Continuing over 20 years of commissioning Bay Area artists, Yerba Buena Gardens Festival is thrilled to announce a spectacular group of 20 local artists selected to receive YBG Festival Seed Commissions in 2023. This innovative program provides unrestricted funds as “seeds” for the creative process. The artists represent an array of disciplines in poetry, dance, music, curation and performance and were collectively nominated by past Seed Commissions awardees, artists Kev Choice, Yayoi Kambara, María José Montijo and YBG Festival staff.
The 2023 artists are below.
Writer, transformational leader and educator Audacious IAM’s work attempts to transform, dissect and explore the intersection of Blackness, queer identity, fragility and being a woman in America. A queer Black female artist born and raised in Ruleville, Mississippi and now residing in Oakland, she aims to provide her community with platforms for dialogue, social change and transformation through artistic creation. Audacious IAM is the founder and editor of “Blue Arrival: Stories of the Queer Black South and Migration Anthology.” She was named Greater Bay Area Teacher of the Year (2016) and is a 2016 and 2017 Oakland Innovative Artist nominee.
Jada Imani Carter
Jada Imani is a hip-hop, R&B artist and community curator whose music is highly influenced by Black American genres like soul, funk and jazz as well as liberatory thinkers throughout generations. Imani has released over 20 music projects since 2018. She got her start at age 15 curating creative spaces for local artists at cafes, community centers and festivals like Oakland’s First Friday, Life is Living, Friday Nights at Oakland Museum of California. After several years of building a tight-knit community of artists in the Bay Area, she is expanding as an international artist – working to build cross-cultural community bridges.
Berkeley born songstress Viveca Hawkins has been moving crowds across the country and the world for nearly 20 years. Her vocal stylings range from rock and roll to hip-hop, soul and jazz. She began her recording career at the age of 13 and eventually studied voice at Berklee College of Music. She credits most of her talent to time spent singing in church choirs; it’s her family and her community that truly nurtured her gift. Credits include The Memorials, Kev Choice Ensemble, Blackalicious, Monophonics, Casual and DJ Toure of Hieroglyphics, Zion I, The Coup, Talib Kweli, Soulive and Goapele.
Michelle Jacques is the Artistic Director/Founder of the CHELLE! and Friends NOLA Big Band and CHELLE’S JUKE JOINT Acappella Quintet. Michelle is Vice President of the Governor’s Board of The San Francisco/Colorado Chapter Recording Academy, recipient of an InterMusic S.F. grant for the 2022/2023 production of “Daughters of the Delta Project,” recipient of the City Of Oakland Individual Artist grant for 2008, winner of the 1992 Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards (CARA) for Best Folk/Progressive Song, “Home Africa.” Michelle was featured in a song for the soundtrack of the 2010 movie La Mission starring Benjamin Bratt, a Sundance Film Festival Official Selection.
Vreni Michelini Castillo aka Chhoti Maa, was born in Guanajuato, México. Vreni has been a migrant since 1999, formed by the cultural context of the US, Peru and Qatar. Currently based in Oakland, Vreni works as a transdisciplinary cultural producer, curator and educator at CCA. Their practice involves art, performance, music, hip-hop, writing, Mexican folk medicine, cultural organizing, traditional ecological knowledge and danza. She is the co-founder of art collective Aguas Migrantes, co-editor of Color Theory (2019) and creator of Fluid Mutualism (2021). She is the executive producer and creative engine of Chhoti Maa’s Agua Corre (2014) and Caldo de Hueso (2016).
Nkeiruka Oruche is a cultural organizer, multimedia creative and performer of Igbo descent, who specializes in Afro-Urban culture and its intersections with social issues. In 2022, she created and directed “Mixtape of the Dead & Gone #1 – Egwu Onwu Ahamefula,” a shit-just-got-real Afro-dance-theater piece about life, death and what the fuck comes next. She is a 2022 Dance/USA Artist Fellow, a Kikwetu Honors Awardee, a 2018 NYFA Immigrant Artist Fellow, YBCA 100 Honoree and recipient of awards from Creative Work Fund, MAP Fund, New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, Kenneth Rainin Foundation and California Arts Council, among others.
Rashad Pridgen aka Soul Nubian is a multimedia dance & performance artist, creative director and DEI facilitator. Rashad has toured, choreographed, collaborated and performed with international and independent companies in contemporary and street dance styles for over ten years. Independently, his work spans dance, theater, video, film, tech, fashion, wellness and creative project-making. He is the conceptual director of “The Black Lives Masquerade” short film. Current works include a gallery specific fashion performance in MoAD’s The Black Vanguard Symposium exhibition and presenting with #todayatapple Video Lab: Record a Global Street Dance. Rashad is immersed in a futurist approach to his artistry as a 21st-century skill and interactive offering.
Proyecto Lando director Pedro Rosales is a renowned cajón player celebrated for his fierce, energetic playing and his creative compositions. Born in Lima, Peru, Pedro discovered his passion for the cajon at the age of fourteen, studying with maestro Ernesto Sandoval at the Museo de Arte de Lima. Pedro’s skills as a cajón player developed under the guidance of his mentors, master percussionists Manuel “Manguey” Vasquez, Eusebio “Sirio” Pititi, Braulio Barrera, and “Lalo” Izquierdo (founder of Peru Negro Cultural Association). Pedro is well-known in the Bay Area as a collaborator, sharing his knowledge and curiosity with musicians immersed in a variety of Afro-Latin traditions.
Taller Bombaléle was founded in 2014 by Julia Cepeda, the granddaughter of Puerto Rican bomba patriarch Don Rafael Cepeda Atiles, and Denise Solis, founder/director of Las Bomberas de la Bahia. Their work in the community promotes the bomba tradition that grew out of the Taino-African alliance in resistance to colonization and slavery in Puerto Rico, emulating teaching practices and values that were handed down by the Cepeda family in the San Mateo de Cangrejo/Santurce region. Taller Bombaléle performs and teaches bomba percussion, song, and dance classes and hosts bombazos (bomba performed informally in community) throughout the Bay Area.
Born in Berkeley, saxophonist Howard Wiley displayed a unique musical talent from a very young age. At 15, he released his first album with local press heralding “…this CD signals the arrival of the San Francisco Bay’s newest diamond in the rough.” Wiley has toured internationally, recorded and performed with artists including Miss Lauryn Hill, Sheila E, Cory Henry, Christian McBride and Chester Thompson. He is a founding member of the new Bay Area collective BLACK LONDON and has performed worldwide at venues including SFJAZZ, Monterey Jazz Festival, Cape Town Jazz Festival, SXSW and many others.
Janeen Antoine is an earth, peace, arts and culture advocate. She is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Antoine co-founded American Indian Contemporary Arts to promote Native arts and culture, and co-hosts Bay Native Circle, a weekly Native interest program on KPFA-FM. In addition to her long-standing work as curator of the Native Contemporary Arts Festival, Antoine curated “Impacted Nations,” a traveling exhibit to address the impacts of extractive industries on Native Nations. Antoine attended Stanford University, and has taught Lakota language classes at Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland. She currently works for the International Indian Treaty Council.
Internationally recognized as Krudxs Cubensi, Odaymar Cuesta & Oli Prendes are Cuban hip-hop pioneers, queer trans nonbinary feminist activists, relentless advocates against racism, and Oakland residents. Their music was born out of the Cuban nineties, combining fierce feminist rebel lyrics & Afro-Cuban sounds. Escaping censorship, they left Cuba in 2006 and relocated to the US to pursue their dreams and internationalize their careers. Krudxs Cubensi exists to represent and empower black, brown, indigenous and trans people, immigrants, intersectional beings and activists. They were 2022 fellows of the Abolition Democracy Program of the Black Studies Collaboratory at UC Berkeley.
PJ Hirabayashi is a practitioner and cultural wisdom keeper of taiko – the Japanese drum. She is a teacher, composer, community organizer and creative mentor. Taiko has been her path for 50 years. Hirabayashi is founder of TaikoPeace (an acronym for Partnerships, Empathy and Creative Empowerment), a movement to spread the transformational power of Japanese taiko drumming for positive social change for the greater good and a peaceful world and is Co-Founder of Creatives for Compassionate Communities in Silicon Valley. PJ and her husband, Roy Hirabayashi, have been awarded the NEA Heritage Fellowship, America’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts.
Dizzy Jenkins aka Dimebag Dizzy, is a New York City born, East Oakland based singer/songwriter, drummer, bomba composer and heavy metal vocalist. Dizzy has released two solo hip-hop albums, City Baby and Algorithm & Blues and most recently, Skeleton Key, a soulful, acoustic take on country, blues and folk blended with their signature vocals. Dizzy is also a mom, a surfer and a visual artist. Dizzy just released their fourth studio album, In Case I Don’t Make It through Women’s Audio Mission and continues songwriting for artists around the Bay Area.
RyanNicole is a multi-hyphenate artist whose most fulfilling experiences intersect art and activism, using her career in music and media to empower community. RyanNicole has been featured on TEDx San Francisco, ESPN/NBA and is the Producer/Director of The HAVEN Project – a cultural media housing justice initiative. She was Executive Director of Youth Movement Records, and her many accolades include being a 2022 Rainin Fellow, featured artist on a GRAMMY-nominated album, and recipient of a California State Assembly Commendation. As a playwright, Ryan has been commissioned by New York City’s Public Theater, the National Performance Network, American Conservatory Theater and others.
Movement artist and writer Bhumi B Patel directs pateldanceworks and is a queer, desi, home-seeker and science fiction choreographer (she/they). In its purest form, her performance work is a love letter to her ancestors. Patel moves at the intersection of embodied research and generating new futures, using improvisational practice as a pursuit for liberation. She is a member of Dancing Around Race, founded by Gerald Casel, and has presented her choreographic work in the Bay Area, Manoa, Hawai’i, Los Angeles, California and Columbus, Ohio.
Rocky Rivera is an journalist, emcee and author from San Francisco. Rocky has released three albums with Beatrock Music and a ten-volume mixtape series with DJ Roza for Patreon. Her latest album, Rocky’s Revenge, was created in collaboration with Women’s Audio Mission. Rocky’s music is a journey into the spirit of resistance, blending social justice, feminism with West Coast-style hip-hop. Snakeskin is Rocky’s first book, a collection of autobiographical essays and complete lyrics to all of her albums. You can read her most recent writing on the KQED website with her new recurring column, “Frisco Foodies.”
Sharp & Fine (Megan & Shannon Kurashige)
Megan and Shannon Kurashige are the Co-Artistic Directors of Sharp & Fine, a San Francisco-based contemporary dance company that creates experiments in theatrical storytelling and physically exuberant choreography drawing on balletic and contemporary forms. Sharp & Fine’s work brings together dance, emotionally nuanced text, live music and the belief that telling a story built on personal truths is a powerful act of communication and empathy. Sharp & Fine has collaborated with dancers, composers, musicians, authors, a playwright and an opera singer. Megan and Shannon have been commissioned by Oakland Ballet, FACT/SF, U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network, Merde Project and Soundwave.
Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ
A fearless musical explorer, Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ is an award-winning performer of the 16-string đàn tranh (zither) and an Emmy Award-winning composer who has collaborated with Kronos Quartet, Alonzo King LINES Ballet and Yo-Yo Ma. Since settling in the Bay Area in 2001, Vân-Ánh has collaborated with musicians across different music genres to create new works, fusing deeply rooted Vietnamese musical traditions with fresh new structures and compositions. She has presented her music at numerous prestigious venues including Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center and was the first Vietnamese artist to perform at the White House.
Aimee Rose Zawitz
Aimee Rose is a professional multidisciplinary dancer who currently specializes in Jamaican Dancehall. Aimee has performed with many Bay Area dance and music companies including but not limited to: Valerie Watson’s Alafia Dance Ensemble and Djenane St. Juste’s Afoutayi (both Afro-Haitian), Joti Singh’s Duniya Dance and Drum Company (South Asian and West African), Polly Bates’ Daring Arts Movement, and Jamaican companies Xpressions and Versatile Ones. She currently has her own student company The Frisco Rockaz and co-organizes a professional group, The TropiCali Dancers. Aimee teaches weekly classes and organizes bi-annual trips to Jamaica.