Critic's Choice for the week of July 14-20, 2004 

Our writers tell you what's hot this week.

SOUL DIVAS

Ain't nobody loves you better than her. After all, she feels, she feels, she feels for you. Yes, the one and only soul diva Chaka Khan is every woman, and what's more, she'll be the featured attraction for Friday's opening night of the annual Solano County Fair (held at the intersection of Route 37 and Highway 80 in Vallejo). In her 31-year career, Ms. Khan has collaborated with such luminaries as Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Quincy Jones, and De La Soul, while racking up a shelf-full of accolades, including five Grammys, plus Soul Train's Lifetime Achievement Award. Expect to hear all her classics, including "Sweet Thing," "You Got the Love," and "Tell Me Something Good." The fair continues every day through July 25, with a diverse array of performers, including Morris Day and the Time, Tower of Power, Smash Mouth, and the Charlie Daniels Band. Best of all, concerts are free with paid fair admission: $8 for adults, $4 for children and seniors (no charge for kids under five). 707-551-2000 or SCFair.com (Eric K. Arnold)

BRITISH FOLK

Martin Carthy could be called the Pete Seeger of England. He's a tireless supporter of folk music, guru to several generations of folk musicians, dedicated keeper of folk traditions, leader of the folk supergroup Waterson: Carthy, and a masterful guitar player, singer, and songwriter. He'll show off his picking and encyclopedic knowledge of British folk music at Thursday at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. $20.50-$21.50. 510-548-1761, TheFreight.org (j. poet)

POETRY ROCK

Chile's Pablo Neruda, one of the world's great poets, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. In recent years his poems have been set to music by singers from Chile's Rafael Manriquez to Brazil's Luciana Souza. La Peña Cultural Center hosts a three-night Neruda Centennial Celebration, with film and live performance. On Thursday at 7:30 p.m., there will be a screening of Mark Eisner's new documentary Neruda! Presente! ($10-$15 sliding scale). Friday at 8 p.m., Chilean composer Claudio Araya's new work, Neruda and the Hundreds that Returned from the Sea, receives its Bay Area premiere featuring Chilean singer Lichi Fuentes directing the La Peña Community Chorus and other musicians ($12 advance, $14 at the door). And Saturday at 8:30 p.m., brothers Claudio and Francisco Araya (founders of Chilean nueva canción band Huara) perform original and new works, along with special guests, including a possible reunion of Grupo Raiz ($12 advance, $14 at the door). 510-849-1568 or www.lapena.org (Larry Kelp)

SUMMERTIME IN THE O

Celebrate peace and positivity in the 'hood with the Fifth Annual West Oakland Community Festival. The event supports the Khadafy Foundation for Non-Violence, a support center for victims of violent crime, accidents, and life-threatening illness. You'll be able to get your groove on and then some, though, with live performances from R&B star Truth Hurts, local hero D'Wayne Wiggins (of Tony Toni Tone), and up-and-humming neo-soul sistas Femi and Kween. You'll also get the funky stylings of the Jam Band, the erotic spoken word of the Punany Poets, and dynamic dance performances from Medea Sirkus, the Architekz, Bantaba Dance Ensemble, Asian Dance Troop, and the West African Dance Ensemble. It's all going down Thursday at Jack London Getaway (Market at 7th St.), from 12 noon to 6 p.m. (E.K.A.)

LOLLAPAFALLOUT

The Lollapalooza tour collapse is creating interesting mini-tours as bands scramble to fill their summer schedule. So we have established gonzo guitar act Modest Mouse (and MTV staples now, thanks to "Float On") paired with the latest NYC darlings, the Walkmen, who produce a fierce post-punk noise with echoes of early U2. The two hit the Warfield Saturday night. $25, 8 p.m. 415-567-2060. (Michael Gowan)

CUBAN ROOTS

Until you've seen Palenque, you can't say you've seen the best Cuban music band in the Bay Area. No disrespect to any of the other soneros and their ilk currently making the rounds, but Palenque has it down: Lead vocalist and guitarist German Donatien sounds like he never left Santiago, and Markus Puhvel's tres playing, combined with Chloe Scott's flute, is more relaxing than a glass of rhum over ice with mint on a hot day. Throw in Steve Parkin's upright bass playing and Ben Krames' bongo and conga rhythms, and you've got some inspired, wholly authentic Cuban roots music that easily meets the criteria for both jazz and folk. Saturday night at Ashkenaz. $13, 9:30 p.m. Ashkenaz.com (E.K.A.)

CLASSICAL

Berkeley Opera blows the lid off Berkeley political correctness with Bat Out of Hell, David Scott Marley's hilarious adaptation of Johann Strauss' opera Die Fledermaus. Premiering this Friday night, the English-language satire also pulverizes the now-departed dot-com boom of the last century. Jillian Khuner, Shawnette Sulker, and Sonia Garieff are among the excellent singers, all conducted by Jonathan Khuner. Tickets cost $15-$40, with a last-minute $10 full-time student rush. 8 p.m. 925-798-1300 or BerkeleyOpera.org. Other performances July 17, 23, and 24 at 8 p.m., and July 18 and 25 at 2 p.m. (Jason Victor Serinus)

WORLD

Les Yeux Noirs have been knocking out folks on the Continent with their fusion of klezmer, Eastern European folk, and Gypsy jazz (the band's name is taken from a Django Reinhardt tune) since exploding on the scene in 1994. Bandleading brothers Eric and Olivier Slabiak are known for their wild fiddling and charismatic stage presence. 9:30 p.m. Friday at Ashkenaz. $15. 510-525-5054. Ashkenaz.com (j.p.)

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