Beneath the tumultuous, sweat-drenched percussion and the inspirational vocals of a powerful and beautiful chanteuse named Hanitra lies the true message behind Tarika. Their second album, Son Egal, is a vibrant, sweeping condemnation of the political corruption eating away at the island of Madagascar. Though official sentiment regarding Son Egal is less than supportive, the government has not been able to curb radio play of Tarika's infectious roots-based dance music, which carries with it all the hope, strength, and rapture of a culture that finds God in music. Tarika perform at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley on Wednesday, April 9, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.50-11.50; call (510) 548-1761. ... Irish-born Neil Hannon, frontman and songwriter for Divine Comedy, is one of those queer (British usage, not San Franciscan) cult figures whom only American fans of Jonathan Richman or Harvey Sid Fisher would understand and properly appreciate. His latest venture, Casanova (recorded for a cool u100,000), plants itself in the musical terrain of theme-oriented easy listening circa 1970 (see the overindulgent use of a 40-piece orchestra on "The Dogs and Horses"). Unlike Richman and Fisher, Hannon is anything but lyrically frivolous. A literary aesthete whose contextual subtleties have left him widely dismissed by pop fans (obscene finger gestures were the least of Div Com's worries during their supporting slot on the Supergrass tour), Hannon manages an awkward balancing act somewhere between Noel Coward and Burt Bacharach. While isolated lines on Casanova might illicit guilty smiles -- "How was I to know that just one kiss could turn my frog into a cow" -- taken as a whole, the album is a skillful exploration of male machismo vis-a-vis the album's namesake. The listener may wonder if Hannon doesn't envy the "laddish, misogynistic wanker" whom he so thoroughly admonishes, but perhaps Hannon has realized that repellent tales of infanticide and sexism are easier to digest while bobbing your head to innocuous music. Divine Comedy perform Friday, April 11, at the Bottom of the Hill at 10 p.m. Tickets are $7; call 621-4455. Half Film (see below) and Tom, Dick, & Harry also perform. (By the way, Jonathan Richman is doing his quirky thing at the Great American Music Hall on Friday and Saturday, April 11 and 12; call 885-0750.) ... For lovers of Fuck and Bedhead, there is something shining on the Bay Area horizon, and it's not Hale-Bopp. It is Half Film, a mostly Irish trio whose demo is a masterpiece of moody, textural, lo-fi pop rife with beautifully placed minor chords and disarming male harmonies. Now, I don't mean to gush, but zowee! Songs like "Hang," "Stepless," "Dependence," "Sortition," and "Pale Square Light" do not make you want to snuggle a la Bedhead or giggle as with Fuck. About the only thing you can do while listening to Half Film is hug your knees and rock back and forth, hoping that the song might linger just a moment longer. Lovely. (See Divine Comedy above for performance info.) ... 088 Productions was born in the cafes of Brisbane, Australia, as a collaboration among multimedia entertainers committed to using their talents to benefit those less privileged than themselves. As with all of their productions, "Journey to the New World" celebrates life and diversity with a dazzling array of visual and musical stimuli. Saturday night's highlights include the celestial tones of the National Celtic Harpist champion Julie Anne Desmond, famed congoist Titos Sompa (known for his work with James Earl Jones, Sun Ra, and Ann Miller), dance artist Michelle Stortz of Nesting Dolls and Studio Valencia's "Performance Salon" fame, and global mastermind DJ Cheb i Sabbah. Adding to the ambience will be visual installations by Dimension 7, a performance-art parade of recycled costumes by Constance Valdez, and dancers adorned with body paint by Cat Schlyder. Artwork by Kirt Glowienke, Sherrie Smith, Colin Manning, and Sia Aryia will also be on exhibit. "Journey to the New World" begins at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 12, at the Broadway. Tickets are $15; call 252-9129. Don't be late. Despite the nightclub setting, things will begin promptly.
-- Silke Tudor