Culture by the tracks

Wide range of international sounds and flavors converge at Café Culture

CULTURE COUPLE <br> Café Culture owner Greg Fletcher (holding an African stringed n’goni) and his fiancée and chef, Praveen Ram.

Café Culture owner Greg Fletcher (holding an African stringed n’goni) and his fiancée and chef, Praveen Ram.

Photo By jason cassidy

Cafe Culture

931 West 5th St.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 345-6045

As a place that celebrates the textbook definition of “culture” as both (a) the flourishing of fine arts and humanities and (b) characteristic traits of particular racial or social groups, Chico’s Café Culture is aptly named. The space operates not only as a performance venue, but also an arts rehearsal space, a café and an imported clothing and gift shop. And the colorful venue is rapidly gaining cred as a Chico destination for eclectic music and arts, as well as for personal growth.

Establishing a performance venue in the Chico area is tough; many never do get their footing in the community. But Café Culture seems to be on its way toward success, especially with the large progressive segment of Chico.

“We like to lean to more eclectic tastes,” said Greg Fletcher, the venue’s 29-year-old brainchild. “We’re most interested in working with world [music], reggae, singer-songwriters, Latin and blues.

“Like Duke Ellington said, ‘There’s only two kinds of music, good and bad.’ We like to have good music here.”

A recent example of that good music was the Malian showcase in early July featuring West African string-masters Mamadou Sidibe and Madou Sidiki Diabate, the kind of world-music experience usually reserved for higher-profile local promoters such as Chico State’s Chico Performances. Some upcoming highlights include a night of roots-reggae with St. Croix’s Dan I and his Imperial Sound Army (Aug. 28) and the popular bi-weekly Chico Poetry Slam series (starting Aug. 27).

Fletcher has called Chico home for less than a year, having moved here after a nine-year stint in Grass Valley. Raised in the Berkeley Hills, he became fascinated with African drumming at 16 and traveled to Mali and Senegal several times to fine-tune his craft. He also plays the n’goni, an African harp/lute, and performs with local group Soul Union, and his love of music led to the establishment of a business dealing in African instruments, clothing, jewelry, textiles and carvings, and that interest has manifested as a retail—and decorative—presence at Café Culture.

Located on West Fifth Street, across the tracks from Chico’s train station, Café Culture is housed in a 6,000-square-foot section of the building that used to be Gold’s Gym, and features a 150-capacity main performance room, two smaller dance/yoga/music-lesson studios and a 1,500-square-foot mezzanine that all can operate independently and simultaneously. So, in addition to the special events, the café is able host weekly classes and smaller events that include yoga, kids drumming, poetry open house, tai chi, a Sunday morning “dance church” and Fletcher’s own African drumming classes.

“We provide an opportunity for other people to host their activities here and have their businesses run out of here with their classes and stuff,” said Fletcher.

As a recent divorcée who wanted a new start, Fletcher came to Chico with his 4-year-old son and runs the café with his fiancée, Praveen Ram.

“She’s an amazing person and she’s our exemplary head chef,” Fletcher said of Ram, a longtime Chico resident who is an information technologist by day and in the evening presides over the café’s organic menu that features vegan and vegetarian options. “She’s an Indonesian-Fijian who cooked for a big family. And … she can cook anything from any culture.”

Café Culture is not licensed to sell beer or wine at this time, due to the cost and what Fletcher said was a chilly reception the idea got from city officials who issue such permits. But no alcohol also means that Café Culture is generally an all-ages performance venue.

“I feel like I’m in it for the long run,” Fletcher said. “We’re just opening the door really. I want it to be bustling, crackling with events, classes and workshops, not only business-wise, but as a real hub of activity. We’re just getting started.”