By Tad Dickens | 777-6474
Truth be told, the name Acoustic Africa was misleading for folks who went to hear the act at Jefferson Center on Friday night.
Sure, there was a strong acoustic vibe going on at times during the two-set show. But much of what was happening was electrified — guitarists trading blues/jazz solos, the thump and smack of Manou Gallo’s bass guitar. If the name of the show evoked thoughts of folk music, a lot of the music bordered on jazz-fusion, with energetic takes on traditional African polyrhythms.
It might have surprised the crowd of 730, but it also kept it energized.
Not that acoustic fireworks were in short supply. Aly Keita’s work on the balafon — an African version of, probably a precursor to, the marimba — was a study in speed, precision and melody delivered via woody tone. Singer Kareyce Fotso’s acoustic guitar work was sweet and supportive, when she wasn’t making her backside shimmy so frenetically that one wanted to hook her up to an electric generator.
And when Fotso, Dobet Gnahore and Manou Gallo sang a cappella, accompanying themselves with hand percussion, that folk feel was in the air.
They band turned in gorgeous harmonies and dancing on the bouncy “Cote D’Yvoire” and intense soloing on the 5/4 funk of “Nalingyo.” But when Leni Stern, the jazz guitarist and composer from New York, took the stage, things took a blues/fusion turn. Stern also sang nicely on “Ingneda” and added some mystical-sounding work on the ngoni.
Bukuru Celestin, a 20-year-old Music Lab at Jefferson Center student who opened the show, fronted a band that included his three sisters — Ndayishimiye Furaha, 17, Niyonzima Ethrasie, 14, and Nibigira Elvanie, 12. Celestin, noticably nervous in his biggest performance to date, still delivered a strong but mellow tenor over the course of four original African gospel/folk songs.
He had help from as strong a backing act as anyone could want — guitarist Cyrus Pace (Jefferson Center’s executive director), bassist Dylan Locke (the venue’s artistic director), drummer Kris Hodges (FloydFest co-founder) and percussionist Otu Kojo (of Kusun Ensemble). But what made his act unique was his sisters’ harmony work, particulary on the rock-influenced set-closer “Ntumbero.”
When the four siblings sang a part of that song a cappella, they summoned a little magic.