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Sound Advice 

British Asian electronica, Czech surrealist film, and American jazz/dance storytelling

Wednesday, Jan 9 2002
Named for the Indian freedom fighters who struggled for the right of self-rule in the 1920s, "Swaraj" sprang out of East London's famous Blue Note Club in 1997, inhabiting the fertile Asian Underground tilled by Talvin Singh's DJ night "Anokha." Far from being anemic mockingbirds, the core DJs/producers of "Swaraj" further enriched the British Asian dance scene by reaching deeper into its supple roots of bhangra, bhajan, Bollywood, geet, and raga and enhancing its modern complexity of house, techno, and drum 'n' bass. After a wildly successful stop in Brixton, "Swaraj" took its concoction on the road, hosting monthly residencies in Rome, Bombay, Berlin, Paris, and Cape Town.

As with Singh's Anokha: Future Soundz of the Asian Underground compilation, "Swaraj" recently released Swaraj: Future Asian Beat, which captures the vibe and breadth of a typical night in the club. Future Asian Beat includes the classical majesty of Nitin Sawhney (mixed by Coldcut), the bionic rhythms of Juttla, the synaptic meditations of Badmarsh & Shri, the futuristic serenade of Charged, and the dreamlike escalations of Singh favorite State of Bengal. For this show, one half of "Swaraj" -- Kushboo and Nerm -- appears with DJ Cavo from New York City's polyrhythmic Dum Dum Project, whose "Joani Joan" on Future Asian Beat is the aural cherry amid a swirl of so many full-bodied delights. DJs Kushboo, Nerm, and Cavo appear with DJ Sep on Thursday, Jan. 10, at 26 Mix at 10 p.m. Admission is free before 10 p.m. and $5 after; call 826-7378.

From the '60s through the '80s, most of the animated shorts of Czech surrealist-film director Jan Svankmajer were banned by a Communist regime that interpreted the laughter of experimental-movie lovers as political insurgence. Whether out of fear, prudence, artistic lucidity, or sheer boredom, Svankmajer has always maintained that his movies, while frequently absurd, are not political. The same can be said for Svankmajer's fourth feature, Little Otik, which is already being overanalyzed by Western pundits as a parable about the evils of the capitalist drones now consuming Svankmajer's homeland. Indeed, Little Otik is a warning against greed, but the folk tale upon which it is based is ages old, embodying the sort of grotesque imagery and whimsical characters that are enticing in any era. In the story, Bozehena Horak is unable to conceive a child, so her husband Karel imprudently offers her a tree trunk that strangely resembles an infant. The gift spawns a hysterical pregnancy that seriously challenges Karel's faith in his wife's sanity -- until the root springs to life at the end of Bozehena's "term." Bozehena suckles, bathes, and pampers the sorrel child, even as the abomination takes to munching on the household cat, the postman, and a visiting social worker. The baby must eventually be locked in the basement, much to the delight of a quick-witted little weirdo named Alzbetka, who usually spends her time fending off a pedophile grandfather and studying textbooks on sexual dysfunction. While fans of the fantastic animation featured in Svankmajer's interpretations of Alice in Wonderland and Faust might be a little disappointed with the much longer Little Otik, admirers of Svankmajer's black humor, surrealist visual sensibility, and innate poetry should be pleased. Little Otik opens Friday, Jan. 11, and screens through Jan. 24, at the Red Vic Movie House (1727 Haight at Cole). Admission is $6.50; call 668-3994 or go to www.redvicmoviehouse. com for show times. The film will also play Friday through Thursday, Feb. 1-7, at the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley. Call (510) 843-FILM for more info or see www.

Following in the footsteps of his exceptional 1998 production of Sam Shepard's Suicide in B Flat, in which he collaborated with drummer Josh Jones, singer Scheherazade Stone, and bassist Marcus Shelby, stage director Val Hendrickson launches an even more ambitious work. Hendrickson's new project is Howard Korder's Obie-winning play The Lights, which explores the complexity of a city's history through the lives of three young urbanites. The action of the play will be driven by the choreography of Reginald Ray-Savage, artistic director of Savage Jazz Dance Company, and the live musical score of the 15-piece Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra. If anyone can pull off the production, it's Hendrickson. The Lights will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, Jan. 10-26, at the ODC Theater (3153 17th St. at Shotwell). Tickets are $16-20; call 863-9834.

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Silke Tudor


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