It Takes a Little Village


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Aki Kumar plays blues harmonica.

Photo by Rachel Kumar

In a digital age when video and streaming services provide instant access to music from around the world, is there still a role for record labels to introduce new sounds? Judging from a spate of recent releases by the Little Village Foundation, labels can still be indispensible when it comes to documenting and boosting the visibility of artists looking for a wider audience.

Founded by veteran blues pianist/keyboardist Jim Pugh, whose credits include recordings with masters such as Etta James, Guitar Shorty, Van Morrison, John Lee Hooker, BB King, and a 24-year run with Robert Cray, Little Village Foundation isn’t your typical music outlet looking for a quick score. A nonprofit organization, Little Village is dedicated to the idea that communities nurture great artists, and Pugh has found a treasure trove of music by mining various scenes around California. The label showcases some of the artists Friday, Jan. 19, at the Freight & Salvage with a multi-act show featuring veteran San Jose bluesman Chris Cain, rising South Bay blues harmonica player Aki Kumar, San Francisco roots rocker Maurice Tani, 17-year-old Central Valley mariachi singer, songwriter, and poet Xochitl Morales, powerhouse Vallejo gospel ensemble Sons of the Soul Revivers, and the folky Oakland blues singer/songwriter Aireene Espiritu (whose Little Village tribute to Bay Area R&B great Sugar Pie DeSanto, Back Where I Belong, was one of last year’s standout albums).

But the biggest Little Village revelation is the recent release by the Sons of the Soul Revivers, Live! Rancho Nicasio. Featuring the brothers James, Dwayne, and Walter Morgan Jr., the Sons deliver a roof-raising concert that lays bare their unbreakable connection to glorious golden-age gospel groups like the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, and the Silver Leaf Quartet. Sacred and profane, urban and rural, Mexican, African-American, Filipina and white, Little Village encompasses a huge swatch of the human experience.

8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 19, The Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, Berkeley, $18-$22, TheFreight.org.

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