Envisioning Southland: Senay Kenfe on empowering LA-born artists and preserving a city in flux

Photo courtesy of Senay Kenfe.

Local gems are often embedded, hidden from the touring eye in the vast landscapes of Los Angeles. For every emerging establishment exists hundreds of authentic storefronts helming Southern California’s rich cultural history. However, as developers, transplants and media continue to encroach upon Los Angeles in greater numbers every year, the city becomes harder to recognize; a new urban facade envelopes the terrain and hallmarks fade abruptly into the disparate, nebulous landscape.

Senay Kenfe is on a mission to show the world the real LA. Born in Long Beach, he’s been a cornerstone in the city’s various arts industries, from providing a platform for blossoming talent through his Eddie’s Liquor label, to showcasing premiere SoCal artists like Vince Staples on the international media company Boiler Room. We sat down with him to discuss the intentions behind his work and current projects he’s pursuing.

Eddie’s Liquor will be hosting a special pop-up event at Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles in Segovia Hall on August 21.

ACE HOTEL:
You recently founded Eddie’s Liquor, originally an online vintage t-shirt and now an all-inclusive platform comprised of shows, branded clothing and more. Can you tell me how you developed that concept? 

Senay Kenfe:
Eddie’s Liquor is primarily a creative agency that I manage and there are particular fields that we work within that are more visible than others. Through this platform I am able to consolidate attention towards many of the different projects that we are running simultaneously. So for example we book artists, manage them, create merch, design and collaborate on campaigns with brands, community work here in the Beach, as well as print books as we recently did with our good friends at Los Angeles Contemporary Archive.

I have one of the biggest Looney Tunes t-shirt collections so when we started doing the pop-ups the response was large enough to open a store. I started this venture in 2014 because I felt there was a void as a black creative in the Los Angeles narrative that I didn’t want to continue complaining about. And here we are.

Some of your work, especially with larger media companies, has been designed to spotlight Los Angeles culture. For instance, when you collaborated with Boiler Room to showcase Vince Staples and Casey Veggies in 2015 and how authentic the curation was, given that out-of-town talent is frequently flown to the filming location. Would you say featuring artists that are from the LA area is a key interest of yours when organizing events? Why is that important to you?

Senay Kenfe:
Well my family has been in the LA area for almost 100 years now since the days of the Great Migration so I think I have a much more vested interest in showcasing talent from the soil in comparison with the majority of the so-called curators here. It comes off as authentic because I invite real people who are really from the city to events, I don’t need to use whatever social aggregator to blast out 30K emails to some goofies who have no relationship with the talent. 

It annoys me how people move to LA and then do nothing to highlight what’s already here — instead, they basically take jobs and opportunities from many creatives born here that didn’t maybe make the same connections in art school or have the social skills to mix with the right crowds. In any event, I used the opportunity of my time with a company like Boiler Room to exclusively rep the music community that’s already present here. Plus it’s a wiser investment in the grand scheme of things and allows you to build relationships with people who actually live in the areas you’re trying to throw your rave or warehouse party or big branded event at.

I grew up poor but thought I was rich because my mom had books and art highlighting the cultural achievements of my people… It goes a long way when you become an adult and see people who look like you so lost without knowledge of self.

In addition to organizing, you also write music yourself. Can you build on some of the influence that have gone into the Native Son project and the new records you’ve put out under your own name? Any upcoming releases we should know about? 

Senay Kenfe:
I’ve been making music for over 15 years now and I am just privileged to have been in this city doing what I love at this moment in time. I rap, I’ve produced, written for others, A&R multiple projects and am currently managing Huey Briss who’s killing it. I have been influenced by all the radical books my uncle sent me from the state pen like Soledad Brother by George Jackson and Black Power by Kwame Ture, growing up on the Eastside of Long Beach during the 90s as part of a community revolution in progress club, and my Islamic faith as well as you know my heritage, my pops being from Eritrea so that cultural link to a small nation of freedom fighters.

I grew up poor but thought I was rich because my mom had books and art highlighting the cultural achievements of my people, you know, the generic Jacob Lawrence print or Gwendolyn Brooks or Nikki Giovanni quotes up. It goes a long way when you become an adult and see people who look like you so lost without knowledge of self.

While you’ve been involved with a variety of cultural projects throughout the Los Angeles area, you’ve also helmed activist movements in your hometown Long Beach, like when you raised funds for local school kids to see the Black Panther movie. Can you talk a little more about that and any current projects you have going on there?

Senay Kenfe:
Long Beach is the place that defined how I was to maneuver this world as a man and I would be remiss to not glorify my beautiful dirty port city home that I still live in, mind you. It’s the best place to live in the county and the most diverse. I wouldn’t want to raise a family anywhere else in this country. 

With regards to the work we’ve done/are doing, my great uncle was a member of the Black Panthers so all my life I’ve grown up with it being deemed normal to advocate for the betterment of my community and environment. We send hundreds of poor black and brown kids to school every year with the supplies such as (backpacks, bus passes and binders and pens) they need to participate in learning more about the world that they live in as well as making it better. 

With the Eddie’s Liquor platform we’ve helped get legislation passed to help the precarious conditions tenants are placed in as well as distribute through our relationships with various local politicians dozens of jobs to members of our community. I wasn’t raised by people who thought complaining online was a viable option to positively affect the nature of the oppressive structure we live under here so I’m just here to do my part.

Last question is for fun but, for those in or visiting Los Angeles, what places do you recommend going to? 

Senay Kenfe:
I’d say Ace Hotel a solid spot to stay at but go down south if you really want to experience LA. If you really want sushi you gotta hit South Bay specifically this one spot I like in Manhattan Beach I think it’s the first Katsuya real small spot. Gotta hit Del Amo swap meet since tourists burned Slauson. Simply Wholesome, one of my favorite spots to eat. Wi Jammin, my Caribbean go-to. Hermosa/ Redondo my preferred beaches to hit not so packed and clean compared to the Santa Monica/ Malibu spots. Slab City in Pedro is a great photo op that is slept on. If you want to thrift there’s this big outlet spot in Lawndale right off the 405. And if you want to swing down to Long Beach, hit me up. I got you.


Eddie’s Liquor will be hosting a special pop-up event at Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles in Segovia Hall on August 21 in Los Angeles .