When Abbas Muntaqim and Delency Parham set out to create Tales of the Town, their new podcast and multimedia project celebrating 100 years of Oakland Black history, it was with a deep sense of responsibility—and some urgency.
“As my generation is forced to move out of the Town to find housing and some of the further cities like Antioch, Stockton, Tracy, and Modesto,” Parham said, “the people that contributed to a culture here in Oakland aren’t even going to be here anymore to talk about these stories.”
In addition to co-leading the production company Hella Black Podcast, Muntaqim and Parham are the community organizers behind People’s Programs, an Oakland-based collective, now in its fifth year, focused on the liberation of all Black and African people across the world. The group’s organizing model follows in the footsteps of the Black Panther Party: Its programs include free breakfasts for unhoused community members, a bail and legal-support program for Black protesters, political education and community-organizing workshops, bi-monthly grocery giveaways, a mobile health clinic, and a community garden located at UC Berkeley.
At first, Muntaqim and Parham intended to only do a podcast. But as they began drafting their vision, fueled by their experiences and relationships with so many Bay Area artists, it quickly grew into something greater: a multi-platform project that now includes a photobook, short film, and album. Proceeds from the latter will support the People’s Programs.
The scope of the storytelling also expanded.
“It could even be said that we’re covering over a hundred years of Oakland history, as we’re also documenting that of the Ohlone people,” Muntaqim said. But the overarching goal, he explained, is to “encapsulate Oakland’s Black history before these stories are gone forever—the stories of our elders and our ancestors.”
The short film, which is set to be released in early 2023, will feature music from the accompanying album, portions of the podcast audio, and still photography, including contributions from The Oaklandside’s resident photographer and visual journalist, Amir Aziz.
Bryan Berry, the primary photographer for the limited-edition photobook, said it was an honor to learn about Oakland’s history while working on the project. “They drove me around and took me to all of their places and let me tell their story,” Berry said of the time he spent with Muntaqim and Parham on the project. Berry, who is a resident of Pittsburg, CA, said he’d driven past many of the locations before but hadn’t been aware of their deep history until being a part of this project.
“Like the deep history of Esther’s Orbit Room and the place where the Panthers used to meet up, the original All Good Bakery—I really take pride in learning new things, and there’s so much I didn’t know,” Berry said. “It inspired me to want to learn more about my city, too.”
In early October, Hella Black Podcast held a listening party for the album, which was released on Oct. 21, 2022. Nearly all of the featured artists were people who’d contributed to People’s Programs in some capacity, said Parham. “So when we came to them, like, ‘Yo here’s another way that you could support by just doing something that you do on a daily basis,’ it was kind of a no-brainer.”
“It’s special because I’m born and raised in Oakland. The Town means a lot to me. So to see a representation of that expressed in a really creative way—a strong powerful way—I’m all down,” said Oakland artist Ian Kelly, who contributed the song “Holla,” a take on Tupac Shakur’s 1993 song “Holler if Ya Hear Me.” Recording a song inspired by an artist he’s always idolized, said Kelly, felt like a “full-circle moment.”
“It was definitely a dope process,” he said. “Doing a song that’s based off something he did for the Town, and he represented Oakland in his own way—I’m all with that. That’s special.”
Several tracks were released ahead of the album, including “RISEN” by Elujay and Death Row artist Jane Handcock. The first song released and featured in the opening podcast episode, titled “F**k 12 FREESTYLE,” comes from Vallejo artist LaRussell, featuring Oakland’s Guapdad4000. The album also includes songs from Bay Area artists Rexx Life Raj, Mani Draper, P-Lo, Pallaví aka Fijiana, and G-Eazy.
“It’s as diverse as we could make it in a way that isn’t just trying to play on purity politics or representation politics—with people who really believe in what we believe in, no matter their gender or sexual orientation,” Parham said.
The 12-episode podcast, co-produced by documentarian Maya Cueva and hosted by Muntaqim and Parham, is an oral history of Oakland told by its people and backed up by deep historical research and fact-checking.
“The research process was super heavy in terms of us taking what we know already, then doing research to confirm that, and also hiring two fact-checkers who did an amazing job,” said Muntaqim. “It was definitely an in-depth process—being outside talking to the people, but also reading, studying our history, talking to our family.” The fact-checkers on the project were Dania Suleman and Bashirah Mack.
Throughout the podcast, the hosts talk to a number of historians, including Donna Murch, author of Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California and Assata Taught Me, who add context to the oral histories. Others include Ronnie Stewart, head of the West Coast Blues Society and an expert on the history of the Seventh Street corridor in West Oakland; Rickey Vincent, a Black-music historian, radio host, and the author of Party Music: The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band, and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music; and Martin Rizzo-Martinez, who is featured in episode 12 discussing the history of the Ohlone people.
Cueva, who was brought on to the project in 2020 after production had already begun, said she’s grateful to have been entrusted with co-producing. “What’s so incredible about this project is that it’s told through two people who are from Oakland or have family roots in Oakland,” said Cueva, who is from Berkeley. “We’re able to tell [the history] in a way that’s by the people, for the people.”
As history unfolds across the episodes, told in the voices of Black Oaklanders, Muntaqim and Parham impart lessons learned from their own experiences as community organizers. In so doing, each Tales of the Town episode feels like a call to action.
The first episode begins with the hosts interviewing people close to home—Muntaqim’s great aunt Anita and uncle Freddie, as well as Parham’s great grandmother Charlene, who give first-hand accounts of Black Panther Party organizing and the Great Migration—the movement of thousands of Black families away from the Jim Crow South to other parts of the country, including California, in search of a better life and jobs.
One of the highlights of episode two is a segment about the Black Panther Party that draws parallels to People’s Programs’ current community organizing, which Parham jokingly described as “an organizing trap house,” slang for a place where illicit products are made. There is a story told about People’s Program organizers cooking food for 200 people, and a humorous account of buying $50 worth of garlic salt. There are also reflections on the emotional and physical toll involved in serving the needs of people who require help in the community.
“As gentrification has attempted to destroy our culture, our culture is still here,” said Muntaqim. “We still push it back against all odds.”
Each of the 12 episodes of Tales of the Town provides a glimpse into the rebellious, revolutionary, and trendsetting spirit that has existed in Oakland in different forms throughout its history.
“It’s important that we document the past so that it can inform our current [circumstances],” said Muntaqim. “And that we continue to tell our stories and conjure the people to make a change in our communities, through organizing, and become the solutions to these problems. ”
For more information about the People’s Programs or Tales of the Town, visit the project’s website or Instagram page. The podcast is available from Hella Black Podcast on various streaming platforms. The album can also be streamed on multiple platforms.