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Kamau Bell

Kamau Bell

Bring Your Friends

W. Kamau Bell is back at SCU. And this time, he’s brought other artists with him for his panel at Salon 2018: Culture, Power, Difference.


W. Kamau Bell
is quick on his feet. It comes with the gig. On his CNN docu-series United Shades of America, Bell travels the country to meet new people. He starts conversations with no agenda and lets the rest take care of itself. The result? So far, Emmy gold.

Bell, who is the Frank Sinatra Chair artist in residence, will take a similar, freeform approach for “W. Kamau Bell and Friends” on Feb. 15. The sold-out panel, which is part of the 2018 Salon: Culture, Power, Difference, features a powerhouse lineup of Bay Area artists: rapper and filmmaker Boots Riley, writer and producer Jeff Chang, artist Favianna Rodriguez, and comedian Irene Tu.

Salon organizer Christina Zanfagna says with so many different disciplines and Bell’s unbridled approach, the conversation could go anywhere. Which is exactly why she’s excited about it.

“Any of these people could carry an evening on their own,” the associate professor of music says. “It’ll be refreshing to hear where they want to direct the conversation, the questions they’ll want to ask.”

In addition to being part of the Salon 2018, W. Kamau Bell and Friends is the headlining event from the second leg of Bell’s three-part Sinatra Chair residency. During his first visit in November, Bell performed to a sold-out crowd in the Mayer Theatre and hosted a conversation with more than 300 students in the Locatelli Center.

The Salon panel is already sold out, but Bell has a full slate of activities and opportunities to engage with students. He is expected to meet with classes on new media filmmaking, African American comedy, U.S. Latina/o studies, and dance, among others. Bell will also participate in a conversation with assistant professor Danielle Morgan in the Saint Clare room Feb 12 at 4 p.m.

Zanfagna sees this panel as an opportunity to extend the boundaries of discussion on campus—examining traditional academic conversations using the arts and popular media and culture. It also serves as a tool for understanding the times we live in, building alliances, and asking the right questions to build bridges.

All of the events in the Salon 2018 deal with some element of the theme, culture, power, and difference. In particular, Zanfagna thinks there is an opportunity to explore the concept of power with Bell’s panel.

“I’m really hoping we can get at and under this concept of power a bit more in terms of class, in terms of gender, in terms of race,” Zanfagna says. “I’m interested to see where that concept will take shape.”

Meet the panel

Boots Riley is an American rapper, producer, and film director best known as the lead vocalist of The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club. Most recently, he made his directorial debut in the film Sorry to Bother You, starring Lakeith Stanfield, Armie Hammer, Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun, and Jermaine Fowler. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last month.

Jeff Chang has written extensively on culture, politics, the arts, and music for publications like The Guardian, Slate, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones, Salon, and Buzzfeed. His first book, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, won the American Book Award and the Asian American Literary Award. His latest book, We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation (Picador), was named the Northern California Nonfiction Book Of The Year, and The Washington Post declared it “the smartest book of the year.”

Favianna Rodriguez is a U.S.-born, Latina artist and cultural organizer who uses her work as a tool for love, education, agitation, and social justice. Her portfolio includes a powerful blend of digital art, traditional printmaking mediums, and an intimate view of the things that are important to all of humanity—love, interdependence, and kindness.

Irene Tu is a Chicago-born, San Francisco-based stand-up comedian, actor, and writer. In 2017, the San Francisco Chronicle singled her out as an “artist on the brink of fame,” on the heels of being named one of the “Bay Area’s 11 Best Stand Up Comedians” (SFist) and one of 20 “Women to Watch” (KQED). She has performed at SF Sketchfest, Bridgetown Comedy Festival, Riot LA and her comedy was featured on Seeso and Viceland.

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