Best World Music Venue: Place to shake a leg

Ashkenaz

It’s no longer a secret that this venue is the place to check out everything from Algerian rai to Louisiana zydeco. Other places may occasionally feature world artists, but only Ashkenaz does it regularly. It may be the best because it’s been open so long, but the sheer diversity of the talent Ashkenaz brings in has a lot to do with it. And in the last few years, as world music artists have enjoyed a surge in popularity, the charming, wooden cultural institution at the corner of Gilman and San Pablo has become a regular, even obligatory stop on world music’s West Coast circuit. In the past few years, Ashkenaz has branched out considerably beyond just featuring local and regional artists, although it still books plenty of those. Internationally renowned acts such as Les Yeux Noir, Mutabaruka, Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited, Samba Ngo, and Markus James and the Wassonrai have all made themselves intimately familiar with the ‘Naz’ funky, Berkeley-to-the-bone feel. And while big-time global superstars such as Baaba Maal and Orchestra Baobab might show up at Zellerbach or the Masonic Auditorium from time to time, you can catch up-and-coming bands at Ashkenaz without it costing you an arm and a leg — but you might be inclined to shake one or two.

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