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Fall Arts 2016: A Changing of the Guard

In Culture, Music


Traxamillion. Photo by Paul Tumason.

Traxamillion. Photo by Paul Tumason.

Hip-Hop Producer

When he started his career about a decade ago, Traxamillion struggled to find talent in San Jose. So the budding hip-hop producer journeyed north, becoming a major player in the hyphy movement by crafting hits for E-40, Keak da Sneak and Too $hort. Since establishing himself, Trax has returned to his South Bay home with the aim of championing unknown voices. His latest project—the Tech Boom mixtape, due Aug. 26—culls the little-heard cream of San Jose’s hip-hop crop.

“All the kids who were listening to the hyphy music—they’re 24, 25 now—and they’ve got their own opinion,” he says. “And they got something to say now.”

On the album, Trax lays the foundation for 15 local emcees, four singers and two producers to showcase their individual talents. The collection includes the likes of City Shawn, Flammy Marciano, Ziggy, Molina, Jacuzzi and many more. An avid practitioner of hyphy and trap, he seeks to blend the past and the present while folding in softer elements, like the occasional foray into R&B. Trax has also hidden some easter eggs outside of the official track listings for careful listeners.

“It’s kind of like a mixture of my classic sound—big 808s and very synthy—and me delving into a whole new creative production lane,” he says. “I’ve got some unconventional slaps that you wouldn’t think would be from me on there. It’s a free flow of production. I feel like I’m just really flexing my muscle. I feel like it’s my best work.”

Beyond his individual goals, Trax seeks to rectify the lack of recognition San Jose artists have received within the Bay Area hip-hop community. After years of being told he’s an “exception,” he wants to provide a platform for the broad talent pool within his city.

“Flammy Marciano, he’s a lyricist, but he’s different,” the producer says. “To me he could branch into the alternative lane. City Shawn is more of a street rapper, but he has just crazy punchlines. A-Dough, he’s really street and his stories are really intricate. He has a way of telling a story that’s just really intriguing. They’re all good in their own different ways. I didn’t know we had this much variety out here. San Jose is a big city.”

— — —

Maxwell Borkenhagen. Photo by Paul Tumason.

Maxwell Borkenhagen. Photo by Paul Tumason.

Maxwell Borkenhagen
Artistic Director, Café Stritch 

Over the course of the past few years, San Jose’s SoFA District has undergone a transformation. The addition of The Ritz, The Continental and the SoFA Market; Motif’s transformation into Aura; Single Barrel’s rebranding as Haberdasher; and the expanding presence of Back Bar SoFa have all made the area a much livelier place.

And while everyone involved deserves credit, it’s clear that Café Stritch, and its young artistic director, Maxwell Borkenhagen, led the vanguard of the SoFA District’s revival—or, reupholstering (hat tip Fil Maresca).

South Bay nightlife veteran and Continental co-founder Sam Ramirez says Café Stritch played an important and pioneering role in the SoFA District’s resurgence. “There’s no question,” he says. “They did have some influence on my decision to come back here (and open The Continental).”

A musician himself, Borkenhagen plays in a local psych rock outfit called The Gentle Cycle, and in the early days of Café Stritch, he booked more indie and punk bands. But these days, his focus is primarily on jazz—and in making jazz cool and accessible to a younger generation of music fans. “For me, in general it’s about trying to redefine jazz for my generation,” Borkenhagen recently told Metro.

“There is this incredible world of jazz musicians in the Bay Area, and they don’t really have a place to play,” he continues, noting that he derives a great deal of satisfaction from providing working musicians—as a large proportion of jazz players are—with a venue where they won’t be low-balled, told to turn down or asked to dial back the improvisation.

Under Borkenhagen’s watch, Stritch has become a go-to hangout for locals of all stripes—drawing in patrons with affordable, quality drinks, a simple, tasty menu and, of course, great ambiance.

Terrie Odabi, an Oakland jazz musician who regularly performs at the café, sings Stritch’s praises for the way the venue presents itself to the public. She says she’d rather play Stritch than the stuffier, more expensive Yoshi’s in Jack London Square. “It’s not pretentious in the least bit, and the food is amazing,” she says of Stritch. “These days, if I mention Café Stritch, people know about it. They’ve definitely created a name and a buzz.”

It’s the kind of ringing endorsement any local establishment would covet, but when it comes to a jazz club, “buzz” is as good as bullion.

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MetroAug16,2016_0738 (1)

The Sonido Clash Crew. Photo by Paul Tumason.

Fernando Julian Perez Fiesco
Sonido Clash

The East Side of San Jose boasts a rich history. Most notably, it’s where Cesar Chavez launched the grape boycott that drastically improved conditions for farmworkers. But this immigrant-heavy enclave has long struggled to push Latino art and music to the forefront of the city’s cultural scene. Fernando Julian Perez Fiesco (pictured above left) hopes entertainment collective Sonido Clash will fill that void by showcasing the variety of music the area’s artists have to offer.

“People will stereotype Latin music, saying that it’s just trumpets and mariachis,” he says. “But we take the best of both worlds. We use the contemporary sound: electronic, reggae, hip-hop, rock. And we mix it up with our parent’s music and make new fusions of that music.”

On Sep. 4, at the School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza, they’ll be hosting their Music and Mezcal Fest, bringing 11 acts and a bevy of vendors to the public square. They hope the party serves to bring together young and old for the continuation of a cultural tradition 

“You have to respect the traditional stuff,” he says. “We were brought up in that. At the end of the night, the last song that plays isn’t the new hit that just came out in 2016. It’s an oldie. And everybody comes to the stage. And now you’re not at the club. You’re at a family party. You’re at a quinceañera.”

Past performers, like DJ Cutso and DJ Easy Uno, use the traditional Latin music stylings as samples for their own mixes, repackaging the music and memories of their youth in a modern context. And as these shows continue, Fiesco hopes to partner with the East Side’s council members, business leaders, and high schools to broaden the program’s reach.

“We’ve actually had a struggle getting into the East Side because there’s limited resources,” Fiesco says. “We want to not just be at 300 [people] capacity stages. We would love to fill up areas like the fairgrounds. There’s a whole load of art and music to be discovered out here. And we hope to be the platform for those artists to get the audience. 

And though he’s married, Fiesco promises another crucial difference between the typical club scene and Sonido Clash: “Women outnumber men at our parties 7 to 1.”

— — —

Brendan Rawson.

Brendan Rawson.

Brendan Rawson
Executive Director, San Jose Jazz

San Jose native Brendan Rawson has broadened the horizons for jazz in the city since he took the helm of San Jose Jazz in 2013. This expanded sense of what belongs on a jazz stage comes from his appreciation of other genres, including indie and R&B, as well as his view that change is part of jazz’s DNA.

“Improv and being able to adapt is an essential part of jazz,” Rawson told Metro recently.

He’s used that sensibility to guide the organization’s Summer Fest and Winter Fest, where he’s made it a priority to bring younger, cutting-edge acts—including Ali Shaheed Muhammad, formerly of A Tribe Called Quest; saxophonist Kamasi Washington, who appeared on hip-hop visionary Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 smash record, To Pimp a Butterfly; and Dakhabrakha, a Ukrainian ensemble that plays what it calls “ethnic chaos” music.

Highlighting a wide range of genres, as well as creativity and experimentation, is something Rawson sees reflected in other sectors of his native Bay Area, such as the tinkering, building “maker” culture. Under Rawson’s direction, San Jose Jazz reflects that appreciation for things new and different with its Jazz Beyond program, which tries to attract a more diverse audience by highlighting talented younger musicians with connections to pop music, such as Washington.

“We offer so many different genres,” he said. “That variety, I don’t think you get to see that very often.

Can’t-Miss Shows Calendar: Fall 2016

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