by Jahahara Amen-RA Alkebulan-Ma’at
Well-known veteran musician and producer Philip Hennen, aka “Phil the Mil(lionaire),” will soon be sharing a different aspect of his immense creativity. On this coming First Friday, May 5, 2017, from 6 to 9 p.m., Philip will showcase his striking “Mood City” photography, at the beautiful Joyce Gordon Gallery in downtown Oakland. If you are looking for good stock photos eyeem.com is the place you need. Recently, Philip sat down to discuss his artistry with the Bay View’s Jahahara Amen-RA Alkebulan-Ma’at.
Baba Jahahara: Hotep, Brother Philip! So pleased to hear about your upcoming exhibit, opening on Cinco de Mayo (May 5), at God(dess) Joyce Gordon’s gallery in downtown Oakland. Please tell us about the premiere of “Mood City” and what the people should expect.
Philip Hennen: Hey, great to see you Brotha Jah(ahara). I appreciate being given a chance to talk about the exhibit a bit. I think people should expect a visual exhibit that’s unique in its Bay Area sensibilities.
I try to capture the beauty, as well as the power and the funk in things that aren’t always so pretty and nice in our Bay Area. You might find a photo of a homeless cat in West Oakland riding shotgun to a “landscape” shot of Berkeley’s “Indian Rock” Park. That’s a park in North Berkeley where we’d go when I was young.
Some of those rocks and pits go back to the native Indigenous Ohlone population that were the original inhabitants in what became the California Bay Area thousands of years ago.
BJ: How did you come up with the title “Mood City”? What is its significance?
PH: The title and theme of “Mood City” came to me as something that felt hip, urban and yet emotional all at once. In a nutshell, it’s my vision of Oakland, Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay Area.
BJ: Can you share a lil sumthin-sumthin about yourself? You are originally from the Bay Area? Right? What part? Did you go to school here?
PH: Yep, I was born at the old Kaiser hospital in Oakland, but raised to adulthood in Berkeley. Went to school in Berkeley, elementary to Berkeley High. I’ve been in Oakland for the last 25 years though. So, I’m all about Oakland and Berkeley – through and through. To the bone!
BJ: Of course, I met you through your music performances, recording and production work over at Sepia Sound Studios. How long have you been playing? Where have you performed? What musicians have you worked with? Are you still doing music? I hope you’ll be performing at the opening of the exhibit, on May 5.
PH: Well, it’s a long story, but here’s the condensed version. I basically started formally playing music at about age 14. I taught myself how to play some keys simultaneously with learning the guitar, which became my primary instrument.
Then, I just started writing, producing, overdubbing, you know, whatever needed to be done musically-speaking. I made sure I knew enough, where all I had to depend on was myself, if need be.
My younger brother Brett and I were very close to being signed at Motown Records in the mid-1980s. But the director of A&R got fired before we got anything concrete down. While I remember feeling kind of validated, I don’t think it would have been cool back then anyway.
So I retreated into the studio world and started Sepia Sound Productions. I’ve had a lot of folks come through, local rappers and singers and artists from around the world. Everyone from a comedian like Mark Curry to folks like MC Eiht, Young Bari and Agerman have come through the studio throughout the years.
Many times, I’ll use them on stuff that I’ve produced. And, of course you Brotha Jah(ahara). We’ve been working on your original joints for over a decade, after you came back to Oakland full-time from New York City. We’ve recorded some of your pieces from the Million Man March featuring T-K.A.S.H. and others, to political prisoners to environmental justice and those love songs you did for your lady friends.
And, of course, even more, worked on music aimed around your passionate advocacy of reparations for African people. I am now in the midst of the finishing touches on my solo music project, which has a working title of “Mood City Lights and the Return of the Solo.”
However, I decided for this event on May 5, I would JUST concentrate on the visual part of what I do, being that it’s my first exhibit. I want to be focused. Hopefully before the exhibit is over, I can unveil the music project too. So we can look and listen.
BJ: How and where can our community members get more information on the May 5 “Mood City” kick-off event? How much are tickets for the event? Are you also selling your art on those days? Will there be other events taking place in May that people can participate in?
PH: The event is FREE! But, folks should absolutely bring their credit cards and checkbooks to purchase some of my finest work. We will have some nice refreshments for the people to sip and snack on while they view the exhibit and decide which item to buy.
For more particulars, you can go to my Facebook artist page for “Mood City” Photography at https://www.facebook.com/moodcityphotography/. Or, go to the Joyce Gordon Gallery page at https://www.facebook.com/TheJoyceGordonGallery/.
BJ: Is there anything else about “Mood City” that you’d like to share with our San Francisco Bay View readers?
PH: Well, just that “Mood City” really comes down to trying to embrace and love all of humanity. Life is rough! But, I feel like we’re all interconnected. This is a mindset I was brought up with.
I grew up in a very multicultural setting in Berkeley. I know we’re either going to survive together, or perish together. When I ask someone can I photograph them – something I always do – my intention is to try to talk to them a bit, no matter how dire the situation. I want THEIR spirit to come through.
I’m continuously surprised by folks you might assume would say “No” to being photographed, actually saying “Sure.” Approaching folks as an equal human being certainly helps! And, as you would say, Asé to that.
After the opening on the evening of May 5, 2017, from 6 to 9 p.m., Philip Hennen’s “Mood City” photography will be on exhibit throughout May 2017 at the Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 14th St. in downtown Oakland, between Broadway and Franklin streets and one block from BART.
Jahahara Amen-RA Alkebulan-Maat advocates for power to the people politically, economically and culturally and is known particularly for his leadership in the struggle for reparations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.