Poets and Musicians Find New Home at Giovanni’s in I.V.


Trevor Westmoreland

Thursdays in Isla Vista are now of a unique sort: home to nights of self-expression.
For the past several months, Giovanni’s of Isla Vista has hosted CYPHER, a community that promotes self-expression which is sung, played, or spoken. Expression Night, which occurs every other Thursday, is witness to a wide variety of artistic outlets. The microphone is open to anyone who wishes to be heard, with performances ranging from poetry and spoken word, to hip-hop, and self-written music. The beats are provided throughout the night by I.V. local Josh Bloom, aka DJ Ookisaifu, who samples music himself in addition to providing whatever the artist at the podium needs.

CYPHER, which stands for Culture of Youth Progressing Humanity in Expression and Rhythm, was started by several like-minded individuals in November of last year. The movement had humble beginnings, its first event was a few people gathered in an open space outside of Berrylicious.

“It originally began with us doing it for ourselves, as a space where we could express ourselves in our own way here in I.V.,” said Stepheny Southa. Southa founded CYPHER alongside Jakriza Cabrera, Chris Carlay, and Nick Musni.

Since then, CYPHER has grown substantially. The movement was officially co-founded and publicized by the MultiCultural Center of UCSB. At the beginning of this year, new management at local pizza place Giovanni’s provided a new home for Expression Nights every other Thursday.

Bloom, provider of the hip-hop oriented beats for the past five events, attributes the growing success of the event to the unique opportunity it provides.

“I’ve been here four years, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen anything remotely like this,” he said. “It has created a community through mutual appreciation of the different art forms of the spoken word which would not be formed otherwise, a community that removes boundaries and which is based on a mutual understanding.”

Now every Expression Night is home to a variety of performers, new and old. There are repeat appearances, like various members of local hip-hop group TOP Mission, as well as Mumbl, a UCSB student who, through the Education Abroad Program, managed to launch a hip-hop career in Tokyo, Japan. There are also new efforts of courageous people who, often encouraged by the receptive audience they witness on previous nights, decide to share a bit of themselves with the crowd.

The artistic endeavors of all the participants combined with the consistent backing music completely changes the mood of Thursday nights at Giovanni’s. Though the following has grown by word of mouth, unsuspecting diners often find themselves enjoying their pizza far more than they had expected as they get caught up in the good vibes the music provides. The managerial staff seems just as enthusiastic as well, as they have consistently lent their full support to the event.

Granted, Isla Vista is not devoid of places to express oneself. There are existing open mic nights of different sorts, but what many see as special about CYPHER’s Expression Night is that it provides the opportunity for artists of all sorts to find friendly ears. Bloom describes its importance as an alternative to the typical Isla Vista experience. Expression Night focuses on any and all art forms related to that of the spoken word. As far as the future is concerned, Bloom is optimistic.

“My main hope is that the community that has begun to form around this event continues to grow as more and more people find this to be a healthy place to express themselves,” he said, enthusiastic after the end of another successful Thursday.

According to the mission statement on the CYPHER Facebook page, the invitation to Expression Night remains open to all who “spit, strum, or drum, or enjoy that kind of art.”