The Oxymoron of Eddie’s Liquor

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By RJ Singh
SENAY KENFE has been traveling throughout America for over the past decade. These treks bring different meanings of Americana for Kenfe, but they always find him bringing hundreds of books back to Long Beach.

In partnership with Fourth Street creative hub Play Nice, Senay Kenfe uses the Eddie’s Liquor banner as a riff on a traveling show for his art while providing a platform for Long Beach’s young creatives.

Growing up in the ‘90s, Senay Kenfe, 30, couldn’t have many clothes, but his mother always had a new book for him to slip under his arm.

The Wrigley community and a clash of parental lifestyles led to Kenfe repurposing influences into Eddie’s Liquor on Fourth Street, a shared space with creative hub Play Nice.

But you won’t find a handle of Jack Daniels or sketchy erectile dysfunction pills in here.

“The real irony is I don’t drink,” Kenfe said. “I’ve never drank in my life.”

Liquor stores have overpopulated Kenfe’s community like an epidemic, but he wants to redefine the toxic narrative.

“There is no youth space whatsoever in the city of Long Beach,” Kenfe said. “There’s no space that’s run by young people, that’s for young people, that envelops with young people and that’s a problem.”

The banner of Eddie’s Liquor goes back to the ‘70s when his father and uncles worked for Eddie Sr. at the real liquor store. Today, Kenfe’s trademarked storefront has been a way for him to centralize different artistic mediums, whether that be his own music, DJing his own records at gigs throughout the city or producing zines.

Eddie’s Liquor also became a way to uplift other artists that may not have the opportunity to perform elsewhere. Kenfe’s community work exposed the city’s young and aimless underbelly of creatives, many of whom don’t know how to concentrate their power.

Like a prophet is to an adrift community, leadership is a near religious notion for Kenfe. True leadership is inspiring others to be an inspiration, he says. “I think that when you have access to some type of success and you’re placed within a marginalized community, it’s imperative that you share love,” Kenfe said.

Eddie’s Liquor, however, has an emphasis on books.

Reminiscent of his mother’s library in his childhood apartment, overwhelming stacks of books surround this corner of Play Nice: Robert Mapplethorpe’s risqué photography book of the human body, studies on Picasso’s blue and rose periods and a documentation of Supreme’s reign in the 2010s.

Yet there isn’t a shortage of books on Black subjects on shelves: Jimi Hendrix blows smoke on the sleeve of one book, Louis Armstrong’s trumpet face engrosses the surface of a jazz modernism essay, a chronology of Toni Morrison’s life and work and countless other books can be seen.

For Kenfe, selling books on prominent Black figures is a way for the public to define the concept of self by self rather than other communities and cultures. “People don’t really know their history or who they are and the only people telling them is the antiquated public school system,” Kenfe says.

Between emancipation and the present, the struggle and poignancy for true liberty in America was lost with the erasure of Black artistic and political figures in public school literature for Play Nice founder Ryan Hoyle, 29.

“With the advancement of technology, and the internet, we have the potential and the access to so much information and there’s no reason to be ignorant anymore,” Hoyle said. “We have the tools to be able to self-educate and learn these things on our own and not wait for folks to teach us.”

While being exposed to politics at an early age because of his parents, Kenfe still read the eccentric children’s stories and poetry of Shel Silverstein.

He describes his childhood as free public school lunches and going between his mother’s home and his father’s home. Yet his appreciation for different art forms begins with his upbringing.

Kenfe would go to his mother’s home in central Long Beach to listen to Earth Wind and Fire and Gregory Isaacs records. But in the Springdale projects, he got to play customized mixtapes with DJ Quick and Tha Dogg Pound on them.

Kenfe’s ear for music became so razor-sharp that when his mom would host rent parties, where partygoers helped pay the rent for admission, she’d let 8-year-old Kenfe select the tunes.

In Kenfe’s eyes, the commodification of art and the simultaneous demand for the vulnerability of artists at no cost demands an accessible conversation between artists and consumers.

He looks through the European lens of art, a world within itself compared to the US and whose government and society invest in art for the wellbeing of society.

“Not to be a luddite, but one of the issues I have with technology is that it’s consume, consume and consume,” Kenfe said. “People expect instant gratification and art is a passing thing to them and there are no introspective moments coming about with that. I think for art to continue to exist, we have to have a fair cultural adherence to the idea that art is unique, it’s special, it has value, and not everyone can be an artist.”

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