Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday night, me and my gang of tiny women friends (and some normal-sized women friends and honorary male guests) punch, kick, and grapple on the concrete floors of a warehouse basement. Yeah, it’s badass. I don’t mean to brag, but actually yeah I do. We’re really proud of our space, which came to us filthy and neglected, which is still pretty gritty but relatively clean and extremely functional. The warehouse is partitioned into work areas rented by artists, musicians and small businesses. A few of our neighbors are annoying, like the woodworker who would smoke in the indoor hallway just outside our door and leave benches reeking of toxic varnish there, or the people who lock themselves in the sole bathroom for fifteen minutes and get mad if you ask them to hurry up. But we have some extremely cool neighbors, too. We used to have an Afro-Cuban jazz band next door, and a troupe of African dancers who left for a trip to LA to audition for America’s Got Talent and never came back. Come to think of it, I hope they’re okay. Maybe they’re famous by now; they definitely had talent.
The king of the building is Xavier, who runs a gallery and music studio up on the top floor. They have art shows up there once a month. They also have concerts; one night as I was leaving, I climbed up onto their stairs and listened to the most amazing African drumming (a lot of Africanness in our building, awesomely). And one night, when we arrived for our training session, Xavier was playing with his band on the ground floor, right outside our bathroom and freight elevator, with a band that included his young son (I’m guessing around 5 years old) on drums. They had the loading dock open and were playing for the neighborhood. They sounded beautiful. It was hard to tear ourselves away to start our training.
Yesterday when my clock radio woke me up, the announcer was saying something about a band from West Oakland who had won a contest to play on NPR in Washington DC. I was like, cool, go Oakland! Then they said the name of the band: Fantastic Negrito. And I thought, hey, I know that band name. Isn’t that… Then they played some music, and I was sure: our upstairs neighbor! I ran to my computer to confirm it. It was true! A beautiful, prize-winning song. Not only was there a picture of Xavier and a story about him, but a video of him and his band performing inside our freight elevator. Which makes sense; it’s a pretty badass place.
I would also like to note that I have woken up to the music of people I know on NPR two other times, both used as the interval music between stories on Morning Edition. Once it was a Julian Lage song that my brother-in-law played on, and once it was a very obscure early-2000s band from Ann Arbor that I still can’t figure out how Morning Edition got a hold of. Basically, I want everyone I know to be on the radio because there is no awesomer way to wake up.