Blackball Universe strives to create “New Age Motown” in Downtown Oakland
on January 15, 2014
Xavier Dphrepaulezz can’t sit still. He strums a cherry-red Telecaster guitar. He pounds on a drum, leaning over it and crooning. He poses dramatically for a photo in a doorway, walking and talking, barking orders down the hall at two young men in his cluttered recording studio. He’s frenetic and irrepressible, always producing, always creating.
Thirteen years ago Xavier, now in his mid-forties, founded Blackball Universe. Originally a record label, Blackball has grown in the past two years to encompass an art gallery, a rehearsal space and a small recording studio above the unfinished and cavernous first floor of an unmarked building on the corner of Madison and 3rd Streets, just around the corner from Jack London Square.
“Our goal is not to be this mainstream, multi-million dollar company… the goal is to be really happy with what we’re doing,” he says. As a musician previously signed to a major label, performing simply as Xavier and opening for acts like De La Soul, he got a taste of what it feels like to be bound to the expectations of a money-making institution. “It was hell,” he says. “Capitalism and compartmentalizing.”
Blackball Universe is a rejection of that feeling.
Xavier says the name is intended to connote both an oddball and a blacklisted artist – someone creating something that’s “going to push the edge.” For him, the space is a haven for artists across mediums to share their work free from commercial expectations and definitions of success.
There is a constant flow of people in and out of the space. A DJ ambles up the stairs, an intern photographs the paintings on the walls. A sound engineer works on a track in the recording studio – he’s there one minute, gone the next, then reappears. In the center of it all is Xavier – the thread holding it together.
On the third Friday of each month, Blackball Universe throws a party to showcase the work of visual artists and musicians.
Their show this Friday features mixed-media paintings by local artists Alan Tarbell and Michele de la Menardiere. Large, richly-colored pieces make the space feel less like the series of offices that it once was and more of a lived-in, vibrant gallery.
There will also be performances by Xavier’s band Fantastic Negrito, which he describes as “black roots music for everyone” and an ensemble of traditional African drumming.
Xavier says that the ultimate goal for Blackball Universe is to become the “New Age Motown,” a reference to the Detroit record label that shot to fame in the 1960s and 1970s with the crossover success of artists like the Jackson Five and the Supremes. “Very raw and very talented people all in one room that were true but still had a pop aesthetic,” he says.
He adds, “I want the best artists together…I don’t care what the medium is.”
The Blackball Universe Third Friday Party takes places this Friday, January 17th, at 7 PM.
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