In this era of globalization and global musical culture, the epithet "world music superstar" is often bandied about at random, used to describe seemingly anyone who has ever picked up a kora, a balafon, or a calabash, scored a record deal, or booked an American tour. However, Baaba Maal truly embodies the term. The internationally renowned Senegalese vocalist, born by the river in the town of Podor, has been an artist of prominence on the world music scene since 1989, when he released Djam Leelii with his childhood friend, blind griot guitarist Mansour Seck (who remains a part of Maal's touring band, Daande Liol). Maal, often called the Nightingale because of his resonant, high-pitched voice and clear tonal range, has created an impressive body of recorded work. He has tried his hand at everything from traditional Fulani rhythms to Senegalese Afropop, or mbalax, to wide-ranging crossover experiments in Afro-Celtic grooves, reggae, and electronic music during a period that climaxed with 1998's Nomad Soul album, which firmly established him as a global pop phenomenon. In 2001, he returned to his roots with Mi Yeewnii ("Missing You"), a triumphant acoustic album that reunited Maal with Seck and kora master Kaouding Cissoko, an African music star in his own right.
But recordings tell only part of Maal's story. He routinely performs for crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands all over the world, and his concerts are often reverential, rousing, joyous, and absolutely enveloping experiences -- as anyone at his 2002 show at the Fillmore (his last Bay Area performance) can tell you. Maal canceled his 2003 American tour in protest at the US military's activities in Afghanistan and Iraq, so his scheduled performance at Zellerbach Hall (510-642-9988; CalPerfs.berkeley.edu) this Friday night qualifies as a long-anticipated event. And even without a new album to promote, you can bet legions of fans will be out in force to see their hero in person. Whether you are a veteran Maal devotee or a newcomer to the nightingale's sweetly moving melodies, this is one show you won't want to miss for anything short of an act of God -- a term that pretty much describes what Maal's music sounds like to the human ear. -- Eric K. Arnold
4/5, 12 & 19
My friend Jane
Jane Austen? In Berkeley? Playwright Andrea Mock sees dramatic potential there, and so in her new one-woman show, Jane Austen in Berkeley: Episode One, the 19th-century English author of Emma and Pride and Prejudice finds herself transported to the contemporary East Bay as the imaginary companion of embattled single mom Jane Smith. Smith is pushed and pulled through ex-husband trouble, a Marxist support group, writer's block, and even the Express classifieds section, all to the tune of Victor Spiegel's music and the recorded voices of seven other actors, in three Monday-night workshop performances of the play (all at 8 p.m.): April 5, 12, and 19, at Epic Arts, 1923 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. Tickets are $7 from AndreaMock.org -- Kelly Vance
Disquiet on the Set
Hollywood goes to the Gulf coast in William Osborne and Anthony Herrera's Smoke and Mirrors , a comedic murder mystery wherein tons of the eponymous subterfuge gets dropped. In the mix are a power-mad producer-director, a bashful screenwriter, and the dame who comes between them, not to mention an obnoxious movie star, a far-out sheriff, and a suicide scene. Playhouse West presents the rarely performed play at the DLRCA Knight Stage 3 (1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek), April 1-26, 8:15 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2:15 and 7:15 p.m. Sundays, and one Wednesday show on April 21 at 8:15 p.m. Tickets: $26-$29, 925-943-SHOW. -- Stefanie Kalem
Shakespeare's Shylock ain't got nothing on Harpagon. Where the former wreaks his stingy havoc on someone else's family, the latter -- star of Molière's The Miser -- brings misery upon his own house by monkey-wrenching the love lives of both his children. Harpagon is one of theater's ultimate guilty pleasures, an antihero audiences love to hate as they find their own values satirized before their very eyes. Shotgun Players opens its free-theater season with The Miser previewing this Saturday and Sunday, then playing April 3 through May 2 -- 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays -- at Julia Morgan Theatre, 2640 College Ave., Berkeley. Info: ShotgunPlayers.org -- Stefanie Kalem