- Photos by Kate Dash and Jared Parez
- Queens D.Light, Lala Openi, and Sasha Kelley of Malidoma Arts Collective, aka House of Malico.
On August 15, 2016, while organizers of the first Twerk 4 Mother Earth Festival awaited an upcoming story about their new festival in the East Bay Express, their comrade Terrence McCrary was shot and killed at in Oakland art gallery at the age of twenty-two. Although the Twerk for Mother Earth Festival was at first meant to get bodies on the dance-floor, its mission transformed that very night.
"What I remember from the time of that first article was that while we were celebrating Twerk 4 Mother Earth, we were also mourning the death of Terrance," said Queens D.Light, a cofounder of the sponsor, Malidoma Arts Collective. "He wasn't a street dude, he was a part of our artistic community. Instead of ignoring that, we wanted to integrate it and make it a healing space of celebration, mourning and loving each other. That was an illustration of us as an organization, as a house. During that time, we were just learning how to stand in our power, to show up for the response our community was calling for."
An onus had been placed on the collective — which also is known as the House of Malico — to not only raise bodies, but uplift spirits. It responded by presenting dance, video, and live performances, mixing them with yoga classes, and introducing up-and-coming artists to Oakland arts community. "It was a way to talk our new community and new ancestors," cofounder Sasha Kelley recalled.
The country and the world has changed so much over these last three years and, since that time, Kelley, D.Light, and third cofounder Lala Openi have changed with it. The collective has become a traveling production company with touring dates up and down the west coast. Its festival has blossomed into something that offers hip-hop, punk rock, visual art, and film mixed with spaces for healing and silent contemplation.
"Literally and figuratively, the evolution came about in the form of words," Kelley said. "When we started out in 2012, we were inspired by the multiple meanings in the word 'malidoma,' which can mean 'work' and 'befriending a stranger or an enemy.' And we also wanted to destroy the myth about women and femme-bodied people not being able to build friendships or work together. House of Malico is an extension of that work of being in a space, creating solutions, and making sure we're strong in the narrative."
That has become the mission of House For Malico: To provide space for marginalized people to celebrate themselves, to encourage healing in the safety of community, and give access to people who have been traditionally denied.
"At the time, I remember us being very intentional and conscious of hiring artists, creators and vendors," D.Light said. "We hired local bartenders, many that went on to full careers who give us credit for hiring them the first time, and same thing is true about the artists. Channel Tres is now an international artist traveling with Donald Glover, and the same is true with Duckwrth. It was about having our ear to streets, being able to pay the artists in our space, and bring that underground sound to the Bay Area."
After the first festival, The House of Malico began to see itself as more than just an arts collective, and turned toward possibilities of being an arts incubator, a bridge for workers and artists to meet opportunities for growth, and a module that could be applied in service to queer people of color (QPOC) anywhere in the world.
"I had moved to Oahu by the time of the festival," Openi recalled, "but I'd already started the first QPOC party there based on what we'd been producing for Twerk 4 Mother Earth here in Oakland. This year we've expanded Twerk 4 Mother Earth to be the official after-party for The Empowering Women of Color Conference, and we're doing events that span California into Hawaii."
Openi is a video producer who has credits outside of the experimental work they do with Malico, just as D.Light is an acclaimed singer and rapper, and Kelley is an emerging photographer with a well-established business. When the three of them get together, they're able to do well-executed, multi-disciplinary projects that are professional while maintaining the sound and feel of the streets and staying connected to the underground, do-it-yourself culture that is distinctly Oakland.
"What we're trying to do is create a culture of reciprocity," Openi said. "We want to make it so that if you benefit from the culture, you'll want to support it because it has helped you in some way. You'll want to donate. You'll want to participate, and we want to already have the tools and skills to help manifest your goals as we manifesto ours."
The Do-It-Yourself ethos became a more driving force in The House of Malico after the Ghost-ship fire, when it became increasingly difficult for them to function fully, as many of the East Bay's DIY spaces were placed in jeopardy due to the greater scrutiny placed upon them by local officials after the tragedy.
"The attack on the DIY spaces has been so unfortunate," D.Light said. "And we've seen it play out in different spaces that have been doing so much for the community that are now being told they can't anymore because of what happened at Ghost Ship, which was a white male run space. They were tapping into this culture of which we're very much a part, and they messed up, which messed it up for us. Since then, it's been difficult to find space and stabilize. DIY is the best way to get things done these days because things are so expensive. So we decided to make Twerk 4 Mother Earth a music event and platform that holds space, while moving at the same time. We want to show that our movement is resilient, has momentum and purpose, and we're not going anywhere."
Twerk 4 Mother Earth is a traveling festival, with dates scheduled all summer in Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Hawaii. Visit thehouseofmalico.com for details.