You’ve heard about San Francisco’s legendary music history. You may have also heard that its music scene is dying (rude). Yes, the culture of art in the city has been altered by living costs. But rest assured, music maintains a steady pulse in SF, and there are lots of venues and artists worthy of your attention.
I’ve lost count of how many instruments and styles San Francisco musician Mazin Jamal integrates into his music. Part of his family is from Sudan, and he finds inspiration from all over the world — especially from West African and Afro-Latin music. As Tarawa, he’s got an EP coming out at the end of May. He also plays percussion for AURKA and has a duo project with Seoulstice. Oh, and he’s got a day job because of course.
We sat down with him to discuss music, community, and finding inspiration in San Francisco.
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You take on a lot of musical genres and instruments. How would you describe your musical style?
I approach my music as a soundtrack for social changemakers. I draw from music around the world that has been used in spirituality, political dissent, and social movements. I find myself drawn to musical styles and instruments that I’ve observed uplift people and create a sense of “I want to get up and dance,” “I want to sing along,” and “I want to participate.”
So then, how do you decide what projects to take on?
I have a vision to use my music as a way of inviting people to participate in making the world a better place. We’re not using anger, hate, shame, guilt, and the language of the broken system to try and create a new system. We’re living the new system as we want it to be now. So when people approach me with opportunities, I can feel it. [I ask myself] is this an embodiment of the world I want to be a part of? And if the answer is yes, I go.
Would you describe yourself as an activist?
I’m a coach and a consultant. That’s my day job; that’s how I pay my bills. So, I am in some ways an activist and in some ways a community organizer. Music is one of the mediums with which I connect myself with people. All people are musical. You don’t need to have special training to let music be a part of your life and a part of your gift to the world.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become part of that community here in San Francisco?
Go to live shows. Go to shows of genres you’ve never imagined. There are so many musical styles — very specific cultural styles. I really feel like it’s such a great way to have a positive impact on the city that you’re living in because San Francisco is a place that is experiencing so much gentrification.
One of the things we’ve lost is our musicians and our musical venues; people who can no longer afford to be in the city. Places that are hosting artists and musicians don’t have to; they could just sell expensive drinks and get by. Those are the places I like to support. It feels so good to put your money toward something that is the heart and the lifeblood of our city — the art.
The best way I’ve found for people to plug into San Francisco and connect is to try everything; workshops, dancing, ceramics class, Caturday at Dolores Park. There is a thing for everyone.
You don’t need to wait until you have your picture-perfect friend group and your San Francisco dream all set before you start being a part of the community. Ask yourself, “How can I contribute to the community here? Where can I volunteer? What artists or teachers can I support? What workshops and spaces do I admire?” When you start doing that, people will naturally want you around more. Find the ways that you can nourish yourself and your own growth. That’s what San Francisco is about. It’s a local, spiritual, political, cultural incubator. People discover who they are and what they really love.
I’m ready to dive in! Where do I go? What are your favorite places?
I was a tour guide with Wild SF Walking Tours. I highly recommend that as a starting point. You get to really learn about the history of the community that is there and the spaces that live and breathe in each neighborhood.
There are lots of great music venues. If you’re not someone who’s into the late night scene, The Center SF is a tea lounge that has yoga and workshops; it’s a great alternative social space. Beloved Cafe has music sometimes. The Chapel has great taste in bands, and you might get some bigger names coming through, but not super mainstream. The Independent is another amazing mid-level venue. Public Works hosts a lot of my favorite DJs, like El Buho and Nicola Cruz.
Where would you play if you had free reign over San Francisco?
The Great American Music Hall is an amazing place to play. I would also be interested in playing at Civic Center — or even in the middle of the Financial District. What would it be like to set up a show in the middle of lunch rush hour? How many people could we get to be late to their next meeting because they had to stop and listen?
Do you have any local artists that inspire you?
I’m super inspired by a local singer-songwriter named Kendra McKinley. The Feelings Parade is in Oakland, but they play in the city often. Honey of the Heart is an amazing local band. Tattoo Vision is a hip hop collective that I’m super inspired by — they do amazing work in the community, as well as musically. Duniya is an African dance and drum company. And Extra Nappy is a really great local funk band.
And where can we find you?
June 8th at Yerba Buena Gardens. The Sudan Music Ensemble is a group I’m part of. It’s led by Salma Al Assal; people call her the Aretha Franklin of North Africa. Sudan’s music is where West, Central, and Eastern African music combines with [influences from] South India, Turkey, and the Middle East. It’s unique and beautiful. It’s a place where you can dance and sing along.
Here is an SF-inspired playlist, curated by Mazin, just for you: