Sight and Sound 12.2

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CONTENT MAGAZINE, SAN JOSE $9.95 Silicon Valley’s Innovative and Creative Culture ISSUE 12.2 May/June 2020 C SIGHT AND SOUND
Kerriann Otaño
Operatic Soprano
3 arts & culture subscribe C
CONTENT #supportlocal
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ISSUE 12.2 “Sight & Sound” May / 2020


Daniel Garcia


Elizabeth Sullivan, Rah Riley

Linnea Fleming, Yale Wyatt

Esther Young, Grace Olivieri

Samantha Tack

Community Partnerships

Kristen Pfund


Aaron Caruz, Jacquiline Contreras

Melody Del Rio, Jesse Garcia


Ralph Buenconsejo


Robert J. Schultze, Sannie Celeridad

Avni Levy, Stanley Olszewski

Mark J. Chua, Arabela Espinoza

James R. Garcia, Peter Salcido


Michelle Runde, Chris Jalufka

Johanna Hickle, Grace Talice Lee

Yale Wyatt, Isaiah Wilson, David Ma

Brad Sanzenbacher, Taran Escobar-Ausman

Gillian Claus, Esther Young, Albert Jenkins

Riley McShane, Brendan Rawson


As this issue goes to print, we are starting the second week of the COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” order. This is no doubt a historic moment; the impact of this disease will extend from the lives that are lost, to the livelihoods it will take. Though we may or may not contract the virus, we as an organization and the people we’ve featured over the last nine years are some of the hardest-hit populations. Small businesses, arts organizations, and independent artists will struggle to hang on over the next few months. Hence, our greatest mission: to support locals. To connect community.

We hope you will not only be inspired by the people of this particular issue, but look back to the archives and find the creatives, innovators, and entrepreneurs bringing vibrancy to the Silicon Valley. Let’s all join together; and then, we can all move forward.

We pray you and yours are safe and well.

Thank you, Daniel Garcia THE CULTIVATOR

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County Supervisor Cindy Chavez | McTate Stroman II | Coffee Shift, Inc. | Diane Villadsen

CONTENT MAGAZINE is a bimonthly publication about the innovative and creative culture of Silicon Valley, published by . 501(c)(3)
CONTENT May / June 2020 San Jose, California CULTURE 8 Assembly Bill 5, Brendan Rawson COFFEE 12 Coffee Shift, Inc., Tyler Pinckard & Carolina Castilla COMMUNITY 16 YouthHype, LaToya Fernandez 20 Chopstick Alley Art, Trami Nguyen Cron 24 Art for All, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez SIGHT 28 Filmkik, Alana Mediavilla 32 Interdisciplinary Artist, Jonathan Fung 36 Photographer, Diane Villadsen 42 Photographer, James R. Garcia STYLE 50 West Valley Design FDAT Class 2020 56 WV Fashion Editorial, Mark Chua SOUND 66 Operatic Soprano, Kerriann Otaño 74 Breakbeat Poet, McTate Stroman II 78 Knowmadic, Michael Skulich 82 Album Pick, Needle to the Groove 84 Contributors
Diane Villadsen, pg. 36 James R Garcia, pg. 42
Kerriann Otaño , pg. 66
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West Valley Fashion, pg. 56


Ichiro Sacred Beings

Artists: Marianela Fuentes in collaboration with Sarahi Carrillo and Arturo Gonzalez

The City of San José Office of Cultural Affairs in partnership with Burning Man Project proudly present the artwork Ichiro Sacred Beings as part of Playa to Paseo, an initiative bringing art from Burning Man to Downtown San José. This work was created by Mexico City-based artist Marianela Fuentes in collaboration with Huichol artist Sarahi Carrillo and Paleontologist Arturo Gonzalez.

Appearing through October 2020
Photography by Adrien Le Bivant Ichiro Sacred Beings is located in front of the Children’s Discovery Museum at 180 Woz Way

Assembly Bill 5

With the misguided adoption of Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) this past January, Sacramento is undercutting fundamental parts of the ecosystem for the performing arts in California. The law has resulted in a multitude of scenarios in which artists are losing opportunities to create and California audiences are losing the opportunity to benefit immeasurably from experiencing the artists’ work.

For as long as there have been social movements to right the wrongs of oppressive powers, there have been performing artists to help give voice to the marginalized. Musicians, theater artists, poets, and others have brought forth works that help us all wrestle with society’s greatest challenges and hold the powerful accountable.

Many of these artists have roots right here in our own backyard. Think of San Jose’s own recent inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Doobie Brothers, and their 1976 anthem to people power, “Takin’ it to the Streets,” the corridos of Los Tigres del Norte, the skate punk revolt of Los Olvidados, and the visceral words of our recent poet laureate Mighty Mike McGee. Today, the “Great American Experiment” needs the unique contributions of the performing arts more than ever. Assembly Bill 5 was championed as California’s protection from big tech worker abuses in the new gig economy. Indeed, there were some worthy intentions behind the bill’s efforts to improve the lot of workers trying to piece together a living in

this expensive state. The law is also estimated to bring in $7 billion annually to state coffers in the form of new unemployment insurance taxes, workers compensation insurance taxes, and other fees.

Unfortunately, instead of taking a thoughtful approach to address the seismic shifts occurring in our economy, the state chose to cook up a hodgepodge of exemptions and fixes that do not address the societal and economic changes we are all experiencing. Rather, the collateral damage from the law has resulted in numerous lost gigs and performances for creatives throughout the state. Cultural presenters and artists are left trying to unravel the tangle of red tape and added administrative expenses of conforming to the law. And now, sadly, Sacramento is attempting to buy off small nonprofit arts groups with one-time AB 5 compliance assistance grants and to silence particular creative sectors, such as freelance writers and musicians, with additional piecemeal exemptions.

For many local cultural programmers, addressing the new

law is not just a matter of fighting for an exemption for a particular creative discipline such as musician, dancer, or freelance writer. The law is fundamentally undercutting how a wide swath of small, community-based art making comes to life in our community. AB 5 is acting as a straitjacket upon the creative sector. Trying to regulate the working dynamics of the arts through the same lens of industry and occupational classifications used to regulate Uber, DoorDash, and TaskRabbit does not take into account the myriad of ways artists find time and the wherewithal to produce their work.

Let’s back up for a moment to try to better understand the problem. The reason for the mess is two fold. First, our rapidly evolving economy exhibits incalculable variations of worker/contractor/employer/ collaborator arrangements far too complex to be reasonably regulated by the 69 words of the law’s ABC Test. As currently structured, it is California’s statutory default to define all workers as employees unless the hirer can prove that a worker

Illustration by Ralph Buenconsejo
Social media sanjosearts 9
California’s new gig worker law leaves a wide wake of collateral damage for the performing arts.

is independent according to the ABC Test. The test establishes that a worker can only be an independent contractor if each of these three factors are met:

A. The worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact.

B. The worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.

C. The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.

cians, we work directly with the bandleader to agree on a price and terms, providing them payment as independent contractors. They, in turn, pay their band members in accordance with IRS Schedule C filing rules.

Under AB 5, we are now required to inform musicians, dancers, spoken-word artists, DJs, and other paid performers that they must now become employees of San Jose Jazz for the length of their performance for our audience, often less than 90 minutes. We are now obligated to devote tremendous time and resources to managing this cumbersome process.

munity theaters, cultural festivals, music clubs, dance studios, and garage bands, to name just a few. The complete list would be as easy to define as it is to define a labor category for who is and is not a currently exempt “fine artist” under the law.

For instance, the B portion of the test requires that the service to be performed by a contractor must be “outside the usual course of the hiring entities business.”

This poses numerous conflicts in the cultural programming field. To illustrate, in 2019, San Jose Jazz presented more than 1,000 musicians across 326 different performances. The vast majority were independent musicians and singers from California and around the nation.

For some big-name acts, we contract with their corporate agent and pay the agency for the band’s performance. However, for the vast majority of musi-

For another example, take the situation of an independent wedding event planner who secures a large wedding gig and wants to contract assistance for the big weekend with additional helpers. Under the ABC Test they will have to hire the assistants as W2 employees. The hirer must set up payroll, pay the state required unemployment insurance taxes, make sure to provide proper workplace accommodations and rest breaks.

Second, our legislators’ myopic worldview tries to force every manner of economic exchange for services through the lens of an employer/employee construct. Our pluralistic society and culture are far more kaleidoscopic than this approach allows for. Numerous areas of our civic and cultural life are being caught up in this mire— freelance journalism, youth sports leagues and camps, com-

The sheer might and speed of the California economy is truly staggering. Therefore, ensuring fair competition along with worker and environmental protections is appropriately the concern of Sacramento. However, not all economic and labor relationships are properly understood through a constrictive industry/employee lens. Faith communities, social benefit associations, sporting clubs, avocational affinity groups, worker cooperatives, student internships, craft guilds, and arts organizations all demonstrate labor exchanges and collaborative relationships that don’t fit nicely into AB 5’s world view. For example, in the traditional employer/employee construct, the intellectual properties rights of a new work are owned by the employer, not the artist. As expected, industry sectors with powerful lobbying machines—doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, AAA tow truck drivers—made sure to carve out their exemptions in the original bill. In contrast, those areas of society that did not get a fair shake in the process were the small, the independent, and the marginalized. Small, independent, and marginalized is also an apt description of Silicon Valley’s cul-

tural sector. According to the recent Silicon Valley Index, the number of nonprofit arts organizations in Santa Clara County has doubled since 2012 to more than 900 groups. This is a very exciting development for our local cultural ecosystem. However, more than half of these culture organizations operate on budgets of less than $100,000. Forcing these organizations, probably more accurately described as community-based culture projects, to take on the same regulatory burden of Lyft and Postmates will only result in the demise of some of our most fledgling and exciting local culture makers.

California’s diverse cultural contributions are recognized around the world. Our residents have brought forth tremendous works that explore the depths of the human condition and help speak truth to power. The arts ecosystem is distinctly different from other sectors in the California economy. California legislators need to step up to protect the arts and artists’ unique role in society. Shamefully, Sacramento is currently dismantling the ecosystem for the performing arts to tackle the important issues of our day. The reality of small theaters canceling seasons and independent music and dance studios closing their doors flies counter to the Sacramento preferred narrative of “heroic lawmakers take on big tech to protect the little guy.” They really should hire a good freelance writer to help them with their flimsy script. C

Co-Founder Carolina Castilla Co-Founder and CEO Tyler Pinckard


Following the journey from seed to cup, Tyler Pinckard wants to give more money to farmers and better coffee to the world through his Bay Area–based company.

It’s easy to take for granted how effortless it is to get a cup of coffee. Anywhere you travel, you won’t have to search far before smelling the rich aroma coming from somewhere nearby. But finding a brew that not only tastes good, but that has been ethically sourced from the seed to the cup, is harder to do. For Tyler Pinckard, self-proclaimed coffee lover and CEO of Coffee Shift, Inc., his company’s focus is to disrupt the traditional coffee market to give more back to the farmers and provide better-tasting coffee for the consumer.

After growing up on a horse farm in Arizona, spending time in the military, and then working as an engineer, Tyler finally ended up in a Silicon Valley tech job. Like many in the Bay Area, Tyler splits his time between his day job and Coffee Shift, though his heart lies with his business. First bitten by the coffee bug by Starbucks as a teenager, Tyler found he craved higher quality. “[Starbucks] is pretty bland, and they over toast their coffee, and it makes for a really smoky effect. They’ve actually gone a long way in training Americans to prefer dark coffee,” said Tyler. “I’m coming from the other side of it, where if you roast it too much you burn away a lot of the flavors and the caffeine.” He eventually found like-minded coffee aficionados in his first Silicon Valley office: “We had a very active coffee connoisseur club. We went as far as buying our own green beans and roasting them in the office,” recalled Tyler. “But once you’ve maxed your coffee brewing ability, how do you get better coffee from there? And it’s really going to the source. If you start with bad beans, it’s going to be really hard to make good coffee.”

In 2017, Tyler traveled to Chinchiná, Colombia, with his wife Carolina Castilla, who is Colombian, where they decided to visit a coffee

Photography by Arabela Espinoza
Instagram coffeeshiftinc 13
“If you start with bad beans, it’s going to be really hard to make good coffee.”
–Tyler Pinckard
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farm. When a local farmer told Tyler how much they were paid, he was stunned. “I was just taken aback with how things worked,” he said. “I saw that they were loading huge bags of coffee into a truck, doing 90 percent of the work to bring us quality coffee, and they receive so little for the amount they do.”

Knowing they wanted to get involved, Tyler and Carolina began to forge relationships with farmers in Colombia to source the beans. Going so far as to travel into the mountains to the source of water that nurtures the coffee plants, they immersed themselves in every step of the process.” [B]eing a Californian for the last 10 years, we have the quite the wine culture here,” said Tyler. “If you go to the vineyard, they won’t tell you, ‘These grapes are basically the same as those grapes.’ No, they’ll tell you, ‘These were grown on a south-facing hill, with soil at the perfect pH.’ So I thought, ‘How can we imbue that same sort of connoisseur culture that we have for wine into coffee? And how can we make a system that works in a way that incentivizes the farmers to work with us and lift them out of poverty?’ ”

Officially founded in 2018, the core tenant of Coffee Shift is to give more back to the farmer. As Tyler explained, “The big thing about the business is we pay more for the coffee, and we give ownership stake in [the] company so [farmers] earn shares in the company. The idea is if we invest in the farmers, they are able to use better agricultural processes. I’m trying to build a positive feedback system, because it’s been hard for coffee growers captured by the commodity market, since commodity prices have been extremely low. Most famers I’m working with, they were not making as much as the inputs required to produce that coffee. So it’s obviously an unsustainable system. [Coffee Shift] is a corporation for social justice.”

Coffee Shift sells beans online to businesses and directly to consumers. Tyler will continue to work with Colombian farmers to source small-batch coffee and hopes to find more customers who share his dedication to the perfect cup of coffee, while giving back to the farmers who make each sip possible. C

“If I could impart any wisdom on the youth, what are some gems that I could drop on them?”
-LaToya Fernandez

Photography by





In spite of life’s struggles and the adversity she’s overcome, the lyrical has remained a constant and crucial part of LaToya Fernandez’s life. Fernandez’s love of writing dates back to when she was a young girl: at just eight years old she wrote her first book of poetry. She decided early on she wanted her life to revolve around writing and rapping. However, her plans to pursue those dreams took a backseat when she began college and wound up homeless. Fernandez spent her years in school couch surfing and on the cold streets of the East Coast. With no permanent roof over her head, she learned to be strategic in her relationships with people. She got a membership at the YMCA to shower at the facilities the gym provided and spoke to university officials to get free meal passes. Her time as a homeless student overlapped with her time as a Marine and with an internship with Disney, a time Fernandez describes as “adversity city.” Fernandez was interning at Disney when her identity crisis as a young black woman was rein-

LATOYA Fernandez

Resilience and Empowerment

forced. Fernandez was told she couldn’t be photographed for her ID unless she straightened her hair or wore a wig. Fernandez’s small afro was budding dreadlocks, a look she took pride in and refused to change. Consequently, her time at Disney was cut short, and she went back to Boston where she was studying. Fernandez also continued on with the Marine Corps, and it was there that she was sexually assaulted by a gunnery sergeant. When she reported the assault, she was questioned and ridiculed. “I was told, ‘You are nothing. You are a young little girl in a man’s world.’ ”

After being sexually assaulted, discriminated against for her hair, and struggling to overcome homelessness, Fernandez decided she needed a clean slate. She found her fresh start in 2009 when she moved to the Bay Area, bringing along the resilience she had gained from past experiences. “I remember when I left, I got out thinking that I’m never going to let anyone silence me again or make me feel like I deserve to be violated or that if I speak up, my

voice doesn’t matter,” Fernandez said.

Her love for writing was renewed, and Fernandez found comfort and empowerment in her words—words drawn from the pain she experienced and rose above. That renewal of her love for writing and rap led Fernandez to the dream she once had as a young child. At 21 years old, Fernandez made her way into the music industry with the hip-hop group Ten Worlds. The group was inspired by the Buddhist concept of overcoming or being present in the 10 different states of mind: Hell, hunger, animality, anger, humanity, etc. The group was dedicated to spreading messages of peace and love through hip-hop. “As hip-hop artists, we were making sure we were saying really conscious things and speaking about justice and peace and trying to permeate that into the universe,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez’s new start in California and with Ten Worlds became a literal rebirth when she and a group member had a daughter together in 2009. Her daughter, now 10 years old, is

18 Sight and Sound 12.2

aptly named “Lyric.” In college, Fernandez wrote a short story titled “Lyric,” the first time she received feedback for her creative writing and received admiration from a professor who encouraged her to share her writing with the world. The story illustrated her love for friends and family as though they were songs in the album of her life. She vowed to name her first child after her story, so that she or he might carry on the legacy of sharing the message of love.

After traveling and performing with Ten Worlds, it dawned on Fernandez that her gift as a lyricist was limited by the music industry. What she really wanted to do with her musical abilities was to empower the next generation. Fernandez began working as a tutor at the YMCA after school and during recess, and when she wasn’t in the classroom, she was working as a crossing guard, working her way up as a tutor until she eventually became a teacher. Fernandez has taught at Rocketship Discovery Prep and Downtown College Prep El Camino where she exposed her students to the history that is often left out of typical school lessons and taught

about the harmful effects of systematic racism.

She took her pain, hardships, and lessons learned and turned them into what she calls her gems. Fernandez’s gems are the rap or spoken-word lyrics she shared with her students, spreading empowering messages of self-love. She shared her experiences as a woman of color and connected with them in ways they were familiar with. She took her student’s background into account as she developed her restorative justice approach to teaching. The majority of her students were Latino, specifically Mexican. To connect with them, Fernandez taught what she says is their true history, using Aztec drumming, for example, to bring out their excitement and curiosity.

Her teaching reached a new level when she began QueenHype, a school club that provided the environment young girls need to develop self-love and empowerment. There, Fernandez emphasized the significance of women in leadership positions, building pride around what others might perceive as a hindrance. An effective exercise Fernandez used to teach

this consisted in having participants list the reasons they think they are not powerful. The format starts out as “I’m powerful but…” and is changed to “I’m powerful because…” Fernandez taught students that rather than looking at their hair, skin color, and their cultural background as something that hinders them, they must embrace these features and use them as assets. QueenHype became YouthHype, to include both boys and girls. YouthHype has spread across the country, reaching places like Chicago, and offering students the opportunity to participate in workshops and lead protests.

Fernandez is no longer a teacher but serves as the dean at Downtown College Prep El Camino Middle School and remains active with YouthHype. As for the future, she has big plans. In the years to come, Fernandez plans to run as the council member for District 3. “I think it’s time to change who’s at the table,” Fernandez said. Her roots in rap remain intact. “It’d be cool to have an education-activist rapper that’s in charge of policy,” she laughed.

On a plane ride back from Connecticut last year, Fernandez wondered to herself, “If I could impart any wisdom on the youth, what are some gems that I could drop on them?” In the span of a seven-hour plane ride, Fernandez wrote out her gems, carving them out with care and realized she had written a book with her rap lyrics serving as the foundation. Fernandez’s gems are woven within her book titled Truth, in which she provides both students and teachers with an interactive way to understand complicated concepts like relationships and systemic racism.

After struggling as a college student to find the power in her voice, Fernandez has grown to understand the journey required to find it and never lose it to silence—a prominent theme in her lyrics and teaching lessons. “A student’s voice is the most important voice in the room,” Fernandez said. “As a young person you can never allow your voice to be silent. Stand up, raise your fist, and protest if you need to.” C

20 Sight and Sound 12.2
Founder Trami Nguyen Cron

Chopsticks Alley Art

Incredible art can be found everywhere we go, but it takes a certain presentation to make the brilliance visible to many. Chopsticks Alley Art gives underrepresented artists opportunities to be paid and featured in an honorable way.

The more attention that our careers and home lives demand of us, the deeper we feel the urge to return to ourselves—our origins and the people who remind us of our power in the spaces we inhabit.

Chopsticks Alley Art cultivates this cultural and artistic oasis, run by and for the people whose voices it amplifies. Coordinating gatherings ranging from cultural cooking classes to poetry performances to festivals to pioneering art exhibitions, they expertly frame traditional values in awareness with the new and celebrate these bright new expressions with delicious food at events that are nearly always sold out. But altogether, the volunteers and artists behind Chopsticks Alley Art serve one main mission: to bring visibility to the brilliance of individual Southeast Asian cultural expressions that are not yet recognized in the mainstream.

Trami Nguyen Cron, the founder of Chopsticks Alley Art, lived in cultural crossroads for most of her life. In the 1980s, when many Vietnamese immigrants were fleeing postwar communism by boats, Trami became a political refugee in

France. Because her familial structure was changing as well, she flip-flopped between American and French schools, jumping back and forth between grades. Chopsticks Alley Art was born out of a need she felt herself, after earning an American marketing degree, climbing the corporate ladder, and starting several successful businesses of her own. Looking up novels about Vietnamese Americans one day, she found mostly narratives about refugees and boat people. “We have this beautiful culture and so many stories,” she thought to herself. “I’m going to write mine.”

Her 2016 debut novel, VietnamEazy: A Novel about Mothers, Daughters and Food, placed her in San Jose, which contains the largest Vietnamese population outside Vietnam. As a trilingual emcee for community events, Trami noticed there was plenty of media and entertainment catering to the interests of older Vietnamese folks. When she proposed starting a forprofit publication for a younger Vietnamese audience to her reader base, the response was overwhelmingly positive.

William Street San Jose,
95116 Instagram chopsticksalleyart
Chopsticks Alley Art
Community Center)

Chopsticks Alley, the forprofit publication, is separate from Chopsticks Alley Art, but the two organizations work in tandem, feeding talent from the art nonprofit into the publication. Chopsticks Alley’s multimedia offshoots, which include a talk show via Facebook Live, a podcast, and regular blog entries, were developed by a passionate group of volunteers. About half of these volunteers are artists themselves, and many of them are young Vietnamese and Filipino Americans, who also have a page dedicated to uniting and empowering the voices of their community.

In 2018, Chopsticks Alley Art received support from Knight Foundation to program their first art exhibit, titled Salt Stained. Its opening at Art Object Gallery in Japantown was historically groundbreaking, being the first event in San Jose where the Vietnamese community co-mingled with the Japanese community. “Both of our communities grew out of a diaspora, but World War II left an ugly mark on the relationship,” Trami reflects.

Along with sharing their art outside their community, Chopsticks Alley Art also aims to bridge a generational gap within the Southeast Asian community. “In the Asian culture we’re taught to be humble—to not really express what we want,”

Trami says. For creatives, familial pressure to pursue a technical career path pits traditional thinking against individual passion. Through grants with SVCreates and the San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs, Chopsticks Alley Art created a beautiful program to reconcile this difference.

“Mostly what older Vietnamese folks know is the impressionist or realist art, because that’s what they learned in Vietnam,” Trami points out. “So when they look at something that looks odd, they tend to not like it.” Through a program that takes seniors on bus tours to museums and galleries in downtown San Jose, Chopsticks Alley Art guides the older generation into considering what the artist wants to say, as well as understanding the different career paths in art, ultimately coming to value art.

Chopsticks Alley Art strives to bring their people’s artwork outside of their community, into the mainstream, so that “our narrative, our voices, our version of things is being seen.”

Chopsticks Alley Art wishes to honor the memory of the late Dr. Jerry Hiura, who opened the doors of Chopsticks Alley Art to Japantown and was one of the founding members of the organization. He recently passed away in December 2019. C

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“Chopsticks Alley Art guides the older generation into considering what the artist wants to say, as well as understanding the different career paths in art, ultimately coming to value art.”
–Trami Nguyen Cron


A County Supervisor’s Role in Expanding Art for All

Written by Gillian Claus
Facebook cindychavezinsanjose Instagram supervisorcindychavez twitter supcindychavez
Photography by Daniel Garcia
28 Sight and Sound 12.2
Founder and Creative Director Alana Mediavilla

ACreative Agency


Island girl makes the whole world her home.

s the head of her creative agency Filmkik, Alana Mediavilla maintains a client list full of heavy hitters like Verizon, Volkswagen, and General Electric. She’s collaborated directly with the president of Google Cloud and the chief executive officer of Alphabet Inc. She’s produced videos that required coordinating across Australia, London, and Singapore for the same shoot. But landing and delivering these projects, while impressive by any standard, are far from her highest goals or proudest achievements.

And that’s saying a lot, because when Alana was a little girl, the idea of making films as a profession seemed as likely as flying to the moon. She grew up in Puerto Rico, where life was slow and leisurely. She did schoolwork at the beach, she knew the names of all her neighbors, and during the frequent blackouts, everybody dropped their chores to play dominoes through the night instead. And while she loved the closeness of this childhood home, she still yearned for bigger, broader, richer ways to perceive the world. So at 18 years old, Alana left the island and enrolled at Pratt Institute in New York. Full of hope and earnestness, she arrived in Brooklyn and was immediately welcomed by the verbal abuse of strangers. First, when a

woman dropped a plastic bag of Bimbo biscuits and Alana rushed to help pick them up, the lady screamed, “Don’t steal my cookies!” Alana burst into tears and escaped onto the nearest subway. Then as the train braked to a stop, Alana bumped into another Manhattanite who spun around and shouted in her face, “Back off, don’t mess with me! I’m a Puerto Rican!” The girl was shocked, terrified, and confused on many levels. “What does that mean?” she thought at the time. “I’m Puerto Rican, too!”

Unaccustomed to New York’s harsh cold, Alana spent her first few months crying through the nights. But gradually, New York became her favorite city in the world. Some nights were just like the movies, gallery, bar, and underground party hopping and rubbing shoulders with ordinary people who turned out to be famous artists and musicians. Then Alana, barely out of her teens, found out she was pregnant, and she dropped out of school, only halfway through her degree.

Alana tried everything to support her new family. She stood in lines to collect food stamps, waiting for hours in the winter cold. She combed through public pantries to find Cheerios, her baby’s favorite snack. She even sold homemade purses in Union Square, some-

Portraits by Avni Instagram wearefilmkik alanamediavilla 29
Written by

times making only twenty dollars a day. But it was during this struggle that she found some semblance of home again. Because in Bed-Stuy, her neighborhood, there were addicts, criminals, and sex workers, people she would never have met as an islander, or even as a college kid, and they all became family. Alana said, “Every time I would see them, they would say hello to my daughter. They would always help me when they saw me with the stroller—everybody. It was this community of people—we were all living on the fringe of everything. We were all just trying to do the best that we could.”

After a couple more years of hustling so hard for so little return, Alana and her husband decided they needed a break from the New York pace of life. They moved in with her in-laws, to a little mountaintop ranch in Bonny Doon, California, trading skyscrapers for redwoods and late-night pizzas for farm-fresh eggs. The air was crisp and, as Alana put it, “The stars were worth it.” The young couple could only last four months in such a remote setting. As soon as they saved enough money, they picked up their roots and transplanted to Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, Alana realized that she possessed neither the talent nor drive to become a professional purse-maker. So she picked up

graphic design and started contracting at a video game company called Milk Drinking Cow in the South Bay. A voracious learner and a self-described workaholic, she quickly got involved with other departments and learned a little bit about everything it took to run the business, from coding to distribution to directing and editing promotional videos. Then one day, an all-hands meeting was called where the chief executive officer announced he would be gone for three months, and as the resident jane-of-all-trades, Alana would call the shots in his place. The room of 30- to 40-year-olds instantly took on an air of doubt and resentment, some of them voicing their protests right in front of Alana. But she didn’t let that stop her, and at 23 years old, she took over as the company’s president.

When Milk Drinking Cow eventually closed in 2013, Alana was absolutely devastated. All the time and energy she put into that business seemed wasted. But when the dust cleared, she realized she had a choice: either find a new job or start her own company. Since it would probably take the same amount of time to find her first client versus onboarding with someone else, she decided to establish her own enterprise: a media production company in down-

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town Campbell, the very beginnings of Filmkik. She found clients through word of mouth and skillful pitching, first a local private school that needed marketing materials for their grand opening, then a neighborhood sushi joint, and then, a few months later, Google.

Eventually, Filmkik grew and stabilized enough so that Alana could move the company to the WeWork in downtown San Jose. She celebrated milestones by signing office leases, from a six-month to a one-year contract, from a twoto four-person space. But the extent of their success only dawned on her in November of 2018, big-bellied with her third child, during a Volvo shoot in Portugal, crunching numbers for the next few months leading up to giving birth. She populated a document with expected incomes, punched a few buttons to add it all up, and saw the biggest number she’d seen on a spreadsheet, ever. She couldn’t believe it. She checked the math five times. But no—it was real. Filmkik had arrived.

Alana found satisfaction in expanding the company, but with every project she lands, every check she deposits, her first thought always goes back to the people she hires. She gleefully anticipates paying them more—paying what they’re worth—paying enough so they can

stay in Silicon Valley, rising rents and all. She doesn’t see them as employees; she sees them as collaborators, as lunch dates, as family. “I come into the office, and I see these amazing people animating, illustrating, editing,” said Alana. “One day I went in and I literally felt my eyes water. I couldn’t even control it. I was like, ‘Oh my god, these people are working here with me! And they’re asking me questions, and I have the answers, and that’s weird!’ ”

And so it seems that with Filmkik, this island girl built a home on the mainland, but it doesn’t stop there. Alana plans to take this home global. She dreams of expanding the Filmkik community to every corner of the planet, activating an international network of the best artists in the world, matchmaking the most interesting clients with the most cutting edge talent. Which means that in Alana’s mind, home is not one place at all. It’s a spark of connection, community, and belonging, whether it’s in two creatives collaborating from opposite ends of the earth or in her apartment on The Alameda with her husband and three children, or in a Puerto Rican neighborhood playing dominoes in the dark. C

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Amusic professor once explained that if a person stands in front a piece of art, expressing hate or admiration, it is not the piece of art itself that they find distasteful or pleasurable. Rather, they are responding to an aspect of themselves that is reflected in the piece. Art, then, is relative in nature and does not exist in isolation. It is a mirror of pure intention, reconfigured by the artist to reflect the unseen, the angles that go unnoticed just by viewing straight on. At times these unseen angles prompt the viewer to question how they understand and interact with the world. Interdisciplinary artist, filmmaker, photographer, professor, and pastor Jonathan Fung wields this principal in his work, provoking social consciousness in an effort to bring light to otherwise dark corners of society.

Jonathan is first and foremost an advocate and social activist. He is devoted to utilizing the creative process to bring much-needed attention


to the atrocities of modern slavery and human trafficking. While still surprising to some, California—especially the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles—is recognized as a major hotspot for human trafficking and modern slavery. In 2018 alone, Polaris Project confirmed over 3,000 victims of human trafficking in California. These numbers, however, are just the tip of the iceberg as they only represent cases being reported through Polaris’s national hotline.

Jonathan currently serves as faculty fellow for the Mosaic Cross Cultural Center and is a professor of photography at San Jose State University, where he advocates for historically underrepresented students and teaches through a social justice lens. He hopes to instill a sense of love and compassion that his students will pay forward in their own work. Jonathan accomplishes this through what he knows best: art. “The power of art can overcome psychic numb-

Stan Olszewski Instagram fungfolio 33
Down the Rabbit Hole, 2009 Peep, Washington DC, 2014 Hark, 2012

ing and humanize social justice issues and initiate conversation to attempt to bring change and healing,” Jonathan says. An image can touch the viewer and stimulate an instant response.

In 2016, his site installation piece, PEEP, was exhibited in the Bay Area as part of Super Bowl 50 and in Washington, DC, for the 5×5 Nonuments exhibition, to bring awareness to the commodification of people in the human trafficking trade. Here, Jonathan made multiple circular holes in a shipping container for viewers to peep through. Inside, the viewer saw alphabet blocks dangling. As they slowly turned, photos of enslaved children revealed themselves on the blocks. Then a row of sewing machines came into focus, symbolizing labor trafficking.

One of the main elements that makes Jonathan’s artistic approach unique and powerful is how he uses the physical reality of a situation or place to form the basis, or medium, by which he tells a story. The medium, therefore, is always shifting, dependent on the physical reality of the subject matter. It is as if Jonathan is moving the mirror to reflect the objects which occupy a space or situation in the way he wants you to see them.

In one of his first video pieces in 2001, titled I Eat Therefore I am, Jonathan created a short video of his father eating various foods as a meditation on his father’s then recent episode of strokes affecting his short-term memory and giving him a new obsession with food. Jonathan focused the video on his eating, interspersing it with images of his father’s brain scans. The short video was then pro jected onto a dining table. Jonathan was able to create a piece where the mundane is key to articulating the subtle changes that age and health bring to us all. This method of moving and reframing the viewers point of view is prominent in Jonathan’s work as he strives to undo the numbing of the human psyche.

In 2009’s Down the Rabbit Hole art installation, Jonathan and collaborators used the placement of everyday objects to communicate the dis-

“The power of art can overcome psychic numbing and humanize social justice issues and initiate conversation to attempt to bring change and healing.”

whelmed, as a parent himself, Jonathan felt compelled to devote his efforts toward bringing awareness to this social issue. After much research, he hit the ground running, producing multiple events and collaborating with other agencies, social activists, and other creatives.

“I value collaboration, which is rewarding and creates synergy,” Jonathan says. “I enjoy creating a team of artists and also including students to mentor on a shared vision.” One of Jonathan’s greatest accomplishments came from collaborating with screenwriter Benjamin Enos and executive producer Leslie K. Hodge on the 15-minute short film entitled Hark, which Jonathan produced and directed. The film focuses on one man’s moral dilemma between saving his own life or helping a young girl escape with hers. Hark highlights the way that perpetuators of human trafficking take advantage of a victim’s weaknesses and exploit personal situations. The film won many awards, including best director and best narrative short film. More importantly, it is used to educate others on human trafficking at various screenings and conferences.

tance and discord between the normal life of a child and the gut-wrenching reality of a sex worker. Visitors were confronted with the uncomfortable and sober depiction of the environment a sex slave would work and live in. In one room, condom wrappers, penicillin, and morning-after pills were strewn around a dirty, bare mattress while a loop of Alice falling down the rabbit hole played on a TV. In the next room a video projection of a child on a merry-go-round played on an empty crib. This is reality arranged metaphorically, designed to bring awareness to the suffering that goes on unseen around us.

Jonathan’s journey into advocating for victims began in 2008 upon learning about the horrific realities of human trafficking at a summit in Chicago. While initially over-

Jonathan’s most recent exhibition was a video sculpture in Redwood City. Play consisted of vintage television sets arranged sliding down a playground slide. On each TV was a different video of teenagers playing, highlighting the innocence that should be protected by society rather than abused and commodified. Jonathan’s subject matter is complex and challenging, to say the least. He leans heavily on his family and faith for inspiration and strength. Jonathan explains: “My relationship with God is important to me, which helps my creativity and is one of my main inspirations. Proverbs 31:8-9 has given me the strength to never waver in my fight to help eradicate human trafficking through arts advocacy and social practice.” Proverbs 31:8-9 reads, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” C

-Jonathan Fung
“I love painting a picture for people, a different universe.”
–Diane Villadsen

Diane Villadsen

Written by Johanna Hickle Instagram dianewithonen
Photography by Arabela Espinoza Photographer
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There’s a picture book kind of playfulness to Diane Villadsen’s photos. Not only do they practically twirl with sprightly youth and wonder, but they also toy with colors and shapes. They remind the viewer to let out that inner kid for a breath of fresh air.

The first thing others tend to notice about Villadsen’s visuals are those joyful, zany splashes of color. “I find myself coming back and back again to the same colors,” she observes. “Pinks, mint greens, tomato reds, yellows.” She’s crafted several presets so anyone can dip their pictures in what she describes as her “candy-colored dreamworld.” The palate, creamy and colorful with a vintage flourish, imparts a Candyland-come-tolife kind of aura. The feeling is furthered by delicious preset names—titles like Pop! Cotton Candy and Pop! Jelly Bean. One of her favorites—Pop! Peppermint (“warm, pink undertones with a dreamy glow”) is particularly fitting considering Villadsen’s wistfulness for a world glimpsed through rose-colored glasses.

“I love painting a picture for people, a different universe,” Villadsen notes. “I want it to feel—not like I’m in San Jose surrounded by strip malls and beige buildings—but I want it to feel like we’re in this magical world where it’s modern and clean and colorful and the buildings are painted crazy colors.”

This alternative view of the world, slightly weirder and far more whimsical than reality, recalls childhood imagination. Often the aesthetic results in the unanticipated: “There has to be a layer of unexpected and a layer of almost…impossible in every photo,” Villadsen says. As an example, she describes two approaches to a photoshoot on a pretty green hillside. “Some photographers would just take someone attractive there and shoot them at golden hour and call it a day. And that’s a beautiful photo. But almost anyone can get to that point technically.” In contrast, Villadsen seeks to add that extra layer. “I might bring five different colorfully painted chairs to that hillside—either have one model that I’m going to clone five times or five models.”

In addition, Villadsen’s adult models reclaim the creativity of youth—particularly through how they play with shapes. The photographer gives them the space to interact tactilely with props, often in a goofy manner. One model might strike spirited poses with the halves of a grapefruit, holding the rosy circles over her eyes like some kind of bush baby. Or two friends might toss a cinnabar-red ball back and forth as they balance on giant building block cubes.

In her series Taking Shape, a collaboration with installations designer Claire Xue, she kicks it up a notch. Xue cut out amoe-

ba-shaped forms from people-sized pieces of foam. Villadsen then captured her two models, Xin and Joel, interacting with the props as they followed the impulses of their imagination. With the enthusiasm and energy of kids exploring a jungle gym, the models entwined legs and arms around the curves, poked their bodies through large holes in the foam’s surface, and toted the giant shapes about the set. “My not even knowing the results made it almost cooler,” Villadsen smiles. “It made some magical combinations.”

The childlike wonder of these images is tempered with a more complex adult lens, most noticeably through rich representation. The photographer often recruits elderly models as well as minorities with skin tones as diverse as her color scheme. And her portrayals of women are anything but stagnant. A girl in Villadsen’s images is never simply a pretty face. “What can I do to make this not just a pretty person, a pretty photo?” she asks herself. “What’s the next level?

Curiosity, joy, energy—these attributes don’t have to be monopolized by the younger generation. They’re vital at any age. Let Villadsen be a reminder to play with your environment, indulge your inquisitive side, and savor those candy-colorful moments. C

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“There has to be a layer of unexpected and a layer of almost…impossible in every photo.”
–Diane Villadsen



Instagram jrgphotography
photography by James Garcia
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“A lot of areas where I loved to shoot don’t even exist anymore,” James Garcia explains as he reflects on the changing nature of San Jose, where he’s spent the bulk of his life. “There used to be a lot of cool spots to shoot off Stockton Avenue—they’re no longer there.”

Look through his online gallery, and you’ll see why—as a photographer at least—he’s sad to see San Jose’s gritty industrial districts become gentrified. In his modeling shoots, girls pose with piles of rusting car parts and in front of shabby tin walls. There’s an aesthetic of urban decay in his work that when paired with golden beams of California sunlight, invokes nostalgia for an older, neon San Jose. Many of his models are redlipped, tattooed pinup girls— adding to the vintage feel. If Garcia’s art has a distinctly San Jose aesthetic, it’s because he’s a native of the area and deeply connected to the culture.

He remembers his grandfather having a book of Ansel Adams photographs on his cof-

fee table, which at first made him interested in drawing. “I’d always draw these Ansel Adams landscapes and Norman Rockwell pictures,” he says. “Then it kind of dawned on me one day: how come I’m drawing a picture? Why don’t I just take the picture.” Photography was a hobby he toyed with in high school, shooting on film, but it didn’t seriously stick until he rediscovered his passion in 2005.

Photography allows James to explore his various interests. He is a hot-rod enthusiast and active in the Krusin Klassics car club, which gives him a lot of opportunities to take unique car photos. His go-to model—his wife—is always willing to be a test subject for new photographic techniques. His other passion is learning, and that goes hand in hand with photography. “The art of photography is always evolving,” he explains. “You have to evolve with it.”

Despite his high level of skill, James says the pursuit of excellence in photography means he’s rarely satisfied with his work and

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“The art of photography is always evolving. You have to evolve with it.” -James Garcia

is always looking for opportunities to improve. “My favorite picture I’ve taken?” he says with a laugh. “The last one.”

He says he’s always trying to develop his eye and shoots every day—even if it’s just with the camera on his phone. He currently lives in Hollister, and his commute to work in San Jose gives him lots of chances to shoot sunrises and experiment with early morning light.

Today, you can hire James for a shoot for your family, business, or modeling portfolio. He also sells photos at art shows around the area. In addition to his photography business, he’s also a full-time investigator for the Santa Clara County DA’s office, which he says is symbiotic with his life of taking pictures.

“You deal with everything from domestic violence to homicide. You meet a lot of people from different walks of life. People are going through distressing situations,” he says of his day job. “The art and photography have helped me connect with people.”

In talking with James, his positive energy is quickly apparent. He cites the influence of spirituality in his work, and upon studying his scenic pictures, you’ll see what he means. In stunning photos of landscapes and beaches, he keeps his light source present in the frame with visible rays of sunlight piercing the image. “People who know me know I’m positive and upbeat,” he says. “I’m a spiritual person. I’m always trying to capture and convey the light.” C


West Valley College

FASHION DESIGN AND APPAREL TECHNOLOGY Instagram westvalleycollege wvcfashion 50 Sight and Sound 12.2
Photography by Daniel Garcia

The Fashion Design and Apparel Technology (FDAT) program at West Valley College is a two-year accredited career technical education program, established in 1985 by a group of industry professionals to fill the need for public education in the field of fashion. Recognized as a leader in fashion education, both locally and nationally, the program now offers two associate of science degrees and three certificates in design and production. We are honored to introduce to you the FDAT class of 2020.


West Valley Designs

Photographer: Mark J Chua Photo Assistants: Miles Caliboso, Peter Salcido Models: Farima, Michelle, Savannah | Scout Model Agency Hair: Ivo - Ivo Salon Make-up: Renee Batres Stylist: Mariana Kishimoto Accessories: Kendra Scott
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Location: Redwall Studio

Lorrie McPheeters

Kendra Scott Zorte Cuff Bracelet, $78.00 Rosa Chapman Kendra Scott Hallie Earrings, $98.00

Jonathan San Juan

Olivia Ramirez

Kendra Scott Avi Hoops, $98.00

Hiroko Widlow

(L) Kendra Scott Didi Statement earrings, $75.00 (R) Phara Necklace, $120

Maria Iordache

Amiya Cuff Bracelet, $128.00 Nancy Guillen Everdeen Silver Statement Earrings, $98.00 Zorte Cuff Bracelet, $78 Smaranika Sarangi Kendra Scott Zorte Hoop earrings, $58.00


The Life of a Modern-Day Opera Singer

You stand in a room. You are not alone, but you are. A piano is there, a pianist ready to play. There are people there waiting to hear you sing, critique and take notes you will never read. These are general directors and music directors, other staff from the opera company. This is your 15-minute shot at getting a gig, but you don’t know exactly what that might be. This is audition season, where, for a few weeks each year, opera companies from across the country occupy studio spaces in New York City to hear as many artists as possible to cast their upcoming seasons. Once it’s over, a singer can have spent thousands of dollars in travel, housing, and audition fees in hopes that job offers will come and their dream can continue.

The offer may come from Seattle, Nashville, Florida, St. Louis or any place in between, but a singer does not get a chance to stay in one place for too long. For a single production a singer can spend up to five weeks in rehearsal and three

weeks in performances, then pack up and move on to the next gig, yet soprano Kerriann Otaño has found herself living in San Jose for three years now, the longest she’s lived in one place over her decade-long singing career. In 2018, she was hired to perform the role of Senta in Opera San José’s production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman while her husband, the tenor Dane Suarez, was a resident artist with the company. Each season Opera San José hires a resident company of singers, from six to eight artists, giving them roles in each of the four productions that season. Each singer is given a salary and an apartment. Suarez was offered residency in the 2018-2019 season, so Otaño used San José as her home base as she travelled for various productions around the country.

The New York native was first drawn to the world of musicals, performing in the likes of Godspell, West Side Story, and Into the Woods, but while in the 10th grade Otaño was taken to the Metropolitan Opera by Instagram kerriannomg
Photography by Daniel Garcia
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“Now my mantra is, ‘I’m good enough. I know enough. I am enough.’ It’s a reminder that I’ve done my preparation. Who I am as an artist and the story that I’m telling is enough. I don’t have to be anything other than what I am.”
-Kerriann Otaño

left to deal with her health issues on her own. Yet, Opera San José replaced her for the first production of the season and got her health insurance taken care of, ensuring that Otaño wouldn’t be left jobless and unprotected, a decision that Dastoor explains. “Watching her push through that, I knew she was gritty. I knew she wanted this and was hungry. I watched her triumph over it. She is just a good presence, a good colleague. She has given so much back for everything we gave her. So, of course when she needed our support, there was no question we would be there.”

Dastoor is a former singer herself. Her story is not the same as Otaño’s, but there is a similarity with her struggle. “I’ve lived this life. I didn’t quit because I couldn’t do it or I didn’t love it. I quit because it takes a toll on general wellbeing, happiness, marriage, security. We are social mammals. That DNA doesn’t change because you choose to sing, but the career takes you away from every way people have of coping with the stresses of everyday life.” Otaño first found immediate help from the therapy app

Better Help, where for a small fee you are connected with a therapist that fits your issues. Soon, she found a local therapist she could meet with in person. With her story playing out in honest social media posts, other artists reached out to her, unaware that anyone else was dealing with mental health issues. Unlike physical injury, these are invisible illnesses. “It’s not a physical thing that you see. We, as singers, to keep our jobs, push those feelings down and don’t have proper healthcare to pursue therapy and things like that. We ignore it, and it builds up and builds up and builds up and that’s sort of what happened with me. It was about a year that I was experiencing depression symptoms before they really came to a head.” With the help of Opera San José and her doctors, Otaño is back on stage and most importantly, healthy. With the unexpected outpouring of support and confessions, the experience revealed a new world to her. There is safety in expressing those fears and anxieties that remain hidden, deep inside. “I’m in a place now where I want to talk very openly about the importance of ther-

apy and not just be smiling and grinning and baring it, but really getting to the heart of these issues that we all experience as performers, because we’re so generous with our emotions on stage that baring and hiding your emotions in real life only stifles you as an artist.” Her next role will take her behind the scenes in opera, as an artist advocate in administration where she can support and nurture other artists and make them feel less alone when in yet another new city.

The change in Otaño’s approach to life and art is one of joyful growth and evolution. “I have these mantras. It used to be before I would go on stage, I would stand in front of the mirror in Superman pose and I would say, ‘I’m a bad bitch, and no one can fuck with me.’ That was definitely coming from fear. “Now my mantra is, ‘I’m good enough. I know enough. I am enough.’ It’s a reminder that I’ve done my preparation. Who I am as an artist and the story that I’m telling is enough. I don’t have to be anything other than what I am.” C



McTate Stroman II

Hip-hop roots have always been in poetry. The earliest emcees knew that the human voice is the most powerful tool at our disposal, one that not only stirs a crowd but changes hearts and minds at the same time. McTate Stroman II lives and breathes by that tradition. Calling himself “the original breakbeat poet,” Stroman uses his gift of poetry to inspire others to find that tool within themselves and change the world around them. “I’m a poet who documents hip-hop,” Stroman says. “That’s how I understand myself.”

Stroman places himself as part of the hip-hop generation, with the trajectory of his life shaped in the golden years when the genre was emerging from its role as an underground pastime into a mainstream cultural phenomenon. He was raised in Los Angeles, but he always had an affinity for the storytelling style of East Coast hip-hop. So when Stroman and his family visited his aunt in the Bronx when he was a teenager, it was as if he was setting off on a religious pilgrimage. At that moment, something clicked in Stroman. “To my mother, it was just a family trip,” Stroman says. “But for me, it was a spiritual journey. I was starting to become a student—to become an emcee.”

From then on, Stroman held on to those traditions and committed himself to writing raps. As a young adult, he had committed his time to his b-boy group, but over time, he started gravitating to the more esoteric world of spoken word and slam. When he made that transition, Stroman noticed that there was an entire community of likeminded individuals making the same turn. That’s when he realized he was part of what he called the breakbeat poets: those who grew up inspired by the passion and flair of the original emcees that dominated the golden age of hip-hop.

When Stroman attended college, he took as many classes in the performative arts as he could in order to incorporate this new knowledge into the presentation of his poetry. Stroman sought whatever he could to give him an edge in moving a crowd while on the stage. Eventually this led him

to Toastmasters in the early 2000s, where he furthered his public-speaking expertise and ability to hold an audience. As he grew into a fully realized performer, Stroman began to see his artistry and performances as his ability to convey the shared spirit of humanity and dedicated himself to inspiring others to seize that passion from within themselves. “One of the most important things for us humans is adaptability,” Stroman says. “You have to allow yourself to expand and not hold back.”

Now, as Stroman grows older, he’s decided to act as a mentor for budding local talent. Since 2010, he’s been the host for the monthly Open Mic Nights with the Euphrat Museum of Art at De Anza College, where he’s been able to build relationships with the performers, whether they are poets, rappers, or otherwise. Aside from his poetry, Stroman is also a motivational speaker. He has spoken to his old high school and students at De Anza about the importance of finding your own passion and educating oneself. He has also been a keynote speaker at the annual hip-hop youth conference Rock the School Bells. Stroman sees his poetry and his motivational speaking as related but separate applications of his talents. “Those are two different components, but they merge at times,” Stroman says. “But there is always going to be an element of the other to each.”

To Stroman, the local San Jose poetry scene is a critical part of the community. What he loves about the ability to perform in physical space are the lightning-in-the-bottle emotions you can only get with a live audience. But in recent years, he’s seen these spaces shrinking. Not all hope is lost, however—Stroman knows that the entirety of the San Jose art scene has the potential to grow together.

“People are trying to understand and get their identity as they are growing,” Stroman says. “If we, as artists in San Jose get more involved with the local community events, I think that’s the ticket. That’s what San Jose art is all about.” C

Written by Yale Wyatt
Facebook mctate.stromanii Instagram mctate2 74 Sight and Sound 12.2
Portraits by Robert Schultze
“One of the most important things for us humans is adaptability. You have to allow yourself to expand and not hold back.”
-McTate Stroman II
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When I say Hip-Hop, I tend to think of Planet Rock Cause see, I use to Pop-lock and Blow up the spot

From here to Ypsilanti, by myself or With my family I was the shorty of the crew and my Age couldn’t band me You see, back in ’83 to me was the Old days We use to battle at Loma Alta in the Hallways Were some had skill and still had All A’s

While a young Tracy Murray, was Hittin’ J’s that were lovely

So can you feel me? It still be, That same old [ish]

I now grabs the mic, flip the script, And boogaloo like “Shrimp”

Always down for the cause, I even use to Pause With Run-DMC, Jam Master Jay, In my Adidas

Takin’ it back to the essence of the Real Hip-Hop

When I was a little shorty and I use to Pop

Walking down the street with my New boom-box

Just a Man & His Music, Like Scott La Roc

B-boying every chance I got I use to break dance to, Tour De France

In my parachute pants

Backspin and then I pose, chose, My B-boy stance

Broke it down and started “tickin’”

Like Mr. Wave and have ‘em trippin’ Up-rock to the joint, point, And catch ‘em slippin’

Cause there was no room, In the cypher, for kids who want chill It’s was like, “brother you next, So you best show skill”

Now I still, walk the streets with that Same pizzazz Yet, instead of a boom-box, I rock a Pen and a pad And on my shoulders, my little lade Cause above all, now, I’m just a dad



Michael Skulich marches to the beat of his own 404

Michael “Knowmadic” Skulich balances on the precarious line between taking his work seriously and not taking himself too seriously. His modest attitude contrasts with the space he occupies as a prominent artist in the lo-fi hip-hop beat scene. A San Jose native, Knowmadic’s unique sound has skyrocketed into notoriety and made him one of the most important artists in the city. Knowmadic’s work has been showcased on countless mixes and recently earned a release on Inner Ocean Records, a celebrated label that features several toptier beatmakers working today.

Knowmadic’s introduction to the world of production was in 2012 when his friend Lucid Optics (now known as Justjoey) was rapping and getting into hip-hop. “So I wanted to start making beats for him and that was when I finally really tried it out myself and loved it.” Already a fan of Wu-Tang and MF DOOM, Knowmadic began delving into production. “The name Knowmadic came from just constant brainstorming. I liked the name Nomad but it was a bit simple, and after some time, I landed on Knowmadic and have been going by that for almost nine years now.”

While initially influenced by canonical producers such as Madlib, Dj Premier, Dilla, and RZA, Knowmadic soon discovered game-changing contemporaries like Flying Lotus and Teebs. “Later on I found out the genre that came to be known as lo-fi hip-hop,” he adds about the origins of his sound. “And artists like bsd.u, slr, and Wun Two exposed me to a lane of hip-hop I was unaware of.”

This lane of hip-hop is lo-fi, which has grown into a prominent subculture within hip-hop music in recent years, unique in its sonic motifs and aesthetics. Typically created on the iconic Roland SP404, the sampler machine heavily associated with the lo-fi sound, the composition of a lo-fi beat often includes jazz samples, crunchy drums, vintage production, and infectious instrumentation that entrances listeners.

Artists like Knowmadic have taken lo-fi to a sonic space that is starkly distinct from hip-hop production of two decades ago. This

Instagram Instagram: knowmadic_ 79
Photography by Daniel Garcia
“I’m just making music that I like and don’t worry myself with what other producers are making.”

ascendance in popularity is due in large part to the beats-to-studyand-chill-to type playlists and mixes that rack up millions of streams on YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, and other music streaming services. The internet has fostered a flourishing community of beatmakers across cultures and international borders. Knowmadic can easily be considered both an early adopter of the sound and an artist that continues to push the boundary with his music. His recent works, Echos and Departure, exemplify how he manages to still explore new lush sonic palettes that immerse the listener with his distinctive arrangements.

Knowmadic is a rare example of the San Jose artist who has found legitimate financial success through music. “The first real royalties check that I got that let me know I could quit my shitty day job and do what I love for a living.” He also pointed out that he found his unique sound four or five years into his career, and that is where he marks the beginning of both his artistic and monetary success.

Despite relying on his music as a primary source of income, he makes a point of continuing to push boundaries and take risks. “There’s some producers who have been doing this for a long time that are crazy talented and don’t get the shine they deserve,” Knowmadic laments. “So it sucks seeing people I looked up to in the genre or know personally get passed over by producers just trying to cash in on the explosion in popularity of the genre. They care more about playlist placements than actually making something original.”

Knowmadic is more concerned about informing the modern sounds similarly to how acts like Teebs and Wun Two informed him. Knowmadic is learning guitar to add more live instrumentation to his work and to follow his own creative instinct. It’s a principle that he encourages other producers and acts to pursue. “I’m just making music that I like and don’t worry myself with what other producers are making.” C

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Curated by Needle to the Groove Instagram: needletothegrooverecords

Liam Gallagher

Why Me? Why Not. (Warner Records)

Release date: September 20, 2019

Written by Chris Jalufka

On Liam Gallagher’s 2019 album Why Me? Why Not (his second solo album following 2017’s As You Were) and eleven years removed from his last with Oasis and brother Noel Gallagher, Gallagher no longer seems like the same man that once said, “I’m Liam Gallagher, and I’m in Oasis. The world is jealous of me. It should be.” Here, Gallagher is thoughtful, reflecting on a life with his heart open, the album reveling in the beauty of the simple things in life. On album highlight “Once,” he sings, “I think it’s true what they say that the dream is borrowed, / you give it back tomorrow / minus the sorrow.” Gallagher has moved on from shallow pop music platitudes and brings his own truth.

How much of an artist’s history influences the listening experience is up to the individual. If you know the path that led to the breakup of Oasis, the brotherly squabbles and fights, the cancelled performances and walk outs, you will hear that strife, ire, love, and longing Liam has for his brother Noel permeating through the record. The album is both good-vibes rock ‘n’ roll and heartfelt confessional.

Building a career from the influence of the Beatles, Gallagher finally has a record that sounds like a Beatles record. Songs like “Meadow” and “Alright Now” could be lost tracks from Revolver. There has always been swagger to Gallagher. He has wailed his music in stadiums across the world, always confident and brash. That swagger has grown more relaxed, and his voice has never sounded as rich as it does on Why Me?

Why Not

Favorite track: “Shockwave”


Social Media: liamgallagher

Yazz Ahmed Polyhymnia

(Ropeadope Records)

Release date: October 11, 2019

Written by Taran Escobar-Ausman

Trumpeter Yazz Ahmed composes brilliant and inspiring jazz pieces as if they were constellations, creating aural spheres that envelope you in form and patterns derived from a host of influences, both musical and mythical. Ahmed’s potion weaves jazz improvisation and harmony with her Bahrain culture via Arabic modes and melodies. For her third album, Polyhymnia (the Greek muse of poetry and dance), Ahmed presents six compositions as odes to six courageous and inspiring women.

The first piece, “Lahan al-Mansour,” opens with an invocation before transitioning into an Arabic folk rhythm that pays homage to Saudi Arabia’s first female film director, Haifaa Al-Mansour. A “cosmic alto sax interlude” expresses the freedom of self-expression that Al-Mansour explored in her award-winning films. For Yazz Ahmed, every aspect of creation is a vestige of the divine inspiration of Polyhymnia and the visionary spirit of women. Even the melodical structure of compositions, therefore, are metaphorical in nature. The song “2857,” an homage to Rosa Parks, is metrically broken into two halves with the first representing the “quiet dignity” of Park’s actions and the second veering into a wild, funky jazz workout, a sign of the coming storm of societal growing pains that her protest puts into play.

The album also includes musical odes to Barbara Thompson, Malala Yousafzai, and Ruby Bridges. If this concept wasn’t beautiful enough, the packaging includes gorgeous artwork from Sophie Bass, who created a scene for each of these inspiring women. At the same time Yazz Ahmed pays musical homage to inspiring women, she garners an artistic prestige that others can aspire to as well.

Favorite track: “2857”


Social Media: yazzahmedmusic

82 Sight and Sound 12.2

Gang Starr

One of The Best Yet (Gang Starr Entertainment)

Release date: November 1, 2019

Written by Albert Jenkins

One of the seminal duos in hip-hop, Gang Starr, return with their 7th full-length album, One of the Best Yet, featuring posthumous verses from Guru, their longtime vocalist who passed about 10 years ago. The group’s legendary producer, DJ Premier, entices the listener from the start with a medley of classic singles from their illustrious career.

The album builds with DJ Premier’s beautifully chopped string samples, bass lines, and vocal snippets over his signature drums. Guru’s verses pick up right where he left off and are paired with longtime collaborators like M.O.P., Q-Tip, Jeru the Damaja, and Group Home. The eloquence of this record is that Gang Starr didn’t change their tune in 2019, committing to their already established, foundational sound. Artists should take risks, but staying true to a sound one has created is also rewarding. Here, DJ Premier remained loyal to their aesthetic, executing another relevant masterpiece from start to finish.

A few standouts include “Lights Out,” “Bad Name,” “From A Distance,” “Business or Art,” and “Bless the Mic.” My favorite, however, is “What’s Real,” featuring Group Home and Royce, with Lil’ Dap and Malachi providing a smooth chorus. Royce, through his intricate writing, crafts a chilling verse about Guru’s urn and ashes being on the mixing console and present in the studio during the making of the album, with its proceeds going to Guru’s children.

Guru has one of the most lovable voices in rap and always delivers with conviction. He later jabs: “Hundreds of thousands, up to millions in promo / All wasted on garbage, now, that was a no-no.” I remain critical of rappers rapping too much about rap, but Guru’s ghost gets a pass on this one.

Favorite track: “What’s Real”


Social Media: gangstarr

Boldy James and Alchemist

The Price of Tea in China (Flac Music)

Release date: February 7, 2020

Alchemist is an artist who’s conquered his vocation, producing for today’s rap giants as well as indie stalwarts. The southern Californian has built an oeuvre that ranks among the industry’s most sought after, rivaling predecessors with the longest of careers. Celebrated collaborations alongside off-the-radar projects continually keep him in the conversation of exalted modern beatmakers. While the approach and style has pivoted through the years, an attention to detail, lush samples, and sequential patience remain hallmarks of Alchemist’s sound.

The latest lucky winner to earn a much-coveted collab in the ‘Alchemist sweepstakes’ is a white-knuckled yet stoic Detroit emcee, Boldy James. The pair have history; Alchemist produced James’s debut record, My 1st Chemistry Set, in 2013 (as well as an EP in 2019) and the rapport has only emboldened through the years.

The 12-track release is sharp and dramatic, concise despite a list of glowing guest features. The personnel here are able to naturally congeal in spite of regional differences in sound and style. Big up-and-comers like Benny the Butcher (who just made his debut on the Tonight Show) trade back-and-forth rhymes on an intense story track about moving weight across state lines, parole, and redemption. “This for the money the hunters left in the basement, this for the stash box we only touch on special occasions,” says Benny in typically bare form.

The Price of Tea in China is a moody venture, a porch-view peek into tribalism and trap houses, rubber bands and bricks, cocaine-fueled narratives with huge amounts of introspection. “No excuses for my behavior, was broke and stupid…” says Boldy on “Speed Demon Freestyle,” an anti-climactic cut with lush melodic samples and random beat changeups.

While modern rap continues to wildly splinter into different directions, The Price of Tea in China’s patient nuances and centeredness make it an incredibly easy and captivating listen.

Favorite track: “Scrape the Bowl”


Social Media: alchemist



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Mark is a San Jose based photographer and stylist. He shot promotional social media post, seasonal lookbooks for fashion brands and featured web blogs such as Hypebeast and Highsnobiety. He focuses on highlighting the products to provide storyboard editorials.

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Elizabeth is a copyeditor and poet with an MFA from the University of Washington. She lives with her husband and numerous bees, chickens, and goats and is fond of making and eating cheese washed down with a moderate amount of mead.


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As a freelance journalist, Johanna covers the cultural currents of the Bay Area for a number of publications. She loves dipping into worlds different from hers by interviewing everyone from cinematographers to photographers, lyricists to muralists.

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Aaron is a graduating Advertising student at San Jose State University. His creative work primarily consists of photography, videography, music production, and audio engineering.

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SEEK 10.0 84
84 Sight and Sound 12.2

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