Photo of two Black women in colorful flowy dresses standing outside
Tiffany Austin (left) and Kenya Moses kick off their new project Diaspora Sessions Saturday at West Berkeley’s Ciel Creative Space. Credit: Leah Marie

When it comes to creativity of Black women, more is more for Tiffany Austin and Kenya Moses.

In their own music, subtlety and restraint are prime directives, with Oakland’s Moses specializing in bossa nova and kindred Brazilian idioms while the Berkeley-based Austin draws on a wide spectrum of African American styles, particularly jazz, blues and soul. 

They’ve been producing community events together lately, like Albany’s Juneteenth celebration, and from 4-8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 26, the women are launching Diaspora Sessions, an ambitious performance series focusing on the music, dance and art of the African diaspora. 

The inaugural event, The Sacred Turn Up, seeks to transform the recently expanded West Berkeley studio Ciel Creative Space into “an immersive Black art experience and party,” said Austin on a recent video call with Moses. With food and libations by chef Robert Dorsey, it’s a party to which everyone’s invited (well, everyone 18 and over). 

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Both women are on the bill, along with eminent pianist Tammy Hall, who’s premiering a new work she composed for the occasion. The polymorphously expressive musician and artist Cava Menzies is creating a new visual work for the event, and Austin will be joined by Los Angeles rapper Ras Kass (aka John Austin II), a member of the hip hop supergroup The HRSMN. It’s the first time the siblings have ever performed together. The evening concludes with a set by DJ K La V.

One goal is to break down the line between audience and performer, “creating more of a sense of community and energy,” Austin said. “There’ll be couches, décor with plants and flowers, and the last hour is a dance party. Every performance will have at least one interdisciplinary art pairing, so for my set Xanthia van Ewijk is dancing.”

Both Austin and Moses pursue numerous other projects. Moses performs two shows on Wednesday, Aug. 23, at Keys Jazz Bistro in North Beach with a trio led by Tammy Hall. Austin, who directs the Healdsburg Freedom Jazz Choir, appears as special guest Friday, Aug. 25, at the California Jazz Conservatory with the collective quartet RDL+. She’ll also be joining Tammy Hall at the Monterey Jazz Festival Sept. 24. 

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“We’re hoping to do multiple events a month, but we’re going to start quarterly,” Moses said. “We’re partnering with other organizations, trying to light a fire, build a community, and figure out how can we contribute to other organizations. We have big goals.”

Indeed, Austin and Moses have distinguished themselves as entrepreneurial cultural activists adept at attracting participation and support from an array of organizations, businesses and individuals. They were originally looking for a venue in Oakland, but Ciel Creative Space became an enthusiastic partner for the event. With fiscal sponsorship from Intermusic SF, the grant organization that produces the free, cornucopian SF Music DayDiaspora Sessions has garnered support on from Zoo Labs, Musiquito Media, and even leading San Francisco jazz venues.

“When I reached out to Simon Rowe at Keys Jazz Bistro and Jay Bordeleau at Mr. Tipples, I got half way through my first sentence when they said, ‘yes,’” Moses said. “Both of their venues are open Saturday nights, and without flinching they agreed to sponsor the Sacred Turn Up.”

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“It feels like we’re part of something bigger,” Austin added, as the women cited fellow East Bay Black cultural activists such as vocalist Valerie Troutt’s recently launched Black Music IAM organization, Faye Carol’s ongoing teaching and programming, and saxophonist Howard Wiley’s stint as a resident artistic director at SFJAZZ.

Presenting their own events while building a web of allies and supporters is one way to take control of Black cultural production and ensure that Black experiences and artists, past and present, remain in the foreground as foundational innovators. Too often, Austin said, “it feels like you’re begging for opportunities to present your own culture’s works. Mark my words, we’re going to have a hip hop school with no Black instructors. We need to make our own histories and infrastructures. I’m hoping Kenya and I can set the tone.”

Freelancer Andrew Gilbert writes a weekly music column for Berkeleyside. Andy, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, covers a wide range of musical cultures, from Brazil and Mali to India and Ireland....