A peace activist and Jewish Iraqi composer, violinist, and oud player, Yair Dalal has used his talent and his life to transcend cultural barriers, choosing to combine musicians and instruments of diverse ethnic backgrounds to accentuate the common heart of the desert. His repertoire -- including early music from Mesopotamia, Spain, India, Babylon, and the deep havens of the Sinai desert -- demands Dalal sing in Moroccan, Persian, Iraqi, and Bedouin styles, but as long as he can feel the sun and the sand in the notes he's on home turf. Like a panacea for the times, Dalal's voice is as soft, warm, and golden as betel nuts. Yair Dalal performs with his large group Alol on Friday, April 11, at St. John's Presbyterian Church in Berkeley (2727 College) at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20; call 553-6272.
In the 1999 SF Weekly article "Rock Em! Sock Em! Sue Em!" Jack Boulware chronicled the emergence of BattleBots and the downfall of the much-beleaguered, much-beloved Robot Wars, both of which began right here in our own back yard. It was a sad story. And Gearheads: The Turbulent Rise of Robotic Sports is a sad book. Written by Newsweek correspondent Brad Stone, Gearheads is essentially the tale of a geek with a vision and a money man with a lawyer, but Stone does an admirable job of capturing the passion and personality that have fueled the robotics phenomenon, most notably in the opening chapter, titled "The Purist." As anyone in the world of robotic spectacle knows, the purist is Mark Pauline, the inspired despot who founded Survival Research Laboratories. "I'm a parasite," Pauline is quoted as saying. "The people I work with are parasites. We live off the putrescent, purulent body of society around us." Stone's awe is palpable, like that of a 12-year-old seeing the "Hand O' God" (a giant appendage spring loaded with eight tons of pressure) up close and personal, but the protagonist of the book is Marc Thorpe, the special-effects guru who launched Robot Wars in the face of failing health only to be barred from the game by his business partner (who shall go unnamed here). The result was BattleBots -- organized by Trey Roski and Greg Munson, two of Thorpe's most devoted participants -- which hit the mainstream on Comedy Central. Now, as BattleBots action figures disappear from the shelves and the show vanishes from cable, Thorpe's legal battles have finally come to a close, and the whole fighting robot community can get back to basics. Mostly. To celebrate, Pauline, Thorpe, Roski, and Munson will appear at "BYOBot," along with Brad Stone and a huge roster of robot builders -- Seemen, Stupid Fun Club, Team Nightmare, Bio Hazard, Voltronic, and Inertia Labs among them. Books will be autographed, robots will be exhibited, war stories will be told, drinks will be served by the V8 blender, and all entrances will be guarded by the three-headed dog Cerberus on Saturday, April 12, at the Fort Mason Firehouse (Marina & Buchanan) at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 ($15 gets you an autographed book); call 307-3482.
Like Diamanda Galás, Jerusalem-born Victoria Hanna is an experimental vocalist adept at creating large-scale drama and a legion of characters through the careful manipulation of her voice, body, and eyes; unlike Galás, Hanna's principal aim is not confrontation, but exploration and elevation, both aural and emotional. The result is analogous: Hanna is largely misunderstood and not very much liked back home. It would be difficult for someone outside the Sephardic Jewish culture to glean the source of controversy -- Hanna's music is mellifluous, blending the electronic murmurs of trip hop with jazzy sax lines, Gypsy percussion, and East Indian ululations -- but it lies in Hanna's words, sometimes even in the distinct syllables, which she pronounces with fastidious precision. The Sephardic tradition is steeped in Jewish mysticism, such as the divine blueprints hidden in the numeric values of the Hebrew alphabet and the spiritual precepts revealed in precise tonality, and this is where Hanna's interest lies. Drawing on Hebrew texts such as the Torah and the Talmud as well as the oral interpretations set forth in the Midrash, the daily prayers printed in the siddur, and certain rituals explored in the cabala, Hannah concentrates on the physicality of Hebrew, the power assigned different pronunciations and their correspondence with precise parts of the body. She also uses Persian, Czech, and gibberish when those sounds suit a piece, and is not hesitant to follow a rhapsodic rendition of the highly erotic "Song of Songs" with her own poetic musings on modern-day sexuality in Israel. Victoria Hanna performs on Saturday, April 12, at Cafe Du Nord with the Frank London Experience opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10-12; call 861-5016.