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Oh Maya Goodness

Unlike last month's freestyle competition hosted by the Serendipity Project, which quickly degenerated into a chaotic, sloppy free-for all, all the pieces came together for them last Thursday night at the Aptos Club. Besides having more than a few unusually talented MCs participating, they brought up Bicasso from the Living Legends to officiate. Purists might not agree with investing one person with all the authority to choose winners, but Bicasso's judging was always level-headed. And while it's fun when the audience gets to decide who wins, too often those types of battles turn into a popularity contest having very little to do with lyrical skills and a whole lot to do with how many friends you were able to drag to the show.

The two MCs in the finals deserved their slots and tore into each other with wit, style and sans humanité, as the Calypsonians like to say (more on them in the next section). It was a close call--both MCs were on top of their game, and good to the last drop. After the winner walked away with his $100, Bicasso and Mama Earth rocked the mics for a while, injecting the evening with a lot less machismo and a whole lot more soul. Then, as if from nowhere (but actually coming to us all the way from New York), a young diva named Maya Azucena casually took the stage along with her backup band. She's got the kind of knockout voice that you might expect to hear in a Baptist church, but there she was at the Aptos Club, busting out a funky mix of old school hip-hop and soul harkening back to the glory days of a young Chaka Khan. Best of all, her presence on that little stage was incredibly humble and down-to-earth. Gifted among divas, she's got all of the talent and none of the airs.

Calypso Dreams

In the documentary film Calypso Dreams, which premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival last weekend, local co-directors Michael Horne and Geoff Dunn open up a doorway into a rich and lively cultural tradition that goes so much deeper than Harry Belafonte's cutesy commercial interpretation of the art form. Via interviews of (and performances by) living calypso legends and a wealth of historical footage, Calypsonians themselves reveal the social and political importance of their unique and vibrant folk music. They're like island MCs, singing incredibly funny allegories and "extempos"--short for extemporaneous, no doubt a precursor to freestyling in hip-hop. Keep an eye out for this film, hitting SC soon.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery?

Groundation: the 10-piece roots reggae outfit from Sonoma. They've got plenty of soul and technical chops to boot. They have some of that honest-to-Jah alchemical magic that, combined with heady, crusading lyrics and a puff from the magic dragon, can make for a truly elevating experience. What's hard to abide, though, is lead singer Harrison Stafford's Jamaican accent, which persists unironically even during between-song banter. Come on you guys, isn't it enough to imitate the vibe, and not the accent? After all, we mustn't forget our roots ...

Mike Connor

Voices Carry

More than one Austin Lounge Lizard told me that they think their new album Strange Noises in the Dark is their best one yet. Whether you agree with that or not, there's no denying that the very belief that it is put an extra dose of Texas swagger into their live show Saturday. I swear to God, sometimes when a band you like has a new record out, you find yourself politely (or impolitely, if you're really drunk and/or an asshole) tolerating their new stuff while waiting for the songs you already know you like. But in the Lounge Lizards' first set, both the band and their audience were clearly digging both. It was as if the audience was collectively thinking, "We're hearing the Austin Lounge Lizards do tango and klezmer songs--and loving it!" And, honestly, it was nice to have The Voices Screaming "Kill All Clowns" and "The Fire Needs More Episcopalians!" drowned out for a few moments. I mean ... er ... it would be better for one, if one had such thoughts. Lizard tip: Look for Tom Pittman sporting a KPIG shirt in the Lizards' new DVD.

Steve Palopoli

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From the October 15-22, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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