One of the more interesting aspects of this particular planet's people is the way we compartmentalize ourselves into identifiable groups. Nations are formed; flags are waved; and beliefs, customs and practices become identifiable over time as part of individual cultures. The word "culture" also can mean the enlightenment and sophistication gained via exposure to the arts and other intellectual pursuits. Of course, some groups do this better than others. In America, our addiction to disposable pop culture won't be garnering us group rates in Mensa anytime soon. But hey, we're still young and, if we're willing to learn from our elders, a new grasp on culture may be well within our reach. For a blueprint of cultural respectability, it wouldn't hurt to look to the East.
Spanning the centuries and benefiting from the influences of numerous countries, Asian culture has provided the world at large with art, music, literature, fashion and cuisine that reflect a history rich and diverse -- and it gets better with age. That history will be on display at the Ninth Annual Asian American Festival, Friday, April 25, through Sunday, April 27, at Patriots Park, Central and Washington. Festivities run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and include ethnic cuisine, arts and crafts, martial arts demonstrations, cultural dances, a fashion show of traditional costumes, and music from nearly a dozen Asian countries. Admission is free. For details call 602-548-8398. - Craig Wallach
Places of the Heart
Luncheon benefits women's organizations
Soroptimist International of Phoenix's "Going Places" luncheon on Sunday, April 27, is a rare opportunity to donate to an outstanding charity and to see what success looks like, as several women who have benefited from Soroptimist programs will take part in the lunchtime fashion show and silent auction. Proceeds benefit charities that make a difference for women, including YMCA Haven House, Homeward Bound and the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development. The event takes place in the main ballroom at Scottsdale's Camelback Inn, 5402 East Lincoln Drive. The silent auction begins at 11:30 a.m., followed by the luncheon and fashion show at 1 p.m. Tickets are $50. Call 602-265-7468 for information.
- Maidi Terry
Electronica gets a soulful make-over
When the D.C.-based duo of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, better known as Thievery Corporation, released Sounds From the Thievery Hi-Fi in 1996, the LP changed our conception of electronic music from impersonal and relentlessly fast-paced beats to something slinkier, more soulful. Taking the tempo down a few notches, adding sultry vocals and mixing in jazz, bossa nova and diverse sounds from around the world, Thievery Corporation gave the genre irresistible sex appeal. With last year's The Richest Man in Babylon, the group's third studio album, the influences are even more complex, pushing electronica into exotica. On Friday, April 25, they perform at 9 p.m. at the Marquee Theatre, 730 North Mill in Tempe. Tickets, $20, are available from Ticketmaster, 480-784-4444.
- Michele Laudig
Hangin' With Mr. Cooper
Rock legend enters Hall of Fame
Alice Cooper lost his 1972 presidential bid to Richard Nixon. That had to hurt. On Saturday, April 26, the king of shock rock gets his comeuppance, as he's inducted into the Herberger Performing and Broadcast Arts Hall of Fame. The tribute to Cooper -- a.k.a. Vincent Furnier, onetime newspaper columnist at Cortez High -- includes a "This Is Your Life" segment, an unveiling of a representation crafted from bronze and mascara, and live music by Jed's a Millionaire (they do a wicked cover of "Only Women Bleed"). John O'Hurley, Seinfeld's fashionable Mr. Peterman, emcees the 7 p.m. program at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe. Stretch out the spandex -- "rock 'n' roll or cocktail attire" is recommended. Tickets are $150 and $200; call 602-254-7399.
- Jill Koch
Comedy contest preps for prime time
The Funniest Person in the Valley contest may soon become famous, thanks to a television pilot being filmed at Celebrity Theatre. Organizer and show promoter Jimmy Danelli is the reason."It's gotten pretty popular in L.A.; there are a lot of people clamoring for it," says Danelli, who has brought Comedy Central and HBO execs in to judge the contest in the past, leading to the interest in producing the show on a national level. Danelli, who emcees the show, is an actor and comedian in his own right. You may recognize him as Ellen DeGeneres' love interest from her sitcom. "We all know how that turned out, don't we?" laughs Danelli.
If the show does go national, Danelli hopes to keep production in Phoenix and expand the contest to include comedians from all over the country. The show pilot will feature 12 finalists competing for the $1,000 grand prize. Judges include David Leibowitz of KTAR-AM and Dead Air Dave from The Edge. Tickets are $20 at the door. The grand finals take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, at the Celebrity, 440 North 32nd Street. For more information, call 480-982-7257. - Quetta Carpenter
Barefoot and loving it
Nia novice? Lose the shoes and get into the groove at Spring 2003 Nia Day, Sunday, April 27, at Tempe's Domba Studio, 524 West Broadway. Based on barefoot movements that strengthen, balance and invigorate, Nia melds dance, martial arts and yoga.
From 2 to 5 p.m., participants are treated to tunes from the Drunken Immortals and a Boogie Blast led by Nia instructors; during the Freedance Boogie Jam, they'll "discover how to move without thinking." Admission is $20; call 480-221-8320. - Jill Koch
Blast of the Red Hot Lovers
Salsa fans double-dip at their own risk
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There aren't enough breath strips on Earth to combat the collective halitosis sure to rise from Scottsdale Stadium on Saturday, April 26, when 35,000 folks dip into the Tostitos Southwest Salsa Challenge. Fifty-some contestants will prepare 10 gallons of salsa -- each -- which celeb judges will rate on aroma, consistency, heat level, color, taste and aftertaste. Samplers can subdue the sizzle with cold beer, grilled food and a ton of chips. (Literally. Tostitos donates 2,000-plus pounds.)A margarita mix-off, live music and Kids' Zone round out the event, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the stadium, 7408 East Osborn. Admission is $7 for adults and $3 for children; proceeds benefit the Hemophilia Association's summer camp. See www.salsachallenge.com for details.
- Jill Koch
Get Down Town
Chez Nous throws R&B bash
It's springtime and the livin' is easy -- and what better way to celebrate than to join Chez Nous' new owner Amina and her head bartender Carla in a two-day celebration, their first Rhythm & Blues Festival, live and outdoors, in the fenced-off parking lot. Whether you want to get funkified, funky or funked up, these bands will put the mo in your jo. Blues super-divas Sistah Blue, house band Roscoe Taylor and Motown Mania, Aaron Nelson, Albert Collins' cousins Lucius and Lamar Paar of Street Life, the fusionesque Apexx, and funkmeisters KneeDeep will all be performing between the hours of 1 p.m. and 1 a.m. on Saturday, April 26, and Sunday, April 27. Amina admits that casual passers-by will be privy to the music, but with the beer tents and barbecue, "it will be a lot more fun inside than out." And besides, a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Crisis Nursery, a nonprofit children's shelter. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door at Chez Nous, 675 West Indian School. Call 602-266-7372 for details. - Henry Cabot Beck