by Chamidae Ford
On April 2, Converge Media launched its new series: Mochaculture. Hosted by Shaina Shepherd — also the executive producer — the show explores the history of Black musicians while highlighting local Seattle talent along the way.
Mochaculture initially began as a live event pre-COVID-19, but it has since adapted to the current state of the world.
“I was a musician two years ago, just kind of starting to make my way into bigger clubs. I had just got to know some of the artists that I used to just listen to and be a big fan of, and we would be in our little Columbia City bubble, and I just got the idea of ‘Let’s make a show,’” Shepherd said. “There’s no reason why a venue or a booker can book these people and I can’t, you know — so why not just try it out?”
The first episode, centered around the iconic Ray Charles, features covers by Eva Walker from The Black Tones, Chris King from Chris King and the Gutterballs, Maya Marie, Jimmy James, as well as Shepherd herself.
“I specifically chose the artists that I did because they reminded me of my muse and my hero Nina Simone,” Shepherd said. “I asked [them] to be a part of this whole journey where we want it to not just focus on performing the songs, but we wanted to focus on why the songs were so impactful, why they carried on through so many generations of listeners, and why they made us feel like we could be musicians and artists.”
Shepherd was inspired by Ray Charles and his relationship with Quincy Jones, seeing herself and the relationships and friendships she has with other musicians reflected in the friendship between the two artists.
She came to learn about their relationship through discussions of music with friends at an old jazz club in Columbia City.
“Just Back folk, just sharing culture, sharing stories,” Shepherd said. “And it was those people, those artists and musicians sharing with me the secret stories of how important Ray Charles and Quincy Jones back in that moment were to the evolution of music in our country.”
Through these discussions, Shepherd learned of the collaborative nature of Charles’ and Jones’ friendship and the way it inspired a new era of music.
“In the 1940s [and] early 1950s, collaborative music started the bedrock of stuff like the communion of artists from different worlds coming together to just have a conversation in music without having to make it very high budget, without having to make a huge project about it, just sharing the wealth of knowledge of opinionated individuals in one moment and having a conversation that helps start [the] next things. And like, that was something that really started here [in Seattle] in a very specific way.”
Nikki Barron, a producer for Mochaculture, mentioned that they were also drawn to Ray Charles not just because of the legacy he has left to the music world but also his forgotten Seattle roots.
“We chose him as our inaugural episode because he has really deep roots in Seattle. A lot of people don’t realize that Ray Charles really cut his teeth here. He started out doing tributes and doing covers, and he’s gotten really famous for covering other artists, and that’s basically what we’re doing with Mochaculture. So he really inspired the whole series in that skillset that he has.”
While the intention was for Mochaculture to be a live experience, in order to bring the show online, Shepherd partnered up with Converge Media.
“Omari at Converge, and Jake, and that whole family — I saw the work that they had done during the protest of capturing the true spirit of the present,” Shepherd said. “[Nina Simone] said, ‘It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live,’ and they were doing that. So I just reached out and said, ‘Hey, you’re making me feel like this.’ And this is how I felt when I was looking at this, it was just a vibe and it felt right. And luckily they are amazing and took the time and helped me cross this program over into the virtual world and help my vision and put it together. And now I’m a part of the Converge family, too.”
The community and family aspect of the show is seen in the ways that the artists perform together. The joy of making music radiates through the screen.
“We have our own focuses in music. We’re telling our stories, but we’re also coming together and inspiring each other,” Shepherd said. “Just by coming together and making some music, goofing off, and loving on each other, and seeing each other’s talents, and feeling inspired to do the next thing.”
The performances in the first episode are stripped-down versions of Ray Charles songs, allowing the artists to bounce off each other and apply their own style and personality to the music.
“We just captured what we usually just do. Like Jimmy will play whatever, whenever he wants and expects me to sing over it, and like Jimmy will play a song and Eva will dance around and sing, and she’ll look at me and expect me to sing with her. Like, it’s just what we do,” Shepherd said. “We didn’t come in with pre-rehearsed understandings of the form or arrangements. We wanted to just be joyful to music. And that was the process.”
Barron explained that this series is an opportunity to learn more about Seattle music and remind ourselves that Seattle music is still happening.
“The Seattle art scene is still here. We are still making music. We’re still a destination for artists that want to cut their teeth and learn and get better and collaborate. This is still a place for them,” Barron said. “So we want to showcase new artists and show the history of Seattle and the history of Black artists in the Northwest.”
You can watch the first episode on Converge Media’s YouTube channel. Mochaculture is also presented, in part, by the South Seattle Emerald, so you can also tune in to past and upcoming episodes on the Emerald’s Facebook page.
The second episode featuring the music of Aretha Franklin will be aired on April 16 at 7 p.m. For more information about the second episode, visit the Facebook event page.
Chamidae Ford is currently a senior journalism major at the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. You can reach Chamidae Ford at IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.
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