Ashkenaz hosting parts of S.F. music fest

By Miko Sloper Daily Planet Correspondent
Tuesday May 22, 2001

S.F. World Music Festival 

Ashkenaz Music  

& Dance Community Center 

1317 San Pablo Ave  

Tonight: Nigerian Brothers and Zulu Exiles Acoustic $12 

Wednesday : Shoko Hikage Ensemble and Paul Pena 

& Friends $12 

Thursday: World Trance Trio:  

Jai Uttal, Stephen Kent, Geoffrey Gordon $13 

All shows begin at 8:00 pm 

For information, call 525-5054 or click on www.ashkenaz.com  


Berkeley is doubtless one of the culture centers of the Bay Area. We prove this by hosting many important concerts, premiere plays and the like. 

We also show our place by routinely co-hosting parts of long concert series that are billed as San Francisco events.  

Recently the San Francisco International Film Festival showed quite a few of its feature films at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive, saving Berkelyans the trouble of crossing the Bay to participate in the SFIFF.  

Similarly, during the next few days, Ashkenaz will host the San Francisco World Music Festival for a trio of concerts that display the variety that the festival has to offer. 

Tonight, the SFWMF will bring two African bands into Ashkenaz. The Nigerian Brothers will play “unplugged” versions of highlife, juju and various other styles in their most primal, earthy incarnations.  

So bring your dancin’ shoes, and plan to enjoy the best dance venue in the East Bay. Or come to just kick back and be mesmerized and intoxicated by the sweet “palmwine” tunes of rural Africa.Ken Okulolo leads several of the most prominent African bands of the Bay Area, each focusing on a different style.  

The Nigerian Brothers present the most traditional sound, the village roots of so much modern popular music. 

Although the Zulu Exiles have also promised an acoustic set, I believe they, too, will strive to get the audience up on their feet. Have no fear: they will be able to move you without electric guitars and synthesizers. 

Consisting mostly of former members of the popular local band Zulu Spear, the Zulu Exiles bring the pan-African sound to a peak level of performance. 

On Wednesday night, the focus will be rather different, as Paul Pena and Shoko Hikage share the concert billing. Many will already know of Paul Pena’s recent triumphs as an American blues singer who travelled to Tuva (part of Mongolia) to take high honors performing Tuvan folk songs which he had learned from shortwave radio broadcasts and other recordings.  

A brilliant documentary film called “Genghis Blues” showed events surrounding this journey. This concert will be a chance to hear Pena’s unique combination of central Asian idioms and the Blues, of which he is an indisputed master.  

Shoko Hikage plays the Japanese koto, using experimental techniques to extend the expressive range of that noble ancient instrument. Not willing merely to recreate classical compositions in obedience to tradition, she boldly explores new melodic and technical territories along with the other members of her ensemble. It will be interesting to hear what insights their recent searching has produced. This concert will refute the old saying that “East is East and West is West and ne’er the twain shall meet.” We will hear the fruits of both hemispheres’ learning from the other while meeting and melting in music. 

Thursday night will mark the closing of the SFWMF at Ashkenaz.  

The theme of “World Trance” will be played with and developed by Jai Uttal, Stephen Kent and Geoffrey Gordon, each of whom has crafted a career of combining spiritual music traditions of the East with some elements of postmodern pop to bring the Spirit to the masses. Expect a dazzling display of instruments, lead by Kent's fluidly pulsing didjeridoos, Uttal’s exotic melodies on sarod and guitar, and Gordon’s broad palette of percussion.  

I suspect that there will also be guest artists contributing to a memorable swirl of various styles to craft sound into a tool of heightened consciousness. Any one of these trance masters can invoke a profound world of sound; their symbiotic play will certainly be amazing. 

Of course, parts of the San Francisco World Music Festival will take place in the city during the coming week and a half. For details about concerts in the other venues, click on www.sfworldmusicfestival.org. 


Miko Sloper can be reached at miko@cheerful.com