Oakland’s Revolutionary Mystics

SPELLLING and Catalina Xavelena are charting new paths forward in the wake of COVID-19.

Magic, according to Oakland recording artist Chrystia Cabral, “isn’t illusion. It isn’t the territory of the supernatural. It is the will of love.”

When Cabral — better known by her musical moniker, SPELLLING — shared this insight with her supporters in early June, she was referring to the recent wave of global demonstrations against racial injustice, which she astutely identified as “one of the largest civil rights movements in world history.”

Now, Cabral is writing a new album. Her long-time collaborator, Catalina Xavlena has worked with her over many projects to create a mystical world of visual art to compliment SPELLLING’s sound. The new project aims to expand this world by including other musicians in the writing process. 

Xavlena is also putting her efforts into community organizing aimed at strengthening Oakland’s BIPOC community. Over the past few months, she’s been collaborating with activists all over the Bay Area to redistribute wealth and resources. Seeing the importance and intersection of art and activism, these many projects call for physical and ideological revolution.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; let’s go back to the beginning.

In February, when the world was still bustling, SPELLLING announced a project that would “unite a magical cast of musicians” for a theatrical album called The Turning Wheel. Xavlena created an accompanying film and images to give a small glimpse of the visual aspect of the forthcoming record. The project raised over $20,000. 

Then, life as we know it ruptured. There would be no gathering of musicians, no gigs or big film shoots. Xavlena was laid off. It became clear that the moment required transformation and activism.

“The pandemic has represented a portal of change,” Xavlena wrote in a recent email exchange, describing a time of grief, fear and loss, but also renewal, calm, and “respite from the debilitating agony and oppression of the capitalist wheel we have been turning on and in for so long.” She shared that this time has opened opportunities to think, heal, and reinterpret their art while facing its many challenges.

Ever adaptable, the pair have found ways to continue creating together, savoring the solitude and using technology to connect. “Time is the most paramount of all instruments,” SPELLLING wrote, waxing philosophical. “I’ve been working on gently wielding my relationship with time while continuing to craft the music.” She shared that she is excited about the album’s progress, and that online sessions and file exchanges have been both challenging and surprising — “adding a sort of curiosity and richness you get from like writing back and forth to a pen pal.”

Xavlena has continued working on visual projects, writing a new film and finding peace in introspection, but also seeing a deep need in her community. “I found myself in a situation where I had lost my job and all other freelance creative opportunities, so I had no funds but had truly boundless energy that I wanted to transfer to my community. I have been focusing the last few months simultaneously on creating projects that serve Black, Indigenous, People of Color, especially queer and trans, undocumented, unhoused, poor, disabled BIPOC.”

Days after she was laid off, Xavlena created Oakland Workers Fund with Sophia Rocha, Samantha Espinoza, Mercedes Burke, and others. The initiative is a “worker-organized wealth redistribution fund that collects and disburses funds to laid-off, struggling food service workers,” prioritizing intersecting marginalized communities and Oakland natives. So far, they’ve redistributed over $63,000 to their applicants. They acknowledge that mutual aid has been ever present in Black and brown communities, but is widening its scope and exposure during the pandemic.

Seeing that the movement, and the people, need more than money, the Oakland Workers Fund recently collaborated with Sasha Kelly and Guerilla Davis of We Are The Ones Mutual Care to create Oakland BIPOC Safety Network. Led by Black, brown and indigneous queer and trans folks, the “initiative exists to provide our BIPOC Oakland community a first response care and safety network, instead of calling in the systems built to oppress us.”

The network is currently calling for “volunteers, support, and resources to create a first response care and safety network for Black, brown and indigneous people prioritizing Black lives, Black safety, Black liberation from systems of oppression.” They have an online form where people can offer medical, mental health, spiritual, and legal support, as well as safe transportation, language translation, training and classes. 

Community work and artistry go hand in hand for Xavlena and Cabral. “There is, in my opinion, just as much potency in creating as there is in organizing (as Black and brown people), and each holds a magic and a potential that exist in a radical symbiosis,” Xavlena wrote, pointing out that “SPELLLING represents a deep and powerful energy of internal and universal transformation and healing as the powerful, magical, supernatural queer Black creator that she is.”

Cabral echoed the sentiment. “With SPELLLING, I am making music to lift up the voices of my community and provide the soundtrack for magical revolution!” She looks toward communities that can set down our society’s “incentivized pursuit of excess, exploitation and wealth hoarding. As a Black and Latinx artist, I produce visions that reject a white-supremacist, hyper-capitalist America.”

These creative efforts point toward revolution and manifestation of a world imbued with collaborative power. “The Oakland BIPOC Safety Network is exactly the type of radical reimagining of community organizing we need to be doing right now,” Cabral wrote of Xavlena, Sasha Kelly, and the other organizers’ work. She pointed out that the network seeks to offer material support, but also meet immaterial, mental, and ideological needs of interconnected communities while building connections between them.

As time brings uncertainty and change, the bond these two share, and their creative power, adapts and deepens. Cabral shared that their friendship and collaboration is “never forced, only nurtured and very attuned to embracing the radically unpredictable.”

Xavlena exclaimed with joy that they always go hard for one another. “SPELLLING and I are family. We are creative collaborators on an infinite journey together,” she wrote. Within their own outlets for self-expression and activism, they have found “the magical place that they intersect and evolve together.” 

Instagram: @spellling @helavelvet. https://spellling.bandcamp.com. Find the Oakland BIPOC Safety Network and their online resource form @bipocsafetynetwork. To support, send funds via Venmo to @oaklandworkersfund and @wearetheones or @cxavlena666 with caption “BIPOC SAFETY NETWORK.”

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