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Nawal or Never

For the last two months, the CD most often in my player has been from an obscure singer named NAWAL from a more obscure country, the COMOROS. Located off the east coast of Africa, slightly above Madagascar, the unstable Comoros has endured 19 coups since gaining its independence from France in 1975.

A multiethnic archipelago, the Comoros culture is blend of Arabic, African and Malagasy influences. This pluralism is reflected in Nawal's music, which is a mixture of Tarrab music from Zanzibar, Arabic modalities and French lyrics accompanied by the sounds of the gambusi.

"The gambusi comes from the northern part of Yemen," Nahwal told me. "People brought it to Comoros in the ninth or 11th centuries. Now we think that it is Comorian. The tradition in Comoros is to use the same strings that we use to make finishing nets. It's used to play the more traditional music from the Arabs and the Malagasy style from the Indian Ocean."

Using this unique instrument and her startlingly beautiful voice, Nawal sings of many things, but her biggest message is the most basic of all: "I choose to be connected to the universe. I don't know what you call it: call it the one, Allah or God or life. In Muslim, we say Allah, but that is God. God is everything is God, there is nothing that is not God."

Nawal will be sharing this message, along with other tales from the Comoros, in her performance at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center on Saturday, Oct. 15. The show starts at 8pm and tickets are $12$15. (Peter Koht)

Vital Idol

We interrupt our regularly scheduled highbrow fawning to bring you this unabashedly uncritical review of a lowbrow rock star named WILLIAM MICHAEL ALBERT BROAD, who these days has taken to calling himself BILLY FUCKING IDOL. For one night only, irony ate itself when Idol brought a vast swath of our ideologically fractured town together under his one and only banner: With a rebel yell, he cried, "More, more, more," and so did the crowd, their fists pumping skyward. Granted, it wasn't in the "midnight hour"--the show was over at 10:30pm, leaving the 49-year-old rock god an hour and a half to get the groupies back to his hotel before his bedtime. He played for two hours though, cramming in hits like "Dancing With Myself," "Hot in the City," "Rebel Yell," "Ready, Steady, Go" and "Kiss Me Deadly" from his old pop-punk band GENERATION X, a gratuitous cover of RANDY NEWMAN's "Louisiana" (hurricane benefits are this season's LANCE ARMSTRONG bracelet) and, inexplicably, a note-for-note cover of VAN HALEN's "Jump"--as if the tapping solos and playing-with-my-teeth-and-behind-my-head antics of a glamorously coiffed STEVE STEVENS, Idol's longtime showboat guitarist (and composer of the Grammy Award-winning theme to Top Gun), weren't enough to bring back that loving '80s feeling.

Idol, who shed each outfit almost as quickly as he changed it, is still sporting the spiky blonde hair and lean, muscled frame that made him famous. And he's still covering "Mony Mony," which he played for an encore. And the crowd still dutifully sang the same unscripted part ("Hey motherfucker, get laid, get fucked!") they've been singing to that song since the '80s. Like all the best throwback acts, Idol wasn't boring us trying to break new artistic ground. At the end of the show, he stood up on the monitors and struck a variety of snarling rock poses and whiplash smiles. Then he broke character for just a moment with a candid little laugh--the kind you might have among friends reminiscing about ditching school--and then he snarled again and pumped his fist. (Mike Connor)

Divine Devendra

When Devendra Banhart paused midway through his Attic set to ask if anyone in the audience had an original song they'd like to sing, it was a woman named Rachel who shouted loudest and jumped highest. Banhart handed her a guitar and she proceeded to win over the packed house with a song about owls. It was the kind of gesture that sets Banhart apart from the ongoing parade of indie rock sensations, an act of generosity that suggests his bio's references to having been homeless are not made up (unlike the bio's claim that his music is straight out of the 1930s, which a few critics have actually parroted). Accompanied by the Hairy Fairy Band, Banhart and his psychedelic folk continue to live up to those Nick Drake, Syd Barrett and Marc Bolan comparisons he hates so much, while simultaneously proving he has enough talent, charisma and originality to establish his own legacy. (Bill Forman)

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From the October 12-19, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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