Sights & Sounds is your weekly guide to the Bay Area arts scene. Theater artist and Campo Santo co-founder Sean San Jose told KALW’s Jen Chien about three fantastic arts events happening around the Bay this week.
Nick Hadikwa Mwaluko's play, Waafrika 123, takes place in 1992 in a fictional village outside Nairobi, Kenya. The audience follows Awino, a transman who navigates hir transition against the constructs of tradition and tribe. Awino falls in love with an American woman, Bobby, and when famine strikes, Awino's "choices" are blamed. To regain equilibrium — Awino must be “circumcised” to act like a "real woman." The play asks if Awino will sacrifice hir truth for hir community or if the village will change.
"What's interesting about TheatreFIRST ... I think they're just trying to broaden the types of voices, the types of stories, and who tells the stories and who is seen on the stage. And this is a good example of that."
Tiffany Austin's Unbroken is a soul-steeped affirmation embracing the blues and swing, spirituals and R&B, bebop, post-bop, and Austin’s Louisiana Creole heritage. Austin is backed up by an ensemble including Cyrus Chestnut, Ashlin Parker, and Rodney Whitaker. The multigenerational band mirrors the album's repertoire, which touches on several eras of African American history.
The album opens with an Austin composition that speak to the vicious response that has sometimes met black accomplishment — the searing "Greenwood" connects Watts and Ferguson to the 1921 pogrom that wiped out Tulsa, Oklahoma's prosperous "Black Wall Street" neighborhood. Unbroken closes with righteous marching orders in a riveting duet with Whitaker on the civil rights anthem "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize."
The song provides the key to Austin's overarching argument, that whether the source is Sunday morning worship, Saturday night revelry, or an afternoon protest, African American music is animated by a liberating imperative.
"I first heard Tiffany Austin singing in concert with the great local legend Marcus Shelby, she's just exceptional, astonishing, really great in concert. Now that she's taking on her own work, leading her own work, I think it's just really thrilling."
Legendary Bay Area artist and activist René Yañez passed away earlier this week. Yañez was an icon of San Francisco's Mission District. He had been dealing with cancer since last year, but continued to make art, most recently at a retrospective at the Luggage Store called "Into The Fade."
Yañez's art and activism was shaped by his military service during the Vietnam War, where he was stationed in North Carolina in a medical unit.
Yañez moved to the Bay Area during the Summer of Love. He settled in the Mission District and became a neighborhood icon. He co-founded Galería de la Raza in the 1970s, and he was pivotal to making Día de los Muertos a staple holiday in San Francisco.
There is a public altar at SOMArts for anyone who wishes to pay respects.
"He's been a maverick of mixing our political, cultural, creative lives toghether. he's perservered through all these years, all these decades, to take away the Mission, to take away cultura, to take away Galería ... Any of the important landmark cultural institutions in the Mission, you'll see something of Rene's work in there."