Jewish Music Festival

Certain postracial/maxicultural sectors of society are pushing back against the end times

PREVIEW Oh man, do we live in troubled times. If you possess a certain fundamentalist biblical streak, you might be forgiven for falling prey to thoughts of doom and damnation. For a proven antidote, try gospel music — certain postracial/maxicultural sectors of society are pushing back against the end times with joyous, fervent determination. Exhibit one: the "kosher gospel" of Joshua Nelson, a black Jew from New Jersey born to African American parents, who traces his religion to several generations of West African Senegalese Jews.

Nelson lived in Israel for two years and is fluent in Hebrew, and his music is as interesting as his lineage and biography. He draws from Jewish liturgy to rework a traditionally Christian genre of music, imbuing it with resonant Jewish themes — the despair of being lost, the longing for freedom. Despite his inventiveness with the form, his music retains gospel's recognizably uplifting, stirring, soulful core. Nelson has performed before Yitzhak Rabin and Barack Obama, and Oprah Winfrey has championed and befriended him. At the Jewish Music Festival's opening event (Sat/21, at First Congregational Church of Oakland), you'll find out why his singing voice has been compared to Mahalia Jackson's. For one night, at least, let the "Prince of Kosher Gospel" soothe your weary brow. He's Oprah approved!

Another good Jewish Music Festival pick is a March 26 performance at the Rickshaw Stop by Daniel Kahn & the Painted Bird, who are on tour in support of their second CD, Partisans & Parasites (Oriente). Kahn is often called the Tom Waits of Berlin — his band mixes punk with political cabaret. If you're looking for more of a raucous dance party, this is your night.

JEWISH MUSIC FESTIVAL Sat/21 through April 2. Various prices and venues. (510) 848-0237.

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