Chungtech : I’m Christina, a.k.a. DJ Chungtech, originally from Southern California, Irvine, Los Alamitos. Places like that. And then I moved my way to Oakland. And I’m in North Oakland right now, and with me…..
Smokestack : What’s up, y’all? My name is Arjuna, Deejay Smokestack….shoot. Growing up, I moved all over the place, I lived in five different states, went to 11 different schools, have Oakland connections, and that brought me to Oakland Tech in high school. And it was one of the first places where I really felt at home. So I moved back out here, with fifty dollars in my pocket and a one way ticket. I’ve been here since.
Chungtech : [The] Music [I’m going to play] is linked to lots of time periods. I think in some ways it’s like the fantasy version of our neighborhood. Part of our neighborhood, there’s this intersection where the former Baby World, now Critical Resistance, now Korean little Mini Mall with Karaoke and Korean Barbecue and Sushi across the street and everything collides, which is like this fantasy vapor wave city bop universe right there. So the music kind of dips in and out of what my imagination of that looks like. So I would say there’s going to be some 80s. There’ll be that and there’ll be music from now and something in between.
Smokestack : Cool, so in our house, we got all kinds of records, all kinds of music. I tried to keep it simple today and just brought some 45s or all Bay Area, mostly East Bay, maybe all Oakland 45s, and tried to focus on music from the North Oakland Area. There’s some rich history there where we live. It’s easy when you have 45s, it’s just, you know, you don’t have to look through the songs and all that. So keeping it simple with Oakland based 45s today.
Smokestack : So right now, I’m thinking of one particular 45 in my box that I hope to play out of 4721 Telegraph Avenue, which is some fancy coffee shop now, but it was formerly home of Boola Boola Records, home of Marvin Holmes, Eugene Blacknell, a lot of amazing funk rock musicians. It just disappeared. It was a beautiful, wrought-iron fence with music notes. Amazing Oakland history. And then it was demolished. I kept looking online to see if there were any articles. Is anyone going to document this amazing piece of history, not just gone, right? So. Fortunately, we have this musical documentation so we can kind of hear the sounds of that time. I think that part of North Oakland is just invisible now, is gone. And so I’m trying to bring it back to life musically today.
Chungtech : I think for me thinking about the story with the music today, we’ve been living in the same place since before we were parents, when we became parents and now with two kids raising kids that are born and raised in that neighborhood. So our record collection has changed since that time as well. I think part of what inspired the set was even just thinking about places, of deejaying with at Oakland 45 Sessions, and just dipping into those different pieces of nostalgia because every one of these songs has some connection to that moment when, before I was a parent. So they are there like this compilation of, a collection of Oakland stories, but also, like some of them are songs that I know he generally loves or songs that we really love together. So that’s kind of the story of us a little bit too.
Smokestack : One reason that I like 45s in particular is because, um, forty fives, I feel like are some older version of TikTok, Instagram or whatever. Like, they are an easier entry point for musicians to get their music out there. It was cheaper than when you’d have to put out a whole album. So there is a lot more independent black artists that were able to get their music out there. This might have been their one recording. And because of that, they put a lot of love and thought, their politics into this, this maybe one-off situation. So there’s a lot of amazing stories to be told in Oakland’s 45 discography. So that’s one thing that I’m drawn to. Oakland 45s and the labels and the musicians behind them.
Smokestack : I mention real quick that pretty much all of the 45s are coming from different flea markets in Oakland or Berkeley, Ashby and Coliseum. So not online. You got to go out to the flea market. You’ve got to make connections with real people. Maybe haggle a little bit, but definitely the stories that you accumulate along the way are just really rich revealing of people’s histories. And it’s really just amazing to see people showing interest in younger folks who are very interested in the music, but also the significant historical, social, political or otherwise. So we can help keep that history alive.
Chungtech : North Oakland has changed. So much so. And it’s like by being in the very same place for two decades, you see it change right before your eyes. One of the things is like it was cute when we moved in because it was our first place that we were living together. And then it’s less cute when you have like a whole family of four in a one bedroom in the same place that hasn’t gotten any bigger, but the amount of people has doubled. And when you walk around our neighborhood, we’ve been priced out for a really long time. But I had to walk with my friend, who grew up in the neighborhood yesterday, where we had that reflection, a little bit of regret of like, should we have done something earlier when we still couldn’t have, but like, should we have, you know? And so it’s like this bittersweet part about walking around our neighborhood like we have great food, we have great drinks. We have so many wonderful things that all have come at a cost. And so it is interesting to live in this neighborhood, to have been put in the same place for so long and to be priced out of your neighborhood at the same time you’re living there. So it’s a double edged sword to have all these wonderful places that you can walk to, to eat and all that. But then just to know that like the option of even sizing up will likely mean that we would actually have to move out of the neighborhood that we love so much and that people really identify us with. So those are real actual thoughts that we have to navigate as our family grows bigger and it’s tough to think about because we really love our neighborhood.
Smokestack : You know, North Oakland is amazing for so many reasons. I like to say it’s the center of the Bay Area. You know, you can get to San Francisco in North Oakland, out East relatively quickly. BART’s right there. It’s really diverse. But like Christina said, it comes at a cost. As a mixed race black man in my neighborhood. It’s fairly often I get profiled and people might think I’m the help and talk to me a particular way. And I have to say, “Hey, hold up. Let me tell you my name. I live right here with my kids were we’re the loud family on the block. We’ve been here a long time. Let’s let’s build a rapport before you, you know, come at me sideways.” So that’s that’s real. And it feels like we have a great opportunity to build connections and to help preserve that sense of community because we live in an area where people have their proud Black Lives Matter signs in the yard, although there are not many black people anymore in the neighborhood. So it’s like, how do you reconcile that. One little way is how we interact with each other, get to know each other by name and check in on each other, build connections during the pandemic? That’s more important than ever.
Chungtech : So that’s what it is. Even in our block, you know, our block is mostly apartments, so there’s lots of renters. So there’s a lot of transition. But then there’s neighbors like us who have been here for a long time. But then there’s neighbors who’ve been here even longer, like double 40 years, 50 years and beyond. We have black families that have been on our block …we have a neighbor who’s one hundred years old, you know? And she’s been here, her family’s been here for generations. And so we keep in touch with each other and we check in with each other because we’re the ones that really, I think, protect our block. We’re the ones that see all the changes come and go. But at the same time, there’s still ways in which you can feel both very visible and known , the neighborhood person everybody knows. Everybody wants to say, Hey, what’s up to Arjuna? But also, completely not seen. It’s not uncommon for some new white person to be walking on the street, we’re crossing each other on the block this way. And they don’t even acknowledge you. In our dinner we talk about that a lot, how people don’t even look up or nod a head or anything like what you would do in a neighborhood when you’re crossing the sidewalk with somebody. So that’s the other cost.
Smokestack : Yeah. And I guess not to belabor the point, but when you connect to your neighbors and you get a chance to talk, we have a one-hundred year old neighbor, you have a chance to learn about all that rich history, so to speak. And I got to give a shout out to Gary Davis, who’s been on the block a long time and went to Oakland Tech, and he can tell you about the day that Arthur Ashe came to Mosswood Park to the tennis courts, like how would I know that? Arthur Ashe came to Mosswood Park to teach young black tennis players there and that doesn’t show up on the Black Lives Matter sign. You got to actually meet the people in the neighborhood to really get that history.
Chungtech : First of all, I got to give a shout out to Djumibear and Tohqibear out there. Second of all, we live together, we’re deejays. We always want to do a mix together and it never happens, ever. This is it it’s going to happen today. And so that’s why we’re excited. We practiced together zero to I get ready for today, but we have a story. We had an idea. So the idea was that we have really different pockets of music that we both are super super into. But then we have this middle area of the Venn diagram of modern funk soul boogies 2-step. You know, all these tracks, dance music, house, that we really love. And so I’m going to start off the set. I’m going to play the stuff that’s firmly in my zone. You know, the things that I might not even play in a regular set. Post COVID pandemic times I just like to play the records that I have and not worry about a dance floor. I don’t have to worry about certain things the same way so I can just play songs that I really like that might not have surfaced before the same way. So that’s what I was excited to pull. And then at some point, we’re going to kind of dovetail in the middle either go one for one, two for two. We’ll see what happens. I’ll play stuff and then he’ll play stuff and we’ll go back and forth and then Arjuna is going to close it out. And so he can get into his zone firmly in the things that he really loves.
Smokestack : I’ll just add that we have records in pretty much every room of our house. And so for two working parents, pulling records comes after dinner time and bedtime and a lot of the records are in the room where the kids sleep. So those records are off limits. So let’s simplify it. The 45s, they’re out here. We’ll just pull from that. So again, just trying to highlight some amazing music from Oakland. Check the playlists. Do your research. Every artist has their own story, their own, you know, bit of Oakland history. And so I just want to geek out, talk to anyone who will listen and share about the history. And just trying to inspire others to do the same.
(This interview has been edited for clarity)
This project is supported by the Oakland City Council and funded by the City of Oakland’s Cultural Funding Program.