The Oakland Roots soccer team are in the semifinals for the National Independent Soccer Association championship. Their home games are about much more than the sport. Fans come to celebrate Oakland. We hear sounds of Oakland Roots games — from the local cumbia bands to Eritrean pop and hip hop.
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Former Oakland Raider Marshawn Lynch stole the show during a 2017 game at the Coliseum.
“His first game back at the Coliseum they started playing a song called ‘Oakland’ by Vell, and he started dancing, recalled Tommy Hodul, co-founder of the Oakland Roots soccer team. “People in the Coliseum started going absolutely insane.”
Marshawn was stomping his feet, waving his arms in the air, swinging his dreads left to right. In The Bay, they call that getting hyphy.
“Marshawn to so many people defines Oakland,” said Hodul, who grew up in Oakland.
After that Raiders game, Hodul said he decided he wanted Vell’s song at Roots games, so their fans can feel and hear what Marshawn was conveying —The Town.
"That is why we chose the goal song, so whenever we score a goal we play the chorus, ‘we're really from Oakland, though.’ It was inspired by that moment at the Coliseum,” Hodul said.
Oakland Roots’ Games Have An Oakland Sound
And it inspired more than that. Hodul wanted all the music at Roots games to have an Oakland feel.
“If we’re making a playlist of music or anything, it's having Oakland music out at our game every single time. Always,” he said.
The Roots play their home games at Oakland’s Laney College. The music there doesn’t sound like your typical American pro sports stadium, which tends to play top 40 songs. Fans tell me they like the sounds here.
“It gets everybody going, which helps the team,” says one fan.
A woman dancing with her nephew in the stands said, “I loved it, I felt it and I couldn't even sit down.”
Oakland Roots’ Diverse Playlist
Edreece Arghandiwal is a Roots co-founder and helps curate their music.
“We just want people to feel comfortable coming to our games,” Arghandiwal said.
But what about music with profanity — like Too Short’s “Blow the Whistle?”
Arghandiwal said they received messages from parents concerned about what the lyrics insinuate.
“We have to take a stance at that point for our culture,” Arghandiwal said. “Sorry. We're not going to get rid of the song. It's Too Short. It's Oakland. Everyone knows it.”
Making the playlists is literally a team effort because the players add songs too.
Nikolai Littleton is a defender for the Roots and grew up on 57th street in North Oakland. He thinks the team plays different generations of Oakland sound.
“I don't think [other] teams encapture their community as well as we do,” Littleton said. “I’d say new Oakland would be more like G-Eazy. And old Oakland, would be Mistah F.A.B. Kehlani would be more new Oakland.”
The Roots go even farther back, like Tower of Power.
Playing music that sounds like The Town definitely means a lot of Bay Area classics, but also music from all over the world. Yohannes Harish is from Eritrea and grew up in Oakland. He is the team’s midfielder. He picked the song "Ghezana" by Eritrean artist Jemal Romodan for the team’s playlist.
“The whole song is about our home and it was great to hear it during the game,” Harish said.
Love For The Game And The Town
One fan said these sounds reflect “ how Oakland is, the diversity, everything that we stand for.”
As I pack up to leave the field, I think about this song I heard today by Oakland cumbia band Mariposas Del Alma. It’s called “I Love You For All Seasons.”
Roots games aren’t just about the music, it’s about showing love to The Town, for so many reasons.
The Oakland Roots are taking a shot at the National Independent Soccer Association championship in a semi-final match. They’ll be facing off against Chattanooga FC on Wednesday, Sept 30th at 2pm. Visit here for details on watching the game live.