Austin has the indie scene locked down with South by Southwest, San Francisco's got its Outside Lands Festival, and Oakland all but owns the words "art and soul." In Berkeley, though, the biggest music festival of the year centers on world music and poetry. This year's Berkeley World Music Festival (sponsored by such disparate entities as the Pagan Alliance, Whole Foods, and the East Bay Express) makes good on its name, incorporating everything from Tex-Mex to Balkan folk music to Italian opera. It will also uphold a variety of Berkeley traditions: dancing in the park, blank-versifying on street corners, reclaiming space. It will even give extra latitude to the term "world music," with a pre-party at Blakes on Telegraph (2367 Telegraph Ave.) that errs more on the side of indie rock (headliners are Too Two Desmond and the Graham Patzner Band). Metaphorically speaking, it will be a polyamorous affair.
The linchpin of this year's World Music Fest is the People's Park concert, which combines a craft bazaar with a mostly Afrobeat lineup. Hosted by Stephen Kent — who doubles as a didgeridoo player — it will feature Thomas Mapfumo & The Blacks Unlimited, Julia Chigamba & the Chinyakare Ensemble, Markus James & the Wassonrai (whose tagline is "Mali meets Mississippi blues"), and Freddy Clarke's Wobbly World (a band that doesn't shy away from "fusion" as a descriptive term). In the meantime, a whole spate of performances will happen concurrently in some rather improbable venues — among them Moe's Books, Cafe Milano, and Mario's La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant.
The biggest highlight? Berber musician Moh Alileche, who started off playing an oilcan with a hole cut into it (there weren't a whole lot of resources in his remote North African village) and became a veritable James Brown of the mondol (a mandolin-like instrument with five silk strings) in his later life. He'll grace Amoeba Music from 6 to 7 p.m., hopefully with an ensemble of bamboo flutes and hand drums. Were that not enough to pique your interest, the music fest will also include a spin-off poetry festival — i.e., a bunch of local wordsmiths will colonize a small patch of sidewalk on the corner of Telegraph and Haste streets, once the home of Cody's Books. They'll have Mark States, Julia Vinograd, Avotcja, and Kirk Lumpkin among their ranks. Festivities cap off with an after-hours party at Ashkenaz (1317 San Pablo Ave.), featuring Marty Dread with Reggae Angels. Full schedule at BerkeleyWorldMusic.org
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