4 Bay Area Artists on Staying Creative in a Pandemic

By Samya Brohmi

sbrohmi@gmail.com

 

The Bay Area’s music scene has become more dependent than ever on the internet to connect with audiences, as the possibility of live shows continues to be postponed. The situation has also given local artists the opportunity to redefine what success means to them. Four artists who are City College alumni give us their perspectives on evolving their creative styles and sustaining community through collaboration in a pandemic.

Reynaldo Novicio, also known as Mister Rey, holds up his Roland SP-404SX music sampler, known famously as the premier tool for creating lo-fi beats. A key aspect in his creative process, Novicio stresses the importance of visually seeing the sounds as waves on the screen. San Francisco, CA. Feb. 27, 2021. (Photo by Melvin Wong/The Guardsman)

Mister Rey is a producer, beat maker based in San Francisco. Born in the Philippines, he immigrated to San Francisco at age 12 and considers the city to be his home. Mister Rey originally attended City College in 2003. He then returned in 2011 and graduated with an Associate of Arts in Sociology in 2013. His eclectic sound pulls influence from a diverse array of genres that he defines as hip-hop, open format, and experimental electronic soundscape.

 

In the past five years, Mister Rey has had the opportunity to work on and contribute to the 2017 album “Native Immigrant,” a collaboration with San Francisco-based MC Ro3lay, as well as doing production on Ruby Ibarra’s 2017 “Circa 91 album,” Rocky G’s 2020 album, “Filipinos in Space” and Bambu’s 2020 EP, “Sharpest Tool in the Shed” EP (2020). He produced his own third beat tape, “wonders mysticism,” that dropped in late 2020. In early 2020, he was awarded a San Francisco Arts Commission grant to support his FriscopinX Chronicles Project, set to launch this upcoming June. 

How has your daily creative practice changed during the pandemic?

Mister Rey: “I can honestly say that I’ve been more productive since the pandemic. My creative practice and process have been more of a spirit guide for me, to be centered, transmute, and document the pandemic.”

 

Have you collaborated with any artists in the past year? How difficult was the process?

Mister Rey: “As mentioned earlier, I was able to collaborate with artists the past year and blessed to complete and offer it to the world. In the beginning, the process needed some troubleshooting. However, due to the nature of the genre, and type of music I make — digital and technology became my friends.”

 

How has being a City College student shaped your experience as an artist?

Mister Rey: “What I can say, CCSF for me contains so much gift and magic. I always admire the do-it-yourself, independent spirit of the folks I crossed paths with creatively at CCSF — so that is a huge encouragement for me.”

 

What is the best way for readers to find and support your work?

Mister Rey: https://misterrey.bandcamp.com/

Stephanie Woodford takes a stroll out to Japantown and plays some ukulele. Woodford is part of a musical trio group, along with her boyfriend and another member. San Francisco, CA. Mar. 2, 2021. (Photo by Melvin Wong/The Guardsman)

Stephanie Woodford is a musician and singer based in San Francisco. Her musical style spans jazz, pop, rhythm and blues, and soul. She is an accomplished pianist, ukulele player, and singer/songwriter. Woodford attended City College from 2016 to 2020 to further her music education, graduating with an Associates of Art in Music. This January, she released an EP, “Acoustic Revelations,” available on all streaming platforms.

 

How has your daily creative practice changed during the pandemic?

Stephanie Woodford: “My music and practicing has changed a lot during this pandemic. I have had to find other ways to be creative with my music, like learning a new instrument (ukulele), writing new songs, creating more music, and busking.”

 

Have you collaborated with any artists in the past year? How difficult was the process?

Stephanie Woodford: “I collaborated with some visual artists on my latest EP, as well as my boyfriend who is also a musician. I have also worked with CCSF Collective on a few projects. It is harder to collab through the internet but we make it work.”

 

How has being a City College student shaped your experience as an artist?

Stephanie Woodford: “Being at CCSF has definitely taught me a lot. I had my ups and downs and all my experiences gave me things I needed to learn — both positive and negative. I def learned musical skills I use now.”

 

What is the best way for readers to find and support your work?

Stephanie Woodford: “To support me you can follow my Instagram @stephanielwoodford, and/or my Facebook: @stephkeys46. Readers can also follow me on Tiktok @stephldubs and YouTube as Stephanie Woodford to see my covers!”

Ahmed Kap Amino, or a.K.aye, takes a smoke break in his backyard and hangs out with one of his outdoor cats, Luna. Along with his music, Amino also works several different jobs. He teaches physical education at an elementary school, he’s a peer educator that works with special needs children, and before COVID, he also found staff work at music venues. San Francisco, CA. Feb. 28, 2021. (Photo by Melvin Wong/The Guardsman)

a.K.aye is a MC, multi-instrumental producer, and video director/editor. A Bay Area native, he is based in San Francisco and grew up next door in Daly City. His sound ranges from alternative hip-hop to EDM. In 2015, he was invited to perform at Kearny Street Workshop’s “APAture Music Showcase” for emerging Asian Pacific American artists. a.K.aye released his latest album, “TRILLIPINO” in late January. Previous projects in his discography include: “Koo, Kalm, Kollective,” “The Age is Soulquarius,” and “AiRSiGNS,” all available on Bandcamp. 

 

How has your daily creative practice changed during the pandemic?

a.K.aye: “During the pandemic it gave me more time for self reflection and working on music. Before that I was juggling multiple jobs and didn’t really have the time or energy to make beats or write any verses in entirety. The isolation just gave me the opportunity to go back into creativity. Sometimes, I would stream with friends and either spin some music or freestyle. And I even put a few videos through Instagram that I call ‘Covid Creations,’ where I talk about social issues. Aside from that, been able to find recipes for cooking and even do video editing for the school I work at. Early 2020, I was put onto theHou5e label created by my homies .Vo., *$.O.A.R* and T-Venom who started out recently.” 

 

Have you collaborated with any artists in the past year? How difficult was the process?

a.K.aye: “A majority of artists in “TRILLIPINO” that I collaborated with were long time friends. A few songs I recorded at Noah Frank’s studio. One of the songs I recorded was the track ‘Diggle,’ where he played the trumpet on the bridge of the song to give the jazz-influenced song more depth. My frequent collaborators were Taboos of Society (.Vo. and *$.O.A.R*) and we knocked out songs like ‘Sapiosexual,’ ‘Due Diligence,’ and ‘Serotonin’ (who had Venom lay the drums). The dancehall banger ‘Señorita’ was another one where I had my long time friend John Ibarra on the hook and bridge and high school friend, Lito, on one of the verses.”

 

“The way the song came out felt immaculate, especially when *$.O.A.R* come through on the last verse. The Bay Area sounds of ‘Ohlone’ was a track co-produced by T-Venom and Pase One. And even the song ‘Last Slice’ featured Brown Lotus by finding a song that was fitting to his style after trying to collaborate for a long time. The album was a long time in the making but being in shelter in place helped out a lot. The overall challenge was just staying motivated and I was determined to showcase my ranges.”

 

How has being a City College student shaped your experience as an artist?

a.K.aye: “It influenced me a whole lot. I used to run with a group back at City called P.E.A.C.E. back in 2011 and they threw events where I would perform at. Even through one of the resources at school, it helped me land an internship with the Bay Area Video Coalition where I got to learn working in film.” 

 

What is the best way for readers to find and support your work? 

a.K.aye: “Follow me @alsoknownasakaye and check out the album ‘TRILLIPINO’ on all streaming platforms.”

Ahmed Elsayed visits his old workplace at the Zeum in San Francisco. Elsayed’s music encourages the listener to always “be their best selves”. San Francisco, CA. Mar. 2, 2021. (Photo by Melvin Wong/The Guardsman)

Ahmed Amer is a multidisciplinary artist based in San Francisco. He was born in Houston and spent his formative years in Cairo. Amer attended City College in 2018 as a cinema student, where he developed an interest in experimental film. 

 

His recent projects include concurrently writing three independent comic books: “Metal War,” a science fiction action novel, “The Coathangers,” a punk rock action mystery based on the real life band, and “Goof,” an action comedy comic based on Amer’s real life band. He is in the early stages of recording Goof’s first album, “Killem All” with bassist Ryan Bahm and drummer Taylor Martin.

 

How has your daily creative practice changed during the pandemic?

Ahmed Amer: “The biggest change came with the new safety precautions, they affect how we as a band interact and also affect any collaborative efforts, in music, art, or comics. Not being able to play shows is definitely a drag. I miss that exchange of energy that happens between a musician and the audience — it’s irreplaceable. People may be able to turn off a live stream but they can’t turn you off at a show.” 

 

“One major hit that we suffered as a band was losing our drummer Josh Compton, due to unemployment and him relocating because of COVID. Other than that, I’ve actually had more time during COVID to work on projects, since I’ve had less distractions.” 

 

Have you collaborated with any artists in the past year? How difficult was the process?

Ahmed Amer: “My favorite collaborations during COVID so far were: 

1.‘**** That Noise’ a BLM protest show against police brutality and racism. A  

collaborative effort with KXSF Radio and 6 other bands: Virgo Gabriel, Deshawn Visions, Lizard  Music, Umb, Goof, and Bolero!

  1. Organizing and playing a livestream fundraiser for the Honey Hive Gallery with the following artists: Josiah Inis Pocho, Rozzly, Uncle Chris, Pocket Full of Crumbs, Pork Belly, The Brankas, Dogs That Bite, Umb, Goof, Under Ego, Buzzed Light Beer.

Each project took careful planning and weren’t easy to complete but thankfully we live in a time and place when the internet is easily accessible.”

 

How has being a City College student shaped your experience as an artist?

Ahmed Amer: “City College has been a huge influence on me as an artist. I met my girlfriend Lily in our experimental film class. She has been a major influence on me and introduced me to the DIY nature of being an artist, and how to make that work in your favor. I also met Goof’s first drummer, Josh in the CINE 25 class. Goof wouldn’t be a band today if I didn’t take that class! So to say the least, it has been important and instrumental in my creative pursuits.”  

 

What is the best way for readers to find and support your work? 

Ahmed Amer: “Follow me on Instagram at @ahmed.amer.elsayed and @gooftheband to get updates and info on how to support me or the artists I work with.”