I arrived just as Khi Darag! were taking the stage in People's Park. The name is Armenian for 'disgraceful scoundrel'. The San Francisco based, seven member band brought multiple saxophones, a violin, a Jew's harp plus a small set of Indonesian gamelan instruments. They blend influences from Armenia, Cambodia, Indonesia and beyond. The freaks were out in People's Park and began dancing immediately. They were joined by college students and soon the dance floor was filled with people as different as the musical influences driving the band on stage. It crossed my mind that Khi Darag! might be covering too much territory, but in the end they beautifully demonstrated the unifying features of psychedelic music from around the globe. Catch them July 2nd at the Rickshaw Stop.
A short walk away, in the sculpture garden of the Berkeley Art Museum, I found San Francisco's Gamelan Gender Wayang. The band's name refers to a specific type of gamelan from Bali ('gender'-a bronze keyed metallaphone; and 'wayang' associating the music with the shadow puppet theater that these groups typically perform with). The tinkling sound is a mesmerizing exploration of the pentatonic scale. After the performance there was a highly informative Q & A. The instruments are sold together as four separate pieces, but two are tuned slightly higher. This 'slendro' tuning creates gong like tones not often heard in the US.
Over at Rasputin Records, Hamudeen with Yassir Chadly played some great Moroccan folk music. Yassir was born in Casablanca, but has been living here since 1977. He plays oud and many other traditional instruments; he is also quite the storyteller. The 4 man band otherwise consisted of various drums, tambourine and vocals. They made some truly sweet sounds, but the music made me hungry for a falafel. Somehow I wound up at the newly re-opened Mario's La Fiesta. It is such a treat to have this historic (50 year old!) restaurant back in action. When I walked in, Mariachi Nueva Luz surprised me. This was no ordinary mariachi group, oh no, this was an all-kid mariachi band! I'm guessing they ranged from 8ish years on up to 16 or so. Despite a few issues with trumpet volume and violin tuning, these musicians were truly amazing. There were some real chill-down-the-spine moments particularly when the guitar player came up front to sing. She is capable of holding a note in perfect pitch for quite some time in an almost Michael Hurley style howl. It felt as if the world might be graced with another Lydia Mendoza. She's a solid guitar player, and she's got the pipes, but more than that she possesses a sadness and intensity that evokes tremendous emotion. Expect to see more from this prodigy.
Back in People's Park, Fairfax's very own Zydeco Flames tore through an impressive list of covers including Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away", Rockin' Sydney's big hit "My Toot-Toot", and Al Green's classic "Take Me to the River". It was quite a site to see line dancing in People's Park! The Zydeco Flames will be at the Alameda County Fare July 3rd and Rancho Nicasio on July 4th. They also play regularly at Alameda's timeless Eagle's Hall. If you like New Orlean's Zydeco/Cajun music, do check out the SFBayou website for the full calendar of regular events around town.
Although I had missed People's Park opener Sekhou Senegal, I was motivated enough to catch them the next day at the Temescal Street Fare. These dynamic twins come from Senegal but now live in the Bay Area. To watch the two of them sing and dance would be enough, but they are backed by a crack band that got the crowd up and grooving. They perform again this Friday June 11th for the Point Richmond Summer Music Series. !Viva Summer!
The only thing missing from the festival this year were the amazing Disciples of Markos. These Bay Area guys play real deal Rebetiko music from the hash dens of 1930's Greece. Fortunately they turned up the following night at Amnesia along with Berkeley's Agape Mou who seamlessly traverse the musics of Greece, Turkey, Albania and Armenia.
Tags: Berkeley World Music Festival