Weekly Highlights: Denim Day Launch, StartupDTLA + Street Vendors, REDCAT, Cuicani, La Santa Cecilia and Buika!

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Courtesy of Peace Over Violence

by Tom Nguyen

Last Monday March 22, Peace Over Violence had their official launch for Denim Day, an annual campaign to raise awareness on rape and sexual violence. Patricia Giggans, executive director of Peace Over Violence, founded Denim Day in 1999 in response to a rape conviction that was overturned by the Italian Supreme Court because the justices did not believe the rapist could remove the victim’s tight jeans without her assistance and consent.

Following that verdict, women in the Italian Parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim and to protest the ruling. Giggans was inspired by their actions to create Denim Day as a yearly day on a Wednesday in April to wear jeans and highlight the prevalence of rape and sexual assault and the rape culture that further punishes survivors with victim-blaming and shaming. The slogan and message is There is No Excuse and Never An Invitation to Rape and this year’s Denim Day is Wednesday, April 27.

The festivities took place at MOCA in downtown and began with a powerful rendition of Til It Happens To You by Acasola, a co-ed acapella group from California State University, Northridge. The song was Lady Gaga’s tribute to rape survivors at Oscars 2016.

Giggans thanked GUESS?, Inc. the iconic LA-based jeans company for being a dedicated sponsor. While so many corporate entities shy away from this subject, Giggans thanked CEO Paul Marciano personally for not being afraid and helping to take that message on a global level.

Marciano spoke eloquently as well, bringing up another rape case in Italy that was documented in the film Brave Miss World, about Miss Israel Linor Abargil, who was raped a month and a half before she was crowned Miss World. She used her title to bravely speak about her rape and encouraged other survivors not to remain silent.

Denim Day spokespeople and musical power couple Aloe Blacc and Maya Jupiter spoke about the need for affirmative consent as the standard for mutual consent and not merely the absence of No. She’ll be releasing the video for her song Never Said Yes on April 1 to spread the word on affirmative consent.

As Blacc has said at previous Peace Over Violence events, men especially need to take responsibility because rape and sexual violence are primarily a men’s issue and a men’s problem. Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, the filmmakers of The Hunting Ground, were also in attendance. The explosive film documents the nationwide activism by young women survivors to break the systemic silence and cover up by college administrations of pervasive sexual violence on college campuses. They and Kamilah Willingham, a then Harvard law student and survivor featured in the film, spoke about the hopeful strides they’ve made in the fight for the rights of rape survivors but say there’s still much work to be done. Go to DenimDayInfo.Org to learn more and #GearUp for #DenimDay Wednesday, April 27!

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StartUpDTLA has a bold vision: To make downtown a tech and startup magnet in LA. They had a launch of their community center on the 16th Floor of the Wells Fargo tower on Thursday, March 24, showing off the gleaming white office space.

IMG_6459Founder Audrey Bellis detailed that vision: to have coworking space at the center and free daily workshops to help entrepreneurs and startups set down roots in DTLA. Free public-wide Wi-Fi starting with the Bunker Hill area of downtown. With a 42-minute train ride from the west side once the Expo Line opens through to Santa Monica, she joked people can now commute easily to DTLA from the westside and Malibu properties where their bosses live.

The serious point she was making is DTLA can become a central, attractive hub for companies and entrepreneurial startups, is easily accessible via public transit (my friend Asya Shein, Fusicology founder, was happy she could take 1 bus from her doorstep in Echo Park to here), and has plenty of ready office space (Trivia: Did you know Brookfield Properties alone owns 47% of the commercially available property in DTLA, like FIGat7th?). Representatives from Mayor Garcetti’s office and Councilmember Huizar’s office were on hand to give accolades and support.

IMG_6507Later that evening, as I walked to Mrs Fish to catch Rudy de Anda, both he and I saw a hot dog street vendor being ticketed by the LAPD. I waited to get that entrepreneur’s thoughts on how this gleaming promised land for startups would be able to help legitimize his business, but as ordered by the LAPD, he had to quickly leave the area with his cart, with a heavy fine in hand.

So my takeaway? It’s great that businesses and startups are being courted and lavished with goodies like free office space and Wi-Fi up above, but how about some basic help down below too? Street vendors are the most impressive, innovative, hard-working business owners I’ve met, the ones who pull themselves up by their bootstraps, without access to loans or venture capital, are out plying their trade on the street daily, in all kinds of weather, day and night, with a lot at stake (risking criminalization to feed their families)…will they be welcome on the 16th floor of Startup DTLA?

It really is a tale of two cities in LA, and the growing gap between the wealthy and those with the social capital, the right documents, and privilege vs. the poor, working class and immigrants. If you believe LA street vendors should be supported with measures like a legal permit system instead of just criminalization, there is a rally in Echo Park on Thursday, March 31.

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REDCAT has been having an incredible season of innovative cultural arts programming! And I’m not just saying that because I work part-time as their social media person. They just hosted a brilliant dance company from Brazil, Companhia Urbana de Dança. My favorite part of the night was their second act, Na Pista, based on the dancers’ lives on the streets of Rio’s favelas. The company seeks to elevate young, Black and poor Brazilians with the power of dance. Wherever they travel, they seek to connect with other marginalized communities to celebrate the universal joy of dance and hip hop and inspire self confidence and positive awareness in youth.

This week Thu March 31-Sun April 3 is another great performance: Historia de Amor by Chile’s TeatroCinema…think of it as interactive live theater with 2D/3D film projections to give it the look and feel of a gritty dark graphic novel. It’s an entirely appropriate setting for the story of an abusive and violent relationship (Trigger warning: there are intense sexual situations like rape. Mature audiences only).

Based on the French novel by Régis Jauffret, Historia de Amor is the unflinching portrait of an English teacher who abducts a young woman and turns her into his victim, concubine and mother. The directors, Juan Carlos Zagal and Laura Pizarro, were teenagers when the Pinochet dictatorship began in 1973. They see similarities between the way the Chilean people accepted abuse and he suppressive politics imposed on them during 17 years of military rule, and the way the woman in Jauffret’s novel deals with being a victim of sexual violence in an abusive relationship. “It is an allegory of abuse, mostly about abuse of women…But it is broader than that. It is about a lack of rights, about fragmentation, about the devaluing of the human being.” -Laura Pizarro

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Friday, March 25, Cuicani had their album release party at Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock and it was a truly community celebration for such a humble, hard-working band. Venerable East LA artivist band, Quetzal, set the tone for the evening with their socially conscious songs, welcoming the three Cuicani vocalists to join them. Then the powerful ladies of Entre Mujueres took to the stage, all dressed in white and singing and playing in perfect unison and celebration of womanhood. The show hit capacity before Cuicani started their triumphant performance!

Besides being uber-talented musicians and singers, you should know that all of them are arts educators working with youth from K through 12th grade. Social justice and positive change is front and center in their lyrics and who they are as a band. Their music? An infectious eclectic mix from Afro-Latin rhythms, cumbias to reggae and soul. Marlene Beltran Cuauhtin and Marisa Martinez (the Mavens) and Tony Sauza — their harmonies are so rich and each of them shined individually on their own throughout the set too. Rounded out with Caitlin Moss on drums and John Northup on bass and joined by guests like Marisa Ronstadt, it was a sweaty hot affair in the packed CFAER and I just wish there was more room to dance, because I couldn’t stop moving!

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IMG_6744Well, the long-awaited, sold-out show with Buika and La Santa Cecilia on Saturday, March 26, definitely lived up to expectations! In the case of Buika, who performed first, she left the crowd begging for more! Buika enthralled the audience with her powerful, passionate vocals and my favorite moment was her singing one of her classics La Niña Lola, backed only by percussion and drums. The 45 minute set seemed a lot shorter than it was because Buika’s songs can sometimes be 7-10 minutes long. Even Buika admitted while singing her last song that she didn’t want to leave. Fans continuously shouted for favorites like Mentirosa and Volver and no matter how thunderous the applause at intermission, an encore was not to be. Buika fans I talked to definitely wished the set was longer, as befitting an international singer of her stature.

From the moment La Santa Cecilia took to the stage, they clearly enjoyed the home crowd’s adulation and basked in their moment! Indeed, I would say the majority of the audience was there for La Santa Cecilia. Vocalist La Marisoul and the band were humble throughout the night, taking opportunities to thank everyone who supports them, from fans in the community, to everyone working hard behind the scenes, who all contribute to making a platform possible to play their music. “It took us 8 years to play half a mile from where we started, “ La Marisoul summed up the evening referring to nearby Placita Olvera, where they started busking.

There were moments of spontaneous celebration like an unscripted moment when La Marisoul and accordionist Pepe walked up the stairs behind the stage to serenade and dance with the audience. There were also serious moments of reflection. The band with immigrant roots has always been a voice for issues affecting their communities, from Pepe’s undocumented status to their song El Hielo about the trauma and separation of families caused by ICE raids and deportations. Introducing their new song Nunca Mas, Oso their percussionist reiterated the need for solidarity against violence upon Black and Brown communities and why #BlackLivesMatter and justice for Ayotzinapa is important.

The surprise moment of the night came when iconic singer Pepe Aguilar came out to sing a duet Como Dios Manda with La Marisoul. Rules be damned because it seemed like half the audience had their smartphones out to capture the magical moment! Afterwards, Aguilar spoke about how proud he was of a band with Mexican roots who have opened so many doors for others.

IMG_6741Speaking of which, many of the La Santa Cecilia fans were probably at Walt Disney Concert Hall for the first time and I give LA Phil kudos for going beyond their usual routine and having a community pop-up before the show. Self Help Graphics & Art had live screen printing, with complimentary refreshments and micheladas from I Love Micheladas and Guelaguetza. It’s not about free goodies as much as it is about genuinely connecting with and welcoming more diverse and younger audiences of color, who traditionally may not have been interested in LA Phil and vice versa.

In a city that’s majority Latino and Millennials who are more diverse and outnumber the Boomers, community outreach and exciting programming like this is key. The Broad across the street is setting the bar for that! So keep it up, LA Phil!

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