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R&B Showcase Works to make WOBC More Accessible

MALAYKA NORDYKE // APRIL 13, 2018 

The WOBC R&B Showcase was held on February 22, but its mission remains pertinent. The event was held on a Thursday, so as to avoid it turning into a classic Oberlin weekend “party but with live-music in the background” sort of deal. “We wanted it to be a social, fun performance space for Black music. But we really wanted it to be about the music,” said senior Kyle Roach, host and organizer of the event.

 

The showcase was maybe one of the best-attended house shows I’ve been to, and though it was packed, all eyes and ears were on the performers. With musicians hailing from both the college and the conservatory, the show effortlessly bridged the college-con divide and created a partnership that highlighted student talents from both spheres. The bands were interactive, continuously hyping up the audience and encouraging them to dance to the beat. And when they weren’t performing they were in the audience, listening to and appreciating their fellow musicians. It felt like a genuine celebration of community and music.

 

About a week after the show, I sat down with Roach, who hosted the show and was one of the three key organizers of the showcase, which had been founded in 2015 by WOBC Board member and senior Rayna Holmes. The two established the showcase to provide a space for Black music and musicians. Back in 2015, there wasn’t a performance space on campus that provided the right sense of community that Roach and Holmes envisioned for the showcase. Though the Cat has become a more intimate space for POC to perform since then, Kyle notes that the ‘Sco still has that “institutional feel” that doesn’t quite suit the goals of the R&B showcase.

 

Roach and Holmes recruited Conservatory senior , Ethan Cohen  to organize an evening of live music. Cohen helped form the performing bands and book rehearsal spaces for the musicians. Once formed, the bands collaborated to arrange music from Aaliyah to Chaka Khan.

 

Oberlin prides itself for its vibrant music scene, but the DIY house-show circle can feel especially white-washed. Although the R&B Showcase has the WOBC name attached to it, part of its mission is to fight against the inaccessibility of the WOBC community and the general Oberlin music scene. Though the organization has gotten much better at inclusivity, when the showcase launched WOBC felt very much like a “cool-white-dudes club."

 

One way that WOBC can expand its reach is through events like the R&B Showcase. “WOBC is event-driven,” Roach notes. Flagship events like the Coverband Showcase and the Block Party are key ways that WOBC reaches out to the student body. Kyle hopes that WOBC can expand these traditions to include the R&B Showcase to help reinforce that WOBC is a space that celebrates Black music and musicians.

 

This past February was the first time the R&B Showcase had happened in two semesters, and the organizing seniors are working to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Though the showcase ideally happens once every semester, WOBC hopes to hold another showcase by the end of the year. The organizers are intent on reaching out to underclassmen to protect the showcase’s institutional memory after they graduate. The future of the R&B showcase and workgroup is promising, but students from WOBC and beyond must get involved to ensure Oberlin’s accessibility for and celebration of young musicians of color.

Contact contributing writer Malaya Nordyke at mnordyke@oberlin.edu.