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It's a Family Affair

One if the best features of my house in Santa Cruz is its proximity to the home of SALIF KONÉ. Safely cocooned in my room, I can hear him and his friends practicing balafon and singing late into the evening. It's the best lullaby anyone could ever ask for.

The fourth Koné to emigrate to Santa Cruz from Burkina Faso, Salif developed his prodigious vocal and percussive talents in the NATIONAL BALLET OF BURKINA FASO, a internationally recognized group started by his father. In addition to rocking his back porch on a nightly basis, Salif also appears with a number of local groups, including SOL CARIBE.

It was to my great surprise and enjoyment that when I entered Moe's Alley last Saturday night, the first thing I heard was Salif's djembe, echoing through the packed house, announcing the return of UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE to the stage.

"I was happy to find that we still knew how to play all the songs," said RENZO STAIANO, guitarist and tres player for the band. "I guess we all still had residual memories from the recording process. Following recording sessions for the latest record, we all took off for various parts of the world, and we only really got together in the last few days to rehearse."

This time off did not diminish the power of Universal Language's delivery in the slightest. Playing a mixture of tunes mostly drawn from their new CD, ¡Revolución!, the band is in fine form. In fact, with the addition of GIANNI STAIANO and JOEL FORD to the group, the band sounds bigger, better and tighter than it ever has. Gianni's tasteful accompaniment on the Rhodes and solid soloing took some of the chordal pressure off the stringed instruments, allowing his brother Renzo and vocalist MOSHE VILOZNY to concentrate on leaner, more interesting riffs and motives throughout the tunes. The horn section was also strong throughout the evening, and the improvised horn arrangements were a special treat.

Like the DAILY SHOW, Universal Language is more interesting and compelling when the political news is really grim. Cuts like "Eli," "Adelante" and "Revolución" speak to the idiocy of our government, the narrow-mindedness of racism and the failure of communication on a global scale. It also encourages dancing, which is a good thing, because the crowd at Moe's was definitely in the mood to gyrate.

As the evening wore on, the group continued to turn up the intensity, working through material based on African, Caribbean and Central American song forms. ETHAN SANCHEZ, NATE FREDRICKS and DAVID 'PACHA' ALVAREZ were grooving hard throughout the evening, solidly supporting the instrumental pyrotechnics of the other members of the band and looking thoroughly amused in the process. With additional percussion supplied by Gianni, JOHN CAVANAUGH and Ford, the groove was thick, viscous and irresistible. By the third set, when LENO SANCHEZ, Ethan's uncle, hopped up onstage, there was not a solitary set of feet in the house. Welcome back, gents, it's good to see you.

Peter Koht

Even Still

It's pretty safe to say that nobody knew quite what to expect when MINOR THREAT and FUGAZI frontman IAN MACKAYE and his partner AMY FARINA showed up at the Rio Theatre on Valentine's Day, but a crowd of about 200 smooshed themselves into the lobby anyway, where the Evens insisted on playing, to find out what this duo was about. It turned out to be one of the most surprisingly delicate and intimate shows I've ever seen--like a house show, but with a punk rock icon on the stage. Weird. And with only a baritone guitar, a drum set, an effects machine and their voices, the duo produced a remarkably varied blend of personal, uplifting, climb-every-mountain, fuck-all-these-governors, pat-ourselves-on-the-back and subvert-the-power-of-double-speak indie rock. That, together with the between song banter, in which Farina was comfortably misanthropic while MacKaye delivered didactic but friendly monologues in front of a pin-drop-silent audience, made for a peculiarly refreshing sense of immediacy not found at your average rock show. And who else could possibly tell hilarious anecdotes about BAD BRAINS' HR recording vocal tracks outside by himself, scaring small children passing by? You had to be there.

Mike Connor

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From the March 2-9, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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