Foregrounding concepts of radical transparency, diversity, and inclusion, AFFIRMATIVE ACTION — a concert composed of works by Zachary Watkins, Raven Chacon, Sharmi Basu, Morgan Craft, and Ava Mendoza—was the organization’s next 2017-18 production. Each individual work, and the concert as a whole, is intended to dialogue with and interrogate the idea of the ‘lens of whiteness’—the idea that it is impossible for whiteness to not refract the institutional presentation and consumption of the work of artists of color. The collaborating artists worked to put a magnifying glass to the relationship between the composers (all of whom are artists of color for whom racial identity plays an integral role in the work practice) and the performing ensemble (of which both members are white men) to ask the question: who is really speaking for whom?
As a composer and founding member of experimental music ensemble Black Spirituals, Oakland-based Zachary Watkins crafts work in pursuit of psychedelic experience, where sonic and compositional focal points are self guided by the listener and acoustic phenomenon is at the center of the narrative. Zachary has received commissions from Kronos Quartet, Cornish College of The Arts, The Microscores Project, the Beam Foundation, Somnubutone Radio Series free103point9.org, sfsound and the Seattle Chamber Players. Zachary releases music on the labels Sige, Cassauna, Confront (UK), The Tapeworm and Touch (UK). Novembre Magazine (DE), ITCH (ZA), Walrus Press and the New York Miniature Ensemble have published his writings and scores. Zachary has been an artist in resident at the Espy Foundation, Djerassi and the Headlands Center for The Arts.
Originally from the Navajo Nation, Raven Chacon is a composer of chamber music, a performer of experimental noise music, and an installation artist. Chacon’s work explores sounds of acoustic handmade instruments overdriven through electric systems. As an educator, Chacon has served as composer-in-residence for the Native American Composer Apprentice Project, teaching string quartet composition to hundreds of American Indian high-school students living on reservations in the Southwest U.S. His work has been presented at the Whitney Biennial, documenta 14, REDCAT, the Kennedy Center, and the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival.
Born and currently based in Oakland, Sharmi Basu is a South Asian woman of color creating experimental music as a means of decolonizing musical language. She attempts to catalyze a political yet ethereal aesthetic by combining her anti-colonial and anti-imperialist politics with a commitment to spirituality within the arts. In addition to her compositions and solo electronic performances, Basu founded and hosts MARA, a performance and improvisation collective centered around queer, trans, and/or womyn of color and built The Universe Is Lit: Bay Area Black and Brown Punk Festival in 2017.
Featured as one of Guitar World’s “10 Female Guitarists You Should Know,” Ava Mendoza is a Brooklyn-based guitarist, singer, songwriter, and composer. After graduating from Mills College and settling in Oakland, Mendoza recorded and performed with such luminary musicians as Fred Frith, Tune-Yards, Nels Cline, and Mick Barr.
Morgan Craft is a musician, improviser, composer, and writer. Currently based in Amsterdam, Craft’s compositions dialogue with the role of the performer in the interpretation and realization of improvised concert works. He founded Circle Of Light Recordings in 2001. He has played with Butch Morris, Talib Kweli, Pete Cosey, Ikue Mori, Meshell Ndegeocello, Anton Fig, Beans, Muzz Skillings, Greg Osby, Rhodri Davies, Johnny Kemp, Marc Ribot, Christian Marclay, Simon H. Fell, Nona Hendryx, Carl Hancock Rux, Daniel Carter, Vernon Reid, Greg Tate. He has released thirteen solo albums as well as numerous essays and articles.