CityScene Magazine, Fall 2021

Page 1

FALL 2021


Former frontman for The Soft Pack gets weird on his new pandemic-tinged album

New Era for Live Music

San Diego m usic scene navigat es t he uncert aint y of pandem ic life


Voices of Our City Choir uses power of music to help unhoused San Diegans find a foundation for a better life





T a b l e o f C o n t e n t s


To pee or not to pee: A photo tour of local music venues' loos

WORLD BEAT'SCROWN JEWEL A journey into Makeda Dread's life and her impact on San Diego

frontman for The Soft Pack gets weird on his new pandemic-tinged album


A glimpse into why new San Diego musicians are coming from south of 8

THE STRUGGLE ISREAL Remembering some of the venues that didn't make it through the COVID-19 pandemic
MTSconnects San
to music venues regionwide TROLLEY-MI FA SO LA
13 1 4 12 22 25


San Diego music scene navigates the uncertainty of pandemic life



San Diego City College

1313 Park Blvd. | San Diego, CA 92101

Newsroom: L-117


Kathryn Gray, Editor

Will Mauriz, Asst Editor

Kathy Archibald

Marlena Harvey

Jakob McWhinney

Aldo Ramirez

Philip Salata


Voices of Our City Choir uses the power of music to help unhoused San Diegans find a foundation for a better life


This publication is produced as a learning experience under San Diego City College's Digital Journalism program All materials, including opinions expressed herein, are the sole responsibility of the students and should not be interpreted to be those of the college district, its officers or employees


Selections from City Times' new monthly local music playlist


Fall 2021 Edit ion | Volume 2
Christopher Tapanes Nicole Vargas Peggy Peattie, Ph D Front cover: The artist Your Smith sings at Music Box Photo by Will Mauriz/City Times Media
17 28


MTSconnects San Diego to music venues regionwide

Now that the City of San Diego completed its $2.2 billion Trolley extension, connecting La Jolla to the South Bay and East County, it's time to put it to use! Have a glass (or two), jump on the train and forget about parking.

These music venues, old and new, are within walking distance of the Trolley. From well-worn rock bars and symphonies on the bay, to Tijuana nights, get carried away by this region's growing public transit system.



A music venue and self-described DIYradical space founded in 1980. The Che Cafe had its first open-air post-pandemic show on Sept. 19, and is trying to revive its vegan kitchen. This UCSD-based student/community organization offers shows and volunteer opportunities in a non-hierarchical setting

2. Brick by Brick TECOLOTE STATION

Headbang to Static-X, shoot pool or play pinball at this classic metal venue. Also known to host art exhibits and comedy shows

3. Spin Night club


Come to Spin into the night with electronic dance experiments Let one foot meditate while the other pops to the beat

4. The Magnolia EL CAJON STATION

Just past the chess tables regularly occupied by the Syrian and Iraqi community, next to the courthouse, lies the Magnolia Be surprised From disco to funk, rocking WARand Julieta Venegas ? just the right mix for the eclectic El Cajon Valley.

6. Must ache Bar



Cross the border by foot, walk over the Tijuana River and crack open the night until dawn with unapologetic Punk Rock, Soul, and experimental DJs in the city that reinterprets time

5. Open Air Theat re SDSU STATION

Stadium seating for 4500+ cradled within San Diego State University This classic 1941 venue will bring acts like Alicia Keys and Russ in 2022.

1. 2. 3.
8. 9. 2
6. 7.



Since the early '90s Casbah has been a pivotal San Diego rock and roll nightclub, having hosted everyone from Nirvana to Alanis Morissette These days you can still catch both local and touring bands nearly every night.

8. Music Box


An intimate, upscale atmosphere with three stories, lounge areas and outdoor patios Hear local heroes, big name acts, and cover bands in the heart of Little Italy.


Downtown's newest jewel is set smack dab in a public park. From the San Diego Symphony to rock cover bands, and even outdoor yoga, the Shell's unique design and crystal clear sound is surrounded by walkways and water.



To Pee or Not to Pee
The bathroom of the Whistle Stop Bar looms majestically Photo by Philip Salata/City Times Media
ByKathyArchibald, Kathryn Gray, Jakob McWhinney, and Philip Salata, Multimedia Journalists

The scariest thing about a music venue is almost always the bathroom

Who hasn? t thought twice about ordering the drink that breaks the seal Pandemic precaution raises the fear factor another notch. Did I bring hand sanitizer?

We don? t think it?s a stretch to say the bathroom experience can make or break your night Your mileage may vary depending on the show or time of day, but here?s a glimpse of what you?re in for, when you're out there


Female/male options only but ? powdered soap. So there?s that.


The choice of two gender-neutral options makes up for one of them being a bit funkier than the other. Not in a good way. Points for blue relaxation lighting


Surprisingly well-maintained stickers, graffiti and art - a tradition since the 1980s, plus a new all-gender option (not pictured) provides the best of both worlds The latter offers a take one/leave one menstrual equity basket

TheTower Bar

The red glow is unable to hide history Lowest on our smell scale though we are open to the possibility of an inverse relationship to live show quality



One of many industrial-style, all-gender restrooms at The Shell with a hospital vibe. Boring - but a fair trade for TPand running water, the proximity to San Diego Bay, and complementary masks available during concerts

Live music awaits every night Nothing hand sanitizer can? t fight Bring a tissue or two, For your trip to the loo

We hope everything comes out alright


Bathrooms welcome patrons of the Che Cafe (center; photo by Kathy Archibald/City Times Media) and (clockwise from top right) Tower Bar (photo by Jakob McWhinney), Che Cafe, The Shell (photos by Kathy Archibald), Soda Bar (photo by Kathryn Gray), Tower Bar (photo by Jakob McWhinney), Soda Bar (photo by Kathryn Gray), and Whistle Stop Bar (photo by Philip Salata)

NewEra for LiveMusic

San Diego music scene navigates the uncertainty of pandemic life

Band Militarie Gun's Ian Shelton sings to a standing-room-only show at the Soda Bar
Photo By Will Mauriz/City Times Media

The white and yellow lights of the Music Box marquee sign illuminated the 1300 block of India Street

Aline of patrons was full of conversation as they awaited the double bill showing of the musical artists Your Smith and Electric Guest for a mid-November show.

This particular line for the concert had some distinct differences from those of two years ago at the Music Box. Some patrons were already wearing face masks and, in addition to yelling out for ID?s to be ready, security staff were asking for vaccination cards

San Diego-area music venues such as the Music Box, San Diego House of Blues and Copley Symphony Hall were forced to shut down temporarily when a state of emergency was declared by California Governor Gavin Newsom in response to COVID-19 cases spiking March 2020

The closures caused an unprecedented strain on the

music industry, and the lasting impacts are yet to be known. The lights of local entertainment were extinguished along with the lines of patrons, and disappear for 18 months with the shut down through out San Diego

Businesses such as music venues were not deemed essential during the height of the pandemic closures. They suffered heavy financial losses and their employees were left out of work

After 15 months of closure, lasting from March 2020 to June 2021, event-based venues finally had their first opportunity to breathe life again in San Diego when California fully reopened. Not all music venues reopened right away, however. The North Park Observatory waited two extra months, and Soda Bar waited one more month before

its first shows due to still fluctuating COVID-19 cases.

One venue that opened two days after the state reopened and dealt with ramping up quickly was the Music Box

Joe Rinaldi, managing partner of the Music Box stated that COVID-19 presents a profound historical disaster ?and there is no best practice on how to survive these special circumstances. That is why we formed a coalition with the National Independent Venue

?I r eceived hundr eds of emails and phone calls complaining and wanting r efunds.?
Sign directing patrons at the main entry of the House of Blues San Diego Photo by Will Mauriz/City Times Media Krag Kirkland, boxofficemanager of theMusicBox Patrons crowd and socialize at the San Diego Music Box first floor bar
Photo By Will Mauriz/City Times Media

Association and we solicited federal aid ?

NIVAwas formed in mid-April 2020, three weeks into the pandemic?s economic shutdown, and successfully lobbied to get essential funds for independent venues.

?If we did not do that, out of 3,000 venues in the United States, 80%of the venues would most likely have been extinct,?Rinaldi said

Smaller indoor venues such as the Soda Bar, which has an approximate capacity of 200, had to follow suit and look for assistance to weather out forced closures

?To survive we went for lots of grants,?said Cory Stier, Soda Bar managing partner, ?cutting any additional bills, got our expenses down to minimum We got a round of PPPloans, we participated fully in NIVA and received the Shutter Grant, which we greatly needed.?

Even when venues eventually reopened, they had to consider what additional protocols they would take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and variants

?We were tracking the infection numbers,?Stier said of the protocols in place at Soda Bar ?It takes time to reopen and ramp up ?

The current San Diego County mandate is based on self-attestation Individuals who are not vaccinated must wear masks, which is a part of the policies venues share with patrons, Stier explained

?We post our policy at every single event and at the top of our website,?he said

After performing spaces began opening up and introducing mandates, push back has become a regular occurence.

"If we did not do that, out of 3,000 venues in the United States, 80% of the venues would most likely have been extinct."
Joe Rinaldi, managingpartner of theMusicBox
Band Militarie Gun's Ian Shelton sings at a standing-room-only show at the Soda Bar Photo By Will Mauriz/ City Times Media

?When restrictions initially got stricter to attend events, I received hundreds of emails and phone calls complaining and wanting refunds,?said Krag

The forced closures, testing protocols and limitations in occupancy imposed on venues and shows for corporate venue operators and independent music venues alike have to continue to deal with major losses as their

revenue streams from ticket sales, food and beverage sales, and merchandise were greatly minimized or almost entirely eliminated

Corporate revenues for music venues had seen consistent growth for seven years straight until 2019 But between 2019 and 2020, Live Nation Entertainment's concert revenue fell to $7 76 billion from $9 43 billion, nearly a $1 5 billion drop

And while this reality affected the bottom line of massive global corporate operators like Live Nation, it was even more grim for financially vulnerable independent music venues, many of whom worried about going bankrupt or having to sell their venues

Public desire to see shows still remains, as venues continue to see lines and occasional sold-out shows.

?Things were easier when first reopening and venues needed bands immediately,?San Diego-based musician Melanie Jaquess said, ?but now things are kind of backed up now Places are looking to book for next spring already ?

Jaquess stated venues throughout San Diego are starting to see more prominent acts going back on tour and out-competing smaller ones as bands get more comfortable with going on the road

Not all venues have been able to survive, though Martinis Above Fourth, Bar Pink and Lestat's West have buckled under the economic impact.

Band Militarie Gun's guitarist William Acuña and bassist Max Epstein play to a standing-room-only show at the Soda Bar in Northpark, CA Photo By Will Mauriz/City Times Media The empty stage prepped before the show for the artist Your Smith at the San Diego Music Box venue Photo By Will Mauriz/City Times Media Resident DJs Camilla Robina and Heather Hardcore start up set for Blue Mondays at the Merrow in Hillcrest, CA Photo By Will Mauriz/City Times Media
Colorful wall art featuring David Bowie and other famous musicians lines the mezzanine at the Music Box Photo By Will Mauriz/City Times Media

Government program assistance and SBA grants have greatly helped surviving businesses cover payroll and pay mortgages

As the COVID-19 impact and new variants like the omicron variant continue to emerge there are still plans beginning Dec 1 that attendees aged 18 and older must provide identification at indoor mega-events And your identification must confirm you are presenting proof of vaccination status or negative test result

Music venues throughout San Diego are still focused on curating customer experience and providing a sense of some normalcy despite navigating the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic

"It takes time to r eopen and r amp up."
Cory Stier, managingpartner of Soda Bar
Patrons lined up to enter the show for the band Electric Guest with artist Your Smith at the San Diego Music Box venue
Photo By Will Mauriz/City Times Media



Remembering some of the venuesthat didn't make it throughthe

For a couple of years, if you walked down the alley next to City Heights?El Borrego restaurant on weekends, odds are you?d stumble upon a secret garden of DIYmusic

Through a garage attached to a pawn shop was a dingy room perpetually bathed in projected visuals called San Diego Content Partners.

Bar Pink

Say goodbye to the pool tables, the $2 Tecates, and the slight stickiness of everything Bar Pink announced on Instagram that after thirteen years the 30th Street bar was closing for good in Oct. 2020.

Co-owned by Rocket

From The Crypt?s John Reis, Pink's stage has featured a long list of

Founded in 2017 by Bryan Drummond and Rees Withrow, by 2020, it was a reliable haunt for local bands and a regular stop-off for touring bands of every conceivable flavor With a maximum capacity of around 50 people (uncomfortably), it was an invaluable space for musicians starting out.

At its peak SDCPhosted 2-3 shows a week, all despite not even being a

both local and touring bands, like Reis?Hot Snakes, and the late Jay Reatard respectively

Former co-owner Robin Chiki told The San Diego Union-Tribune despite taking out three government loans, and their landlord halving their $13,000 rent for the first two months of the pandemic, the cost of prolonged shutdown was simply too high.

legal venue Then COVID-19 hit For SDCP,the shows helped pay rent When organizers asked their landlord for a reduction, they say he refused. In June 2020 the venue rolled down its security gate for the last time

?Think about how many great bands could have been lost if they didn't have a place to play when they were first starting,?Withrow said.

Kava Lounge

Housed in a nondescript storefront in the shadow of Interstate 5 was Kava Lounge, a second home for many in San Diego?s underground electronic music scene.

In June 2020, Kava announced it would be closing permanently. The community, eager to sustain the venue,

COVID-19 pandemic

N u m b er s


Total funds available through Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, created to help struggling businesses


Percentage of pre-pandemic gross earned revenue to which qualified applicants are entitled

pushed owners to create a GoFundMe that raised nearly $20,000

But in a Dec 7 Facebook post Kava said the funds had been depleted, and announced, once again, it would close. In the post, owners thanked everyone who'd worked with Kava, and said they hoped to one day open ?something new with the same energy and spirit.?

A Dia de los Muertos-style altar honors venues that closed during the COVID-19 pandemic like (from left) Bar Pink, San Diego Content Partners and Kava Lounge Bar Pink photo by Ben Clemens, SDCPphoto by Rees Withrow, Kava Lounge photo by Javier Luna Photo illustration by Philip Salata/City Times Media


maintained a flowery
similar to this
Former frontman for TheSoft Packgets weird on hisnewpandemic-tinged album
art for Matt Lamkin's solo albums has
photo of him taken by his girlfriend Claire Acosta Matt Lamkin courtesy photo

s Matt Lamkin thinks about his new album

?Dirty Job,?the former frontman for The Soft Pack finds humor in the fact that it may be his weirdest

Released in August, it came at a time when he was prioritizing his mental health more than ever before

?It's funny. I'm doing better ? and the head state of the singer sounds worse,?the San Diego City College alum said

?It?s not so much that the unhinged-ness is like, ?oh, this is a bad sign, Matt's off his rocker,?? Lamkin said. ?It?s more like, ?this is actually what Matt?s been holding in this whole time ??

Lamkin said ?Dirty Job?was largely shaped by the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic But the pandemic, he said, also provided him an opportunity to focus on fostering positive behaviors and a renewed sense of artistic freedom

The idea to put out a new solo album actually came from his girlfriend Claire Acosta, with whom he lives in Valle De Guadalupe, Mexico?s wine country just an hour south of the border.

Lamkin hadn? t released anything since 2016 Acosta pushed him to do a quarantine album, he said, referring to the flurry of less formal, more demo-level albums released during the pandemic by everyone from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard to Drake

?Don't think about it, just put out some stuff,?Acosta told him

After digging around for some ideas he came out with what he called a collection of ?odds and ends.?

And ?Dirty Job?is indeed that.

Gone is the tight, formulaic garage punk that defined Lamkin?s career in The Soft Pack The 16 minutes of this release range from otherworldly sonic noodling to found-sound iPhone recordings to weirdo pop gems. ?The weirdness comes from a mix of kind of experimenting ? and then also just the effects of the quarantine and freaking out during the pandemic,?Lamkin said ?That's why a lot of the stuff is a little more tweaked out, or informal, or crazed.?

At times infectious, and at others perplexing, ?Dirty Job?channels all of the wild, uncertain nature of pandemic life

The song ?Duet,?for example, is a 30-second phone recording of what sounds like two weed whackers, while ?Shampoo Drew? is 90 seconds of hypnotic outer space beats.

Even the more seemingly straightforward tracks like ?Mad Dog 4 U?have glimmers of that weirdness.

The song begins with a series of sounds that can be loosely described as mouth noises as catchy as they are odd It then unfolds into a strummy, sunsoaked pop tune, albeit one about alcoholism and obsessive behavior.

Fellow City College alum Andrew Miller, who?s played in projects like Dum Dum Girls and Kristin Kontrol, produced the album.

He helped Lamkin refine some of the rough sketches and flesh out instrumentation

Miller said the pandemic forced them to keep the production team small, but that independence ended up providing a sense of freedom

?You're not feeling like you have to make a record that sounds a certain way, or that you have to

satisfy a bunch of band members,?Miller said ?It made us feel like we could just do whatever we wanted ?

Lamkin?s previous project, The Soft Pack, wrote infectious hook-laden garage punk and emerged in the late 2000s.

It was a time when San Diego?s music scene, defined by buzzy lo-fi bands like Crocodiles, Dum Dum Girls and Wavves, seemed ascendent Even Rolling Stone was taking note, however shallow

Lamkin said in the early days he and his band were very unskilled musicians But trying to keep the train going down the tracks during live performances was all part of the rush for him.

Working on ?Dirty Job,?he said, was something of a return to that feeling.

?It's like, I'm gonna come to the world with a little uncertainty and feel that kind of excitement again,?he said

The Soft Pack rose to prominence quickly, and a week and a half after the release of its eponymous debut album, the band was playing the lead single,

"Ever y day the same thing, ever y day the same thing / The str uggle is r eal, this is how I feel / Can I get some help over her e?"
Matt Lamkin, on "TheStruggleisReal"
13 14

?Answer To Yourself,?live on the Late Show with David Letterman

After nearly two years of relentless touring The Soft Pack released its second album, ?Strapped,?in 2012 But there began to be too many expectations -- everyone from the fans, to management, to the members of the band wanted to do something different

?At the time, we were young drunk guys in our 20s who didn't know how to communicate with each other,? Lamkin said

In the end The Soft Pack didn? t break up so much as they fell apart

?I just didn't see myself being able to make music that I loved any further moving forward, and I wasn't making any money,?he said ?So it was kind of like ? it didn? t check any of the boxes.?

Now on his own, there?s been a fluidity to Lamkin?s solo albums, like an artist continually realigning his output to match the taste of a very particular audience -- himself. ?Dirty Job,?with all of its magnetic off-kilterness, is an entirely different animal than his soaring 2016 solo debut, ?Where I?m Matt,?released on local label Volar Records. And that album was a noteworthy departure from his output with The Soft Pack.

?I feel like this album is probably not for everyone,?he said, ?but there are moments that are more for everyone than I've ever had.?

Lamkin said he?s always sought to be the one willing to say what everyone else is just thinking. That blunt honesty shines through on the album?s second track, ?The Struggle Is Real ?

On it, he blankly declares, ?I?m fucking dying over here.?

The song, infected with the exact breed of resigned bewilderment that reigned during the early lockdowns, is unquestionably a product of the pandemic. It?s a melancholic, yet oddly celebratory ode to the mind-numbing effects of isolation and repetition

?Every day the same thing, every day the same thing / The struggle is real, this is how I feel / Can I get some help over here?,?Lamkin repeats throughout, allowing the lines to take different melodic shapes, like he?s trying to say something new with the same words.

?It's borderline mantra, borderline, like ? psychosis,? Lamkin said.

He was grateful to have been in Valle De Guadalupe during the pandemic, which allowed him easy access to the outdoors, unlike his friends in New York and Los Angeles.

But even so, the pandemic was a stressful time He?s a

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consetetur sadipscing elitr To create the "Dirty Job" album cover Claire Acosta added a collection of mostly native California plants on top of a photo of Lamkin surfing taken by Chuy Salazar Matt Lamkin courtesy photo The artwork for Matt Lamkin's first solo record, "Where I'm Matt," was also created by Claire Acosta Matt Lamkin courtesy photo
This photo taken by Claire Acosta of Lamkin in LAwas featured on the back cover of The Soft Pack's 2012 album "Strapped " Matt Lamkin courtesy photo

social person and, like many people, the lack of socialization was destabilizing

?It was kind of like a pressure cooker,?Lamkin said. ?You had to deal with things that, maybe during normal life you?d be like, ?I'll just go socialize and ignore this ??

He said it ended up forcing him to actively choose to pursue positive behaviors, like committing to therapy, staying physically active, cutting back on drinking, and bettering communication with his girlfriend Acosta, with whom he co-wrote ?New Boyfriend ?

Instrumentally the song?s a pretty standard '50s rock, almost doo-woppy sing-along, but that familiarity is countervailed by Lamkin?s teary, sardonic warble

?We were just joking around one day and Claire started singing ?I'm gonna kiss my new boyfriend tonight?and I was like, ?that's great!,??he said

There?s a lot of that immediacy in this album, Lamkin explained

?It's in those kind of moments where we go, ?oh, that's fucking rad, let's do that,??he said ?And not overthinking, ?is that too bubble gum? Or is that too stupid??

?It?s like a return to a kind of creative freedom ?

Lamkin said lately he?s trying to approach songwriting like a release valve that allows him to vent off some of the insecurities and frustrations that he?s newly committed to addressing head-on

In the past he?d tried writing songs meant for larger audiences, but felt like it only made them worse

?That's a specific skill, writing songs for the masses and I don't really have it or even care to develop it,?he said

?So once you kind of realize that, you know ? that's fine ? it feels good.?

"That's a specific skill, wr iting songs for the masses and I don't r eally have it or even car e to develop it. So once you kind of r ealize that, you know ? that's fine ? it feels good."
Matt Lamkin, musician
Below: The Soft Pack, pictured here performing at the now-defunct Bar Pink circa 2008, were one of a flurry of buzzy San Diego bands to emerge in the late aughts
From left to right Matt Lamkin on the mic, Matty McLoughlin on guitar, Dave Lantzman on bass, and Brian Hill on drums Chad Kelco courtesy photo


Voicesof Our CityChoir usesthepower of musicto help unhoused San Diegansfind fellowship, familyand a foundation for a better life

Voicesof Our CityChoir usesthepower of musicto help unhoused San Diegansfind fellowship, familyand a foundation for a better life

Steph Johnson, CEO and creative director of Voices of Our City Choir, celebrates as choir member Anthony Bielik (left) shares stories Photo by Kathryn Gray/City Times Media

rom her seat adjacent to the Voices of Our City Choir band beneath the fluorescent lights of the retrofitted warehouse that is now the Living Water Church of the Nazarene, a young woman in a white tank top and black leggings smiled with upturned eyes while singing proudly in harmony through a black and white face mask

Diana Duran has been part of the Voices of Our City Choir for several months since seeing it perform at the Temporary Bridge Shelter, a 325-person residential tent complex operated by Alpha Project in downtown San Diego where she currently resides

After arriving in San Diego from Juarez, Mexico in February 2020 seeking a better quality of life, Duran lived with her sister in Ramona. That wasn? t working out for her, so she moved to the temporary shelter

?(Voices of Our City Choir) had an event at the tent with music and food,? Duran remembered ?That is when I learned that they have case management and that the choir is like a family ?

Always a music lover, Duran -who lists Ariana Grande as among her favorite performers -has spent the last four months bonding with the group that has become like family

With support from Voices of Our City Choir and Alpha Project, Duran hopes that she?ll have a place of her own soon where she can stay up late coding if she wants without bothering anyone. She is also currently registering for Spring 2021 classes at San Diego City College and plans to become a software engineer one rom her seat adjacent to the Voices of Our City Choir band

From her seat adjacent to the Voices of Our City Choir band beneath the fluorescent lights of the retrofitted warehouse that is now the Living Water Church of the Nazarene, a young woman in a white tank top and black leggings smiled with upturned eyes and sang proudly in harmony through a black and white face mask

Diana Duran, 25, has been part of the Voices of Our City Choir for several months since seeing it perform at the Temporary Bridge Shelter, a 325-person residential tent complex operated by Alpha Project in downtown San Diego where she currently resides

After arriving in San Diego from Juarez, Mexico in February 2020 seeking a better quality of life, Duran lived with her sister in Ramona That wasn? t working out for her, so she moved to the temporary shelter.

?(Voices of Our City Choir) had an event at the tent with music and food,?Duran remembered. ?That is when I learned that they have case management and that the choir is like a family ?

Always a music lover, Duran ? who lists Ariana Grande among her favorite performers ? has spent the last four months bonding with the group that has become like family

With support from Voices of Our City Choir and Alpha Project, Duran hopes she?ll have a place of her own soon where she can stay up late coding if she wants without bothering anyone.

She is headed to San Diego City College as a student in the spring and plans to become a software engineer one day.

Duran is among the thousands of individuals in San Diego currently without stable housing She is part of the population that makes up the heart of Voices of Our City Choir

Co-founded in 2016 by musician and grassroots activist Steph Johnson, the mission of Voices of Our City Choir is to provide healing and hope through music for the unhoused population in San Diego.

Today, it has expanded beyond music to offer housing assistance, weekly outreach, case management and advocacy training

Diana Duran, Voicesof Our CityChoir member
"(Voices of Our City Choir ) had an event at the tent with music and food.
That is when I lear ned that they have case management and that the choir is like a family.?

?People need a place that they won? t be chased away from, that they can sit and seek to be safe so that they can start to get that cycle again of rest and then they can start to address the next steps,?Johnson said.

?It is impossible to think that a person could navigate resources, transportation and all these other things when they are over and over again attacked and criminalized ?

Stories like Duran?s are more common than people think, says Johnson, CEO and creative director of the nationally recognized non-profit featured on America?s Got Talent in 2020 and in the 2018 PBSdocumentary

?The Homeless Choir Speaks ?

During her first months of outreach, Johnson found the number of unhoused individuals she met with full-time jobs or full college class schedules was mind blowing.

?Most of the people you see living on the streets unsheltered became so while living here,? Johnson said.

?There are a lot of myths about homelessness. People think people come to San Diego unhoused but the reality is that wages aren? t enough, there?s not enough housing, there?s systemic racism, there are not enough health services, you name it.?

Overwhelmed by injustices faced by the unhoused community, Johnson used the instrument she knows best, her voice, to bring people together

The choir began in what she describes as a small metal-roofed church at the corner of 13th and Jstreets ?as a space for people to make music, to have good food, to use the restroom and to start to heal in between being ticketed on the street and chased away ?

"It could be r ap, it could be a countr y song, it could be a poem. Whatever the case may be, as long as it comes fr om your hear t and what you have exper ienced in your r eality it?s beautiful.?
Christopher Edmonds
, Voicesof Our
CityChoir member
Christopher Edmonds comforts fellow choir member Cindy Ingram during a weekly songwriting workshop
Photo by Kathryn Gray/City Times Media

Since then, Voices of Our City Choir has helped over 70 of its members get into housing and is currently in talks to build their own residence, adding housing providers to the already lengthy list of services and resources they provide, according to Johnson

?People need a place that they won? t be chased away from, that they can sit and seek to be safe so that they can start to get that cycle again of rest and then they can start to address the next steps,?Johnson said

?It is impossible to think that a person could navigate resources, transportation and all these other things when they are over and over again attacked and criminalized.?

Prior to the pandemic, explained Johnson, approximately 140 people were coming weekly to choir practice About 75 are still attending with around 40 of them performing at various shows locally and around the state. Weeks before Thanksgiving, the choir was preparing for its benefit concert, ?Hope for the Holidays ? Updated jazz-funk and reggae-infused versions of ?Little Drummer Boy?and ?Feliz

Navidad?permeated through the Living Water Church on the corner of Market and 16th streets

Monday morning practices kick off with an open discussion resembling a family meeting where members can share stories about past performances and ideas for future ones. It is followed by a hot nutritious meal provided by Kitchens for Good

?They can just sit there and experience the music to the ability they want to and enjoy the lunch,?she said ?That to me is a step closer to at least being able to give that person some love and some respect.?

Voices of Our City case manager Enrique Rivera and Programs Director Beck Amensen prepare to-go meals at a recent community outreach day in downtown San Diego Photo by Kathryn Gray/City Times Media Unhoused San Diegansare served food and provided hygiene supplies at a recent Voices of Our City Choir community outreach day Photo by Kathryn Gray/City Times Media Diana Duran looks on intently as Steph Johnson walks the choir through an updated version of FelizNavidad Photo by Kathryn Gray/City Times Media

When not rehearsing songs for the upcoming concert, the choir can be heard singing original works, including America?s Got Talent golden buzzer winner ?Sounds of the Sidewalk,?created during weekly pre-choir songwriting workshops

At a mid-November songwriting workshop, Cindy Ingram fought back tears as she read an original piece

The woman, who was unhoused for a long period of time, thanked the group around the table made up of choir members and volunteers.

They helped show her how to love herself, she said.

A deeply spiritual Ingraham, comforted with a hug from fellow workshop member Christopher Edmonds, explained that songwriting was akin to prayer and poetry

?It could be rap, it could be a country song, it could be a poem,?Edmonds said ?Whatever the case may be, as long as it comes from your heart and what you have experienced in your reality it?s beautiful.?

Singing and performing are the catalysts that draw people to Voices of Our City Choir, Johnson explained, yet they stay for the healing and community

?Voices of Our City Choir, whether it?s our live performances, our events, our advocacy, our outreach,?Johnson said, ?it provides this safe environment. You can just meet people and know we are all one, that we are all unified by our humanity ?

The choir holds songwriting workshops at 9:30 a m and open practices at 11:00 a m followed by hot lunch at The Living Water Church of the Nazarene on Market and 16th streets every Monday

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, the space is dedicated to outreach and unhoused community members can visit to receive food or supplies

To learn more about Voices of Our City Choir and how to get involved, visit Voicesofourcity org, @voicesofourcitychoir on Instagram, reach out by phone at (619) 738-1232 or email at

Voices of Our City Choir practices for its upcoming holiday concert Photo by Kathryn Gray/City Times Media
"People need a place that they won? t be chased away fr om, that they can sit and seek to be safe so that they can star t to get that cycle again of r est and then they can star t to addr ess the next steps."
Steph Johnson, Voicesof Our CityChoir CEO and creativedirector

WorldBeat's CrownJewe l

Ajourneyinto Makeda Dread'slife and her impact on San Diego

WorldBeat Cultural Center founder Makeda "Dread" Cheatom holds a piece of African art
Photo by Aldo Ramirez/City Times Media

Every city has its own heroes, people that contribute to society and set an example on how to give back to their own community and subsequently help with the uprising of a society.

This is the case of Makeda "Dread" Cheatom founder of the WorldBeat Cultural Center

Cheatomwas born in 1942 in Paducah, Texas Cheatom moved out to San Diego when her father, an Air Force Military airman, was transferred to North Island Naval Air Station three months after she was born

Cheatom attended San Diego High School in the early '60s and continued to study culinary arts and food services at San Diego City College and San Diego Mesa College.

?WecametoLindaVista, afterwards they started building houses, we called them cracker-boxes, with no insulation, it was government housing,??Cheatom said ?Later on, I knew I would have to look into my profession, and I thought it was better to do culinary arts and I became a chef.?

After opening the first vegetarian restaurant in San Diego in 1971, Cheatom found herself working as a chef for visitors that included celebrities such as George Harrison, Dick Gregory and Jane Fonda.

?I?ll never forget that experience,?Cheatom said as she recalled an anecdote with George Harrison, lead guitarist of the Beatles.

Prophet International Vegetarian Restaurant, as it was know then, was a non-smoking restaurant that had been recognized for its efforts by the American Lung

African culture in San Diego

?There was no black culture here,?Cheatom said ?There was nothing about Africa, as a young African activist in America I wanted to fight for that ?

Supporting and organizing reggae music concerts since 1980, Cheatom has produced over 39 annual music festivals, although as we all know with COVID-19 came the closing of music venues and cultural centers and with that WBCC closed from March, 2020 until its recent reopening in September

Association. But Harrison wanted a meal and to smoke ?So he ate but he was not happy,?Cheatom remembered, ?but he died from lung cancer, so I know he forgives me now.?

Cheatom then founded the San Diego WorldBeat Cultural Center in 1989, converting an old and forgotten water tank at the edge of Balboa Park on Park Boulevard into a renowned cultural venue.

Early on, Cheatom?s requests to have a building in the park were rebuffed She remained persistent

?I thought man, we?re gonna have to do it ourselves," Cheatom said

Inspired by Bob Marley?s music, Cheatom wanted to create a platform for reggae music and

Following the state's COVID-19 health regulations, the center has sought alternatives to overcome the pandemic, such as offering outdoor classes or presenting virtual events to keep the engagement with the community

She also still produces and hosts Reggae Makossa, a radio show that represents and spreads the message of love, unity and justice for all the oppressed people in the world

The show airs Fridays from 8-9 p m on102 5FM and is transmitted directly from the WBCC

Her radio roots reach back to the campus of San Diego City College when she started doing live jazz on Jazz 88 3 and started a reggae show called Reggae Fever and later on Cheatom went on the air for more than 25 years on 91X

Noticing that the WBCCwas encircled by unoccupied lawn, Cheatom had the altruistic

"If I see a cause that's needed, I love to come in and wor k on it."
Makeda "Dread" Cheatom, WorldBeat Cultural Center ExecutiveDirector
ByAldo Ramirez, Multimedia Journalist

vision to create the WorldBeat Center Children?s Ethnobotany Peace Garden in 2015.

The garden is certified as an earth-friendly garden by San Diego Master Gardeners and named a Pollinator Habitat by Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization that protects and conserves wildlife.

It's also a certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, providing a sanctuary of endemic plants that attract monarch butterflies and preserves the African and Indigenous diaspora

?Our Ethnobotany Garden is dedicated to teaching young and old about the role of plants in society today, while also learning the relationship of plants in the local and global indigenous cultures of the past,? according to WBCCofficial website, worldbeatcenter org

Cheatom has also been involved in the bi-national integration with Tijuana?s community. She is co-founder of the city?s Casa del Tunel, an art and cultural center that serves as a space to promote and present traditional forms of arts, based in a house on the borderline with Mexico that was used as a facade by drug cartels to smuggle narcotics and people into the U S, according to Tijuana and San Diego authorities

?We all have to serve humanity,?Cheatom said. ?We've forgotten kindness and compassion If I see a cause that?s needed, I love to come in and work on it ??

In 2018 Cheatom received the Woman of the Year award for the 53rd Congressional District Award, presented by then-state assemblyman Todd Gloria. Across the border, Cheatom is attempting to negotiate a 25-year lease in Balboa Park to secure the future of the WBCCand to ensure that the community engagement continues.

?For a quarter-century, the @WorldBeatCenter has called #BalboaPark home,?posted Todd Gloria, now San Diego?s mayor, on Jan 17, 2020 via Twitter ?It?s time for this important international cultural institution to have a long-term lease in San Diego?s crown jewel ?

This could mean a huge step towards the long-awaited lease that the WBCCis seeking in order to secure the future of Cheatom?s lifetime work

?I'm always fighting for the downtrodden, and that?s what we all must do,?Cheatom said.

The garden collects endemic plants that are part of the Kumeyaay traditions Photo by Aldo Ramirez/City Times Media Some of the murals on the WorldBeat Cultural Center's facade depict Egyptian imagery Photo by Aldo Ramirez/City Times Media
The WorldBeat Cultural Center is one of the most important multicultural art centers in San Diego conveniently located right off the 163 freeway Photo by Aldo Ramirez/City TimesMedia
Emerging Artists Aglimpseinto whynew San Diego musiciansare comingfrom south of 8
Ada Ngozi from The Reckless warms up on her bass before band practice
Photo by Marlena Harvey/City Times Media

San Diego County has been a hub for new music for decades

From the pop-punk of Blink 182 to the blues and jazzof Tom Waits, San Diego has produced many noteworthy artists from a very large pool of eclectic talent over the years.

Recently, the once northern beachfront music scene has shifted away from where it started in San Diego and found a home just a bit more south

?Around 2010, (the San Diego music scene) kinda died off, phased out,?Robert Martinez, a musician in the band Nite Lapse said ?I think with the rise of EDM It was very sad Virtually non-existent ?

Martinez remembered when people started going to clubs to experience music, instead of live shows Around 2015, live music started to make a significant comeback, this time because of emerging artists from South San Diego County.

Martinez said around 2015, a band called Los Shadows started to produce music in the South Bay, and the music scene started to return to San Diego. Live shows began to make a comeback, and artists began to produce new music

Nite Lapse, the band Martinez plays for, is based in Chula Vista where new emerging artists have been exploding in recent years. The band frequently plays at two venues called Soda Bar and Music Box, which are located in central San Diego Finding a venue as a new musician can be challenging, Martinez explained, as not all are free

?Pay to Play?is an obstacle these young bands and musicians are facing Some venues charge the musicians to play at their locations and the artists have to sell enough tickets to hopefully make a little money themselves or at least break even

Martinez explained that in the past many bands started out with monetary backing, having a label or third party pay to produce recordings and a team to book tours. Younger bands have a hard time breaking through and going up against these other financially backed artists.

Fritz Fayman, lead guitarist, songwriter and vocalist for the band The Reckless, grew up and performs in the San Diego area

?I do know other bands have started performing live right on the beach just on their own,?Fayman said.

ByMarlena Harvey, Multimedia Journalist
The Chula Vista-based band Nite Lapse plays on stage Photo courtesy of Michael Fowler

Bonfires, bus stops and house parties are becoming the more popular venues for new music around San Diego Sammy V Miles, from the band The Miles, talked about his recent tour and performing at a few house parties in college areas

"First show we did coming back (from the pandemic) was a house party. It was actually a lot of fun, the sound was good too. Definitely a different vibe from the more polished establishments, music venues But we have played some great new places," Miles said.

version of LAand new musicians can ease themselves into a slightly less crowded but still active music scene ?

Fayman explained as the beachfront northern communities of San Diego become more affluent and expensive, they become less accessible to artists who are just starting out

musicians hope more venues will open up around the South San Diego area that can cater to the needs of starving artists

For now, artists, musicians and bands will have to continue inventing their own stages in their backyards, or take a gamble with the limited venues available.


?You have to find a way of managing time between your job and your passion, and maybe that means doing a job that pays less so you have more free time,?

Fayman said ?Parts of the San Diego area are a much cheaper

Artists who are beginning their careers have migrated south in order to afford living expenses and continue developing their art, leading to why most of the recent music coming out of San Diego has come from the South Bay, where most of these emerging artists reside

With the South Bay becoming the home for new artists of San Diego and the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions ease,

?You have to find a way of managing time between your job and your passion."
Fritz Fayman and Ada Ngozi prepare for practice at their house in Chula Vista Photo by Marlena Harvey/City Times Media
Fayman, Lead Guitarist in TheReckless

TheSoundsof SanDiego

Selectionsfrom CityTimes' new monthlylocal musicplaylist

San Diego?s music scene has always been sort of like the ugly stepsister of Los Angeles?thriving, commanding presence

That being said, there are countless incredible musicians in our midst, and in an effort to shine some light on San Diego?s musical offerings, we at City Times Media decided to create a monthly playlist that highlights local musicians

Tulengua - "Unit y Cockt ail" feat uring Charit y Joy Brown

Tulengua is a uniquely local group. With members on both sides of the border, their sound weaves together influences from Southern California and Mexico

Their newest track, ?Unity Cocktail,?is a sweeter-than-honey display of their hip-hop prowess A sing-along that bops just as hard whether you?re speeding down Interstate 5 or the Carretera Federal 1D, ?Unity Cocktail?has all the chorused guitars, warm ethereal synths and infectious hooks one could crave

Regardless of whether you can understand all of the lyrics (many are in Spanish), this cocktail goes down smoothly

Shindigs ? ?Aft er It All? feat uring Ancient Pools

Shindigs write the kind of lo-fi jangle pop that makes spending a lazy Sunday at home feel meditative and watching a sunset over a tall can and a spliff (Get off my back, it?s legal!) with that special someone feel revelatory.

?After It All?splits the difference between synthy bedroom pop and an anime outro theme, maintaining all of the unironic and intimate twee of both Anna Jeter of the excellent Olympia, Washington synth-pop band Ancient Pools lends her whispery falsetto to the track, elevating what was already easily one of Shindigs?catchiest choruses Drenched in layers of reverb, chorus and ennui, it?s happy-sounding music for sad people.

O/ X ? ?Scorch?

O/X, creates the sort of heavy, ominous, pitch-black darkwave one would expect to be blasting at a vampire nightclub, or during a film montage sequence where the protagonist first tries (fill in the blank) drug And I mean that in a good way

?Scorch,?off his newest EP?Falling Into,?is a mesmerizing, gut-pounding display of industrial synth. Like the ?Drive?soundtrack if the music also bashed your skull in The ideal dystopian soundtrack for our increasingly dystopian present

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consetetur sadipscing elitr The mood of O/X's music shifts between pitch black and neon, a juxtaposition Nick Kulp captured with the artwork for new EP,"Falling Into " Much of Shindigs' output gives one the feeling of being a detached observer So the artwork for recent EP"How's It Goin," created by Angeli Cabal, is a fitting translation The vibrant colors of the artwork for Tulengua's recent single "Unity Cocktail," created by Alex Guzman, channel the track's dulcet tones
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