.Nirvana Soul After Dark Brings San Jose Musicians Together

Nirvana Soul’s weekly music open mic makes some necessary space in San Jose

For a city that prides itself on the support of the arts and its eclectic and widespread creative community, San Jose provides little in the way of spaces for nurturing burgeoning talent.

Sure, there are venues (often temporary) that provide a platform for young artists, writers and musicians to hone their craft, but these opportunities are few and far between—and too often short-lived—for a city of one million.

Enter Nirvana Soul, a coffee shop that burst onto the downtown scene in September 2020 with a well defined look, feel and mission. Created by best friends and sisters Jeronica Macey and Be’Anka Ashaolu, Nirvana Soul took the idea of the coffee shop as a shared community space and germinator for local expression and sharpened that focus. A former Silicon Valley marketer/director (Macey) and barista and manager with two decades of experience (Ashalou), the pair came up with the name Nirvana Soul nearly a decade before joining forces and making their coffeeshop dream a reality.

As soon as they set up shop, they created the idea of Nirvana Soul After Dark. Inspired by Macey’s favorite movie, Love Jones, they wanted to create a regular platform for artists to share their work. Their location was perfect for that.

“Perhaps serendipitously, the location we took over in downtown San Jose, Caffe Frascati, had been hosting open mics for years,” says co-owner Ashalou. “Nirvana Soul stepping into that space felt like a sign.”

Although the venue had to wait out the shelter-in-place guidelines, they found a group of creators who were more than willing to host various open mic events there, which over time solidified into a Wednesday mixed music and poetry night, a Thursday poetry night and a Friday music night, all from 7-9pm. 

“Our mission for the mics is the same for the business: to bring people together. The mics should be as safe a space as the shops are,” says Ashalou. “We often hear that our mics are the very first time performers have gotten on stage and we take that very seriously.” 

While comedy and poetry have a somewhat established platform in coffeeshops, bookstores and various other open mics in the South Bay, music can be a harder art form to support. But with the unique setup in the downtown location—featuring a piano and a raised stage platform, as well as an open upper-story seating area—along with the owners’ support for young and often inexperienced musicians, the humble coffee shop has proved an ideal place for local musicians to debut their craft in front of a crowd.

“NS After Dark is an extension of what already exists at Nirvana Soul, and in the larger SoFA community: a celebration of art in all of its expressions,” remarks Ashalou. “What makes our mic unique is that it’s hosted in a Black-owned business, and I think that brings along another level of security for many who otherwise wouldn’t perform or attend, which might in turn raise the level of support and consciousness from everyone involved.”

No doubt the events have been a quick success. Visitors to the coffee shop during one of the open mic nights will see a full crowd, often with standing room only remaining and a line of musicians, poets and artists waiting to get up and bare their hearts. 

“There was a recent night where I swear all 20 or 30 of the musicians who came in had guitars. We had to clear a path for attendees to get by all the cases just to order their coffee!” recalls Ashalou. “And musicians aren’t just from San Jose; they’re from all over the Bay.”

As for the future, Macey and Ashalou have a goal to open up to 20 locations in the surrounding area. With a new Roastery in North San Jose and a new cafe location in Cupertino only two years after opening the downtown location, the goal is well on its way. 

Given their success as much-needed hosts for San Jose’s up-and-coming artistic talent, Macey and Ashalou hope to expand their open mic program to future locations as well. With San Jose undergoing such major transformations, the work of amateur musicians and poets performing at places like Nirvana Soul is more important to the city’s culture than ever.

Nirvana Soul After Dark

Every Fri, 7-9pm, Free

Nirvana Soul, San Jose

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