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SF Weekly Music Awards 2003

Americana DJ/Selector/Turntablist Electronic/Electro Hard Rock/

Metal Hip Hop/Rap Jazz Latin/

International Lifestyle Music New Genre/Beyond Pop Punk Rock/Indie Rock Soul/Funk/ R&B 

If music be the brandy of the damned, then we're drunk off our asses

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Page 6 of 11

Latin/International

Bat Makumba

The healthy contingent of capoeiristas and samba dance troupes in the Bay Area sets the bar pretty high for local bands dealing out Brazilian vibes. If you can't provide a relentlessly percussive cocktail of hip-shaking sounds that will force those in attendance to make a club's walls slick with condensed sweat, you may as well not apply. San Francisco outfit Bat Makumba not only prods Braziliophiles to energy levels that make spontaneous combustion on the dance floor a very real possibility, it also does so with mostly original songs rather than well-executed covers of bahia classics.

Inspired by traditional forms from the South American nation as well as by the more modern contributions of tropicalia-era legends Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso (the group takes its name from a CV song), and Jorge Ben, Bat Makumba introduces elements of funk, rock, and reggae to a variety of Brazilian styles, crafting an irresistibly danceable mélange. The creative nucleus of guitarist/vocalist Alex Koberle, bassist Carl Remde, and percussionist Emiliano Benevides formed in 2000, gradually building a loyal audience that has afforded the band a monthly gig at the Elbo Room and a spot on the main stage of this year's San Francisco Carnaval celebration. Augmented at live shows by additional musicians and frequent collaborations with batucada drummers, Bat Makumba's performances deliver an ecstatic intensity that may be as close to a night out in Rio as one can get without a 16-hour plane ride. This year, Bat Makumba self-released its eponymous debut to uniformly positive reviews.

Mas Cabeza

Listen to the traditional Spanish vocal intro and standard Latin rhythm that opens "Descarga Mas Cabeza," the first cut off Mas Cabeza's debut album, E=Mas Cabeza2, and you might just dismiss it as a generic effort by another San Francisco Latin band. But once leader Patrick Morehead slashes into the proceedings with his badass psychedelic organ sound, you realize something different is on tap here.

Formed in 2001, Mas Cabeza combines the melodies of Morehead and bassist Ezra Gale with the rhythms of two of the area's finest Latin percussionists, congero Alan Rivera and drummer Pepe Jacobo, to round off its Frank Zappa-battles-Eddie Palmieri sound. By conveniently crossing from Latin into jam-band territory without pandering to typical "we funky"-isms, Morehead's compositions have brought enough of the required balance of head-expanding and booty-shaking to make the band a regular at jazz clubs like Bruno's, Butterfly, and the Latin-jazz-themed 850 Cigar Bar. And any act that successfully reconfigures the Oscar Hammerstein standard "All the Things You Are" with a Latin swing deserves to be your friend.

Aside from being a local salsa scene fixture, Morehead, along with Gale, also plays in the electric-era Miles Davis inspired combo Bitches Brew. That kind of diversity on its leader's part brings a daring twist to Mas Cabeza, which presents its largely instrumental mix of Latin jazz, Cuban rhythms, funk, and reggae dub with a slight space-rock edge.

O-Maya

O-Maya's philosophy is as follows: "The goal is to take all of the band members' collective musical experience and create a cohesive original fusion." Anyone who's seen the crew do its thing live or listened to its self-titled debut CD surely would agree that the results are just that. Through their shared desire to be funky and soulful, the members of O-Maya twist a diverse array of traditional styles -- hip hop, samba, salsa, merengue, reggae -- into crafty compositions. But rather than devoting entire pieces to each genre, the band's aesthetic finds it shaking to a number of different rhythms and melodies from moment to moment: If it weren't for the smooth transitions, it would almost sound like someone was simply turning the radio dial. The group's diversity no doubt works because of the pedigree of each of the musicians involved. Vocalist Destani Wolf has played with SoVoSo and John Santos, and leads her own group. Percussionist Hector Perez has written music for commercials for the likes of Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Toyota, the Gap, Levi's, and Nike. Bassist Steve Hogan moonlights in the Coup and the Josh Jones Latin Jazz Ensemble. Multi-instrumentalist Bill Artola has performed with Wild Mango, Orquesta Borinquen, Tierra Morena, and Organic Creation. Saxophonist and flutist Quincy Griffin has composed music for the Sharper Image, the National Park Service, and Goal Line Productions. And conga player Rene Flores has been seen playing with Orquesta Borinquen, the Franco Brothers, and Orquesta Sensual. But experience alone doesn't get you on the dance floor. Fortunately, O-Maya's infectious hybrid of rhythms and styles does.

Lifestyle Music

Project: Pimento

Contrary to Project: Pimento's claim that it features "one of the world's few theremin players," there are actually quite a number of thereminists making noise these days. The problem, however, is that the majority of these players can barely squeeze a note out of the thing aside from some atmospheric science-fiction eeriness. For those who don't know, a theremin makes notes based on a musician's hand's proximity to two metal antennae; one hand controls the sound's pitch, the other the sound's volume (it looks like someone controlling a puppet, only without the puppet). Since the musician never actually touches the instrument, it is very difficult to play. Which brings us back to our original point: lots of theremin players, most of them shitty. Fortunately for us, Project: Pimento's guy, a fellow who calls himself Robby Virus, is the rare thereminist who can not only play the strange instrument, but also do so with surprising skill and originality. Virus and company -- vocalist Lola Bombay, bassist Maker's Mark, guitarist Absolute Michael, and drummer Top-Shelf Rich -- play an intoxicating blend of psychedelic lounge music that hearkens back to modernism, art deco, and all things kitsch. Echoes of the '40s, '50s, and '60s can be heard in songs that cover the whole spectrum of lounge, including the theme to Star Trek, "Diamonds Are Forever," "Whatever Lola Wants," and "Black Magic Woman," among others. And when the original tunes lack a loopy lounge vibe, the Pimentos excel at swanking them up. Most striking is the way Virus' midair noodling interacts with Bombay's seductive crooning. The band's latest self-titled release culls 12 of its finest jazzy lounge renditions.

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