By Alicia Rivera on November 30, 2017
Through her eyes, Blooma Berry (vocalist and manager of Phat Luv Band), sees her band mate and long-term partner, Phil Rapier, as a “big ol’ humanitarian,” a “wanderlust man with a huge, huge heart.” Standing six foot, seven inches, Phil (founder/bassist) walks humbly. As any humble human would, he is always looking for new ways to grow. It was about 2011 when he picked up a bass guitar and began learning to play it on the corner of Franklin and 14th Street in Oakland, California. A passerby approached Phil and began showing him a different way to play. Overtime, Phil attracted other musicians and curious minds as he played on the street. Soon enough conversations between strangers became jam sessions between friends. Bore out of this was the concept of Phat Luv Band, a reflection of Phil’s huge heart, reaching out to all types of people. After several months, Phil had an ensemble. “They were a wild bunch,” says Blooma about the ragtag squad of bandmates who made up Phat Luv Band in the early stages. Many of the musicians who initially joined the band suffered drug and alcohol addictions. They were often targeted by societal harsheties and judgements that deemed them no better than their alcoholic misdeeds and drug kicks. Still, Phil saw the best in them. According to Blooma, “they were so musically and creatively evolved that they could not find their place in society.” Within Phat Luv they found a purpose.
The “Re-membering” of Phil + Blooma
Purpose made another mark when Blooma met Phil at a gathering in 2015. A live band was playing Zimbabwean music and “we became lost and found in the heart and drum beat of our ancestors,” says the songstress. It was like a “re-membering of our souls.” After meeting, Blooma started “sangin’” with Phil at his corner spot on West Grand. Shortly afterward, they began organizing weekly rehearsals. “We became physically and musically banded.” Before the two were ever romantically-involved, laughter and authenticity mingled them together. Their love is so unmistakable, “people have stopped to take a picture of us on the street.” Wow. She goes on to say, “real love is multifaceted. We’re imperfect, as well.”
Phil and Blooma were making music together for about a year, ebbing and flowing with the come-and-go of new band members. At this time, they regularly played on West Grand, where they’d rock the street corner for hours. One day they received a noise complaint, which inadvertently messed with the band’s confidence. “It stopped the flow,” says Blooma. There were no residents in the neighborhood. What gives? What the band didn’t know was a small complex of apartments resided above the restaurant they performed nearby. Blooma wished they could make amends for peace and for the pursuit music. However, a few weeks later the band was approached by Oakland First Fridays to perform in the festival. “We were so freakin’ juiced!”
Feelings of Phat Luv
The first times playing at the Oakland First Fridays street festival made the members tense, but they soon faced a reality: either tense up or relax. So, “we stayed Phat Luv. We stayed free,” Blooma recalls. ”We’re not perfect people. We’re not perfect musicians. We’re still very comfortable with being just that. If we have to stop and start over again, we have to stop and start over again. We are being very human in our performance. When you find that place of relaxation and humanness...you let it be.”
“We had an epiphanic moment. We were down the street,” when someone from Oakland First Fridays invited the band to the main street. “We unplugged all our stuff and we brought it all to the front. [Then] something changed. The energy was heightened to a height we couldn’t even dream about. It was the same thing that took place on the street, but not as many people. [With more people] there’s more of an energy exchange. It’s that energy...it’s rhetorical. Us to them. Them to us. We left there so phat,” says Blooma.
To this day the energy and love felt from performing at every event continues to amaze Blooma, but the day following every First Friday she physically cannot move. The songstress has received diagnosis of serious diseases, including ones affecting her cervix and lower back. “At First Fridays, it’s a challenge for me just to stand.” During performances she alternates between sitting and standing. With the spark of adrenaline she sneaks in some hip shakes. Through it all, Blooma enjoys looking at her audience, because it makes all the pain worthwhile. She watches the white-haired, older generation grooving alongside babies in strollers and wheelchair-riding individuals. “The happiness on everyone’s faces - that’s why I look so forward to First Fridays.”
From the time of their first performance at the street festival, Phat Luv Band has come a long way. They appeared in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle and they rehearse weekly at Soundwave Studios. “We’re far more organized now.” There are band members who come and go, but Phil and Blooma have found some solid mates (vocalist Lexi Braun, drummer/percussionist Juan Carlos Miller, bassist Byron Brown, lead guitarist/ The Funkanauts Captain Jason Collins, vocalist/drummer/stage designer Dwight "DW" Wilson).
And still, Phat Luv strives to do more. Captain Philip is seeking permanent string and horn players to fulfill his vision of a street orchestra. Blooma’s disclaimer to anyone considering playing with Phat Luv, “they have to do it for love.” In the meantime, the band is still fattening the atmosphere with love at every live show, including their performance on 24th Street and Telegraph Ave. this December 1st at Oakland First Fridays “Light’s On” Street Festival.