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Monday, May 20, 2024

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Arts + CultureMusicUnder the Stars: At 50, Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage...

Under the Stars: At 50, Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble brings mystic soul visions

Plus: Gu zhen techno in Chinatown, hot ESG doc, Beatles karaoke, more musical delights

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But in the meantime, It’s Under The Stars, babe … A quasi-weekly column that presents new music releases, upcoming shows, opinions, and other adjacent items. We keep moving with the changes and thinking outside the margins.


When I caught ESG a couple of years ago at GAMH, I made my way around the venue, folks just shaking it with no inhibitions, the way it should be. I kept on saying, “I’m so glad I caught them on their final tour.” And got responses from random spectators, “They always say that.”

But you know what, I don’t care. They can keep on juking us for as long as they want.

Some shows are performances and others are events. I ran into numerous groups and generations of SF/Oakland beatheads just immersing in this energy. Mumbling along with the spectral basslines that hip-hop, house, and electronic music alike have borrowed from for thirty-some-odd years.

How many bands can say they played at both the opening of the Hacienda and the close of the Paradise Garage? That’s a mic-drop on its own. But it gets better. ESG, formed in the South Bronx in 1978, these brown-skinned women, blazed an unparalleled trail as innovators and trendmakers in the already boundary-dissolving scene of early 80s NY. They epitomized post-punk, new wave, and hip-hop.

Their songs have been sampled by hundreds of artists, including Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, N.W.A., Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, Liars, DJ Qbert, DJ Shadow, Girl Talk, and Nine Inch Nails. 

But the real boss sauce is the crowd reception. Get ready. The energy, the connectedness between the band and the crowd is beyond one—it’s brainshare.

Go see them. Tomorrow is not promised. Grab tix here.


This February, Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble — El’Zabar (vocals/percussion), Alex Harding (bass), and Corey Wilkes (trumpet)—will embark on their 50th annual February North American Tour in honor of Black History Month. It will be in support of their Open Me, A Higher Consciousness of Sound and Spirit release, out March 8 on Spiritmuse Records.

The first single is “Compared To What,” a protest song written by Gene McDaniels. It was recorded by Roberta Flack in February 1969 for her debut album First Take and later became better known following a performance by Les McCann (piano and vocals) and Eddie Harris (tenor saxophone) at the Montreux Jazz Festival in June of that year. The song appeared as the opening track on their 1969 album Swiss Movement.

With all of that powerhouse history connected to the song, Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble makes the old song sing anew with a serious reduction in the arrangement. A steady rhythmic bump, upfront and personal, featuring the strings, sax, and soulful vocals lightly pulling in the rear—El’Zabar’s frankness puts a Gil Scott Heron twist in the batter.

Get tix here. Pre-order the album here.


On a good day, feeling my Wheaties, I’m pretty damn sure I could knock off Wings’ low-key classic “Arrow Through Me” either by way of Karaoke or live in the studio with Paul, Linda, Denny Lane, and the crew.

In the late ’70s, Paul was doing blue-eyed soul, and Wings was fit to put forth that sizzler vibe.

We all succumb to that “if I had a band, I’d murder that Beatles song” type of bravado when chopping it up.

Well, pour your friends a glass of settle-down juice. Beatles Karaoke has arrived.

Joshua Raoul Brady and the Band will back you up on any Beatles cover you feel the world needs to hear. It’s the perfect opening act for a special showing of Yellow Submarine at 8:30pm in that wonderful multi-purpose incubator of ideas, the 4 Star Cinema.

Ah, Yellow Submarine: A portrait of lysergic, trippy pop culture, very, very adjacent to SF’s Summer of Love, this entry into the beatnik-ouvre bursts the dam for that bohemian, flower-child aesthetic while linking art, music, and vibes into one singular entity.

It’s almost the peak of Beatles enterprise.

Grab tix here.


Back in October, we told you about Yuka Yu, who was born in Taiwan and started DJing in London’s Camden Town. She trained at the London Sound Academy and became a DJ to connect people through music. She’s also the founder of the artist exchange program Nu Tekno (女樂), which has had residencies at Asiento, the Endup, Lion’s Den, and Mars Bar in San Francisco. You can catch her alongside QJin, who will accompany the frenetic drum and bass beats playing a gu zheng, which is a Chinese plucked zither. Now I’ve seen and even played drum and bass on vinyl, alongside emcees, vocalists, and even a cat playing the Didgeridoo. But a gu zheng?

Oh, that’s awesome. And people ask me why I love this city. Come down and witness something so amazing. More info here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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