Tell It, Chaka 

Soul singer's true confessions

FRI 12/5

"Tell Me Something Good" by Chaka Khan and Rufus is one of the signature tunes of the '70s, an upbeat funk-soul mood ditty made for high times. Ms. Khan went on to win eight Grammys and recently appeared in the movie Standing in the Shadows of Motown. But her life evidently hasn't been all tulips and ladyfingers. According to her new book, Chaka! Through the Fire (co-written with Tonya Bolden), the former Chicago bar band singer has lived through a series of brief ups and lingering downs, with numerous family problems, serious flings with alcohol and drugs, and the pressures of a showbiz life.But these days Chaka says she has it all together, and is drug-free and family-oriented. She even started her own record label, and has reportedly organized a foundation to help needy women and children. Find out about the Wrath of Khan -- and her sweet side as well -- this Friday at 7 p.m. at Marcus Books in Oakland (3900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way), when Ms. Khan appears in person to sign her book (but only the book, no other autographs). Reserve your copy of the book at 510-652-2344. -- Kelly Vance


Lit Happens

Too busy reading to pay the bills? A bankruptcy lawyer offers free consultations at the Oakland Public Library's main branch (Wed., 6-8 p.m., sign up at 5:45). ... The Bay Area's own ex-US Poet Laureate, Robert Hass, reads in the Morrison Room of UC Berkeley's Doe Library as part of the Lunch Poems series, which he hosts (Thu., 12:10 p.m.). ... You weren't born knowing how to tell your butt from a participle, so flaunt one or the other at Lafayette Bookstore's holiday party, sponsored by the Contra Costa Library's adult literacy program, Project Second Chance. Random House representative Ron Shoop dispenses holiday book-shopping tips, with refreshments for all. For details, call 925-927-3250 (Thu., 7 p.m.). ... What happened when the big bad lobo huffed and puffed at the houses of the three little baboy? Kids love Saturday-afternoon Tagalog Picture Book Time at Pinole Public Library (Sat., 2 p.m.). ... What happens when poets write novels? Terry Wolverton wound up with a novel-in-poems based largely on the life of her stepgrandmother, deemed mad, heavily medicated, and ravaged by years of electroshock therapy. Wolverton reads from Embers at Boadecia's (Sat., 7:30 p.m.). ... And what happens when poets go spelunking? National Book Award winner Clayton Eshleman spent thirty years studying Ice Age cave art in southwestern France. On those walls he found the seeds of poetry and thus of civilization, as described in his new book Juniper Fuse. Slides accompany his reading at Cody's Southside, $2 (Sun., 7:30 p.m.). ... As for poets in process, hear MFA students Zia Ghoury, Douglas Isidro, Irene Moosen, Marisela Orta, Laura Watts, Amy Wilson, and Diane Wilson read at Diesel (Sun., 2 p.m.). ... Over the river and through the woods to Livermore you shall go for Altamont/Goodenough Books' 23rd annual holiday bash. Schmooze with local authors while wolfing deliberately esoteric treats baked by bookstore staffers (Mon., 1 p.m.). ... Before Woodward and Bernstein, there was US Marine-turned-war-analyst Daniel Ellsberg, whose now-famous Pentagon Papers tipped off the press in 1969 to what was really going down in Vietnam. In his new memoir, Secrets, the whistle-blower draws parallels between that war and the one we're in now. Check him out at Easy Going (Tue., 7:30 p.m.). -- Anneli Rufus

SAT 12/6

Station Agents

Packed to the rafters with refinished charm and astonishing tchotchkes, Cafe Van Kleef's is downtown Oakland's newest neighborhood bar and live music venue, and tonight Loop! Station takes high stage. Cellist Sam Bass and singer Robin Coomer take advantage of modern technology in order to loop and layer themselves silly -- no, not silly. Lovely, luscious, dreamy. Coomer's voice is a nuanced powerhouse that will make you glad that Van Kleef's has so many seats scattered about. Showtime's 9 p.m., cover's $5, right where Broadway and Telegraph get friendly (technically, 1621 Telegraph, Oakland). -- Stefanie Kalem


Musical Gifts

Local elementary school kids may never learn to play the color-coded glockenspiel, if you don't bring your unwanted CDs, DVDs, LPs, videos, video games, and such to Rasputin Music and DVDs (Telegraph and Channing, Berkeley) through December 17. See, the store will buy the stuff, add 10 percent, and donate the proceeds to restore music programs. Can't beat that with a recorder, can you? -- Stefanie Kalem

SAT 12/6

Living the High Life

Ken Okulolo never leaves the stage

If you're thinking fashionably late, forget it. "Judging from the past three years, you really have to come on time to get a good dancing spot," beams Ken Okulolo as he describes A Musical Night in Africa, Saturday night's extravaganza at Ashkenaz, 1317 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley. He fronts three East Bay bands: Kotoja; Baba Ken Okulolo and the Nigerian Brothers; and West African High Life Band. So expect to groove to all three, plus a surprise, which isn't really a surprise -- "It's the New Life Band from Tanzania. I'm telling you, and you can tell everybody else, so it's not really a surprise," Okulolo declares with a smile. The New Life Band is a seven-piece ensemble -- guitars, keyboards, traditional drums, and lots of singing. "The songs are filled with spiritual messages and memorable dance rhythms that will get your whole body moving."
The evening begins at 8:00 with a drum circle led by Ghanaian master drummer Pope Flyne. "Bring whatever instrument -- or whatever you like to bang on -- and join the circle," Okulolo says. The Nigerian Brothers take the stage next, with traditional folk songs in Yoruba, Urhobo, Itsekira, Haufa, "and of course pidgin English," accompanied by acoustic guitars, traditional hand drums, percussion, and sweet vocals. Next is the New Life Band, followed by the West African High Life Band. Highlife music, Okulolo explains, is the music of modern Africans who have traveled abroad. "Upon returning to Africa they demanded some kind of formal evening music -- good dance music, like ballroom or salsa -- something you and your loved one would like to get close and dance to." The night climaxes with Kotoja's very own musical blend. "You can call it a fusion of world music, but the basic tag is Afrobeat, incorporating traditional highlife music with jazz, funk, country, and whatever -- you name it," Okulolo says. And between sets, DJ Omar plays African records to keep the evening rolling. $16 advance, $18 door. Info: 510-525-5054. -- Natasha Nargis


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