The Local 303: Colorado Artists We’re Featuring For February 2021

February 1, 2021

Over the next month the Local 303 will shine a light on the Black Colorado music community. From hip-hop and R&B, to pop, rock, jazz, soul and Afrobeat, this month's featured artists reflect the diverse talent that makes up the local music scene.

Following the death of George Floyd in May, hip-hop artist A Meazy was approached to put together a group of fellow rappers to reflect upon the racial injustice in a powerful single "I Can't Breathe (Again)" that we will play all month. The song was produced by Mic Coats who also worked on "Message To The Mayor," a song from another new supergroup that finds a community of Denver musicians singing directly to Mayor Hancock about ending the homeless sweeps. Featuring Kid Astronaut, Jeff Campbell, Adrean "Bumpy Chill" Jones, Jeffery "Kingdom" McWhorter, and Shannon "Mizta Sandman" Richardson, you can call them the Message To The Mayor Supergroup.

Another collaboration is the return of The Grand Alliance; the project of Kayla Marque, CRL CRRLL, and Sur Ellz. Last year the otherworldly electro funk and soul trio dropped their debut single and a year later we now have their full-length debut. They were also one of the artists on the B-Sides Music Friday's collaboration with MCA Denver over the summer. We nominated the group to be an NPR Slingshot Artist to Watch in 2021 and featured them last year when they had just launched. We'll be embracing the new singles this month.

Afrobeat ensemble Atomga, led by LaShá Afarko (CalySōl) on vocals brings their latest singles, including the upbeat "Which One Are You" out on Election Day. Blending jazz and soul, we will play new singles from local powerhouse Wellington Bullings, and dystopian pop from the masked Cerval.

Breakout musician Duke Justice who has been described as a musical shapeshifter brings his debut single "The Turn," a catchy track that is equal parts electro pop and indie rock. We also welcome the non-binary artist StoneyBertz, originally from Colorado Springs, now based in Denver to share their newest song.

LS gives us classic 90s R&B vibes, think Jodeci, with his romantic singles perfect for February; meanwhile contemporary soul from Fort Collins' Joshua Dairen. There is more soul being shared this month from Ghana-born, Denver-based Mawule; a linchpin and advocate for many independent artists in the community.

Zanib rounds out the Local 303 with the good hooks of "Catch Me If You Can." A first-generation American she credits her Sudanese parents and growing up experiencing two cultures as informing her music.

Meet some of the musicians (virtually)! We will livestream our Local 303 Meetup on Feb. 22 at 4 p.m. MT on our homepage or watch from YouTube.

Meet February's picks:

A Meazy

John LJFresh

Hometown: Denver

Formed: 2004

Latest Release: "Absolutely" (Single), Uncut Entertainment, Jan. 29, 2021

About:
#NDE | Nobody Does Everything.

Get Social: Instagram, YouTube

Atomga

Deuce Washington

Hometown: Denver

Formed: 2011

Latest Release: "Which One Are You" (Single), Color Red, Nov. 3, 2020

About:
Since their inception in 2011, ATOMGA has continued to be a unique staple in the Colorado music circuit. For the past eight years, ATOMGA has evolved their sound to be a unique brand of Afrobeat infused with elements of rock, jazz, hip hop as well as classical. Using this foundation, they are able to build poly-rhythms which always gets their audience moving!

On a national and international level, ATOMGA has had remixes by artists such as Grant Phabao at Paris DJ's in Paris, France and Craig Welsch at Rear Window Studio in Boston. They also have a gold medal winning beer named after them in Curitiba, Brazil from Bodebrown which is served periodically at Banded Oak Brewing Company in Denver. ATOMGA has supported artists such as Femi Kuti and the Positive Force and Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 from Nigeria and many nationally touring bands. Eight years in and ATOMGA shows no sign of slowing down.

Musicians That Inspire: "Betty Davis and Millie Jackson are among my favorite Musicians. They both dared to be unapologetically raunchy and flew under the radar in regards to well know ladies funk. Betty Davis is an ex-wife of jazz musician Miles Davis. So you already know she must’ve been quite spicy. Erykah Badu is amazing to me. So multi-faceted, she inspires me with her thought provoking lyrics and clever musical engineering. Some of my favorite tunes by these ladies are as follows: "Ugly Men" by Millie Jackson, "Anti Love Song" by Betty Davis, "The Healer," "Window Seat," and "Bump It" by Erykah Badu." -LaShá Afarko (CalySōl) 

Do you feel like 2020 has shaped you as a musician? If so, how: "2020 definitely shaped me as a musician. You can say that I gladly took a “Window Seat.” Prior to the pandemic it had been unclear for me as to which organizations I could donate of my own time and resources. As for the silver-lining that is always ever existent in any situation; I’ve learned that I confidently donate to such organizations that are truly here to support local artists like myself in times of need. Though I chose to be socially mute during these times I have been documenting my experiences lyrically. There has been plenty of time to reflect/write some uplifting pieces that I look forward to collaborating with other artists and releasing in the future. To witness and understand how we are all experiencing this pandemic together, each of us in such unique ways that likely contrast from one another, is quite humbling. There is a great call for mindfulness, self awareness, accountability and love. So with that I say: Cheers to the future of music and society getting back to public shows so that we might enjoy one another again in person one day. Until then send your good vibrations out into the ethers so we all might be free!" -LaShá Afarko (CalySōl)  

Get Social: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter

Cerval

CERVALhoney do photography
Amanda Piela

Hometown: Unknown

Formed:
 2020

Latest Release: "Bodies in Motion," Kitsuné Musique, Dec. 7, 2020

About: CERVAL is a misfit. A dystopian pop artist and producer created in isolation and molded by dysphoria. A suburban nightmare and a chaotic good, CERVAL creates music charged with emotion yearning for an escape.

Whatever past CERVAL may have had has fallen by the wayside, but in his music, therein lies the breadcrumbs. His debut single, “Unavailable” a woozy ode to discretion arrived on September 18, 2020. "Bodies in Motion" followed, released on the iconic French dance music label, Kitsuné Musique. That said, 2020 was just the beginning.

With a forthcoming EP and no shortage of surprises in store, 2021 is the year CERVAL will be a name on everyone's tongue.

Musicians That Inspire: Chemical Brothers, Timbaland, Crystal Castles, Danja, Mariah Carey and Yeezus (the album)

Do you feel like 2020 has shaped you as a musician? If so, how: 2020 was the catalyst for the weird music that I'd hear in my head to make its way in the world. With the anxiety, the fragile balances of everything and general uncertainty — the timing felt necessary. While the urgency was shaped by 2020, the sounds and emotions have always been there bubbling below the surface. In a year of strange, nothing makes me happier than making the next one even stranger.

Website:
www.cerval.net

Get Social:
Instagram, Twitter

Duke Justice

Justen Howard

Hometown: New York City, New York now based in Denver

Formed:
 2020

Latest Release: "Startup" (Single), Self-Release, Feb. 2, 2021 and "The Turn" (Single), Self-Release, Dec. 22, 2020

About: Duke Justice is a musical shapeshifter. His ability to effortlessly blend and bounce between music genres are seemingly only matched by his talent to jump from one instrument to another with ease. From dreamy synth-pop to art rock to indie-folk and everything in between. Duke Justice has been described as a “sonic chameleon” although according to the duke himself “it’s all pop to me.”

Musicians That Inspire: Please don't make me answer that question. I'll be here all night and then I'll worry I forgot someone for the next week.

Do you feel like 2020 has shaped you as a musician? If so, how: Absolutely! In so many ways but I guess the biggest way was in how the isolation pushed me to have to do so many parts of this process myself writing, production, art, marketing, etc. so it has been an exercise in creating in a creative vacuum and learning to have to trust myself and fight off the voices in my head telling me I suck.

Website:
www.thedukejustice.com

Get Social:
Instagram, Facebook, Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube

The Grand Alliance

Blake Jackson

Hometown: Denver

Formed: 2019

Latest Release: The Grand Alliance, Fasor Records, Jan. 22, 2021

About: The future-funk prodigy dubbed The Grand Alliance, featuring Denver-based artists Kayla Marque, SUR ELLZ, and Carl Carrell, recently released their highly-anticipated self-titled debut album via FASOR Records.

In late 2019, the musicians came together, each from their respective successful solo-careers, to form an alliance – a grand alliance of sorts.

Quickly, the trio’s working relationship transformed from admiring musical acquaintances into a tight-knit creative family. Together, The Grand Alliance has produced a stunning debut, chock full of tales steeped in old-school cosmic funk yet fine-tuned to the soul. Afro-futuristic vibes mix the perfect amount of hazy existential science fiction alongside stories of
social justice, forging a sound like no other. It’s a testament to each member’s maturation, respectively, and a tribute to a new type of beat dubbed future-funk by the trio.

Carl Carrell, the producing captain behind the project, explains the unique bond they discovered, “It’s a very special thing when a producer finds an artist who they really click with, where it just makes sense. When you find that good energy - it’s rare, and it’s something we found we have as The Grand Alliance. The more Kayla Marque, SUR ELLZ, and I have done together as The Grand Alliance. It’s only gotten better. The connection and the sound we’ve made has really become something special.” Carrell continues, “We have a story to tell, and there’s some magic behind it.”

Website: Legrandalliance.com

Get Social: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify

Joshua Dairen

Valenci Adair

Hometown: Auburn, AL now based in Fort Collins

Formed: 2017

Latest Release: Who I Am, Self-Released, Dec. 16, 2020

About: Joshua Dairen is a pop and R&B artist originally from Auburn, Alabama now living in Fort Collins, Colorado. As a musician at the age of 5, Joshua’s love for music led him to explore his own voice and songwriting. After releasing his first song “Don’t Let Go” in 2017, he knew he wanted to do more with music, taking control of his trajectory and pursuing his talents with reckless abandon. With a sound made for movies and television, Dairen creates songs that pull from his personal experiences in a way that’s reflective of everyday life and gives anyone something they can relate to. 

His music is based on raw emotional feelings and real life situations, some avoidable and some always meant to happen. He brings a smooth, chill sound that is less focused on perfection and more about the emotions people experience and the actions that follow. With a music background that comes from soul, R&B, and pop, he incorporates elements of each in soulful arrangements creating a unique, warm sound that flows between different genres simultaneously.

His songs “Black & White” and “War” have been featured in numerous places including publications Rapzilla and New H2O and his most recent single of 2021 “Who I Am” is already setting the tone for the fresh new attitude he’s bringing to the table this year as he continues to consistently level up in his artistry. 

Outside of music, Joshua Dairen is a photographer and an avid commentary writer, featured in Medium’s Level Magazine publication, writing on topics such as race and diversity. 

Musicians That Inspire: Some of my biggest influences in music are 6lack, Billie Eilish, Bishop Briggs, Kanye West, Big K.R.I.T., Outkast, Timbaland, Missy Elliot, and John Legend. For me, each of these artists have made names for themselves by testing the limits of their respective genres while staying true to a sound that is entirely theirs. You hear their music and instantly recognize them and find yourself lost in their art. I listen to them everyday just to see what I can pull from them. I’ve always wanted that same reaction when it comes to my own music and it’s pushed me to take risks to bring a different and palatable sound to the very diverse and talented landscapes of Pop and R&B.

Do you feel like 2020 has shaped you as a musician? If so, how: 2020 started off pretty challenging. At the very crux of it all, the social climate, the protests, the cases of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd made it really hard to focus on anything else, especially music. But I was reminded of how many artists who came before me who continued to create music during some of the toughest eras and those whose music served as a temporary escape to what was happening in the world around hurting people. That pushed me to remember that regardless of a big or small audience, music has a lot of power. It can heal and it can comfort. It gives people an opportunity to suspend their disbelief in something they didn’t create. 

More than anything, 2020 reminded me to not to take anything for granted and that every moment is precious. The world used to feel so busy in 2019. It was easy to kind of just leave work, come home, and not really think about your other job--music--and approach it with an “I’ll get to it later” attitude. My mentality changed and now my direction is to make as much relatable music as possible. 2020 helped me dedicate even more time exploring and learning different ways on how to get better and be more creative and overall, I’m doing some of the best work in this season than I’ve ever done. I’m excited, truly, to push forward in the next 11 months or so with a completely new energy. 

Website: joshuadairen.com/music

Get Social: Instagram, Twitter

LS

Hometown: Topeka, KS and moved to Denver 10 years ago

Formed: 2006

Newest Release: "BODY" (Single), Self-Release, Nov. 23, 2020

About:  LS is an American singer/songwriter/producer in the genres of R&B, pop, hip-hop, and country.  His versatility has often been compared to the likes of Babyface, Teddy Riley, and NeYo being that he not only sings but produces and writes all his material as well as his work for other artists. 

Some of the biggest influences on LS’s sound are Babyface, Tank, Joe Thomas, New Edition, Dru Hill, Ginuwine, Teddy Riley, Silk, Boys To Men, and many more.

As a budding industry producer and artist, LS looks to take a huge leap with his newly made connections with musical standouts such as Babyface, the production team ‘1500 or Nothin,’ super producer Antonio Dixon, master orchestral conductor Benjamin Wright, and several other Grammy-winning and nominated acts.

Influences: I was raised throughout the 90's, so r&B was defined by artists like Jodeci, Boys To Men, Babyface (production), Silk, Dru Hill, etc. I tend to think I took bits of musicality, bits of riffing, tendencies, sounds from so many during this period, its impossible to truly lock in on one song or artist. I will say though that Babyface was huge for me because he had a great run in the 80's but really defined sooo many artists, soundtracks, movies, tv, just the whole entertainment was in his hands and control, truly a iconic figure then and now for me and many others like me.

Do you feel like 2020 has shaped you as a musician? If so, how: The past year, allowed me to slow down, and rediscover my craft, the love and passion for music.  It provided clarity on my strengths and weaknesses, not only musically but business wise as well.  I was always focused on various tasks and agendas prior to the COVID shutdowns, that when everything halted, I was forced to look at the entire landscape I was a part of, and sifted through the fray of what's needed and what's not for my best chance for success and longevity.  And the personal impact of COVID all around me caused me to really appreciate not only the gifts I had but the gifts around me that I'm able to bear witness too as well. 

Website: myurls.co/LS

Get Social: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter

Mawule

Xavier Hadley

Hometown: Osu, Accra & Denver

Formed: 2018

Latest Release: “Red Light (feat. Codakolor),” Mawule Music Group, Jan. 29, 2021

About: Mawule, meaning “Only God Knows” in the Ewe language, was born and raised in Accra, Ghana. He and his family moved to Denver, Colorado at the age of 10 and has lived there since. Music has always been an integral part of Mawule’s life, but success as a music artist has never been the only goal in mind for Mawule.

His lifelong fascination with human relationships drove him to pursue a Bachelor’s in Human Development and Family Studies, as well as a Masters in Student Affairs and Higher Education at Colorado State University. Mawule’s educational interests enhanced his songwriting abilities and music producing capabilities which caught the attention of producer Glenn Sawyer and ignited his music marathon.

Mawule’s music reflects his passion for the human connection. He is inspired by the truth within lived life experiences and publishes music cloaked in deep lyrics and catchy rhythms that serves as a source of both comfort and empowerment for others.

Musicians That Inspire: Whenever I need to tap into an emotion or get in a reflective state of mind, "I Can't Write Left-Handed" by Bill Withers and "Show Me" by John Lengend help me find solace. Both of these songs and musicians inspire me because their music reflected a time, a history, with lyrics so truthful in their nature, heartbeat, and pain. I guess sometime, I need a reminder of what good music is and both of these songs have all the elements to make me pause and reflect. 

Do you feel like 2020 has shaped you as a musician? If so, how: 2020 was a big transition for me. The pandemic really helped me define my goals and vision for my music career. For the first time ever, every individual I needed to connect with from label executives to sync agencies were all a zoom click away. With that, I left my career as an Associate Director in higher education and fully stepped into my artistry, and established a record label and music company. 2020, set a new trajectory for my music career, and now a business first and a musician second.  

Get Social: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, LinkedIn

Message To The Mayor Supergroup

YouTube

Hometown: Denver, CO

Formed: 2020

Latest Release: "Message To The Mayor" (Single), Self-Release via Emancipation Theater, Jan. 21, 2021

The supergroup's solo-projects are albums Thirst and Starvin by Bumpy Chill. Mizsta Sandman's newest single is called "Something Good," and also check out Mic Coats' "I Can't Breathe (Again)" and Kid Astronaut's COSMOS

About: Jeff Campbell, "the head of Emancipation Theater Company...who ran Denver's Hip-Hop Coalition from 1997 to 2006, decided not to rely on Facebook ads to rally people to the cause of stopping the sweeps approved by the administration of Mayor Michael Hancock. Instead, he called up some longtime artist friends to collaborate on a rap song aptly titled "Message to the Mayor."" -Conor McCormick-Cavanagh, Westword

The supergroup is made up of Kid Astronaut, Jeff Campbell, Adrean "Bumpy Chill" Jones, Jeffery "Kingdom" McWhorter, and Shannon "Mizta Sandman" Richardson.

Get to know some of them better-

Bumpy Chill or "Chill" is a battle rapper from the 80s who coined the phrase "Urban Poet". With his roots in a group called J.V.C (Jam so Vicious Crew) he later went solo and won several emcee battles in Colorado. He assisted in the first gang truce event in Colorado and was chosen to represent Colorado in the World Supremacy Battles in 1991 and 1993. He appeared on BET at Shaq's birthday party performing the track "Akinele" alongside other Hip Hop legends such as Black Sheep, Naughty By Nature, Large Professor and more and he has appeared on the Stretch & Bobitto lyricist lounge show among other projects and accolades.

Mizta Sandman is an artist that, even without major label support, has amassed a supportive fan base rivaling any of his peers. Powered by the single "Something Good" - he's ready to take the world by storm in 2021 and beyond with a string of exciting projects on the way. Known for his energetic flow - stage presence and unpredictable lyrics, Mizsta Sandman represents pure energy on a level even he can't fully explain. He defines himself and his music by saying "Before tomorrow came, yesterday was the future. See - The Difference between me and a lot of other artists, I'm not trying to get into the game, I'm from the game, the bricks, the streets, whatever you wanna call it. I want a better living for my family and my partners. I'm the voice of the ones in the pens, graveyards, and trapped on the block with no way out."

Musicians That Inspire: "My favorite emcee is Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap is right behind him." -Bumpy Chill

"Scarface, E40, Jay-Z, 2Pac, OutKast" - Mizta Sandman 

Do you feel like 2020 has shaped you as a musician? If so, how: "No. But I do feel it's giving me a chance to re-establish a platform for hip-hop's lyricism which has been over-looked in more recent years." -Bumpy Chill

"No - We have always talked about these situations that affect the culture and community, but now we can refocus on these same issues that have been overlooked for so long like police brutality, the unhoused, racism, prejudice, etc. Now we can get back to focusing on rebuilding from the inside out and using this music as a vehicle to deliver that message to the world." -Mizsta Sandman

Website: Bumpy Chill, Mizsta Sandman

StoneyBertz

Audrey Julian Photography

Hometown: Shreveport , LA / Colorado Springs

Formed: 2011

Latest Release: "Inside" (Single), Self-Release, Nov. 2020

About:
StoneyBertz is a non-binary artist living in Denver, Colorado hailing from Colorado Springs by way of Shreveport, LA. Blending a unique brand of boom bap and lyrical exercise they present a new perspective over some classic hip hop arrangements. Beginning their career in 2011 they have performed all over the state of Colorado opening for artists at venues such as the Black Sheep, Mishawaka Amphitheatre and many others.

Musicians That Inspire: Atmosphere's Headshots: Se7en was probably the first album I ever fell in love with. From there it was just on and popping and I couldn't get enough. As a late bloomer I was able to get into the classics which shaped my idea of hip-hop even more, these days I just really enjoy a lot of the folks around me that make music, ELimence, Teqnik G, Ann Hobbes and Many folkX I have worked with really stay in my rotation and influence me heavily. A lot of artists from other genres really inspire as well, sometimes it's interesting to see how someone elses process works when they dont do what you do.

Do you feel like 2020 has shaped you as a musician? If so, how: I think 2020 taught a lot of us about ourselves, what really moves us to create and how the rest of our lives are either affected by that and in what way whether it be positive or negative. I was able to reflect, sometimes in more ways than I wanted to and I was able to evaluate why I create what it does for me, sometimes we need to be reminded. I'm excited about the new things I learned during this intense time with myself so I'm ready to bring that to a new body of work.

Website:
https://stoneybertz.bandcamp.com/

Get Social:
BandCamp, Facebook, SoundCloud, Instagram, Twitter

Wellington Bullings

Meg MacDonald

Hometown: Boulder, CO

Formed: 2017

Latest Release: Because I Want To, Self-Release, Jul. 16, 2020

About: Sultry singer & songstress Wellington Bullings is establishing a name for herself in the world of jazz and soul music. Her warm velvety vocals and elegant compositions soothe the soul and enrich the mind. 303 Magazine has described her voice as “full-bodied and decadent,” while Westword Magazine calls her “a master of dynamics and tone.” As a seasoned performer, she has performed as a lead vocalist in several jazz ensembles in Colorado. Her own R&B/Soul band was formed in 2017. She is also a Berklee College Of Music alumni and an established vocal instructor with 5+ years of experience.  

Wellington continues to write and perform, and is currently working on a new project that she hopes to release in the next year. Her new single titled, “Flame” is about the beauty and resilience of black people. This single will be released in the late Spring of 2021.

Musicians That Inspire: I’ve always been deeply inspired by Stevie Wonder. His talent inspires me to be a better singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, and person. The music he writes is so deep and uplifting, and yet at the same time, it’s fun and lighthearted. I aim to create that same spirit of joy in my music.

One of my favorite compositions ever written is “Single Petal of a Rose” by Duke Ellington. This song is the most hauntingly beautiful song. Duke’s melodies are so elegant and enchanting. His songs always inspire me to write better melodies.

Do you feel like 2020 has shaped you as a musician? If so, how: 2020 has taught me that there is immense creativity in adaptation. These trying times have challenged me to think outside of the box, to find new creative ways to connect to people with my art & music. 

Website: https://www.wellingtonbullings.com

Get Social: Instagram, Facebook, BandCamp

Zanib

Courtesy of the artist

Hometown: Cheyenne, Wyoming - Khartoum, Sudan now based in Denver

Formed:
1992 officially 2013

Latest Release:
"Catch Me If You Can" (Single), Freedom Waves, Jan. 2, 2021 and Desert Season EP, Freedom Waves, Feb. 12, 2021

About:  
Zanib is a movement for freedom. She finds liberation through embracing her identity as Afro-Nubian. As a first-generation American with roots in Sudan, she lives in two cultures from polar parts of the world. She uses her multi-instrumental message to tell her story. From eclectic soul to rhythm and blues to hip-hop while incorporating ethnic influences, Zanib’s story is expressed by a blend of vocals from rap to singing, violin, keys, ukulele and a variety of beats that she has been involved in producing.

Musicians that inspire: Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Masego, Kid Cudi, Jhene Aiko, Jidenna, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, H.E.R and Sir

Do you feel like 2020 has shaped you as a musician? If so, how: 2020 definitely pushed me to step outside and push my musical boundaries. For the first 7 months of 2020, I explored my roots by visiting the motherland and embracing my performance art through cultural events and benefit shows. As an advocate for social justice and community elevation, I build a platform to educate through my performances. I transport my audience on a global journey through my art and unites them under a collective higher purpose.

I traveled to Sudan and Egypt, then was quarantined and locked down in Saudia Arabia over a course of seven months. In each of those countries, I produced, wrote and performed a unique piece by incorporating violin, songwriting, original production, vocals and rap in English and Arabic.

Desert Season is my second compilation written, composed, produced and performed by me during my 7 month voyage in MENA (Middle East North Africa) exploring my Nubian motherland and my own path navigating being quarantined overseas. Blending soulful vocals with an afro hip-hop wave, united with classical/trap violin, Desert Season was bloomed. Through exploring the journey of my identity, culture and sound, I created a bilingual sonic experience of the waves of emotion and growth that evolved through this leap into my freedom.

Freedom Waves was also bloomed which is my brand/label that is a movement designed to inspire liberation through self-expression. Connecting 'artivism,' creative synergy and global consciousness, we ignite community and multicultural awareness around the world. Freedom Waves is the exploration of our purpose by aligning our passions, experiences, missions and professions all harmoniously.

Website: www.freedomwaves.world

Get Social:
Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok






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