House of Tudor

Japanese ukulele ladies, a Canadian electro androgyne, and Iraq's most popular singer

Last year, the South by Southwest music festival surrendered its heart to Petty Booka like a desperate, middle-aged husband who is “revitalized” by the smile of a 17-year-old coquette. “Japan Nite” found a horde of music journalists and indie rockers hanging on the duo's every gesture, giggling at each between-song utterance, and shamelessly begging for more. Band members Petty and Booka demurely complied, crying, “We love Ow-stin!” before launching into a Hawaiian rendering of Blondie's “The Tide Is High.” Unlike its contemporaries, Petty Booka did not go to Austin to rock. Armed with ukuleles and clad in Hawaiian prints, flower leis, and cute little cowboy hats, the Tokyo underground darlings performed disarmingly sincere Polynesian and/or bluegrass arrangements of Van Halen's “Teacher's Pet,” Cyndi Lauper's “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” Patsy Cline's “I Fall to Pieces,” Dee Clark's “Raindrops,” and Creedence's “Proud Mary.” The New York Times and Austin Chronicle were duly smitten.

Since 1995, Petty Booka has averaged two albums per year — each revolving around such themes as country and western, Christmas, rain, lounge, bluegrass, Hawaiian traditionals, or '80s radio hits. But whether the duo is reworking Culture Club, Madonna, Martin Denny, Henry Mancini, Janis Joplin, or the Drifters, its sound is 100 percent plushy adorability, full of chirpy harmonies, flagrant lispy accents, jangling ukuleles, and gleeful but earnest kazoo solos. Certainly there have been other uke duos to tickle contemporary pop songs, but no one comes close to the intrinsic charm of Petty Booka. Imagine, if you will, X-Girl coupling with Xavier Cugat, and you'll understand why so many of the Bay Area's finest musicians clamored to back these Tokyo sweethearts while they're in town. Petty Booka supports the Shut-Ins on Friday, March 7, at the Starry Plough in Berkeley with J.L. Stiles Band and DJ Otto Von Stroheim opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $6; call (510) 841-2082. The band also plays on Saturday, March 8, at SomArts (934 Brannan at Eighth Street) with Emiliano Juarez Band opening at 4 p.m. Admission is free; call 552-2131. And the group gives a second performance March 8 at the Bamboo Hut at 10 p.m. Tickets are $5; call 989-8555.

Soon after the International Deejay Gigolo label released the “Sunglasses at Night” remix — a lark perpetrated by Montreal DJ/producer Tiga and his Swedish “delight” Zyntherius — Tiga found he couldn't walk down the street in Germany without being overwhelmed by a mob of squealing dance-floor minxes. With barely a quarter-century packed into his bathing trunks, the wet-lipped, bisexual androgyne had become the David Hasselhoff of electro. Consequently, he was asked to appear on Top of the Pops (which resulted in every hipster cell phone in London being programmed to ring with that distinctive “deeneedeee”), and was called upon to remix songs by Cabaret Voltaire, Felix da Housecat, Fischerspooner, and Soft Cell. Such adulation might have had an adverse effect on someone who wasn't already a superstar in his own mind, or at the very least in Canada, but such was not the case with our neighbor from the north. Having been raised at the center of the '80s Goa party scene where his father was a very popular DJ, Tiga had taken his homeland by storm at the tender age of 18, promoting huge parties with the likes of Moby and the Orb, while spinning for crowds of thousands. By the time rave had died and techno had become too serious to be any fun, Tiga had opened a popular record shop and nightclub, founded a record label, invested in Fidel Clothing, and become one of URB's “100 to Watch.” Considering his natural penchant for lipstick and spandex, becoming electro's poster boy just seemed the obvious next step. Of course, there's a little more to it than aesthetics: His unshakeable remixes of Le Tigre, Swayzak, and the Märtini Brös. on this year's DJ-Kicks mix CD are ample proof of Tiga's skills as a producer, even if his latest collaboration with Zyntherius (“Dying in Beauty”) doesn't make me exactly eager for their upcoming release. Tiga takes over the decks for the official Ladytron after-party on Friday, March 7, at “Fake” at the Cat Club with DJs Omar, Jenny, Rubella, and Nako opening at 10 p.m. Admission is $6 with a Ladytron ticket stub, $10 without; call 431-3332 or go to

They say music soothes the savage beast. Sadly, during his five-city tour of America, Iraq's most popular living singer is likely to be preaching to the choir, although that doesn't mean the audiences won't enjoy it. One of 10 born to a modest palace worker, a young Kazem Al-Sahir sold his bicycle to buy a guitar. Following his heart, he began to compose modern Middle Eastern songs, but quickly realized it was the more traditional oud, not the guitar, that would get him accepted to the Baghdad Music Academy. While studying classical music at the academy, he convinced a television-director pal to make a video of his pop song “Ladghat El Hayya” (“The Snake Bite”), which they slipped into a TV broadcast in 1987, just after the Iran-Iraq War. A thinly veiled allegory, the tune caused major controversy and was banned, making it all the more popular with the youth. While his academy professors denounced him, Al-Sahir began playing sold-out concerts throughout the Persian Gulf, which led to several hits that he recorded for labels in Kuwait, ultimately making him the largest-selling artist in the Middle East. Al-Sahir then risked his fan base by working in the classical Arabic world, recording an hourlong magnum opus that employed scales which hadn't been used in Iraqi music in several decades, thus revitalizing a nearly faded tradition.

Throughout his career, Al-Sahir has continued to vacillate between tradition and innovation, creating lavish ballads with large traditional orchestras, only to have them remixed by fusionists like Transglobal Underground. In 1998, as a post-Gulf War resident of Cairo, Al-Sahir performed his beautiful song “Tathakkar” for the U.S. Congress and United Nations. Now, in a similar vein of humanitarianism and cultural exchange, he will sing love songs to America backed by 15 of the most respected Middle Eastern musicians living in the States. At least for one night, he may transform the drums of war into something more beautiful. Kazem Al-Sahir performs on Friday, March 7, at the Berkeley Community Theater (1930 Allston at Kittredge), with DJ Cheb i Sabbah opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35-125; call 392-4400.

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