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Riff Raff 

Wednesday, Apr 30 1997
What Embargo? Early last month, local jazz fusion outfit Mingus Amungus were offered a rare opportunity to travel to Havana, Cuba, where they were asked to perform five live shows for the locals (most foreign entertainment is restricted to hotels, where the indigenous population is not permitted to go). With the assistance of the Oakland-based Caribbean Music and Dance Program, Mingus Amungus arranged for 19 U.S.-born performers -- including five dancers, two rappers (or raperos as they are called in Cuba), and eight musicians -- to fly to San Diego, drive into Mexico, and, from there, fly to Cuba. Because only journalists and families in dire need are permitted to spend money within Cuba, Mingus Amungus traveled as "hosted guests" who were guaranteed food and lodging while inside the country. They performed at the Casa de la Cultura, a community center that provides entertainment for the masses. There, they were joined by numerous Cuban musicians, including congero Miguel "Anga" Diaz, who will be performing at the Great American Music Hall on May 15 with Cubanismo, and trumpeter Jorge Varona Jr. (whose father co-founded the world-famous group Irakere). "It was amazing," says Mingus founder and bassist Miles Perkins. "[Varona] doesn't speak any English and I don't speak any Spanish, but he took me into his home -- this little, meager house -- and there, sitting on a shelf, was this bright gold Grammy that his father had won. There were photos of his father posing with Dizzy Gillespie and all of these heavyweight cats. It was proof that you can't keep people apart. The arts keep them together, and there should never be a border between the arts." Perkins, who met local doctors and lawyers who drive cabs to make extra money and musicians who play beautifully on dilapidated gear, marveled at the amazing tenacity of the Cuban population. "The blockade doesn't really hurt the government, but it takes a tremendous toll on the people. Still, they have such great hearts. They throw themselves 200 percent into whatever they are doing for the greater good of the community. When they play music, they don't worry about strings and equipment. They capture the essence and spirit of the thing. I can't wait to go back." Recordings that Mingus Amungus made while in Cuba will be sent back to the musicians there and made available here by summertime. If anyone wants firsthand reports, Mingus Amungus play at the Elbo Room on the first Friday of every month. (S.T.)

Daily Vigil Eighteen months and counting, and the Chron still doesn't have a decent rock writer on staff. Riff Raff hears editors at the paper wanted a Boston Globe free-lancer, but this was vetoed by resident fossil Joel Selvin. Latest development: One-time San Franciscan Evelyn McDonnell was in town a week or two ago for a tryout. (You might have seen her Pavement review a week ago Saturday -- the most substantive piece of criticism the paper has run lately.) McDonnell was the music editor here at SF Weekly in 1991 and 1992. She subsequently went back to New York and has since free-lanced for the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, and elsewhere, and co-edited Rock She Wrote, a collection of writing on rock by distaff crits. Has McDonnell been offered the job? "No," she says. Would she take it if she were? "I really have not decided; I'm so up and down about it." Meanwhile, over at the Examiner, they don't have a rock critic either. While staffers Craig Marine and Jane Ganahl fill in and provide coverage as best they can, Barry Walters -- who was hired as the paper's pop-music critic some eight years ago -- is rarely published. (How can we get a job like that?) Riff Raff hears that Walters' long-tolerant editors had planned to transfer him to the business beat; he opted instead for free-lancing. In his April 10 goodbye column, he nearly dislocated his shoulder in the process of patting himself on the back for writing about gay culture -- not exactly guerrilla work in San Francisco. Even less attractive were some random sniffings on rock: "One could look at the whole grunge phenomenon as the result of art education budget cutbacks," Walters wrote, displaying a talent for false dichotomy and a contempt for his audience that we're pleased to see in a departing pop-culture writer. Ex style-section honcho Heidi Benson says she's sorry to see Walters go: "He's a talented writer and we'll miss him a lot," she says. But she says she now has a rock-writer position to fill, though a formal search process hasn't begun. Six months to a year, she promises. Finally, a guest Selvin Watch spot goes to pink-section correspondent LaVonne Vashon, who challenged Selvin's assertion (in his blowzy Datebook cover story on Boz Scaggs) that Scaggs' hemi-demi-semiclassic first album wasn't available on CD. "I have had [one] for five years," wrote Vashon. (B.W.)

Sugar Rush "Pablo's Sugar Shack," a gathering that started a year ago as a one-time party that strangely melded rave and house culture with Marina-style enthusiasm, will make its permanent weekly home at V/SF starting Saturday, May 3. The event is momentous enough to make longtime event producer Andy Wasserman return from Aspen, where he has been building a home and a reputation as the consummate party planner. According to his partners, brothers Christopher and Carlton Solle, past "Sugar Shack"s have drawn over 1,000 fans, with hundreds of folks actually flying in from Southern California and Colorado. "We have a mailing list of over 5,000," says Christopher. "It has become a really weird phenomenon, that's all I can say." The promotions trio plan to emphasize music, bringing in DJs who normally don't play in a weekly-club setting like New York's Frankie Feliciano or S.F.'s Taj and Solar. There are also plans to run electric cable-car shuttles to and from major events like the Black and White Ball. If all goes well, Wasserman will stay through the summer. (S.T.)

Stark Raving Loser Last Thursday night, April 24, California Cowboys, Comfy Chair, Cream of Wee Gee, Dizzybam, Stark Raving Brad, and Stem competed in Disc Makers' second annual Northern California Independent Music World Series. The $25,000 prize, made up of equipment and studio time, went to California Cowboys. Said loser Stark Raving Brad of Stark Raving Brad -- who was savvy enough to provide Riff Raff with a concession speech before the contest even happened -- "I was so excited when I found out that I made balloon animals out of my own intestines. ... My teeth still itch!" Now there's a good sport. (S.T.)

The Young and the X-less, Part 5 Just when you thought it would never happen, the male and female love interests in Douglas Rushkoff's forthcoming novel, Ecstasy Club ("Destined," as the publisher says, "to be a cult classic"), finally git it awnn! (Albeit under the influence of hallucinogens.) Hot stuff coming through! (M.B.)

She lied back onto an Indian tapestry, and her body holding its form seemed a miracle to me. Arched, curved, white, so soft. This was real. I pressed myself against her skin. I felt its pressure against my own. Its gentle resistance. Resistance? Am I raping her? No, I told myself, there's another human being here. No resistance at all would just mean no person was there. I looked at her face. No fear, no pain. Just openness.

We were fully naked together for the first time. I shivered -- not nervous or cold but electrified. I had goosebumps and my hair stood on end. I felt my hand move down to the small of her back and pull her towards me by instinct. She was pulling me inside her at the same time. There was nothing we could do but follow along as our bodies mated.

This was union. I melted into her like wax until there was only one being. Pure love. No thrust or friction. Just a pulse, a charge, a vibrant perfection. The Garden of Eden. The world was whole.

Imperceptibly our shared-being changed state. It was evolving. Forming something new. Creation. As we came the universe came with us. I could feel the flow from me to her. I was aware of my essence entering her and following through. Summoned by her womb. Pulled by the great attractor at the end of time towards a higher level of being. The future.

The egg opened to accept its chosen partner. I felt it happen. Duncan was right. Something magical was conceived that night. A fetus had materialized. A new generation.

Then we heard the explosion.

Riff Raff riffraff: Robert Arriaga (R.A.), Michael Batty (M.B.), Johnny DiPaola (J.D.P.), Jeff Stark (J.S.), Silke Tudor (S.T.), and Bill Wyman (B.W.). Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly. No flack, please.


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