HAIRitage: Scenes from a Barber Shop

Mr. Obadiah Dudley did not suspect that his visit to the barber shop for a trim would turn out the way it did. The result, a black and white photo of a barber leaning in close with scissors aimed at Dudley’s stoic face and snow white beard, has earned him some time in the spotlight.

Pulled onto the stage at Master Barber & Beauty Shop’s HAIRitage opening on Saturday, Dudley was presented with a framed image of his photo, a photo which has become the face of HAIRitage.

“I wish my father were alive to see this…he made me who I am today. That’s what heritage means to me,” said Dudley.

Dudley’s photo, taken by Gerry GOS” Simpson and entitled, WISDOM, is a part of Master Barber & Beauty Shop’s first photo exhibition celebrating and embracing the history of the barber shop.

“The barber shop has always been like a marketplace in the community. A place to exchange ideas, philosophize…a safe place to voice opinions,” said Dudley.

HAIRitage’s photo exhibition highlights in candid black and white snapshots the daily happenings at the local Sacramento barber shop. The photos include headshots of haircuts, beards being trimmed and shaved, and both the barber and customers just having Another Day at the Shop, which includes debates, arguments and advice giving and taking.

“The black barber shop, the black beauty shop in black communities, is like the country club. Men don’t go to the barbershops for haircuts. [Haircuts] are the price they pay for going,” said HAIRitage host Tchaka Muhammed, “You can find advice [at the barber shop], anything from marriage to how to take care of your horse.”

Included among these photos of Master Barber & Beauty Shop are unexpected shots of artists, musicians and poets, including a legally blind poet named Charles.

At Master’s the concept of the barber shop as a free exchange of thoughts and a safe venting ground has expanded. Any customer walking into the shop is immediately confronted by what looks more like an art gallery floor, with a strand of barber and beauty chairs along the walls of the shop and a large main stage.

Taking the stage for HAIRitage’s opening were several spoken word poets including host Tchaka, Malik, Ben Official the Great and nine-year-old Lil’ RoRo.

“This barber shop means a lot to me…it has given me an outlet,” said Malik, who after suffering a near fatal car accident spits rhymes with lines like, “Life is my only option.”

Since 1997, Master Barber & Beauty Shop has promoted art and music within the community by hosting poetry readings, plays, jazz fests, art shows and fish fries while continuing its business of cutting hair. Master Barber & Beauty Shop has then become a venue where hair, beauty, history, politics, psychology, comedy, art, music and poetry meld into one.

“For us it’s a community thing, a way to give back. People ask, ‘Why don’t you charge more?’ But we want to make this area an affordable forum,” said Rodney Brown, who owns and operates Master Barber & Beauty Shop along with brother, Marichal J. Brown.

For the Brown family the fusion of art, music, poetry and hair seemed a natural transition. Both brothers, along with barbering and cosmetology training, were musically inclined from a young age and were a part of the Northern California rap group, Royal Mixxers Rappin’ Crew.

The Browns’ father, the late Earlie D. Brown, acquired the Master Barber & Beauty Shop in 1974 but had worked in the hair industry since the mid 1940’s.

Marichal J. explains that the concept of HAIRitage was influenced by his father.

“I really wanted to pay tribute to my dad,” said Marichal J., “[HAIRitage] is a tribute to generations…a time to talk about our heritage and the roots of hair which has come down the ages from our forefathers.”

The photos that line the walls of Master Barber & Beauty Shop as part of HAIRitage’s exhibit symbolize more than just the daily goings-on in a barber shop. The photos symbolize tradition, community and the artistry that sprouts from the heads and minds of the subjects.

Host Tchaka ended Master Barber & Beauty Shop’s first HAIRitage photo exhibition with a poem that summed up the evening’s event.

“I’m happy I’m nappy…I’m not giving my black back…I’m loving the skin I’m in.”

The HAIRitage photo exhibition will be on display March 3 through April 28 at Master Barber & Beauty Shop, located at 4340 Stockton Blvd., Suite 2. Tickets for the next Master Barber & Beauty Shop First Friday Fish Fry are now available for purchase. Please call (916) 457-8708 for more information.

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