PICTURED: Julia Campbell Namba, co-founder of NAMBA Performing Arts Space, shares the story of her husband Ben Namba in a spot for NAMBA TV. Photo courtesy of Lorenzo DeStefano
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
A new source of entertainment is springing up to fill the void left by the closing of stages, movie theaters and concert venues. And like much of the content we’re consuming right now, it’s coming at us from the small screen.
NAMBA TV is the latest endeavor from the NAMBA Performing Arts Space in Downtown Ventura. The intimate venue was known prior to the pandemic for an eclectic mix of live music — with everything from folk to hip-hop to jazz to international talent, such as “Bollywood blues” artist Aki Kumar — as well as dance, performance art and theatrical productions.
NAMBA is flipping the script by offering similar programming streamed live (and available for viewing afterward) on its YouTube channel.
“It’s been essential, in the four-plus months since March, to rethink not so much the mission of NAMBA, which remains the same, but the ways in which we convey that mission to the public,” explains Lorenzo DeStefano, executive director. “NAMBA TV arose from that need to refresh the five-year-old NAMBA brand and expand it both locally and as a borderless provider of quality arts content.”
COVID-19 hit not long after DeStefano took the helm of NAMBA, replacing Jeffrey Willerth in January 2020. He is well primed to spearhead this new television project. A seasoned filmmaker (best known locally, perhaps, for his Rachel Flowers documentary Hearing is Believing) and founder of the Ventura Film Society, he’s no stranger behind the camera.
“NAMBA TV is an original curated idea of mine to combine my skills as a filmmaker wth the existing parameters of my job as executive director,” DeStefano explains.
Starting in mid-April and working with Gavin Ames and Eric Crispin, who assisted with light and sound, he was able to film 16 segments.
“Within a very concentrated time, we pulled off roughly eight months of programming,” he confirms. “I solicited some people who’ve performed at NAMBA before as well as a number of artists, both local and from Los Angeles, who are new to NAMBA. I photographed and directed each session with three or more cameras, leaving the musical content to the artists.”
Two pieces have already premiered, featuring Ventura bluesman Doc Ventura (a longtime NAMBA collaborator) and Olivia Willhite (a local singer/songwriter who specializes in ukulele). Doc Ventura returns to NAMBA TV this weekend, with “Delta by the Beach” — a blues concert featuring Milo Sledge and Eddie Layman, plus a film about the Mississippi Delta’s musical legacy. (See our story in Music.) Ventura has been doing double duty, performing as well as helping out with multi-cameria editing, joined by Steve Aguilar and Adam Taylor. Also on tap for future NAMBA TV spots: Mark McKinney, Kirk Mann, String Planet, Robert Quindaro and LA jazz quartet Citizen Kitten.
Music is the core of what DeStefano refers to as “Phase 1” of NAMBA TV, with other programming under consideration for Phase 2, which may be put on hold in the event that live public performances are allowed once again.
“We’ll see if we initiate Phase 2 of NAMBA TV,” DeStefano says. “There are a lot of artists interested in working with us, both musicians and storytellers, and perhaps some theater explorations as well.”
Julia Campbell Namba is one storyteller who has already been featured on a recent spot for NAMBA TV. The venue’s co-founder/benefactor and wife of Ben Namba shares the history of her late husband, from his birth in Manchuria in 1930 through the founding of his spice import business up to his death in February 2020. It’s a fascinating and moving account of a man deeply moved by music and art, who sought to share both with his community by supporting the formation and operation of the arts center that bears his name.
With someone like DeStefano directing operations, it’s no surprise that NAMBA TV has been coming together fairly organically.
“It’s a natural expansion of the arts delivery mandate of NAMBA, using technology to circumvent the limitations we are living through,” the executive director explains. “Time will tell, but indications are that our supporters and new fans are greatly appreciating this new effort.”
The “actors” are as well. DeStefano is pleased that he’s “providing talented artists a chance to get ‘out of the kitchen’ and perform in a quality atmosphere with good sound and solid production values. It seems to have had a very positive effect on those who have participated.”
DeStefano is more than happy to share the riches, providing participants with high-resolution files of their edited sessions for promotional use. And of course, anyone recording a spot for NAMBA TV will be encouraged to come back once the venue is able to reopen to the public.
In the meantime, however, NAMBA TV is doing its part to ensure that COVID-19 doesn’t mean that those craving art and entertainment need to do without. Tune in to find out for yourself!