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Monday, July 20, 2009

My Big Fat World Music Weekend

Posted By on Mon, Jul 20, 2009 at 10:47 AM

click to enlarge Room with a Vieux: Vieux Farka Toure - EKAPHOTOGRAPHY
  • EKAphotography
  • Room with a Vieux: Vieux Farka Toure

In this economy, who has the means to travel internationally anymore? Luckily, with all the world music acts coming through the Bay Area of late, you don't have to have a passport, visa, hotel, and plane ticket to catch some of the most scintillating global groovesters around. For example, last week I went to France, and this past weekend, I traveled to Mexico, Mali, and Brazil (twice). And I didn't even have to leave the 7x7 square miles of the 415, nor stock up on malaria pills and postcards.

Saturday night's world tour began with CeU's sold-out show at the Herbst Theatre. The hall's acoustics seemed perfectly matched to the Brazilian vocalist's elastic voice, allowing its timbre to resonate. Backed by a turntablist/effects programmer, an acoustic drummer, a bassist, and a keyboard player, the band functioned as a quintet - CeU's vocals were like an instrument in and of itself. Running through selections from her self-titled debut and her more recent album Vagarosa, CeU flawlessly executed bossa nova and tropicalismo-inflected tunes, along with more adventurous numbers which evoked spaghetti Westerns, Jamaican dubfests, and neo-soul throwdowns reminiscent of a South American Sade.

From there, it was off to the Independent, where Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure was headlining a nearly-sold out show as part of the Afrofunk Festival - an impressive turnout, especially considering that the Prince Vs. Michael Jackson party was just two blocks down the street at the Madrone Lounge. Toure's electrified take on traditional Malian griot stylings had the crowd in a rockin' trance, and the improvisational, extended jams he and his band performed had a vibrant rawness that was somewhat absent from CeU's set (though some of that difference can surely be ascribed to the change in venues).

Words alone fail to describe the ascendantly triumphant feeling of watching Toure rock out, African-style. If there was any question the son of African guitar legend Ali Farka Toure is the Jimi Hendrix of the Western Sahara, he erased all doubts with his closing song, during which he swung his guitar over his head and played behind his back, just like Jimi used to do. After a two-hour virtuoso performance in which his tone, sustain, and sense of rhythm were absolutely impeccable, one couldn't blame Toure for showboating just a bit.

Salsamuffin Man: Sergent Garcia - EKAPHOTOGRAPHY
  • EKAphotography
  • Salsamuffin Man: Sergent Garcia

The next day, Sunday, I arrived at the Stern Grove Festival just in time to catch the last two songs of Brazilian funk revivalist Curumin's set (traffic was murder, coming from the East Bay). As my friends and I were traversing the winding path down to the Stern Grove concert bowl, we heard a familiar voice--none other than Blackalicious/Mighty Underdogs emcee Lateef, dueting with Curumin. The set closed out with "Guererro," from Curumin's first album, and after an intermission, Mexican "salsamuffin" Sergent Garcia stepped up to the stage.

I wasn't entirely familiar with Garcia's music prior to hearing him live, but his engaging fusion of dancehall reggae and salsa was a pleasant discovery for me (as I'm sure was also the case for thousands of Grovies), and a welcome break from the same-ol', same-ol' stuff. Perhaps the best part of this de facto world music vacation--besides being exposed to a spectrum of global sounds--was that I woke up the next morning with no jet lag.

Btw, more world-class grooves are coming to the Bay this week, as the Afrofunk Festival continues at Ashkenaz, and Issa Bagayoyo and Novalima (two can't-miss acts who combine African and Peruvian music, respectively, with electronic aspects) play Yoshis in Oakland. If you can't travel around the world, let the world come to you.
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Eric Arnold


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