Oakland Performance Group Alphabet Rockers
Alphabet Rockers, an Oakland performance group, offer good vibes—and a powerful message—to kids of all ages.
The group performs at school assemblies and public venues across the Bay Area and nationwide.
Photo by Steve Jenings
The mood in Berkeley’s legendary nightclub Ashkenaz is jubilant. DJ Wonway Posibul of the Alphabet Rockers music collective warms up the crowd with an urban groove that floats through the space. Those lucky enough to have gained entrance cannot resist a little hip shaking and head bobbing to the infectious beat.
This is not a late-night adult dance party, but rather a sold-out Saturday matinee with an audience comprised of excited children and the grown-ups who brought them. When the Grammy Award–nominated Alphabet Rockers hit the stage, it’s difficult to determine who’s having more fun—the kids or the adults.
Founded by Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd, and made up of child and adult singers, rappers, and dancers, the Oakland-based group has a singular creative mission to write, produce, and perform what McGaw calls “songs you see yourself and your family in.” Combining danceable hip-hop tracks with lyrics that focus a clear eye on real-life concerns facing kids today—such as schoolyard and cyberbullying, racial and economic inequity, and nontraditional families—the Alphabet Rockers are revolutionizing the genre of children’s music, going so far as to earn a Best Children’s Album Grammy nomination for their 2017 release, Rise Shine #Woke.
The group’s approach is one of empowerment and inclusion, with songs that encourage developing self-love and pride, embracing diversity, and forming unconditional friendships. For instance, a repeated refrain throughout the high-energy performance at Ashkenaz was a call-and-response chant to seek out our similarities—not our differences: “I got you, so get me.” McGaw speaks of a “harvesting of camaraderie,” going beyond superficial politeness to a place with a deeper, truer understanding of—and respect for—one another.
Taking advantage of the success of their last record and unafraid to address seemingly controversial subjects, the Alphabet Rockers are currently preparing a follow-up album that will focus on gender and LGBTQ issues. They’re also touring nationally, with spring and summer shows scheduled in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
Locally, the troupe has brought its uplifting musical movement to the Concord and Dublin public libraries, and to Murwood Elementary School in Walnut Creek, among many other East Bay venues. Upcoming performances include dozens of school assemblies across the Bay Area in May and June. alphabetrockers.com.