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October 20, 2005

The Hum


The sound --- low, guttural, earthy, primal and almost subsonic --- comes from a long tube called a didjeridu, an instrument that comes from Australia's aboriginal culture.

"I think the didjeridu is like the ground we stand on --- an essential foundation we all can share," declares Stephen Kent, a modern day master of the instrument.

Kent, who played in the British punk band Furious Pig in the '70s, discovered the didj when he was musical director of Australia's Circus Oz in the '80s. Since then, he has pioneered the contemporary use of the didj in bands including the London-based Lights In A Fat City and San Francisco's Trance Mission.

While exploring music in the Bay Area, Kent also got into radio. "For the last 10 years I have programmed the weekly 'Music of the World' program on KPFA," he explained. (The show airs Thursday mornings at 10 a.m. and is archived at "That brought me in contact with many renowned musicians, many of whom I have performed with live on the air. This helps to emphasize my belief that the didjeridu is a wonderful sonic and energetic bridge between all manner of different musics and cultures."

Recently Kent has been exploring what might seem an unusual sonic bridge, performing his didj with Chirgilchin, a band from Siberia playing traditional Tuvan music. Together they form Karashay, a group that plays Friday, Oct. 21, at the Mateel Community Center.

One might think that music of the Tuvan people from the Himalayan Mountains would be the polar opposite of music played on an instrument from Australia's outback. Tuva is best known for "throat singing" vocalists who can produce three notes at once, ranging from a high-pitched whistling sound to a very low growl. Kent agreed when I suggested that there might be a natural affinity between the Tuvan growl and the sound of the didj.

"People say, 'How can you make this thing from Australia and these guys from Siberia work together?' But actually it's a no-brainer, in my view. If you listen to it, it's perfect. Both traditions come from indigenous cultures, both tune into the natural world as their inspiration, as do all indigenous cultures. Not only is the inspiration the same, the sounds of the didjeridu and Tuvan throat singers dovetail perfectly. There are harmonic frequencies that are in perfect harmony with each other."

Incidentally, Karashay has at least a couple of other gigs before the Tuvans fly back to Siberia. Saturday, they play in Marin in Hawk Hill Tunnel overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge (check for details). On Sunday they'll be in San Francisco at a memorial for bluesman Paul Peña, whose travels to Tuva were documented in the film Genghis Blues. Peña died in his San Francisco home on Oct. 1. R.I.P.

This week's Mateel Community Jam (Thursday, Oct. 20) has morphed into something they're calling "The Ultimate Katrina Benefit." SoHum rockers NightHawk and Black Sand are still playing as planned, but they've added the Mardi Gras Indian band Bo Hollis and the Wild Magnolias --- a costumed, feather-swirling blast of authentic New Orleans culture from a tradition that must be on the endangered list at this point, since its roots are in the black neighborhoods that were basically washed away when the levees broke.

In a conversation a while back, hard-working guitarist/songcrafter (and former Blaster) Dave Alvin explained why he is still on the road after all these years. "A friend of mine had a great line, 'I don't play music for a living. I drive for a living. I play music for fun.' That's really it. I couldn't imagine not playing live. You write songs and make records so you can go out and play live... Mentally you go somewhere else [on stage] and that high is addicting. It's better than anything you can imagine. You reach a point where old songs are new songs, new songs are old songs, people that are dead are alive. You are living in a place where the past, present and future meet."

The road-weary blues hit Alvin hard earlier this year and he had to postpone his scheduled Humboldt gig. Well, he's back next week: Dave Alvin and The Guilty Men play an early show at Mazzotti's Monday, Oct. 24. My advice: Make a dinner reservation, then settle in and watch as the past, present and future collide.

For a teaser, turn on KHUM on Monday afternoon at 1 p.m., when Dave joins Mike Dronkers, who notes, "Last time he was here he knocked it out of the park (and one of those tracks wound up on the KHUM Blend compilation). Hopefully you can tune in and check it out!"

BTW, you should be able to listen to KHUM on your computer by then. With help from the StreamGuys, the station is getting back to streaming their signal starting this Friday.

Pianist Matthew Cook, once the piano man for the Benbow, now tinkles the ivories Thursdays through Sundays at Cher-Ae Heights' Sunset Restaurant. An exception is this Friday, Oct. 21, when Matthew shifts into guitar-playing singer/songwriter mode for a gig at The Metro celebrating the release of his guitar/vocal album, Another Piece of Me. Recorded above Luffenholtz Beach and mastered at Capitol Records, the collection of songs seems cathartic, especially new ones dealing with the undoing of a long-term relationship. In the title track he sings, "At first I was unaware, then I was unafraid. I was so unprepared to leave the life we made. It was so unexplained... " Listening to him play at the North Country Fair the other day, I could see the pieces of the puzzle falling into place.

"I stumble into my daughter's preschool, escaping the glare of sun against the sand and surf outside. I cocktail nights at Bogart's, a punk --- or is it grunge? --- club, and this morning I'm hung over: One too many shots during after-hours cleanup..." Thus began an insightful autobiographical piece by Jennifer Savage titled "Learning to Surf" that was published a few years back in the Hip Mama anthology, Breeder: Real-Life Stories from the New Generation of Mothers. Friday evening at the Beachcomber Café in Trinidad, Savage has her first ever solo reading, something she's calling "Still Learning to Surf." More insights await.

Down in SoHum Friday at the Riverwood Inn the ever-soulful Earl Thomas sings bluesy tunes for what is sure to be a packed house.

Shoestring Strap is on the road out of San Diego playing a mixture of bluegrass, country blues, ragtime and they call "urban country." Catch them at Humboldt Brews Friday night; Saturday they head up to Six Rivers Brewing in McKinleyville.

This week's taste of Jamaican/African culture comes Saturday, Oct. 22. The International Roots and Culture Reggae Showcase at HSU's Kate Buchanan Room includes roots-dancehall singer Earl Zero and champion drummer Mabrak, both from Kingston, and the local West African drum ensemble Dun Dun Fare.

Out in Blue Lake Saturday night at the Sapphire Palace, Sinaloa, Mexico's veteran 16-piece Tejano outfit Banda Tierra Blanca plays music from the Tex/Mex border. Across the casino floor in the Steelhead Lounge, local music vet Merv George leads a smaller band of rockers.

Saturday at the Alibi, it's classic "punk rock for the masses" by Jade52, a Seattle-based four-piece led by former Face to Face frontman Mark Haake. Opening the show, local melodic punks, Stereo Chromatic. Underage? Stereo Chromatic also plays Friday, Oct. 21, at the Eureka Teen Center Show with Force of Nature. (That one's early, starting at 7 p.m.)

On the opposite end of the musical spectrum we have Russian pianist Alexander Kobrin, winner of this year's Van Cliburn piano competition, playing tunes by Rachmaninoff, Haydn and Schumann on Tuesday, Oct. 25, at the Van Duzer.

Guitarist/songwriter Stephen Inglis hits the North Coast next week on his "Search The Highway For A Clue Tour," playing live on KMUD Tuesday from 3-4 p.m., on KHUM Wednesday noon-1, then at Humboldt Brews Wednesday night, at the Chapala Café next Thursday and, finally, at The Metro next Friday. Let's hope he finds the clue he seeks.


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