The name for AnyXMeans, an artist collective, came to Oakland native Mandela Msanii (aka Baylis) in a dream about Malcolm X. Msanii describes it as a conversation asking about what he was willing to do to create a safe, fun space for anyone who didn’t feel like they were comfortable in other artist spaces. Msanii didn’t see enough spaces within the artist community that felt safe and inclusive for LGTBQ+ folks to perform in. He created the monthly virtual open mic showcase Fluid. While all voices are heard, emphasis is on safety and support of the LGBTQ+ voices and is stated in the guidelines at the beginning of each event: hate speech and language will not be tolerated.
“I’ve been in many artists’ conversations and it still comes down to, ‘I want a space where I feel comfortable, where I feel safe, where I’m taking care of,'” Msanii said, adding that he wanted to build that space for others “by any means,” a reference to a quote from Malcolm X.
AnyXMeans was born in 2015 to empower artists to express themselves. Prior to the pandemic, open mic nights were hosted at Oakland venues Libertine, Starline Social Club, and other locations. AnyXMeans shifted events online starting in 2020, hosting a monthly open mic via Zoom called Fluid. It remains as one of the few remaining open mic spaces based in Oakland featuring a mix of poets and musicians. Artists come together in a communal virtual space to express themselves. The AnyXMeans team are alumni of Zoo Labs 2020 cohort, an Oakland-based accelerator program training artists in entrepreneurship. Maintaining their mission and passing on lessons they learned in their accelerator, AnyXMeans plans to support other artists within their craft through through artist development.
Much like many events, the open mic events were forced by the pandemic to move into a virtual space to continue. However, for Any X Means, this was a plan that was already in the works prior to the pandemic. “I would say the vibe is so genuine that it transcends to the online public. We were able to switch between virtual and the live world because we were already talking about it before COVID happened,” Msanii said. Their online audience is upwards of 50 people, reaching people as close as Oakland to as far as Jackson, MI.
In the planning, Msanii recalled watching the Teddy Riley Babyface Verzuz battle and the audio issues they experienced. Watching the show kept sound engineer Kevin Foster and musical director Richelle Scales motivated to ensure they provided a quality show. One or two performers are given centerstage in the Fluid Spotlight, an opportunity for singers and poets to perform with a full band, which, according to its website, includes two drummers, Ronnell (Super Drummer) Smith and Jae Stix; bass player James (Luther) Wiley; lyrist and communications director Starz Wit Barz; and guitarist Luis (no last name given).
D’Wayne Wiggins of Tony! Toni! Toné, a frequent supporter of the event, helps to select the Bay Area musicians and poets for the spotlights each month; he selected Spacerawk for September 2020 and Cadence Myles to perform for the February Fluid Spotlight. What makes this open mic unique is some performers, with the support of local mentors and producers, have gone on to provide artist development and mentoring in their artistry.
For those who want to share or perform during the open mic, visit AnyXMeans’ website. The events are supported and maintained through donations. The show begins 7pm every 4th Wednesday of every month, and the next Fluid showcase is this Wednesday. Donation based tickets are available for viewing the showcase.