Bananas' eclectic music monthly draws audiences to Leimert Park
Ask a Leimert Park local to describe the flavor of their neighborhood’s rarely exposed music scene, and chances are they'll bring up Bananas. Held inside the giant metal doors of cramped community venue Kaos Network (home of renowned hip-hop workshop Project Blowed), Bananas' monthly music showcase has become an ad hoc meeting ground for local rappers, DJs, bands and out-of-town acts. In just under three years, it has grown into driving force behind advancements in the area’s art and music scene.
Happening on the third Tuesday of each month, the Jan.17 installment will promote a community-based workshop where musicians and MCs exchange their chops on stage. This week's show is co-headlined by local rapper Catch Lungs, retro funk outfit J.R. Tate and the Good Intentions along with eight other acts.
Since it started in 2008, Bananas has been a case study in word-of-mouth advertising. Though not much promotion is done online, the show never fails to attract a full crowd, sometimes into the hundreds. Patrons reflect the city around them and are often a mix of hip hop heads, Echo Park bike riders, punk rockers. All congregate beneath a ceiling-high mural of an Egyptian pharaoh.
Founded by local rappers/ community activists VerBS and Gumshoe (born Devin Montgomery), the night has been an unexpected, but vital success. “It was kind of like a ‘if you build it, they will come’ type of scenario and it kept getting bigger and bigger,” said VerBS (born Kyle Guy), 25, of Culver City. Apart from his own solo shows, VerBS also reps local hip hop crew the Swim Team. As a local rapper, VerBS has done everything from gritty warehouse gigs to supporting act slots for Murs at the Paid Dues Festival in San Bernadino.
His inspiration to start Bananas began as an experiment to branch out from a previous monthly night he’d created in West L.A. called “The Spliff.”
In many ways, Banana’s talent pool matches the eclectic crowd. It's ability to include artists from various L.A. music scenes has afforded them an interesting mix of home grown South L.A. talent like Dom Kennedy and U-N-I, as well as the distortion-heavy, experimental rock bands like Professor Calculus.
As more artists and musicians have gravitated toward Leimert in the part few years, VerBS said the success of Bananas has helped spawn the Leimert Park Art Walk, a self-guided monthly tour that now uses the space at Kaos Network as one of it’s primary locations. “The city started to recognize that I could bring people from this whole other realm of L.A. to this part of the city,” VerBS said.
Bananas' has also differentiated itself from other hip-hop monthlies by being a multi-racial event where male and female acts share relatively equal presence on stage. "It's a refreshing vibe at Bananas," said Ben Caldwell, local filmmaker and owner of Kaos Network. "A lot of the times Project Blowed and some of the other local underground hip-hop nights can feel very male-dominated."
In an area that sheds light on community events fueled by creativity, Bananas continues to garner steady source of foot traffic by artists and musicians from all over the city. “If you go to downtown or Silver Lake or Echo Park, those neighborhoods all have their own little flavor and I think what people are starting to see more lately is that Leimert Park has it’s own unique flavor,” said Caldwell. “I think Banana’s is helping to define that.”
Photo: Verbs (left) on stage with J.R. Tate and the Good Intentions at Bananas in Leimert Park. Credit: Kaos Network