The Hopmonk Tavern’s dance floor is packed in front of the DJ tables onstage. Reggae beats, dub tracks -- the guy scratching gleefully up there even throws in a funk/soul number for good measure. Irie people groove, and couples grind to the sounds, which mingle with the smoke in the air. At the other end of the venue, the Hopmonk's home brewed ales are poured and there’s an entrance to an expansive patio, where greenery of all stripes sets the scene. This is Monday Night Edutainment with DJ Jacques and DJ Guacamole. And this is Sebastopol?
Even if Music by Prudence’s recent Oscar win for Best Documentary Short is currently garnering more blog pixels for its producer’s Kanye-like acceptance speech takedown, African music is experiencing an upsurge in attention these days. We could all use some uplift every now and again, and artists from the developing world, many of them singing through years of conflict and soul crushing poverty, somehow make that missed bus- even that found pink slip- seem like less of an end game.
Plus, some of them sing with the conviction and force of angels.
I'd like to introduce you to the Soweto Gospel Choir. A 26 singer strong troupe of some of the best singers in South Africa, the Grammy award winning Choir performs in big bright dashikis an interesting blend of traditional Zulu songs and “Many Rivers to Cross,” a combination that when stirred together in an exuberant pot yields African gospel. They're coming to the Paramount Theater (Sat/27), and the show should be great. Their music gets soaring, it gets heartfelt, it gets jazzy- it’s an epic listening experience that recalls what it means when the people you’re watching onstage are singing to carry out their mission on earth.
As ever and ever the divide grows between what we hear on the radio versus what's truly fly in hip hop these days, Ana Tijoux plots her coming to America. Born to Chilean parents who fled from the brutal reign of Augusto Pinochet, the MC's life reads as the manifesto for the counterculture universality of hip hop. How to express the feelings stirred up by moving across the world at 14? How about coming to a country whose democratically elected president was slaughtered, replaced by a dissident-torturing dictator, that happens to be where your parents grew up? Tijoux found her anger reflected in the rhymes of the American rappers of the early '90s- and shortly after, used their "force" to raise her own voice. She's been a player on the South American hip hop scene ever since, and is releasing her second solo album, 1977, which may be her most personal project yet, looping scenes from a remarkable life story with her direct, staccato flows. Here in the Bay, we're getting a chance to catch her beats live (Thurs/25, La Peña Cultural Center), not too long after her debut among the gringos at South by Southwest. She wanted me to tell you that if you were born in 1977, you get into the Berkeley show for free. Read on to our telephone chat with Tijoux, an awesome conversation tweaked but a little by the intricacies of chatting with a translator and my own gradually stiffening Spanish.
Q. A woman with the mic croons the bloco afro riddims of her childhood growing up in Salvador. Around her, percussion reigns king and it's possible that a capoeira or samba dancer has snuck onstage to accentuate the party energy. Your body jumps to the beat. SambaDa has you in its grasp. But from whence does this musical group hail?
Classic finger-picking and Laura Veirs' girly vocals characterize the feather-light songs she's written about sweet summer days on her seventh album, July Flame. The songs explore desire and happiness in stripped-down folk form, caressing questionable emotions with scents of firewood smoke, extended sunshine, and humid mid-summer evenings - all named after a variety of peach Veirs spied at her local farmer's market. After 10 years in the music business, touring is nothing new to the Portland artist, but the trip supporting this album is different for two reasons: first, this album is being called her best; and second, Veirs is eight months pregnant. I caught Veirs on the phone on a Sunday afternoon, when she was taking a break at her parents' place in Colorado, to chat about the album and the experience of touring while expecting. Read more »
The syncopated sounds of the congo, hand claps and guitars -- combined with Joe Cuba’s suave vocals -- melt hips and hypnotize feet with irresistible dance beats. Known as “sabrosura,” it's the urge to shimmy and shake your luscious body parts when music with this much flavor hit your senses. The late Latin legend was known as the “father of boogaloo” and a man who melded together genres into one of his own.
Fania Records will release Joe Cuba’s El Alcalde Del Barrio on Thu/11, one year after the iconic musician’s passing, and celebrate with a live performance by Chico Mann at the Elbo Room's global-funky Afrolicious party. The 34-track box set features digitally remastered recordings never before compiled in album form and include a diverse array of his totally hot hits, from “Bang Bang” to “El Pito (I’ll Never Go Back to Georgia).” El Alcalde Del Barrio or “the mayor of the barrio” refers to Joe Cuba’s pioneering role in the world of modern Latin music and his dedication to keeping it fresh.
DJ Similak Chyld doesn’t mess with inspiration. When asked how she came up with the idea for Afro Chico Electro, her dance party that hits the floor at Triple Crown on Wed/10, she’s narrowed the concept down to a single visual. It’s a purple pencil drawing by graffitist Mode 2 that shows a swath of party people intertwined, their arms thrown in the air, eyes closed, smiles open. There’s a bald girl, a blonde girl, some b-boys, a cool guy in a hat- but they’re all dancing to the same beat. Quote the pint sized Similak, “the idea is basically merging all the genres that I love, to bridge the gap between different crews, djs, artists, etcetera. I figure it makes sense to me- why not throw a party that represents who I am at the core?”
I hate to be objectifying, but journalistic integrity be damned- Orchid and Hound are damn good looking. The queer pop duo, comprised of satyr-esque John Constantine and the coyly shaggy Lawrence Alarcon, were also charming and beautifully turned out when I met them for drinks the other night- and, of course, they are brilliant onstage. Their upcoming show at The Blue Macaw (Thur/11) promises to look a lot like what would happen if High School Musical came out of the closet, hired a better stylist and started partying. So you’re going to have to excuse me if the following article starts to sound like Tiger Beat at times. I’m a little smitten, so shoot me.
This is what you will see at an Orchid and Hound show. Lawrence Alarcon will bang out lovely up and down tunes on his piano, while John Constantine provides jazzy vocals that ease over here to a sound reminiscent of Broadway, then smooth down there to recall a smoky lounge somewhere in Vegas. They’ve dubbed it “queer pop”- a highly listenable, intimate little cabaret. "We like to think of 'queer' as 'different,' like melodrama," says Constantine of their sound.
“The classical composers we know so well, Beethoven and Bach and Vivaldi, they were improvisers. So really, we’re carrying on that legacy,” says Real Vocal String Quartet founder Irene Sazer. I’d love to know what the old masters would think of a RVSQ gig- would they throw down their powdered wig and get down when the women launch their cellos into “Fontana Abandonada-Passatempo,” their Afro-Brazilian jam? Get their britches in a twist over “Kothbiro,” a nyatiti song by Kenyan artist Ayub Ogada?
I reckon they’d have dug the tunes. After all, RVSQ, performing this Thursday at Freight and Salvage, attributes their freedom to perform such divergent genres to their traditional classical training. The band members- Dina Maccabee and Sazer on the violin, Alisa Rose on the violin and fiddle and cellist Jessica Ivry- were all band kids, many raised in families of classical musicians and most recipients of college degrees in their respective axes.
Some started careers in orchestras and the like. But there was always something beyond the Bach that beckoned.