Critic's Choice for the week of February 19-25, 2003 

Afrobeat grooves, swamp-blues piano, Cuban swing, electronic jazz, baroque Bach soloists, and an East Bay hip-hop showcase.

AFROBEAT

Kotoja has been thrilling Bay Area and national audiences since the worldbeat boom of the early '80s by combining highlife, juju, soca, reggae, and its own inventive grooves into a highly volatile and crowd pleasing mix. The band's sound evolved and coalesced at its early Ashkenaz gigs, and the wild enthusiasm of the hometown crowd make every return engagement a celebration. Saturday at Ashkenaz in Berkeley. 510-525-5054. (j. poet)

BLUES

Marcia Ball's bluesy piano playing and larger-than-life vocal style, coupled with her uncanny ability to shift effortlessly from a smooth ballad to a barrelhouse rave-up, has made her one of the queens of the Austin scene. Her blistering combination of country, blues, Cajun, zydeco, rockabilly, and swamp pop defies categorization, making her one of the best belters around. Saturday at Bimbo's in SF. 415-474-0635. (j. poet)

CUBAN

Orquesta Maravilla de Florida are purveyors of the old-school Cuban charanga string and flute ensembles. Founded outside Havana in the province of Camaguey in 1948, the group is renowned for its irresistible swing and sophisticated arrangements. A new-millennium version visits La Peña this Sunday, laying down hits like "Tiembla Tierra," "La Cintura," and "Rica Mulata" -- if there are no visa snafus. 510-849-2568. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)

JAZZ

Trumpeter Dave Douglas regularly tops jazz polls for his brilliant adventurousness. While he has appeared in his own genre-stretching acoustic bands and with John Zorn, the new Dave Douglas Septetis very electronic, with computer keyboardist Jamie Saft, turntablist DJ Olive, guitarist David Gilmore, saxophonist Seamus Blake, drummer Derrek Phillips, and bassist Brad Jones playing music from Douglas' new CD Freak In Monday at Yoshi's. 510-238-9200. (Larry Kelp)

CLASSICAL

The Glory of San Marco resounds through Berkeley's First Congo Saturday night, when Jeffrey Thomas' American Bach Soloists sing music composed for the special acoustic of Naples' St. Mark's: Gabrieli's fourteen-voice Magnificat, selections from Monteverdi's Selve morale, and Lotti's settings of the Crucifixus. Also featured are countertenor Carlos Mena in Vivaldi's Stabat Mater and prized violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock in baroque instrumental works. 415-621-7900. (Jason Serinus)

HIP-HOP

Pam the Funkstress sure knows how to serve it up. In addition to being a party-rockin', battle-tested, scratch-happy turntablist, she's also a professional caterer. Best known as the DJ for Oakland's revolutionary raptivists the Coup, she headlines True Skool's East Bay Showcase Saturday, which brings a full evening's worth of bumpin' and thumpin' local hip-hop flavor to the Shattuck DownLow. Rounding out the bill are Psychokinetics, Jahi & the Life, beatbox duo Soulati and Infinite, and DJ Ren the Vinyl Archeologist. 510-548-1159. (Eric K. Arnold)

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