Home News Little Village concert brings amazing Bay Area blues/roots musicians to Berkeley

Little Village concert brings amazing Bay Area blues/roots musicians to Berkeley


The blues has been very good to Little Village Foundation, and vice versa.

Albums released by the artist-centric Bay Area nonprofit label have consistently garnered nominations for the genre’s leading awards, like Diunna Greenleaf’s “I Ain’t Playin’,” which won Living Blues Magazine’s album of the year award in 2023. This year, Candice Ivory’s Little Village album “When the Levee Breaks: The Music of Memphis Minnie” is contending in the same category, while she and Greenleaf are both up for female blues artist of the year.

“Every year it seems like we get a dozen or more blues nominations,” said San Francisco singer/songwriter Maurice Tani, who has released three Little Village albums himself and become an unofficial spokesman for the label launched a decade ago by veteran blues keyboardist Jim Pugh.

But from the beginning, Pugh cast a much wider musical net than the blues, looking to record and boost the visibility of community-based artists immersed in cultural traditions overlooked by the music business. “The bottom line is we want to keep our focus on artists closer to the ground,” Tani said.

For a wide-angle perspective on the world of Little Village, there’s no better place to start than Friday’s All-Star Mini-Fest at Freight & Salvage, when half a dozen acts who have recorded for the label play short, mostly acoustic sets at the Berkeley venue.

Blues won’t be neglected, not with a program that includes the singular San Jose harmonica ace Aki Kumar, who first earned international renown with his 2016 Little Village album “Aki Goes to Bollywood.” But the sounds of Sunday morning will also fill the room when the powerhouse Vallejo family gospel group Sons of the Soul Revivers takes the stage. It’s the ensemble’s first performance since the April death of the group’s founder, guitarist Walter Morgan Jr., the older brother of Sons vocalists Dwayne and James Morgan.

“We set this up before Walter’s passing and Dwayne and James wanted to go ahead with the performance and honor him,” said Tani, who might do a song or two Friday but will mostly be focusing on his duties as host and emcee. He performs with his full band June 15 at the Sound Room in Oakland.

“They might do something a cappella,” he said. “I went to Walter’s memorial at a church in Vallejo. It was supposed to go for two hours and it went for five with one gospel choir after another, just the most incredible energy.”

While Chicana vocalist Marina Crouse is best known as a blues belter, she’s been exploring various facets of Latino culture via Little Village. Her 2022 all-Spanish language recording “Canto de mi corazón” pays tribute to singer Eydie Gormé, an early influence on Crouse. She’ll be focusing on the Spanish songbook material with Brazilian guitarist Ricardo Peixoto.

Rising singer/songwriter Genesis Fermin, who contributed a track to Little Village’s pandemic-induced “20 x 20” compilation, performs with multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and producer Vicki Randle (who spent years in the Tonight Show Band and touring with Mavis Staples).

No group better represents Pugh’s encompassing vision than The Sampaguitas, which features Jenevieve Francisco, Cristina Ibarra, and Aireene Espiritu singing three-part harmony arrangements of classic songs from the Philippines. Released last October, the group’s debut album “The Sampaguitas: Folk Songs from the Philippines and Beyond” came directly from an overture by Pugh.

The women had been talking about singing together for several years when an opportunity to present a song at a retirement community for Filipino American history month arose. “We thought, this is the time, and learned one song ‘Oras Na,’ which actually means ‘now is the time,” Ibarra said. “Someone took a video of the performance and sent it to Jim Pugh and he loved it.”

Espiritu, who was known as a folk singer, was one of Little Village’s early breakout stars with her 2016 tribute to R&B dynamo Sugar Pie DeSanto, “Back Where I Belong.” When Pugh reached out to The Sampaguitas (the name comes from the national flower of the Philippines), the women decided to work on expanding their repertoire, eventually documenting the far-flung Tagalog repertoire at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in San Jose “and it really feels like we’ve been embraced as part of the Little Village family,” Ibarra said.

Each of the women have different family histories and relationships to their Filipina identity. Espiritu was born in the Philippines and grew up in San Francisco. Francisco is second generation, and Ibarra is fourth generation.

“None of us are completely fluent in Tagalog,” Ibarra said. “We started with songs in Irene’s repertoire and then sought out new material and made it our own, like ‘Planting Rice/Magtanim Ay Di Biro,’ a popular children’s song about farm working. All the versions we heard were really cheesy, sing-songy. We reimagined it partly as a work song, a blues.”

Contact Andrew Gilbert at [email protected].


When: 8 p.m. June 7

Where: Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley

Tickets: $25/$30; thefreight.org



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