Worldbeat’s 3 Mustaphas 3 Dazzles With Ethnic Styles

The Thursday night appearance by 3 Mustaphas 3 at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach promises to be more than just another concert. Expect a comprehensive lesson on “worldbeat” by a British band whose dazzling array of international influences recently prompted Folk Roots magazine to call it “the best world music band on earth.”

There is no question that worldbeat is awfully hot these days. Worldbeat is essentially an umbrella term used to describe any mixture of Western pop with traditional ethnic music from all over the world.

The worldbeat movement is a cross-cultural exchange that works both ways. Western pop artists such as the Talking Heads, Mick Fleetwood, and, perhaps most significantly, Paul Simon, have ventured into the jungles and villages of Africa and South America and fused their music with the strange and new (to our ears, at least) sounds they discovered.

And at the same time, they have paved the way for ethnic artists such as King Sunny Ade of Nigeria, Ladysmith Black Mambazo of South Africa, and Brazil’s Milton Nascimento to come out to the Western world and show where this remarkable stuff came from in the first place.


3 Mustaphas 3 belongs in the former category. In the eight years they have been together, their outreach has consistently been broader than any of their more familiar peers. Their music is a true global melting pot, rooted as much in rock and rap as in the sounds of Eastern Europe and the Near East, and then branching out into myriad ethnic styles, including African highlife, classical Indian and Caribbean merengue.

Accordingly, the six musicians play a variety of obscure (again, to our ears) instruments, among them the tapan , a two-sided drum from the Balkans; the dumbek , a Middle Eastern goblet-shaped drum; the Balkan bass; and the hardingfele , a Norwegian fiddle.

And while 3 Mustaphas 3 is still light years away from being a household word in this country, their three albums--the last two on Rykodisc Records, a tiny independent U.S. label based in Salem, Mass.--have been universally cheered by critics.

Of their latest, “Soup of the Century,” Spin magazine recently gushed, “The Mustaphas take you into a supermarket of sound, and feed your heads on their international shopping spree.”


It’s the next best thing to a record deal. Nimbus Obi has just finished recording a three-song demonstration tape for Warner Brothers Records. The local progressive rockers were commissioned to cut the demo last December, two weeks after talent scouts for the label caught their record-company showcase performance at the Roxy in Hollywood.

The demo was recorded and mixed at The Studio in Kearny Mesa, with Warner Brothers picking up the tab. The producer is Wayne-o Tweed, who has worked with such heavyweights as Anita Baker, Smokey Robinson and Gladys Knight.

Nimbus Obi manager David Chelemen said he is about to turn over the tape to label executives. If they like it, the group stands a good chance of being offered a record deal.

“One of the Warner Brothers people who attended our Roxy gig told me, ‘I’ve seen a thousand bands perform, and I’ve never heard anyone like Nimbus Obi,’ ” Chelemen said. “This is a shot in the arm for all San Diego bands because we don’t get much recognition down here from the music industry.”

Nimbus Obi was formed in 1984 by keyboardist-songwriter Joseph Kolkovich, upon his return to San Diego after touring Europe with a theatrical troupe. The three other members are lead singer, chief lyricist, and bassist Ed Been; guitarist Pat Shea; and drummer Mark Bock. Been has been with the group since 1985; Shea and Bock both joined in the summer of 1989.

Nimbus Obi regularly plays around town at the few nightclubs where original-music bands are welcome, including the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, the Bacchanal in Kearny Mesa, and Winston’s in Ocean Beach. They also periodically play Los Angeles. On March 16, they will be back at the Roxy.

LINER NOTES: Despite hopes of a quick sellout, there are still tickets left to Stevie Wonder’s Monday night appearance at the 1,400-capacity Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton East Hotel on Harbor Island. That may be because tickets are $100 each. It’s a black-tie dinner benefit for Young At Art, a local arts residency program that sends professional artists into San Diego city elementary schools. . . .

Rick Tupper Productions has booked two more upcoming concerts at Park Place in El Cajon: Flock of Seagulls, Jan. 31; and Blue Oyster Cult, Feb. 7. . . .


Twenty-seven years ago this week, San Diego rock band the Cascades hit the charts with “Rhythm of the Rain,” their first, and only, Top 40 single. And 14 years ago this week, expatriate San Diego singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop made his Top 40 debut with “Save It for a Rainy Day.”. . .

Tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. for Chris Isaak’s Feb. 23 appearance at the Spreckels Theatre downtown. . . .

Best concert bets for the coming week: 3 Mustaphas 3 with Burning Bridges, Thursday at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach; Bob Weir with Rob Wasserman, Friday at the Spreckels Theatre downtown; Eddie Reed’s Swingin’ Satellites with the Hooligans, Friday at the Casbah in Middletown; James Harman, Saturday at the Belly Up Tavern; and No Strings Attached, Saturday at the Del Mar Shores Auditorium.