Critic's Choice for the week of May 12-18, 2004 

Our writers tell you what's hot this week.


Hip-hop isn't just for teenyboppers anymore. Especially because the fresh kids of the '80s and '90s are today's twenty- and thirtysomethings. What do you do when you become an elder of the hip-hop community? Well, you could do what Carlos Mena did: Find your inner B-boy and incorporate a mature, highly spiritual sensibility into a dope new album. Oh, and while you're at it, hook up with Speech (of Arrested Development), Tre Hardson (of the Pharcyde), Afro-Cuban legend Làzaro "El Maestro" Galarraga, and some stunningly talented up-and-comers like Nonameko and Sparlha Swa. Yeah, that'll work. Mena's official record-release parties for his long-awaited Hip-Hop Meditations album (on SF's Bomb label) happen Friday (at SF's Last Day Saloon, 415-387-6343) and Saturday (at the Oakland Box, 510-451-1932.) In addition to Mena and his special guests, these shows also feature DJ sets by some old-school fossils: Kevvy Kev (KZSU's "The Drum"), David Paul (Bomb's founder), and Jeff "DJ Zen" Chang (Solesides). Sounds like it'll be the bom-diggy, fa shiggedy. $10, 9 p.m. for each. (Eric K. Arnold)


Robotnicka specializes in an undoubtedly pissy (if ultimately silly) shot of scream skronk, in the popped vein of the Locust or An Albatross -- only these spazzolopolises are fetching Frenchies who can't help but wrap their future shock in fluorescent B-52-step synths and some Eurotrash Soviet pop. Most of this stuff is in French, so the lyrics are anyone's guess, but it's all feverish enough to transcend the usual electroclash devolutions. Tonight at Oaklandish, 8 p.m., $6, (Eric Davidson)


One of the best party-dance bands around, Mumbo Gumbo only rarely makes it down to the East Bay from its Davis home turf. The group plays its first local gig in a couple of years Saturday at Berkeley's Ashkenaz. With two great singers in Chris Webster and Tracy Walton, as well as an equally strong instrumental crew, Mumbo Gumbo mixes up New Orleans R&B, zydeco, rockabilly, African dance rhythms, and even reggae into the band's own spicy musical stew, blending band originals with everyone from Taj Mahal to Todd Rundgren. $13, 9:30 p.m. 510-525-5054. (Larry Kelp)


Sonia Santos and Ana Gazzola are a couple of exceptional vocalists from Brazil -- Santos is from Rio de Janeiro and came to the United States as lead singer of the Broadway musical Oba Oba; Gazzola is from Caxias do Sul and hooked up with Santos in Los Angeles. Together they created the musical revue Brasil Brazil; they'll perform their critically acclaimed spectacular at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley tonight. 8 p.m., $20-$22. 510-849-2568. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)


When it comes to Afro-boho-pomo MCs, nobody is more prominent than Del tha Funky Homosapien. The Hieroglyphics icon wasn't just the first rapper to get his nose pierced -- he was the inventor of a bugged-out narrative style that birthed an entire generation of "Mistadobalina"-esque alt.rappers plundering the realms of anime, video games, and other forms of "proto-culture" for inspiration. Del is hella lyrical too -- from his 1991 debut album I Wish My Brother George Was Here to his more recent work with Dan the Automator as Deltron-Z and part of the Gorillaz to his numerous solo albums and collabos with the other Hieros, he has stayed true to his own inimitable style. He headlines a phat exposition of hip-hop, presented by 2004 Best-Of winners All-Purpose DJs, which includes the "Pound fa Pound" showcase with LCJ, Gypsie, Code Blue, Ty Stick, and Mistah F.A.B. Plus there are three rooms with some of the Bay's best DJs and turntablists, including D-Sharp, Icewater, and Marc Stretch, all punctuated by a live performance from the Infamous MC. It all goes down (until 3 a.m.) Saturday at SF's Space 550. $20, 415-550-8286, Advance online tix available at (E.K.A.)


The East Bay is quite familiar with viola da gambist Jordi Savall and his Hesperion XXI ensemble. But for the first time, we have the opportunity to hear not only Savall perform solo tonight (Wednesday), but to attend Friday night's performance of the entire Savall clan -- the combo of Jordi, soprano Montserrat Figueras, and soprano and harpist daughter Arianna Savall (who recently released a gorgeous CD of her own songs, Bella Terra) make Friday, at least, a must. Both shows at First Congregational Church in Berkeley. 8 p.m., $42 both nights. 510-642-9988, (Jason Victor Bellecci-Serinus)


California Symphony's Barry Jekowsky has a record for picking Young American Composers-in-Residence who later win international prizes and renown for works premiered in Walnut Creek. Time to check out a world premiere by the current hotshot, Kevin Beavers. With the added enticement of Beethoven's beloved Symphony No. 9, fine soloists, and the Baroque Choral Guild, Sunday and Tuesday's Dean Lesher Center performances sound yummy. $39-$59, $20 students, 8 p.m. both nights. 925-943-7469. (J.V.S.)


Many of us were exposed to the autoharp in grammar school, where teachers forced us to sing along to what we thought were corny folksongs. But in the hands of singer-songwriter Bryan Bowers, the esoteric contraption becomes a virtuoso instrument; he picks single-note runs or rich cascading chords to complement a style steeped in the Appalachian mountain tradition. Thursday at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, $16.50-$17.50, 8 p.m. 510-548-1761. (j. poet)


Which David Lowery band was better: alt-rockers Cracker or alt-alt-rockers Camper Van Beethoven? For some, this is a seminal question in rock, but at the moment, the point is moot. You get them both for the price of one at the Warfield on Saturday. Lowery does double duty on the tour, supporting Cracker's new release, Countrysides. But Camper is the real treat. $25, 8 p.m. 415-567-2060. (Michael Gowan)


The Afro-Cuban Latin Jazz Project debuted a few weeks ago, showcasing the stellar talents of Gustavo Ramirez (piano), Raul Pineda (drums), Jorge "Sagua" Perez (bass), and Jesus Diaz (percussion). Pineda, who has performed and recorded with jazz piano great Chucho Valdes, was a grounding force, but it was Ramirez on keys who proved to be a hurricane of creativity. This Saturday they return to La Peña in Berkeley for a live recording. $12-$14. 510-849-2568. (J.C.V.)


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