine arts degree. He mostly likes birds—pigeons, mockingbirds, owls, seagulls, eagles and hummingbirds—and bird humor. He sometimes illustrates them in a lifelike manner but more often manipulates photo images then adds a touch of wry humor by placing odd thought bubbles over the critters’ heads.
“Either you get them or you don’t,” Peterson says.
Other animals and people, including George Bush and Rosie the Riveter, also make their way onto The Girl and Rhino organic cotton American Apparel shirts that come in muted and bright hues. A former union organizer and private tutor, Peterson wants to move the manufacturing to union shops eventually.
The name for the line and Web site comes from a poignant, hopeful tale Boroian, who credits B. Kliban, James Thurber and Edward Gorey as major influences, wrote about a sad little girl who was without friends until she meets a rhino in her attic that lives off the crumbs of her cookies and cakes and makes her laugh. Boroian’s original plan was to write a vignette for each design, though he says he soon had way too many designs to keep up with.
The couple, who admit the business side isn’t their strong suit, say their sideline takes up more and more of the their time, but they’re not complaining about that or how quickly their merchandize moves.
“People will see the shirt and have the damnedest time trying to find it,” Peterson says. “I would say to people: Keep trying to find us. We’re out here.”
To buy The Girl and Rhino goods online, visit www.thegirlandrhino.com or shop the Old Oakland Farmers Market on Fridays and Temescal Farmers Market on Sundays.
—By Judith M. Gallman
—Courtesy of Joel Boroian, Deja Photography
Ralph Prado, not to be confused with the Italian fashion house Prada, is a designer, environmental activist and something of a force to be reckoned with. A Filipino-American fresh out of the Oakland School for the Arts and on his way to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, Prado, 18, showcased his bright silk flower–accented ready-to-wear collection at his school’s fashion show, Berkeley’s Nexus Gallery, the Oakland Art Gallery and San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Prado helped finance the senior class trip by designing and selling handbags, and many friends commissioned him to design their prom dresses. Prado’s environmental slant is his use of paper, plastic bags and Styrofoam
in his couture creations.
Why did you pick such odd material?
Using these unconventional materials opens up great concepts and innovation. It is amazing how a mundane object can be turned into something elegantly worn and admired.
Who are your influences?
On top of my list is John Galliano. He is just amazing at designing couture gowns and designs under Christian Dior. I also admire Monique Lhuillier. Her wedding dresses and cocktail dresses capture the elegance of garments. Finally, Thakoon [Panichgul], Peter Som, Erin Fetherston and Marc Jacobs. The greatest achievement would be being recognized as one of these designers and well known for having great designs.
How would you describe your style?
People say it’s a cross between Betsey Johnson and Marchesa. I play around with colors and silhouettes.
What’s next, after FIDM?
I am planning to go abroad and see if I can attend school at Central Saint Martins [College of Art & Design] to see another perspective of fashion design. As of now, attending school would be my first priority. I need the key things to learn about fashion design, and I think that FIDM will give me that skill to expose myself in the world of fashion. Then eventually, attending school in Europe will give me that chance to explore, meet new people and see a different perspective of fashion design. Being an intern for other designers would be amazing too.
—By Aromrak Luangrath
P. Scott Silvera didn’t set out to be one of the East Bay’s most talented home stagers, but that’s what the 36-year-old genius behind Scout Staging and Scout Home Hardware has become.
Regulars to open houses have no doubt seen his handiwork, which he first applied to his own Rockridge bungalow. It had languished for 60 days in 2004 when the market was “hot, hot, hot” but ended up selling for $60,000 over the listed price in a weekend after Silva staged it. That effort launched a career.
An art history major at the University of California, San Diego, Silva grew up with parents who sold their houses every two years, so staging wasn’t an altogether foreign concept. “My bed was usually levitating a foot off the floor, because everything got shoved under it,” he says. “I knew the importance very early on of presenting a pretty picture.”
Corporate party planning was his first calling, so he spent a decade throwing “amazing, giant, over-the-top parties. So whenever you want to know where all that dot-com money went, I spent it,” he says.
After his clientele “evaporated” post-9-11, the longtime high-rise office worker decided to work where he lived and opened a College Avenue retail shop, on mostly chutzpah, for antiques and such from his travels. He promptly lost $10,000 a month, necessitating the sale of his home.
A specialist in older houses and bungalows, he likes a layered look, combining old and new items with texture, age and warmth to create a connection with the home in order to tell a story of adventure, allure and charm. With his own successful staging, things took off for Silvera, who now has a team of six, 46 housefuls of furniture and 42 houses staged at once. In 2007 he opened a larger Temescal store where fans of Scout’s retro-chic, clean, crisp sensibilities can buy the same towel bars, lights, doorknobs, hardware, paint and accessories they see at staged houses.
“We’re trying to say we’re scouting things out for you,” Silerva says. “In the quest for the perfect house, the perfect item for your house, we’ve done the legwork. We’ve scouted it out for you.”
Scout Home Hardware, 5026 Telegraph Ave., (510) 547-2688, www.scoutstaging.com.
—By Judith M. Gallman
—Photography by Craig Merrill
Those kitchen drawers and cabinets overflowing with empty yogurt cups, cottage cheese, salsa and hummus containers can now be freed up for other storage uses. In late June, on the same flyer that alerted customers to an increase in residential garbage rates, Waste Management announced that wide-mouth plastic tubs, previously relegated to home reuse and preschool craft projects, can now be tossed in the gray bin, joining their narrow-neck bottle cousins for curbside recycling.
At the same time, your Waste Management garbage collector will now pick up dead household batteries on your regular garbage collection day. When your flashlight goes dead or your watch stops, simply put the spent batteries in a sealed clear plastic bag and place it on top of your garbage cart (or your 20-gallon mini can if you’ve reduced your waste to that degree); put small camera batteries and coin-size lithium batteries in a separate bag and stash that in the larger bag. California state law forbids the disposal of batteries with garbage or recycling materials, so Waste Management trucks will now carry special bins for batteries, which will be processed by a battery recycling company for the environmentally safe recovery of the chemicals and metals that have long been the bane of landfill.
For more information, call (510) 238-7283 or go www.oaklandrecycles.com.
—By Derk Richardson
New Releases from East Bay Authors and Musicians
The Sea Serpent and Me by Dashka Slater with illustrations by Catia Chien (Houghton Miffin Company, 2008, 38 pp., $17)
Oakland novelist, poet and journalist Dashka Slater crafts a sweet, poignant children’s book with endearing illustrations about a mature little girl and her friendship with a fast-growing sea serpent and his return to the sea. The tale is based on a storyline Slater came up with as a 10-year-old. Also just out is her kid’s book, Baby Shoes. The author’s first children’s book was Firefighters in the Dark, and a fourth, Princess Amanita and the Nine Noses, is in the works. Bay Areans may know her better for her novel The Wishing Box; her nonfiction book Lights, Camera, Alcatraz!; or for articles in the East Bay Express, Mother Jones and The New York Times Magazine.
The Professional Studio Vocalist by Claytoven Richardson (Thomson Course Technology, 2007, 224 pp., $29.99)
Vocalist Clay “Claytoven” Richardson grew up in a rough East Oakland neighborhood, but it was an interest in music that kept him off the streets—and Claytoven has turned this interest into a career as one of the most sought-after session vocalists in the music business, singing with the likes of Celine Dion, Diana Ross, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Bolton and Mariah Carey to name a few. His course book covers everything a seasoned professional or someone new to the field might need to know, from skills assessment and promotion tips (including business cards, biography and recording a demo) to getting studio gigs, working with unions, answering a hiring call and professionalism in the studio. Helpful quizzes, a breakdown of the technical aspects of the studio and some thoughts from other working professionals complete the package.
Mal Sharpe’s Big Money in Jazz Band, Firecracker Baby (Mal Sharpe, www.bigmoneyinjazz.net, www.cdbaby.com/cd/msbmijb.)
The latest recording from trombonist/humorist Mal “Man on the Street” Sharpe’s constantly gigging Bay Area trad-jazz band positively drips with history, not just in the Louis Armstrong–associated repertoire, from “When It’s Sleepytime Down South” to “What a Wonderful World,” but in the personnel, too, which includes Dixieland revival veteran trumpeter Leon Oakley, Bop City pianist Si Perkoff, soprano saxophonist Richard Hadlock and guests John Coppola (the Oakland-born trumpeter) and Harley White (bass) among others. Recorded live at Yoshi’s for Louis “Firecracker Baby” Armstrong’s July 4 birthday, the CD boasts dazzling performances (singer Faye Carole is explosive) that make up for occasionally uneven audio.
Ultralash, Foamy Lather (Ultralash, www.ultralash.com)
Karry Walker can give the impression of being a folkie singer-songwriter, especially when she more or less isolates her voice and guitar on the Pink Floyd–like “Dayglow” and the Nick Drake-meets-Kate Bush-esque “Bury Me,” on this, her second Ultralash CD. But often she adds banjo, piano, old keyboards, programming and sampling, and brings in East Bay collaborators Myles Boisen (electric guitars, bass), Michael Mellender (trumpet, exotic percussion), drummer Ricky Carter and singer Kelly Atkins, resulting in wonderful dub beats, noisy clatter and distortion and punk energy that would do Tom Waits and Sleater-Kinney proud.
—By Judith M. Gallman, Daniel Jewett and Derk Richardson