Congo Joy 

Samba Ngo, free in Albany

THU 9/1

It might seem strange that a country beset by unrelenting tragedy has produced some of the world's most joyful music. But Congolese guitarist Samba Ngo explains that music is a potent healing force, and his rippling soukous grooves are designed to spread exhilaration and delight. As a child, Ngo experienced the power of music firsthand from his father, an herbal healer, or nganga, who treated ailing villagers with herbal remedies and rituals employing chants, songs and incantations. "I went out with him to gather herbs many times," says Ngo, who kicks off Albany's second annual Music in the Park series of free Thursday concerts at Memorial Park. "Every time he was making medicine, a musician was playing a traditional string instrument with 12 or 24 strings. The nganga is also the one who knows how the mind works. He uses music and medicine together to cure people."

Certainly no place in the world needs strong medicine more than Congo, the vast central African nation that experienced the worst that the 19th and 20th centuries had to offer, including genocide, ethnic strife, famine, political repression, and war. Ngo left Congo in the late 1960s to seek his fortune in Paris, but his music has continued to reverberate in his homeland. His songs criticizing corruption and the lack of democracy were so provocative that he was told that it would be dangerous for him to attend his mother's funeral in 2003. A major force in popularizing Congolese music in Europe in the 1970s, Ngo (pronounced En-go) has released eighteen albums with various groups. In recent concerts he has been focusing on his critically acclaimed 2003 album Ndoto, which features his vocals in French, English, Kikongo, and Lingala. While he settled in Santa Cruz two decades ago, he has maintained close ties with the African music scene in Paris, where he'll head shortly after the Albany performance to record two new albums. "I'm looking for a totally different color," he says. "I want to bring my new material to my old friends." -- Andrew Gilbert



Plastic Fantastic

Art should always address the visceral. It should grab you, compel you, and cause you to have meaningful insights about life. And perhaps no material is more ubiquitous to modern existence than plastic, which is shaped and molded into visually arresting shapes with deeply subliminal psychological meaning (spermatozoa, storm drains, and urinals) by Tara Daly in Viscera Sera, a new exhibit opening at 21 Grand (416 25th St., Oakland) on Saturday. The show also features photographer Laura Splan, who deconstructs science and biology to create art from the human body -- an infinite template of textured cellular structures at once abstract and linear. For more info: 21 -- Eric K. Arnold


Minority Report

In China, the faces of minority peoples are printed on the national currency, the yuan -- not minority politicians, but ordinary farmers and workers. Sort of puts the old US Indian-head nickel to shame, doesn't it? Berkeley photographer Chuck Marut spent some time in the Chinese hinterlands taking pics of The Minority Dong and Miao Peoples of China, which is the name of his photo show documenting these two large ethnic minorities (the Miao number almost nine million, the Dong 2.5 million). The show, at the Asian Branch of the Oakland Public Library (388 9th St., Suite 190,, opens Tuesday and runs through November 30. -- Kelly Vance


Urban Art Epitaph

Oaklandish is dead. Long live Oaklandish. After two-plus years of filling a much-needed void in Tha Town's cultural mix, the renowned East Bay-centric urban art gallery recently announced it is closing shop, due to unresolvable code-violation issues. Shed not too many tears, for Bobby Peru and the Nonchalance crew have vowed to return. Instead, stop in, pay your respects, check out the wide selection of art and locally designed clothing, peruse the amazing artwork of Mark Bode and his iconic dad Vaughn on the walls, and bid the gallery a proper farewell. For more info (and to stay informed of further developments), visit -- Eric K. Arnold



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