The third annual "Women in Salsa" celebration at Berkeley's La Peña Cultural Center (3105 Shattuck Ave., 510-849-2568) happens this Friday at 8 p.m. with the Latino alternative sounds of Cha Cha Boom, Orquesta D'Soul, and La Familia. Most of these ensembles are labs for provocative Latin-pop hybrids -- an irresistible brand of salsa dance music with a whole new perspective and sensibility.
Listening to Cha Cha Boom's self-titled debut CD, you can hear how Afro-Caribbean beats serve as the underbelly for horn-laced arrangements fusing funk, soul, rock, and Latin jazz. The versatile voice of Molly Skuse suggests a variety of moods, and her sensual rendering of the Doors' "Light My Fire" is especially hot. Meanwhile, drummers Michaelle Goerlitz (timbales) and Dana Hinchfield (congas) anchor the tempos expertly. Almost all the material in Cha Cha Boom -- co-led by Skuse and Hinchfield -- is original.
That originality goes as well for Orquesta D'Soul, which performed last year at the Michigan Women's Music Festival and locally at such venues as the Great American Music Hall, 850 Cigar Bar, and the Voodoo Lounge. Led by Marina Garza, a gifted trumpeter and songwriter from Texas, it features the voices of Lisa Jimenez and Nikki O'Shaughnessy. Two years ago, the band released a fine debut, Remember Me, that got strong radio airplay.
La Familia is an Oakland-based salsa band that had a nice gig going last year at La Estrellita Restaurant near Lake Merritt. It features percussionist Sylvia Sherman and the vocalizing of Crystal Gray, a founding member of Los Cenzontles who once recorded with Los Lobos.
Between bands, enjoy a floor show with dancers Mujeres in Motion and Women's Rueda y Mas. The high point of the "Women in Salsa" shows is always the synchronicity between audience and musicians, a feeling that turns the event into a full-blown, crowd-unifying free-for-all, and closes out Women's History Month with a healthy, heart-pumping sweat. -- Jesse "Chuy" Varela
The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, an independent political organization of women fighting for human rights and social justice, was established in Kabul in 1977. In spite of consistently long odds, it's now the oldest such group in Afghanistan, but it could still use your help. Luckily, Thursday marks the latest in a series of Bay Area RAWA benefits featuring such musical luminaries as avant-world-folk ensemble Charming Hostess, post-punk outfit 20 Minute Loop, the otherworldly folk of Faun Fables' Dawn McCarthy, and a cappella group Jou Jou. Doors are at 7:30 p.m., show at 8 sharp, suggested donation at the door is $8-80, and the Oakland Metro is at 201 Broadway. Call 510-763-1146. -- Stefanie Kalem
For the last three months or so, the Native American Health Center, a thirty-year-old community health facility, has been holding auditions. If this seems like a strange way to hire medical staff to you, that's because it is -- the tryouts were for the Electric Pow Wow, the health center's third annual talent show. In addition to performances by NAHC personnel, Bay Area jazz guitarist John-Carlos Perea (who is of Mescalero Apache and German heritage) will play to benefit the center's College Scholarship Fund. It all goes down at the Black Box (1928 Telegraph Ave., Oakland), starting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 26. Tickets cost $10 at the door. Call 510-451-1932 for more information. -- Stefanie Kalem
Jewish women and the men (and goyim) who love them are invited to enjoy Kol Isha: A Celebration of Women's Poetry at the Berkeley Richmond Jewish Center. Beginning at 1 p.m., there will be a teen poetry reading, an open mic, and speeches. Then, from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m., participants can choose from workshops facilitated by such metromaniacal leading lights as Chana Bloch, Chana Kronfeld, and Rabbi Margie Jacobs. At 4 p.m., poet and author Grace Paley offers "Words of Welcome," and the symposium concludes with, what else, a poetry reading. Tickets cost $10-$15 and the BRJCC is located at 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley. Call 510-848-0237 or visit www.brjcc.org for further details. -- Stefanie Kalem