In certain Afro-Diasporan traditions, ritual baptism is a well-worn, time-honored tradition. Voudun in Haiti, Santeria in Cuba, Condomble in Brazil, and Pentecostal Christianity in the Southern United States essentially do the same thing. Any important occasion, be it birth or death; marriage or a funeral, is marked by a celebratory event involving song and libations.
Alex Cuba's Friday night show at the New Parish was very much in this vein. Accompanied by just a bassist and drummer, the Cuban-born Canadian world music star's mix of rock and R&B stylings with syncopated Cuban rhythms fit the intimate, somewhat low-key setting to a T. In keeping with the name, the vibe inside was somewhat sanctified, as Cuba (who's little-known in this country, but not for long) blessed the audience--which included R&B singer Goapele, radio personalities Sterling James and Weyland Southon, and a host of Oakland notables--with a performance which seemed to portend greatness, both for him and for the club. Invoking both James Brown and the orishas, Cuba was a perfect match for the venue's Creole-Caribbean theme (which also happens to be the theme of Hibiscus, the club's soon-to-open adjoining restaurant.)
While the overall flavor of Uptown tends toward gentrified and/or flashy venues which have little to do with the Southern roots of Oakland's traditional black clubs, the New Parish seemed like a return to cultural antecedents, as well as a new beginning. An early DJ set by Willie Maze and a late set by special guest Bobbito--both heavy on a combination of Latin flavor and classic funk, R&B, and hip-hop--only confirmed this notion. In fact, several folks were overheard remarking that they had just found their new "kick-it" spot.