The Hum ~ 2/22 ~ Together

Timbata - photo by Bob Doran

The odometer on our dear old Volvo wagon was still going, well past 200,000 miles. It was time for retirement. We settled on a newish Volkswagen SUV called a Tiguan. Curious about the word, which I never heard before, I googled it and learned that it’s made up, a merging of tiger and iguana thought up by some marketing department. (How this mammal/reptile mating happens I have no idea.)

Naming a band sometimes involves merging words for new names, like the local band Timbata, who, incidentally, have a show at the Arcata Playhouse Friday, Feb. 24.

What does Timbata mean? Bandmember Michael Stephenson explained, “The name is a combination of Timba and Batá.”

At this point he deferred to Wikipedia. Timba is a Cuban music style based on “folkloric and popular sources even taking inspiration from non Afro-Cuban musical genres such as rock, jazz, and funk.” (I knew this from a story I wrote on Cuban music years ago, more on that in a minute.)

Batá drum - photo by Montuno

Batá is a type of drum, a double-headed thing shaped like an hourglass. “The percussion instrument is used primarily for religious or semi-religious purposes for the native culture from the land of Yoruba, located in Nigeria, as well as by worshippers of Santería in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and in the United States,” (again per Wikipedia).

In short, Timbata is all about the rhythm. The sextet is a collection of local rhythm masters with David Peñalosa, Howie Kaufman, Eugene Novotney and Jonathan Kipp on various percussion instruments, Nick Moore on bass and Stephenson on guitar and keyboards. As the p.r. from the Playhouses notes, “Every band member is a drummer.”

Timbata plays Cuban music, but not exclusively. Of course Cuba is a hot topic lately. (And I don’t mean that store in the mall.) Between the end of the embargo and the death of Fidel, the island has been in the news a lot.

In 2001, I wrote an extended piece for a local paper titled,”The Cuban Connection,” a snapshot of the Humboldt scene at that time. (Read it HERE.) Central was the Afro-Cuban band Kachimbo, formed in 1994 by David Peñalosa. Most of Timbata was in Kachimbo, including Stephenson, who was 16 when he joined.

Kachimbo - 2001 - photo by Bob Doran

“Although I am the musical director and arrange almost all of the songs” for Timbata, he explained, “David is the founder and leader of the group [the one] who had the idea for the project and brought everyone together for it.”

Peñalosa plays congas and handles other percussion along with Kaufman, another important figure in the Humboldt rhythm world who ran an annual summer program, Explorations in Afro-Cuban Dance and Drum, for two decades bringing people from around the world to study here.

Eugene Novotney, David Peñalosa & Howie Kaufman - photo by Bob Doran

Recently retired, Howie worked with the Doctor, Eugene Novotney, teaching at HSU, where Eugene leads the Humboldt Calypso Band. (Michael, now 30-something, joined that band when he was 15.)

“Eugene is probably the closest thing we have to a front person [in Timbata] due to the fact that he plays most of the melodies on the steel pan,” Stephenson noted, adding, “The music is VERY democratic, so every single member of the band takes solos, improvises, and will be the focus of the music at various times throughout the repertoire (which is common in Cuban music).”

There’s much more to be said about the Cuban connection, but Timbata also draws on a vast whole musical diaspora, mixing in African guitar sounds, Brazilian samba, funk bass lines, and so on. 

What made Michael devote his life to this music? “Well, we all play in other styles/bands as well,” he said, “but I'd say most of us would probably agree that Timba has an ideal combination of intricate/virtuosic rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic structures that still remain catchy and danceable. So it's a wonderful music both from the audience's perspective and from the performer's perspective.” As they said on American Bandstand, “It's got a good beat and you can dance to it.” What more do you want?

In the Crib

If you know the Cribmeister by now, you know it’s out of character for him so say, “OMG!” but that was how he introduced the Thursday concert with Maracujá, “a wonderful duo from Seattle,” who will fill the Crib “with the sounds of Latin music from Cuba to Argentina.” Caitlin Belem and Terrence Rosnagle explore territory similar to Timbata, but with less drums, more guitar, a sax and more vocals. More details at

Death is fatal

Wednesday at the Miniplex (in Richard’s Goat) it’s Weyes Blood with Fatal Jamz. Natalie Mering is Weyes Blood. “Active in underground music since 2006, she’s collaborated with Jackie-O Motherfucker and Ariel Pink, and released four records.” The latest, Front Row Seat to Earth, is her third for the Mexican Summer label. She makes haunting music, kinda folky, but not folk by any means. She calls it, “music for lovers.”

She’s working her way up the coast with the stop at the Goat right after a gig at SF’s Swedish American Hall and just before hitting PDX to play Mississippi Studios, all with Fatal Jamz, fronted by Marion Belle from L.A. who sings about people like Nikki Sixx. If you don’t know who that is, well, this probably is not for you.

At Humboldt Brews that Wednesday it’s The Travelin’ McCourys (bluegrass legend Del McCoury’s boys without their dad) on tour with the Jeff Austin Band (fronted by the mandolinist of Yonder Mountain String Band). Last fall the two bands came together for The Grateful Ball Tour playing tunes from the ever-so-popular Grateful Dead songbook. People liked it. Why should they stop? As someone sang, “The music never stopped.”

Along the same lines, Melvin Seals & JGB play Thursday at Mateel. You know who I’m talking about, right? (There’s Dead people involved.) If not, forget it. This probably is not for you. 

In the lounge

Friday at the Arcata Theatre Lounge catch Con Brio, a neo-soul outfit “with spirit,” fronted by the charismatic Ziek McCarter who is compared with everyone from Michael Jackson and James Brown to Sly Stone and D’Angelo. Originally from Texas, Ziek relocated to San Francisco, hooked up with a tight band, worked his way up to a residency at the Boom Boom Room, then took it from there.

Sunday at the ATL, it’s the return of Chicano Batman, a band from Los Angeles who played in the Depot last time they were in town. They’re big on NPR’s Alt.Latino (which is pretty much the polar opposite of alt. right, BTW), drawing on cumbia, Brazilian tropicalia, psychedelic jams and deep cut soul. They have a new disc, Freedom Is Free, coming out in March — maybe it will be on the march table. You may have seen them on the Superbowl, where they turned Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land is Your Land” into an awesome immigrant's anthem in an ad for Johnnie Walker whiskey. BTW, their tour includes a couple of other acts, Sad Girl and 79.5, which proved un-googleble. (Turns out there are a lot of sad girls out there.)

Red Carpet Refugee Sunday

Also on Sunday night over at Humboldt Brews, it’s Maria Muldaur and Her Red Hot Bluesiana    Band. You know how Google fills in your search terms based on some algorithm or other. When I typed Maria’s name, then I got as far a Mu… and it suggested a search for Maria Muldaur’s age. Well, if you’re wondering, she’s 73. She’s up to 40 albums, with the latest, First Came Memphis Minnie, with an all-star band, dedicated to the legendary blues “w-o-m-a-n.”

Memphis Minnie - R. Crumb drawing

Maria offers a mini-essay about Minnie (read it HERE) describing her as “tough, determined, talented, and courageous enough to defy and overcome all the racial, social, economic, and gender barriers that existed in her time, forging the life she envisioned for herself on nothing but her own terms!” Maria has always made her way on her own terms, I’ve been a fan of her music since the Jim Kweskin Jug Band days, through “Midnight at the Oasis” and beyond. Note: This is an early show at Humbrews, starts at 8 p.m.

Unless you plan on showing up late, that puts Maria up against the Red Carpet Gala Oscar party at the Eureka Theater, where the well-healed, well-dressed crowd will be dressed to the nines. (Starting at 5.) There’s also a Logger Bar Oscar Party in Blue Lake, which, since it falls on a Sunday, includes the weekly potluck dinner. Take your pick and expect other parties for movie fans.

Comedy Comes Home

Same Sunday, it’s another Comedy Comes Home benefit at the North Coast Rep with proceeds going to the International Refugee Assistance Project. As usual, Sam Wingspan is the host/emcee with Nando Molina, Kim Hodges, Matt Redbeard, William Toblerone and Pat Dylan doing funny stuff. Needless to say, IRAP is working doubly hard right now.

They tell us, “All over the country, across political divides, leaders and organizers have been scrambling to figure out how to confront the new threats that challenge America’s fundamental values and ideals — that we are an open, welcoming, and democratic society with deep respect for the rule of law.

“Together, we will continue utilizing every tool — through the courts, through civic action and protest, through our contacts with allies on both sides of the aisle, through the media, and through a self-organized volunteer network — to work tirelessly to deliver legal solutions for the world’s most vulnerable refugees.”

Stuck at some party that night? You can buy a ticket online at and they promise to get the money delivered for you, or you can go to and find the “donate” button. While you’re there check out more about what they’re up to. Got a problem? “Know Your Rights – اعرف حقوقك” They can help. And you can help them help. Help!