Global Fest - Webster Hall - 1/13

Categories: Last Night

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A Tribe Called Red
Last night the multiple stages of Global Fest played host to more strong female headliners than ever before. This was deservedly a point of pride for the event's co-producers. Earth Mother energy was so pervasive in this year's lineup that even most of the bands led by men had the wisdom to include women as singers or dancers. This was also the most conceptually balanced roster of talent I recall seeing at any Global Fest. Moving from room to room throughout the evening you could often sense one performer's key qualities instructively illuminating another's.

By 7:30 pm in the cavernous upstairs ballroom, Zimbabwe's Oliver Mtukudzi and the Black Spirits had everybody moving to sweet, kora-toned guitar riffs layered against propulsive dance rhythms. Resplendent in all white, including one female singer providing backup vocals and hand percussion, Mtukudzi;s octet locked into a warm, cheerful groove which allowed each musician to play and synchronize choreography at the same time. The conga player even stepped away from his drums at one point to execute some moves I've only seen before in the most competitive Latin ballrooms.

Able to choose material from over 50 successful albums released between 1978 and the present, Mtukudzi delivered his signature sound, which evoked both classic highlife and vintage township jazz. Next up on the same stage came rising wassalou singer Fatoumata Diawara. Right away it sounded as if the girl from Mali and her interracial quartet wanted to provide vivid counterpoint to Mtukudzi's laid back swing. Fatou was wailing over aggressive, psychedelic rock arrangements. It still sounded like African blues performed griot style, but somehow filtered through a '70s time warp. Ordinarily Diawara's voice has a reedy timbre that cuts through surrounding instrumentation like a muezzin's chant. But several times during her show she strove for a more modern Western pitch.

Wearing a queenly red and yellow turban with a matching shawl, Diawara initially sang quiety centerstage, strumming her guitar. Suddenly she threw off her turban and shawl to reveal a cascade of beaded braids and a black leather bustier. "African women want to be free!" she exclaimed before diving back into a funky little number during which she whoops, ululates, and drops her voice into a deeper register. This impromtu display of heat and manic energy made for an intriguing contrast to Mtukudzi's seductive cool.

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