The creative landscape is changing. Technologies like Pro Tools, the iPod, and peer-to-peer networks have become mainstream in the digital age, creating a wild frontier of sorts in music. Independent artists can reach mass audiences once forbidden to them. These technologies are fostering the rise of “semiotic democracy”—where more and more people are no longer passive consumers of mass media, but active participants in creating culture. Cops vs Lawyers, Issue 3

الأحد، تشرين الأول ١٠، ٢٠٠٤

Cops vs Lawyers: SF DA Kamala Harris

Image by Granger Davis. Interview by Mike Conway.

Kamala Harris is San Francisco’s first female DA, and California’s first African American woman to hold the office.

On April 10, 2004, police officer Isaac Espinoza was killed in the line of duty in San Francisco. When a suspect was brought to court, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris refused on principle to pursue the death penalty. Police officers across the country were outraged.

Several news media and alternative publications insist that this dispute has struck a gaping rift between the respective offices between the DA and the police. This rift only seemed to widen into other areas of law enforcement such as prostitution, where the DA’s office is working to change the police’s approach.

SHOUT: Explain your position on prosecuting the murder of Officer Espinoza.
District Attorney Kamala Harris: I am outraged by the cold-blooded murder of 29-year-old Officer Isaac Espinoza. He was a dedicated young police officer who voluntarily put himself in danger to protect the innocent. I must admit that I, too, felt an immediate desire for revenge. I have been a member of law enforcement for my entire career, and so I take personally the outrageousness of violence against a police officer. Wanting an eye for an eye is also one of the oldest and most natural of emotions. But as one of America’s greatest teachers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said, “the old eye for an eye philosophy leaves everyone blind.”
The district attorney is charged with seeking justice, not vengeance. From my career in law enforcement and the law, it is clear to me that the death penalty is deeply flawed. [Instead] I have charged this case as a special circumstance homicide, which automatically carries a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. And, let’s be clear about that sentence: It means exactly what is says. People who receive this sentence will never see the light of day again.

How will you work with the police going forward?
KH: The police are like anybody else: they want to know what’s going to happen when they put in the long hours. If you have a bunch of police out working the streets, arresting people for certain crimes and then the DA doesn’t charge those crimes, they’re going to be frustrated. It’s irresponsible to not deal with that dynamic. We’re giving clear guidelines about what we will charge, and what we won’t charge, and in that way, everybody is on the same page.

Lessons learned about media relations from the Espinoza murder case:
KH: The media and the public has been conditioned to respond to bells and whistles—there’s a lot of guns and violence, and that’s what sells.

How ar you different from former DA Terrence Hallinan?
KH: I like to think of it not just as differences between me and my former opponent, but also as a new era and a new direction based on the current issues and problems to be solved.
For example, I’m thinking a lot about what we are doing about quality of life crimes—what can we do to have a drug policy that is appropriately strict when we’re seeing repeated sales of drugs, but at the same time, [a policy] that is appropriately compassionate when we’re talking about things like Medical Marijuana. I don’t see these things as being mutually exclusive; I don’t think we have to talk about the criminal justice system in a way that being compassionate means being soft on crime.
I came to the office and we had a backlog of 74 homicide cases, some as old as four years, and in my first six months in office, we were able to put a dent in that backlog and reduce that number by 36%. Within six months, we tried as many cases as we did all last year. It took making those cases a priority. I talked with judges and police letting them know we’re going full speed ahead on these cases, and everyone got on board. It was a welcome change. Anybody would admit there should be consequences when you commit a crime to harm someone. Those consequences should not be retaliation in the streets; it should be the consequences that result from the criminal justice system working, which means prosecutors working.

What is your stance on quality-of-life-crimes?
KH: With prostitution, consenting adults should be given certain latitude. [But] it’s a very complicated issue and I’m not prepared to say it should be legalized. When you talk about prostitution, there are many related issues: exploitation, violence and other crimes that surround prostitution. There is the issue of what prostitution does to a community. When it starts to harm individuals and communities, then something has to be done.
Kids are developing at a younger age; there are girls as young as 11 that are fully developed, but as soon as they open their mouths, you know they’re kids. I have instituted policies in this office basically to say that if an adult is having sex with a youth that is being prostituted, we can charge that person with child abuse. It’s literally changing the way we are looking at this issue.
I meet with Market Street merchants and families that live in the Tenderloin—and there are a lot of families that live there—and they can’t walk to the corner, their kids can’t walk to the park without being harassed by drug activity. So that concerns me. They have a right to live in a safe community. So I am taking quality-of-life offenses more seriously.

What’s one thing you’d like the Hip-Hop Community to understand about your organization?
KH: The point of my work is to not only ensure consequences to crimes, but also to protect the most vulnerable people in the community. And often, the people who are most vulnerable may also be people that aren’t the poster-child for sympathy. But that doesn’t mean I buy into that version of who we should care about. I’m prepared to go after people who victimize others which may live a lifestyle that is disliked by society at large.
One of the things that makes populations vulnerable to crime is if they don’t trust law enforcement and if they don’t have the means to communicate with law enforcement. That is just a fact. So the way we have to deal with that is to be present in these communities and to speak to them in their language and also recognize the experience they have traditionally had with law enforcement.
If someone is beating up or kills your brother, shouldn’t you be standing up? Shouldn’t you be saying, “he did it.” We have to dispel the perspective that whoever cooperates with law enforcement must be a snitch. That’s ridiculous. Can you imagine if everyone would come forward? I cannot as a DA charge somebody with the crime of murder without any evidence.

Issue Two

Cops vs Lawyers: SF Police Officers Association Pres. Gary Delagnes

Image by Granger Davis

By Mike Conway

On April 10, 2004, police officer Isaac Espinoza was killed in the line of duty in San Francisco. When a suspect was brought to court, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris refused on principle to pursue the death penalty. Police officers across the country were outraged, and no cop was more vocally opposed to her decision than Inspector Gary Delagnes, president of San Francisco’s Police Officers Association. Inspector Delagnes joined the police force in 1978, & was a narcotics officer for over 12 years.

SHOUT: Inspector Delagnes, explain your position on prosecuting the murder of Officer Espinoza.
INSPECTOR DELAGNES: 'It is our belief that when you kill a cop, it’s the same as killing a politician or anyone that represents the community and works to keep that community safer. We feel when someone like that is murdered, it goes beyond a normal crime. Especially due to the fact that we’re dealing with more and more dangerous criminals that all seem to have assault weapons. A message needed to be sent that if you kill a cop, you face the ultimate penalty.
'We understand that Kamala Harris is against the death penalty, but we felt this was so extraordinary that she needed to reverse herself. We’re moving on, though. At one point we tried to get the Attorney General on the case, that didn’t happen. The DA is going to proceed, she did not take the death penalty and we just got to live with that, and we also understand that we have to live in concert with the DA and we have to work together on a lot of different issues and we have to get to work. We can’t exist as enemies.'

How is Kamala Harris different from former DA Terrence Hallinan?
'I would characterize the Hallinan tenure as a bad joke. He obviously didn’t understand–in my opinion—the role of the DA, what a DA does. No matter how liberal you are, no matter if you’ve been a defense attorney your whole life, once you become a DA, your job is to prosecute criminals. I don’t think he ever grapsed that.
'I worked narcotics before I took this job, and here’s the point the cops are trying to make: if you don’t want to prosecute quality-of-life crimes, then you get what you pay for. You have street dealing of heroin, crack, meth-amphetamines, or for that matter marijuana going on up and down Market (mostly by people from the East Bay). So when the tourist from Iowa, Arkansas, or Texas comes to San Francisco and sees this and asks “why is it such a mess here?” don’t expect people to come back here for vacation. That’s what we’re hearing more and more—”this city is a mess; we’re not coming back.” So what happens? The economy goes bad, hotel tax and tax revenues go down.
'If you talk to politicians from New York, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, they made a concerted effort to be aggressive on quality of life crimes. If you want people to visit our city and feel safe, you’d better do something about things like drug sales and aggressive panhandling. That’s not to say we throw offenders away in prison for ten years.'

How will you work with the DA's office going forward?
'Despite what occurred on the death penalty issue, we’ve always maintained that Ms. Harris is a career prosecutor that understands what needs to be done as a prosecutor. Is the philosophy gonna change in regards to quality of life crimes? I don’t know; it’s still early. We’re in a wait-and-see mode, but it’s gonna take time to change an inherent philosophy that’s occurred eight years under Terrance Hallinan.'

Lessons learned about media relations from the Espinoza murder case:
'I don’t give interviews to the Bay Guardian because what are they possibly gonna say that will make my people look good?'

What is your stance on quality-of-life-crimes?
'San Francisco finds itself in these tough situations because they wanna be liberal, they wanna boast about their liberal views politically. So when a situation comes up—that is homelessness, prostitution—they don’t really know what to do.
'If people don’t mind somone walking into the New Century Theater, or Mitchell Brothers, and paying money to sit in a booth, you know what? We don’t care, but then don’t have a vice crimes division. Because the vice division gets complaints, and we’re supposed to go out and investigate those complaints.
'The vice unit would never go into these places unsolicited. The people we get complaints from are usually tourists that go in for a show; they don’t understand what’s going on and the next thing you know, they get propositioned for sex in a booth and they get offended. And before the guy leaves town back to Iowa, he calls the cops and we have to respond.
'I’m in the personal belief that prostitution should be legalized and controlled. I think marijuana should be legalized. If it’s sold in a controlled setting, like sex, these are victimless crimes. If someone wants to go smoke a bunch of doobs, that’s [their] business. If you’re gonna legalize alcohol, I don’t see why you can’t legalize marijuana.'

What’s one thing you’d like the Hip-Hop Community to understand about your organization?
'The community needs to understand that the police department is on their side. We’re not in there to racially profile or abuse people. We’re there to give people the opportunity for a law-abiding, peaceful life. Having said that...
'Police work is a contact sport. If you see a cop in an altercation, it doesn’t mean the cop’s beating the person up. There’s fights, there’s physical contact, there’s people that go down. When that happens, it doesn’t mean the cop is being brutal.
'Our officers are governed by the Office of Citizen Complaints, and when people make complaints about excessive force or any other unwarranted action, they are investigated and reviewed by the OCC. The OCC takes in about 1,000 complaints a year, and they’re only able to sustain 60 of those one thousand. Most sustained complaints involve things like inappropriate language or attitude. Incidents of excessive force against a citizen are extremely, extremely rare. In 15-20 years there’s been no shooting by one of our officers that was deemed unlawful or illegal by the courts or by the OCC. It doesn’t happen.
'Until there’s an understanding in a community that we’re there to help, then what are we doing there?'

Sisterz of the Underground

Pic By Mischief Media.
By Miz P

Right now, the California public school system is in chaos. The funding of city schools in particular are infamously under-funded. As a result, after-school activities like sports and art programs at these institutions have taken a major hit. That's where the Sisters of the Underground (SOTU) have stepped up to battle the decline in creative outlets for Bay Area kids.

As the morning fog burns off and rays of sun scratch through, a group of children, accompanied by two youthful counselors, board a MUNI bus from within Presidio to the depths of the Mission District. The bus comes to a grinding halt and the posse scuddles out towards the wide-open doors of the Cellspace: a bombed-up community center that sticks out like a sore thumb compared to its dulled brick and industrial metal neighbors.

What kind of activity would draw a group of young kids from Presidio to a tagged-up warehouse deep in the Mission? Simple: this is but one of the many workshops taught by the Sisterz of the Underground. By grooving to both old- and new-school jams, four hours every day for the next five days, this novice group of eager young students will be introduced to the world of breakdancing.

While sitting cross-legged, gathered in a school circle on the cold warehouse floor, a petite woman appears from around the corner; it’s their first glimpse of the instructor; she’s rocking baggy sweat pants, a pair of well-worn Adidas, and a fresh do-rag fitted to her dome. She introduces herself with a warm smile as Sarah; but at 5’ tall, she encourages the class to address her by her b-girl name, “Smalls”...

The Sisterz of the Underground understand that after school, children are often left with little resort than to roaming the streets once the three o’clock bell rings. So the Sisterz reach out to these kids where the government and other agencies will not.

With a firm belief in hip-hop as a culture and an appreciation of how impressionable kids are, the collaborators at SOTU use the elements of hip-hop to impress kids and so teach the importance of love and compassion for others.

The teachers roster, which at one point consisted of only two instructors, has since flourished to over 17 eager and qualified heads who, come this fall, will jive into hundreds of Bay Area classrooms to teach kids the four main elements of hip-hop; Deejaying, Emceeing, Breaking, and Graffiti.

...In the traditional first-day-of-class fashion, Smalls gets to know her students. With faces from diverse backgrounds with names from Albert to Zoe, she finds out that the class is a mix of fourth- and fifth-grade boys and girls; half of them are there because their parents signed them up, a few because they’ve seen breaking on TV and want to improve on their techniques. The rest seem to twiddle their thumbs and pick their noses quietly with no real answer to the question. Whether the children are there by choice or by force is irrelevant, because Smalls and the other two instructors—Machine and Crykit—are extremely passionate about their art. With the class in their hands, even students barley-coordinated enough to fall to down will leave with a little b-boy or b-girl spark inside of them.

Like any class, Smalls has a structured lesson plan for the students over the next few days. Her plan emphasizes fundamentals such as proper stretching, some basic top-rock moves, smooth transitions, and solid footwork. Using what they learn, these mini b-boys and b-girls will duke it out in a friendly battle for the most ill crew at the end of the week...

The Sisterz of the Underground started years ago as a collective of female expressionists and has since grown to incorporate both men and women of the hip-hop culture, spanning from the west coast to Australia. Their roster of teachers began with only two instructors, and has since grown to over seventeen motivated and qualified heads. The instructors range from breakers such as the all-female Extra Credit Crew, to emcees from Bay Area crews like Felonius and Greans, and on to deejays like Megatron from the East Bay...

...During a brief breaking history lesson, Smalls informs her now wide-awake students that the dance form took off in the late 60’s, developed by New York street gangs as an alternative to violence. When asked if there is any specific move they hope to learn, a few of the boys anxiously squeal that they want to spin on their heads. Sarah then cranks the volume on the ghetto blaster; the room floods with intoxicating break-beats, igniting a wave of head bobbing. Then, she begins the class with these words of wisdom: “Before you can windmill, you must learn your baby freeze and backspin, and you’ve got to learn to stand on your head before you spin on your head...”

The idea for the Sisterz was spawned after a monumental show in January of 2001 at the Justice League (now the Independent). Los Angeles native and recognized hip-hop promoter Sarah Saltzman, aka Smalls, had just relocated to the Bay Area and, to show love for the local scene, she threw an event like no other; Smalls hoped her party would pose an especially inviting gesture towards women to take a more active roll within the hip-hop community. With a line-up consisting of all-female acts ranging from poets, emcees and breakers, she called the event ‘Sisterz of the Underground’. Her “gesture” was praised so highly by the audience and by local heads in general, that there arose a need for a greater and more powerful force; thus the Sisterz of the Underground was born as an organization. By 2002, Smalls had forged a bold collective with an ambitious mission...

...During the course of the week, the students are taught the importance of rhythm and exposed to a variety of classic breaking maneuvers; they learn how to utilize each move effectively in their routines—using transitions like sleepers appropriately and maintaining proper footwork at all times. The kids grow familiar with breaking and its battle environment through the execution of creative exercises—like "B-R-E-A-K," a b-boy version of the basketball classic "H-O-R-S-E," and "Duck, Duck, Battle!," a modified version of the playground favorite "Duck, Duck, Goose!," where the “goose” must partake in a two-round b-boy/b-girl battle.

Although an obvious class objective is to give the children a greater knowledge of breaking, the instructors under SOTU emphasize far greater values: they advocate “battle skills” as a form of conflict resolution, just as the original breakers did—by imparting positive, more-conscientious forms of interaction and showing no tolerance for negativity or disrespect.

On the last day of class, before Smalls has even stepped foot in the classroom, half of the students are sporting do-rags—not for fashion, but for friction; one girl’s strapped with knee pads, and if there were anymore coffee grinders going on you’d think you were in Peet’s. The kids close with their battle partners and squeeze in a few last seconds of practice before the rounds kick off.

Once they’ve assembled in their school circle, Smalls drops the beat and a pair of b-girls under the alias The Breakettes comes with quick indian stepping, sleepers galore, head bobbing, and an in-your-face attitude. The girls’ opponents are two boys who call themselves Fantastic Elastic and are, for the most part, greatly lacking rhythm, but can baby freeze like there’s no tomorrow. The next few crews dance it off and the battle comes to a cordial close, with no declared winner, in the spirit of equality.

Unique workshops such as these continue to build support for the Sisterz of the Underground in the Bay Area and beyond. Those involved show no sign of slowing and strive towards one day constructing a Sisterz of the Underground community center as a safe haven for children to learn and practice the elements of hip-hop. SOTU always has several other projects in the works as well. This coming year is slated to be one of the most productive with solidified workshops with Mission Urban Arts, a twelve week program consisting of twelve weeks of deejay and breaking lessons, a choreography program at KITP Bayview Academy, and even a fourth-period class at a local high school.

Be sure to look out for an upcoming compilation the Sisterz have set for release soon through Outta Nowhere Entertainment entitled Queendom, featuring original tracks from immidiate members of the collective such as Neb Luv and heavyweights like Bahamadia, Apani B Fly, and the Concious Daughters. With soul and intensity, the Sisterz of the Underground will continue to deliver a message of equality, love, and positivity for as long as there are those who truly believe in the power of hip-hop.

Joyo Velarde

By Mike Conway

Joyo Velarde could have been anything she wanted. At UC Davis, she pondered being a TV journalist. But after an internship with NBC, she found the corporate culture of television too shallow and fickle. But Joy’s true calling was not to find her at college; it had been with her long before.

We enter life with very little, we leave with even less. Though naked, we are born with a certain something to help us along the path bestowed on us. That something is how we communicate destiny to the world; discovering it and using it is our highest purpose.

Joyo Velarde was destined to sing. She has developed her voice since childhood. As a junior in college, Joy was very much in a shell. She was disillusioned with her academic path in journalism, perhaps a little bit shy, and not entirely confident with her singing voice.

At the same time, however, she had a relationship with this guy named Tom Shimura. Captivated by her voice, Tom urged her to make something of it. She took his advice and formally studied singing at Davis and San Jose State. The San Jo’ program eventually landed her a role in a world famous opera, where she performed live, onstage in Rome, Italy as the sultry Gianetta, a supporting role in Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir D’amore (The Elixir of Love).

Now, Joyo Velarde’s voice is heard by millions and it’s clear to her it was all meant to be. “In my growth as a person,” Joy says, “it’s definitely solidified in me that there’s a reason for everything.” Tom became known as Lyrics Born. The relationship they shared was true love and became marriage. And together their talents became a fluid union between a baritone emcee and a soprano songstress.

In 1996, Joyo sang back up to Lyrics Born on the underground hit “Balcony Beach”. The song flows like a scene in an opera. Our hero Lyrics Born lays on the railing of a oceanside balcony, musing on life in general and preparing a soliloquy. But first, Joy croons in from across water; her tone surges in with each wave, like she is the sea itself echoing about how she moves the sand with her tides.

Cut to 2003: LB releases his debut solo effort Later That Day, off Quannum Projects. The album has since exploded beyond expectation, and Joy plays a major role in that success. She sings back-up on several tracks, including “Love Me So Bad” which still rides atop the charts on major radio stations like LIVE 105.

Joy says her vocals have a distinct purpose when backing up Lyrics Born. “When we write together, [we] just try to make sure that both sides are represented, that we both represent the characters that we wanted.” She’s not your typical songstress that unconditionally validates a male emcee. Joy is an independent, balancing perspective; her presence in the mix adds a voice of reason with her own prerogatives while her partner lyrically navigates the tensions and tribulations of a man on a mission.

From a well-studied, classical voice across to the Mary J. Blige school of deep soul, Joy’s signing covers a range the size of Mongolia. It’s no surprise then that some of the tracks from Later on which she appears have emerged from the underground and into the mainstream. In the taxi-flick Collateral, Jamie Fox listens to “Love Me So Bad” in his cab. You can hear Joy along with Constance Lopez in a Diet Coke commercial that plays a couple bars of “Callin Out”.

Some longtime fans are taken aback by this commercial success. After all, Joyo Velarde and her Quannum cronies are some of underground hip-hop’s greatest treasures, and hell-no do we want pop culture hijacking our jewels. Still, Joy aint trippin. The important things in her life—inspirations like family and friends—remain true despite any commercial success. “The fam thing never changes,” she confides, “People hear our songs on commercials and think everything that comes with that is in place as well, but it’s not. If our music can get through to other people, what’s wrong with succeeding at that?” Indeed, people in far-away suburbs are now receiving small doses of high-quality hip-hop, albeit through the medium of slap-happy soda ads.

But Joy and her crew don’t go into recording studios to think up jingles for Coca Cola, but to make music as they always have. “It should always be about doing the next project. I don’t think anyone should get complacent.”

That next project for Ms. Velarde is her very own solo album. “We’ve been chipping away at it for about four to five years,” says Joy. That time-span served as a lesson in patience as she waited until things were just right for the project. “I’m definitely more confident with the way my voice is now,” she says, “I know the kind of instrument I have to offer.” Lyrics Born will produce most of the material (as he did on Later) and manage all the A&R (Artist & Repertoire) aspects.

She classifies her solo effort roughly as a soul record, though not in the traditional sense of the soul genre. Joy modestly asserts that her voice is not a typical instrument of the neo-soul variety; still, the solo focuses on one of soul’s greatest topics: “Love and everything that accompanies love.”

When asked if she has any sad love songs, Joy scrolls through her mental catalog of lyrics and comes upon one song about the father/daughter dynamic. “That’s the blueprint for the relationships you have [with men] for the rest of your life.” Joy explains that when a father is not there substantially or flat-out abandons his daughter, often times a girl grows up thinking “Okay, fuck it. All the men in my life are gonna leave me, so why should I give you my heart?”

Joy is also pondering some political topics as well, but no matter what the topic that she writes and sings about, Joy is somewhat self-effacing about her music. “I don’t believe it’s us making it. I believe it’s God, it’s the universe using us as voices, instruments, emcees, producers, to get some message out there.”

The instrument of Joy is not so much a talent as it is a gift. One gift of the many bestowed uniquely on us all. For Joyo Velarde, it’s not a question of what that gift is, “but the journey of trying to figure out where we can take that gift.”

Joyo’s journey to this point is thus a familiar one. Just when she was disillusioned and uncertain, other people and forces were conspiring to brighten her future. Her future—hell, the future of us all is made in the present; because it is in that moment alone that we all play together as instruments of destiny.

Michael Franti Tours Iraq

franti&soldiers, originally uploaded by smallaxe.

As told to Charlie Russo by Michael Franti

Shortly after interviewing him for our first issue, Michael Franti embarked on a trip to the Middle East to get a first hand street-level view of the war in Iraq. Traveling with a small team of filmmakers, Franti played music for Iraqi citizens and U.S. soldiers alike, creating a short documentary along the way chronicling his interactions with those involved in the current conflict.
The resulting film is titled Habibi, a word meaning “sweetheart” in Arabic, and doubling as the name of a song that Franti composed during his travels. Although the film’s completion date is set for the end of the year, Franti took some time to speak with us about his travels and reflect on his time in the war zone...

I had grown tired of hearing about this war through generals and politicians who never take the time to talk about the human cost of the war, and I wanted to talk with the poets and the writers and the taxi drivers and the hear about their experiences.It was really intense. From the moment you get there you feel the adrenalin and the stress of people that are living in fear and basically never feel safe at any time during the day.... and you quickly become one of those people.

We flew in on a twin-engine plane, and you get over the city of Baghdad and the pilot bends the plane and then does a nosedive-spiral down to the airport. The reason for this type of landing is to avoid shoulder-fired Sans-7 surface-to-air missiles. The Sans-7 is a heat-seeking missile, so it can make an arc back to where you are, but if you’re spinning it can’t find you.

In the daytime, it’s just so crowded on the streets that it’s just impossible for anyone other than a really experienced driver to maneuver around, because so many places have been bombed, and so much traffic has been stopped. At nighttime, actually around sunset, everyone goes back into their house. There are no basics like water in their homes. The electricity only works occasionally for a few hours at a time, and then goes back off again. No one has a job, there is 90% unemployment, and everyone has a gun. People just openly carry guns down the street. Everyone goes inside at 3 or 4pm and then you start hearing gunfire and mortar fire.

We had a lot of interactions. A lot of times I would just chill out on a street corner somewhere and play, or go to a restaurant and have a meal and then play. We would go to the hospital and ask if we could come in and play for the kids. Everywhere we went we were really well-received and as soon as I would start to play some people would come around and just clap. There is really just no music there at all; especially from a foreigner... especially an American foreigner.

We were staying real close to the Sheraton Hotel...which is filled with journalists and U.S. soldiers. There was a little catina were they would all go on their time off, and I played for about 40 soldiers. Well... when I sang the song “Bomb the World”, which goes, “you can bomb the world to pieces but you can’t bomb it into peace.” I was never more afraid in my life...playing in front of 40 soldiers who were holding an M-16 in one hand and a beer in the other. But afterwards they all came up to me and we all talked, and there were two or three of them who said, “I support the war. I’m a patriot. I support our Commander in Chief.” Then about half of them said, “I really wish we would have gone to the U.N. before we came here. I supported the war before I got here and now I don’t see what the point is.” And the rest were like “Fuck this place. Fuck this war. Fuck George Bush.” But every single one of them, more than anything, said that they wanted to go home, and that they felt like sitting ducks. There are about 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. In Baghdad alone, they have 4.5 million people.

When the troops first came, they were trying to win a military victory... and they succeeded; they overthrew the government. But now the war is to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi citizens. But having Abu Gharib, handpicked leaders, no elections, having a lot of civilians that were killed and no water, no electricity and no jobs... you’re not gonna win over the hearts and minds holding an M-16 in your hand, and the troops are aware of that. I talked to some people in the military who were pretty high up the chain of command, who told me that they couldn’t withdraw without first having hundreds of thousands of more troops there. It would be too much of a danger to just withdraw.

So I believe that we’re going to see more and more of the same. As time wears on the situation is gonna become worse both here—in terms of how much were paying for the war, and in Iraq—how much the people are suffering. Eventually the fighting is gonna build up to a point where it is creating almost a civil war situation. They’re gonna have to manage the country and give the Sunnis one part, and the Kurds another part, and the Shiites another part. That’s just my prediction, because I can’t see how America is gonna allow a Shiite government to run that nation. And I dont see how the people of that nation are gonna stand for being constantly shot at.

One final positive thing is that whether it was playing music for the troops or the kids with no legs, or the people on the street, it didn’t matter what the words to the songs were or what the melody of the song was. What was important was that we felt like we were all together in song. And I think that is why God gave us music.

Kat Ouano: The Keys of Crown City

Kat Ouano
Pic by Matt Reamer. Fashion by Nicacelly.
-By Jeremy Tanner

Before I met Kat Ouano I would never have guessed that there were young boys and girls in Kansas playing classical piano competitively. Not for the love, not for their parents, but for the judges. Kat knows all about it because she was one of those youngsters. Recently I went to the Elbo Room in the Mission and watched Kat burn up the keys for the Crown City Rockers.
The Elbo Room was packed like a rush hour Muni, sweat droplets were condensing on the ceiling, people bobbed and nodded frenetically to the beat—and then Kat played her solo. With the rest of Crown City behind the curtains, the crowd’s energy fell upon Kat like a camera lens coming into focus. She wound hip-hop around classical music like audio braids. This is how Kat orchestrates when she plays—she started by giving judges goose bumps in Kansas, but now she spends her time in the Bay Area teaching people how to dance at hip-hop shows.

What time does your best work happen?
At night, when there’s no real distractions and you can be awake without bothering anybody and without being bothered. I’m a night owl, that’s why I can’t stick to any real job because then your life becomes centered around this fixed schedule. You can’t go outside of that boundary because then the next day you won’t be able to function.
If you make music while you’re exhausted your music will be exhausted, monotonous. You get the same tone in everything and you’re thinking why is it so dull? Maybe because you’re starting it at 4 o’clock in the morning(laughs)! They’ve always said a true musician has a day job, you’ve seen those bumper stickers, but it’s like, you know, it’s got to be a balance of being a true artist and knowing where you’re going if you want to live well.

I guess it’s the romantic ideal.
Yeah, I love the romantic ideals. It makes life worth living instead of just working for somebody else … If I go a couple of days without making any kind of music, not playing, not making a beat or not hanging out with the guys and just talking about shit, I’ll just turn into a weird-ass weirdo that’s mean and grumpy and doesn’t want to make a decision, and I have to ask myself what’s going on? Then we’ll get together and have a rehearsal and I’ll think, “oh yeah, this is what I need to be doing all the time!” But then there’s those devils in there, like, “Here, we’ll pimp you, take a job and we’ll give you all this money!”

Just so that people know a bit more about the history of Crown City Rockers, how did you guys originally find each other?
We started out as Mission. We actually all met in Boston because me, Max (Max MacVeety) and Headnodic (Ethan), all met at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Headnod knew Moe Pope from the streets and then me, Headnod and Moe moved in together. Moe knew Raashan (Raashan Ahmad) who had lived out in Boston before and was convincing Raashan to move back out to Boston from Pasadena. Raashan knew Woodstock from Pasadena and Raashan convinced Woodstock to move out to Boston, and that’s where we formed. That’s also where the name Mission came from because we were all living in Mission Hill in Boston. And then we all moved out to California for a while and that’s when we released our first album, Mission One. Then the UK band Mission asked us to change our name.

How did you come around to that name?
Raashan and Woodstock are from Pasadena and Pasadena is the “crown city”, I guess it’s like the crown of the valley, and so that’s where Crown City came from. Rockers just sounded cool, it sounds like an old break-dancing crew, or like an old roller derby team (laughs).

So now that you’ve been out here for a while, how would you compare the two different hip-hop scenes?
Wow, they’re totally different, like in Boston everything is a hustle, you’re constantly moving and everything is constantly moving around you. It’s a different atmosphere. I don’t want to say grimy, but it’s more gritty and has a little bit of a rougher edge, whereas out here it’s all smoothed-out and more chill. You can kind of get lost in letting things happen, it’s more relaxing, but it still has that funk, that chill, party feel. But actually I haven’t been back to Boston in so long. It’s this fantastic idea in my head of how it used to be. That goes along with the spirit of being young, I want to go back now and get that hustle back (laughs)!

I’m curious to know how the process was of adapting your classical training to hip-hop music?
I guess there’s a direct correlation with performing in general. When I was playing classical music competitively in Kansas it was performing for the judge. It was to keep the judge totally focused and interested. It’s the same thing with a show, you have to keep the audience totally with you no matter where you’re at. If you’re really excited then they should be excited as well, if you’re really intense then they’re hanging on every note.
Performing in general is … theatrical. In classical music you can get a heart beating really fast depending on what you’re playing and how intense it is. With a hip-hop song it’s the same thing, you know? That song “It’s The” that I play, that’s a classical piece morphing into a hip-hop song. It’s the perfect marriage of those two. I’d be playing a Beethoven piece or something like that and just imagine a beat behind it because the tempo is there; it’s like a zone that you’re in.

So do you have a good sense of what the audience is feeling most of the time?
Totally, but it changes with every audience. Depending on the audience, it’s like a chameleon effect, you’re trying to feel what everyone is feeling so that you’re all in that same little bubble. Say one night your playing a show at a little bar, there’s maybe like five people there drinking beer or whatever. There’s not a huge stage, it’s just our amplifiers and a tiny PA, so we’ll just tone it down a little, make it a little more jazzy, free it up. We don’t have a real set list, we’ll experiment with them but it will be relaxed. Then the next night it’s a huge stage, a huge crowd, lights and everything. With more people you have to exaggerate your energy and really bang it out so that everyone can get a taste.

How do you decide where to place your notes in the songs?
It depends on the song. The process is that there is no process (laughs). We’ve tried everything—including trying to have a process—but that just gets thrown out the window. It can range from us just jamming, having a good session while Raashan is writing and bam, there’s the song. Or we’re jamming and somebody presses “record” during the session and we find one bit that works and we go off of that. Maybe we’ll move it around but that piece is what we build off. Or someone comes up with a beat that just sounds totally cool, like Woodstock made a beat one time and said, “Could you guys try to replay this and make it sound better?” There’s five people in the band so we have five filters for the music, and if one person says, nah, that’s not bumpin’; it needs something else, then it needs something else! And all of us are nit-picky as hell! That’s the quality control (laughs)!

Where do you see hip-hop going in the next few years?
Well, I see a lot of hip-hop bands coming up these days which I think is great because so many of the kids out there see hip hop as just being about a deejay and an emcee, which is definitely what it is, but they need to be exposed to more live musicians to really experience how music is created on an instrument rather than just samples.

So is that where you would steer hip-hop?
Hell yeah! I’m a musician! I would also make hip-hop shows more entertaining, If you’re going to go to a hip-hop show, it should give you something that you’ve never seen or felt before. Sometimes they’re just so boring and everybody there is angry (laughs). It’s like okay, maybe that’s the show in itself, maybe you just go to be all tough and everything, but I know you feel different (laughs)! Come on, show it!

Pam the Funkstress

By Bella Bakrania

The opportunity to go record shopping with Pam the Funkstress, the deejay for The Coup, was too good to pass up. I’ve seen her rock many parties, mix with her hands deftly racing, even mix with her chest!

Bella: What do you look for first when you get to a record shop?
Pam: I look for the old stuff.  There’s nothing new that’s really catching my eye. But I like Lean Back, the new Black Rob, the new Mobb Deep, and the new Jadakiss.

How often do you check the stacks?
About 3-4 times a month. But there’s nothing really that I don’t already have.  I buy more 12” and lay off the mix records. Sometimes I’ll get a mix record for a specific track I can’t get on a 12”, and it can be a good deal at 7 tracks for $10.99. But you can’t beat having the instrumentals.

What do you do once you get home with the records?
Everything’s in my garage. You know (she smiles wide and takes a fake puff on a fake joint) I smoke, pull the records out, start playing and get into it.  Sometimes I mark them up, I only wanna keep the records I’m gonna play at least four times.  I got a lot of records. But, a lot of my records got got.
Yeah. Me too, I’ve had records stolen at gigs, it’s painful.

Have you heard the new Roots?
Yeah it’s good.
Y’know, sometimes, I’m like, do I really want that?  But then sometimes, when I’m in a club, I wanna hear it, so I get it.  I am stingy on records.  There are certain things I should buy, but if I don’t like it, I don’t wanna play it.

What’s one of those club requests you don’t like?
“Slow Motion For Me”. What crap. I hate that song. It’s garbage. 

[She fires though the comp stacks and makes note of some more whack tunes, warning me.]
Like why did they do a love song on that hardcore Biggie beat? What were they thinking?

What’s your dj style all about?
When I play in clubs, I want people to dance. You can’t play slow stuff at midnight, but maybe at 9pm. Ooh – [pointing to “Hyphy”] you got this? You gotta have this!

[I take note of the many records with hoochie-lookin women on the covers, with Playboy style tease poses.]

So Pam, what do you make of this, the way wax is marketed to deejays as if they’re all men, with the girlie photos and all?
Girls don’t put out records [as much], that’s why it’s like this.

Are you planning on putting anything out?
I’ve got two mixes, one is an all Bay Area mix, it’s the knock! It’s like slammin! It’s got Mobb, Cellie Cell, RBL Posse. Apollo is working on my cover art.  For the cover I want a lady’s hand with dj needles as her fingernails and “Pam the Funkstress” written on it. Just an idea.

Have you been doing radio?
I did AOL live with Davey D and KMEL with Alex Mejia.

What gigs are you playing right now?
Some Saturdays I play Strawberry at the Endup in SF, it’s Toph One’s party. You can play anything. People get down. I can play Mack 10 there and they love it. 

I heard you manage a small business also?
Yeah—I run a catering business and I’m still doin it. It has been good. God has blessed me! I do weddings, and in the summertime I am really busy. For three months straight—it was bad timing this summer. I deejayed and catered a wedding in August and it was tiring.

Have you been interviewed a lot?
I was on 92.7FM recently. But me, I’m not gonna go whining after anyone. I’m not into going after the press thing, if they want to talk to me, they come to me.

So what are the tracks you always gotta play?
Snoop-”Bitch Please” and “Upside Your Head”
Tribe Called Quest-anything.
Lil Buck-old stuff.
EPMD-”You Gots to Chill
That’s me.

...But truly, having the records is only half the game, the other half is all about your skills. Pam’s straight-up style while talking is refreshing, cuz she doesn’t play up the fact that she has amazing skills, and pulls off deejay tricks that leave guys with their mouths hanging and their eyes envious (literally, I’ve seen it).  I thank her and SHOUT! for the fun field trip to the store and set out home with my own little stack to do what Pam says – pull em out, play em, and get into it, prepping for the next party to rock.


-by Folklore

Mispronunciations aside, Oakland vocalist Goapele [Gwa-pa-lay] has been timesharing ears with Okayplayer songbirds Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Meshell NDegeocello, and Jaguar Wright for a season or two. Year-’round, she manages Skyblaze Recordings, the label she co-owns with her brother Namane; and together they’ve scored a national distribution deal with Sony.

Goapele means “to go forward” in the South African dialect of her grandmother, Tswana. The 27-year-old South African and Jewish artist has lived up to her name through the strength of some local airplay of “Closer”–the first single from her debut album Even Closer: a foray through the phenomena of life, love, and politics. She built her skill by way of the Oakland Youth chorus, the Berklee School of Music in Boston, and her brother’s deejay/production crew Local 1200.
In 2001, Goapele toured internationally with Spearhead, and appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman. In 2002, she introduced some uncharacteristic crooning to the hip-hop audience on the Hieroglyphics’ footlong “Soweto.” In 2003, “Closer” lit up the Honey OST soundtrack. Now, in 2004, she’s on the cover of SHOUT! Magazine. What could possibly be next for this rising star?

SHOUT! At what point did you realize that music would be your career?
Goapele: I would say as a child. I thought about it when I was a little girl. I watched people at live shows, musicians, singers, and dancers on stage. I listened to a lot of albums that my parents had, my own music, and music that my peers were getting, and I felt like that’s what I wanted to do. And not just to be a singer, but to be in the arts, and singing was one of those things.

Describe your own music with any pertinent influences.
I write songs from a lot of my own experiences. I’ve been influenced by a lot of different music from South African jazz and soul to hip-hop to rhythm & blues to all types of different music, and I’m just trying to create music that I feel, and it doesn’t really fall into a category. But you know people interpret it in different ways when they hear it.

How does your family influence your musical career? I understand that your brother is your manager, so how is that situation as opposed to a strictly professional relationship?
It’s the only situation I’ve ever been in to be honest with you. It’s the way that I started so I don’t even have anything to compare it to. But I do work closely with people that I trust and we share a vision, and I’m thankful that that’s my experience and introduction into the music business.

Discuss the transition from the initial indie release–which I guess sold like 3,000 units–to a Columbia distribution deal with extended advertising and guest financing. How does that change your resources?
The 3,000 copies is what we initially sold in the Bay Area before we even started our own record label when we were selling the EP at live shows and at Amoeba and Rasputin. Then we decided to start our own label called Skyblaze Recordings and got national distribution with the support of Hieroglyphics. And we actually sold about 65,000 independently–mainly in the Bay Area and in California, but also throughout other parts of the US. We just did a deal with Sony in December I guess, and then they re-released the album. So Even Closer has continued to sell since then. I haven’t noticed that much of a change; the music definitely has stayed the same. We added one remix on the album of “Childhood Drama,” which we just weren’t able to release before. Probably by being involved with Sony, we’ve gotten some more financial backing that has made touring and costly things like that a lot more accessible, but I couldn’t tell you about any dramatic changes. I’m working on an album now that will [release] on Skyblaze/Columbia, that will just start coming out in that way [nationally distributed].

What would your career highlight thus far be?
Getting to meet other artists [which] I greatly admire [who] are aware of my music and support it. That has been really special to me. Getting to see the effect of my music on other people that I may not have known that I would touch, or would even be into what I’m doing. It catches me off guard sometimes and feels like a blessing, and I feel like I’m doing music for more than just my own enjoyment, so that feels good.

You previously mentioned Hieroglyphics, your brother was a DJ and you started singing over hip-hop instrumentals, and you said a certain portion of your fans might not have heard of you if it weren’t for “Soweto”. So you’re bringing in people from different genres. What’s your relationship with hip-hop?
I see myself as part of the hip-hop generation before hip-hop was so popular, and the all-ages events that I was going to were hip-hop events. Even in youth activism, I feel like hip-hop as part of the youth culture was very present. I feel like it’s a lot of my generation’s music, and I would associate myself with hip-hop even if I didn’t do music that had any emcees on it. I think hip-hop’s a combination of old soul music and hard-hitting drums that go way back to African drumming, although it’s changed so much in the music today. But I think even jazz, which has been sampled and had also influenced hip-hop. I think a lot of different music is related, and it’s one of the [types of] music that I relate to and incorporate in my own original music.

How do you feel about the responsibilities of being a full-time artist–maintaining or just submitting to a public persona? You’re now seen as Goapele the singer, as opposed to just another person.
I surround myself by people who know me as a person, and try not to get too caught up. I think I’ve always been a pretty self-aware person, so I may feel more responsibility and feel like I’m representing a little bit more when I make my decisions. But I’m pretty much making the same decisions; I just have more opportunities to do different things now.

The Age of Divisadero Soul

Divisadero,-SF-1944, originally uploaded by smallaxe.

by Mike Conway

If I could travel anywhere, it would be back in time. I want to go back and see, hear and feel the places and moments we can only study now. Going back in time is not as hard as it seems; many backdrops of the past remain with us. All you have to do is go to those places and imagine the things you know about the past, and you’re there.

I just got back from such a trip, that I took after speaking with Ms. Josephine Robinson. From 1959 to 1977, she and her husband ran a nightclub and restaurant at 543 Divisadero Street in San Francisco. During this period, just four blocks east, the Fillmore Jazz Era was in full swing. Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and countless other gods of jazz played up and down Fillmore. The ‘Moe had a reputation as the Harlem of the West.

But along nearby Divis, a parallel surge of jazz and early soul was blazing. More than just a music scene, Divisadero was its own nation, its own economy, and its own revolution. History has mostly forgotten this street; Ms. Robinson has not.

Though she modestly insists her memory has faded in her old age, she lucidly recalled a lot about her tenure at Club Morocco. Her kind, grandmotherly voice spoke of the many patrons she would occasionally “po’liquor” for. Herb Caen ate there often, and called the Morocco the “Salt ‘n’ Pepper” because it drew both blacks and whites together in their mutual quest for good food, music, and fun. This was at a time when prejudice was the absolute status quo; even in San Francisco, a woman couldn’t serve alcohol in a bar unless she was on the liquor license. Never the less, the Morocco was a place where all kinds of folks could dress up and get some dinner, dance, and catch acts like Ike and Tina, Marvin Gaye, and BB King. Giants’ legendary ballers Willie Mays and McCovey might be eating at the table across from yours.

But the Morocco was much more than a happening joint. It was part of a whole scene. All along Divisadero, you had bars and nightclubs like the Both And, the Bird of Paradise, the Sportsmen’s, and the Half Note. Across the street, at the Harding Theater, Curtis Mayfield played one of his last shows in the city. Up until 1965, folks would dance and parley up and down Divis until 2:00am, then hop over the hill to the ‘Moe and famous places like Bop City, which carried the vibe until the break of dawn.

But more importantly, Club Morocco was one of the many African American-owned businesses. Ms. Robinson recalled that throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s on Divisadero, roughly 75% of all businesses were black owned. It was its own economy of beauty parlors, barber shops, boutiques and, of course, the nightclubs. You could get a haircut, eat a nice meal and dance your ass off to live music, all in a single block.

In 1955, just as the Robinsons were putting together the money that bought 543 Divisadero, the U.S. Supreme Court set the guidelines for desegregation in its Brown II decision. Yet oppression-by-segregation would not just end at the drop of a gavel. Brown II might have been a wonderful development in the Civil Rights Struggle, but it was also wonderfully vague. Blacks might have been free to then find work unimpeded by law, but they had been deprived of such opportunities for centuries. “Sure you can join our union, but—what’s this? No union experience? Sorry.”

That’s where the Robinson family stepped up. To help their community, the Robinsons hired waitresses, bartenders, and busboys—way more of them than they ever needed—so that black folks could get the necessary work hours and go on to get jobs, join unions, gain benefits and live better lives. So when you went to the Morocco, you weren’t just seeing Marvin Gaye or James Brown rock the house, you were seeing a subtle revolution against de jure racism. And with so much wait-staff, the service at Morocco must have been impeccable.

The ‘70s brought the notoriously scandalous “redevelopment” of the Fillmore district. Buildings that housed black families and businesses were being suspiciously condemned for “utility upgrades”; fires would mysteriously destroy others. By 1977, Divisadero was reeling from it all. Businesses folded as pimps and prostitution moved in full time. An ardent Protestant, Ms. Robinson could no longer stomach serving this new clientele. She convinced her husband to sell, just before the avalanche of crack and Reaganomics plowed through.

Tony Bennet is famous for leaving his heart in San Francisco; San Francisco itself often leaves its heart in the past. The forces of change have paved over many subtle charms of this city, leaving us with only the nostalgia for a bygone time. But just the other night, after I spoke with Ms. Robinson, I took a stroll down Divisadero, and imagined myself there, many years before I was born. The streets would’ve bustled with people of all backgrounds, the scents of dinner would be wafting out the Morocco and Curtis Mayfield would be sound-checking at the Harding. Maceo Parker just might drop in later on...

Then, as I steered my mind back to the present, I wondered, “is that type of thing so far off?” Bars and clubs have returned to Divis, why can’t the vibe? Hell, there’s streets like this all over the Bay, why can’t they have it too? We got the music, we just need the venues and events.

Just recently, the former Morocco, now Club Waziema, just got all the necessary permits to do what they always have at that address. Liquor, entertainment, operating ‘til 2:00am: licenses like these eluded the bar for years, until its customers and neighbors began to pressure city and state agencies to cough them up. It’s said over and over that a community working together can make a difference, and it’s true. When a community (hint!) collaborates to promote and support itself, in whatever way, what would it need of any outside help? Would a community then need corporations to create jobs for it? Not really. Would it rely on politicians to slowly dole out rights and privileges to it? Probably not. When we start to provide these things to ourselves, then maybe we could get serious about revolution and independence as a movement.