In its embryonic stages, Los Cenzontles was a youth group started by Eugene Rodriguez with Berenice Zuniga-Yap, mostly to teach traditional music and dance — like the regional son jarocho of Veracruz, Mexico, and zapateado (a flamenco dance style with lots of fancy stomping and heel-clicking) — to youth in Richmond and San Pablo. Then in 1994, two things happened: The first was the rape and murder of a fifteen-year-old girl in San Pablo, which made Rodriguez acutely aware of the violence ravaging his community. The second was a much brighter portent: Rodriguez produced the children’s record, Papa’s Dream, featuring the East LA rock group Los Lobos, the legendary guitarist Lalo Guerrero, and members of Los Cenzontles. Realizing the generative power of music, he decided to create an arts organization to provide enrichment programs for neighborhood kids and revive traditions that were on the verge of extinction. Hundreds of miles away in Veracruz, the son jarocho group Mono Blanco — whose name means “white monkey” in English, and derives from the Popoluca god of music — was on its own quest to resurrect rural jarocho music. Formed in 1979, the group blends West African, European, and indigenous influences — remnants of a plantation economy in which slaves from Ivory Coast and the Caribbean toiled for Spanish settlers, who brought baroque musical styles of Europe. Mono Blanco’s music harks back to the hybrid that formed when all of these cultures began poaching from each other. The group incorporates such instruments as the quijada (jawbone), Veracruz harp, and four-string guitarra de son. Los Cenzontles began collaborating with Mono Blanco in 1989, when Rodriguez started taking East Bay kids down to Mexico to tap into their roots. Eventually, Mono Blanco formed its own satellite cultural center.
Mono Blanco regales its audience this Thursday (7:30 p.m.) at Los Cenzontles (13108 San Pablo Ave.) with a mixture of African rhythms and baroque instrumentation. What’s more important to Rodriguez is that this concert represents an enduring cross-border alliance, and a “fluid, participatory approach to culture.” After all, Mono Blanco forms the blueprint on which the next wave of jarocho musicians, in Mexico and the East Bay alike, will build their sound. $15, $10 for children under seventeen. Info: LosCenzontles.com – Rachel Swan
Technically, this event is for the small ‘uns in your life. But you don’t have to fall in the specified two-to-nine-year-old range to enjoy the Fourth Annual Children’s Literacy and Performing Arts Puppets Festival — especially not the fest’s headliners, the Fratello Marionettes. The childlike will enjoy the Fratellos’ strung-up, cabaret-style buffoonery — shows at 11:10 a.m. and 12:40 p.m. — as much as the child. Other puppeteers perform during the event’s 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. run at the Laurel Center (2652 Vergil Ct., Castro Valley), and there are storytelling and puppet-making workshops. $6 includes one professional puppet show and art materials for three projects. Kids get in free, costumes optional (no masks, please). HPNSchool.org/festival, 510-538-2667. — Stefanie Kalem
Crimes & Misty Demeanors
Beth Henley’s stage play Crimes of the Heart is a classic ’80s-style cavalcade of family misery leading to female empowerment — the story of the three Magrath sisters from Mississippi and their struggles with a dying grandfather, an abusive husband, and other problematic men. It also floats the notion that California is a tough place to find your soul. Harumph. None of this deterred Altarena Playhouse, which is opening Henley’s Pulitzer-winning play, in a production directed by Bob Rossman, at 8 p.m. Friday for a run through June 18. 1409 High St., Alameda. $12-$15. For more info, visit Altarena.org — Kelly Vance
Mr. and Mrs. Saigon
The American war in Vietnam ended thirty years ago, but memories of that conflict — especially Vietnamese Americans’ memories of their homeland — are still fresh. Choreographer Danny Nguyen and composers Vu Hong Thinh and Jonathan Segel collected stories from the US Vietnamese community for their original live music and dance show, Struggle to Survive: 30 Years Cry for My Country — a commemoration of the American war as well as the other wars Vietnam fought before and since. The Nguyen Dance Company presents Struggle to Survive Friday and Saturday nights (8 p.m.) at the Laney College Theatre, 900 Fallon St., Oakland. $15 from DannyDancers.org or 415-336-3154. — Kelly Vance