By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Best Reggae/World Music
AshakaBy day, Linval Thomas teaches high-school Spanish in Belleville, Illinois, but at night the Kingston, Jamaica, native becomes the roots-reggae wizard Ashaka. Formerly known as the Prodigal, Ashaka writes and sings pure, classic reggae, the sort of stuff you hear cover bands aping endlessly. His stellar backing band flawlessly executes creative, all-original arrangements such as "Unite," the single from Ashaka's forthcoming album, Reggae Jamaica(Reggae Belleville wouldn't fly). See this act live and you'll ask yourself: Who knew we had this caliber of reggae artist in the bi-state area?
DubtronixDub started more as a style of recording than a method of playing live, with madmen like Lee "Scratch" Perry digging deep into their ganja-addled minds and recording whatever came out. But any reggae act that feels that deep, dark current under the music can get dubby any time it wants. The members of Dubtronix know that current. They ought to, with DJ Ranx of KDHX's awesome Dub Mixture playing guitar for them. You may not know anything about Jah, Haile Selassie or any of the other cultural icons that move the heart of reggae. But listening to Dubtronix, you'll feel the love. 3:30 p.m., Market in the Loop Outdoor Stage
Farshid EtnikoLed by the mercurial guitarist Farshid Soltanshahi, Farshid Etniko lays claim to a sprawling and astonishing range of musical cultures: Latin-American, Afro-Caribbean, Spanish, Persian -- even the nomadic soul of gypsy folk traditions. But this isn't International Music for the NPR set. The stormy rhythms of percussionist Ali Soltanshahi, drummer John Hale and bassist Timothy Duggan will jam your ass off, while Sandy Weltman traces the bluesier edges of jazz on electric mandolin and harmonica. They tackle Wayne Shorter, Django Reinhardt and Santana with intensity and dexterity and rewrite the world-music rules with every improvisation.
GumboheadGiven that our city is home to one of the largest Mardi Gras celebrations outside New Orleans, it's no big surprise that St. Louisans have a taste for Louisiana music, too. Gumbohead feeds that appetite with a tasty stew of covers that mixes zydeco favorites with funk and R&B classics originally recorded by the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Huey "Piano" Smith, Professor Longhair and other Crescent City legends. If you don't have the time or the cash to actually take a trip "way down the Mississippi, down to New Orleans," Gumbohead's tight ensemble sound, shrewd song selection and good-time party vibe can provide the next best thing. 2 p.m., Main Outdoor Stage
Murder City PlayersSince 1983 the full-force, ten-piece reggae/ska/dancehall assault unit known as the Murder City Players has delighted (and created) reggae fans in the Lou. Mixing a diverse array of covers and originals in their live sets, the members of MCP are practically professors of Jamaican music. The band's personnel have also backed such international luminaries as the Itals, the Ethiopian and Daddy U-Roy in the studio and in live performances, so it's fair to say they've earned their doctorates. MCP took the crown in this category last year and, with the sort of popularity they enjoy locally, they're sure to give the competition a run for its money again.
ChingyTrying to avoid Chingy songs over the last year would be like trying to run away from oxygen: You could do it, but at what price? From the bouncy "Right Thurr" through the massive "Holidae In" to the softer "One Call Away," Chingy ruled the charts and moved huge amounts of his debut album, Jackpot. But more importantly, he proved that a St. Louis rapper outside of Nelly's camp could hit big, making us more than a one-trick pony in the national hip-hop scene.
Jia DavisJia Davis rebuilt himself this year, rising from the ashes of Bits N Pieces (the group he formed with his now-deceased brother Katt), to release one of the best local hip-hop albums, Experienced(released on local label F5). While the album does recall the politically charged songs of Bits N Pieces' heyday, it also showcases the work of a changed man dealing with a different world. A mix of soul-searching and laid-back party tracks, Experienced shows that, at least for one smooth-flowing rapper, there is life after death. 10 p.m., Elvis Room
J-KwonTurning eighteen the same week his debut album, Hood Hop, dropped onto the nation, J-Kwon is the fresh-faced new guard of St. Louis rap. And it's all based on "Tipsy," a monster of a song with a beat (courtesy of local producers the Trackboyz) that pins you down while J-Kwon's languid flow washes over you. The song has moved from the strip clubs to Busch Stadium, where the tune warms up the crowd for Jim Edmond's at-bats. I can think of no better metaphor for the success of St. Louis rap.
Murphy LeeIt probably took Murphy Lee about ten seconds to come up with the name of his debut album, Murphy's Law. The album took a little longer, with care-crafted beats and lyrics about Thunder Cats, spicy chips and tin foil bouncing with the music. "Shake Ya Tailfeather" was a summer soundtrack that wouldn't quit, but the lesser hit "Luv Me Baby" is the real showcase of Murph's talents: humor, an easygoing flow and a warm persona that may not have the fireworks-flash of his St. Lunatic homeboy Nelly, but is still charming in a skoolboy way.