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The world-music audience can be a little weird—for all its presumed inclusionary values, you sometimes pick up a members-only vibe. So it was refreshing to catch Mali’s hottest new singing star at her free, open-air Lincoln Center concert last Sunday. The few traditional robes and sprinklings of aficionados were a minority. “Excuse me, who is this playing?” one woman in her late sixties asked. I wrote the name out on my pad: “Rokia Traoré.” “But it wasn’t on the program. . . . ” The largest single demographic was white senior citizens, seated on folding chairs.
On tour to promote her second album, Wanita, this cosmopolitan daughter of diplomats—with her sober tunic, biker shorts, schoolgirl demeanor, competent guitar-playing, and notions of freedom—is certainly a marked departure from the regal griots of Malian tradition. But after all, reigning diva Oumou Sangare is a feminist, and Traoré’s patron, Ali Farka Toure, plays electric blues. Traoré rearranges traditional elements, venturing unprecedented instrumental combinations, unusual harmonies, and a haltingly sweet voice. She retains the husky-timbred strings of two banjo-ancestor ngonis and the discreet charm of the pentatonic scale—ancient usages that hardly equal commercial suicide at a time when Malians are African music’s biggest single export.
The set began quietly but built in volume, with Traoré’s voice growing stronger until, practicing her English, she exhorted the crowd to dance. The closest she came to showbiz was two exhibitions of traditional steps—storklike, gravity-defying leaps. If she’d done it just a little more, if the five-person band had grooved a little louder and stronger, she would have brought down the house. But the house was on its feet anyway, something new in the shade—so many white-haired heads swaying, bopping, singing along to the “Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh!”
Personally, I find traditional stuff hookier—Sangare’s my diva. Still, it was a treat to watch Rokia Traoré preach to the unconverted, and get over. —Carola Dibbell
It’s a swell fantasy all right: Ambitious guitar tech pens a passel of snazzy tunes that tickle his rockin’ employer into proffering crooning services, thereby granting the plucky assistant the opportunity to breach roadie limbo and take the stage when the lights are ON. Fitting, then, that A Perfect Circle’s sold-out appearance at Roseland cultivated the aura of a euphoric dream sequence, songwriter/lead guitarist Billy Howerdel’s wooing of Tool’s Maynard James Keenan being this summer’s premier hard-rock beau rêve. Though Mer de Noms proves somewhat choppy sailing, APC deftly tapped the record’s pulsing, somnolent undercurrents to scuttle any claims of their appeal residing entirely in the snaking strength of “Judith.”
There seemed no such worries on the crowd’s part. Manic enthusiasm greeted A Perfect Circle’s Freudian smirk of an intro: a dinner-date/liplock scenario featuring two disrobing lasses, enacted in silence and abruptly snuffed just as they were about to . . . The stuff of sticky nighttime reveries, it left libidinal howls reverberating through the darkness.
The stage thus set for a performance that smacked of sleepy-time without ever inducing it, Howerdel and cohorts materialized amid the urgent swell of “Magdalena,” couched in the penumbra of a bruisey violet light. A player in its own right, this strangely soporific glow (stitched with ocher; humming round bassist Paz Lenchantin’s saffron gown) limned the band’s shivery nocturnal vibe as they plumbed slivered, circuitous melodies (“Breña,” “Orestes”) and cable-taut rhythms (“Rose,” “Thinking of You”) with equal grace. Contorted by strobes and punched into looming silhouettes, APC radiated the poignant opacity of stirring from a rapidly dissipating dream. Even “a really gay cover” (Keenan’s deadpan sixth-grade description) of the Cure’s “Lovesong”—spiked with metal riffage—sported a certain surreal logic, given Howerdel’s distinct R. Smith influences. Ultimately, APC’s shadow play proved spot-on. A credit to this adroitly projected collective unconscious, the set’s end felt more like waking up then saying good night. —Nick Rutigliano
When subcultures are exported, they usually mutate interestingly in the process. A fair few folks are wondering whether 2step garage, the hottest dance scene in Britain right now, is going to take off here, and what path it might take. Drive By, the latest in a sporadic flurry of 2step parties, featured a bona fide Yookay Name DJ, Emma Feline, plus Reid Speed (also female, and for a long while the only local DJ pushing this sound), party organizer Dinesh, and DB. Its location was the Frying Pan, but the main dancefloor was on the Pier 63 quayside instead of the once-sunken boat’s fantastically corroded interior—doubtless because its Tool video/Quay Brothers ambience doesn’t fit U.K. garage’s plush, lush VIP vibe.
The Monday-night party recalled the first NYC jungle clubs in late ’94—a hardcore kernel of converted fiends, lots of curious fence-sitters, and an atmosphere of tentative excitement. Hipsters seem attracted by 2step’s juddering bass and hypersyncopated beats (as complex as jungle at its creative peak), but confused or even repelled by the warbly divas and r&b influences. “Serious” techno and drum’n’bass headz tend to be sniffy about vocals, and one of the engaging things about 2step is its transgression of this taboo on sheer pop appeal.
Intriguingly, Reid Speed and Dinesh both bring a “deep” sensibility to 2step’s glossy-surfaced instantaneousness (“deep” being house/techno code for “not blatantly tuneful”) by focusing on less songful stuff—all plinky xylo/marimba-style B-lines and tuned percussion. DB, being an English expat and a populist, is comfortable dropping such ultramelodic tracks as Shanks & Bigfoot’s “Sing-A-Long” and the remake of soppy piano-rave anthem “Sweet Harmony.” Feline was authentically British in playing Big Tune after Big Tune, but her mixing was often sloppy and she didn’t exhibit much flair for set building or vibe escalation. Still, the sheer implacable density of Big Tunes—B15’s “Girls Like This,” Shola Ama’s “Imagine,” Gabrielle’s “Sunshine”—kept the converts on the floor. These high-pitched melisma selections also showcased another crucial aspect of 2step: the way that extreme treble can be as intense as extreme bass. The sensation is head-spinningly effervescent, like you’ve got champagne running through your veins.
Speaking of which, I didn’t see one sign of the U.K. garage raver’s fave tipple. Other differences: The dancing was more energetic, fluid, and expressive than the taut shoulder/hip/butt shaking you get in London clubs. Most striking of all was the utter absence of we-be-the-baddest-clique snootiness. In this respect, if no other, the fledgling American scene has the edge over its Brit blueprint. —Simon Reynolds
If you ask me, Latin alternative really pops with the sight of Julio Briceño, lead singer for Los Amigos Invisibles, racing across the stage into a high-speed electro-merengue called “El Sobón,” or Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas’s Dante Spinetta Zalazar making like a displaced breakdancer in an imaginary Bronx salsa club. But the genre’s fan base also welcomes Monterrey’s Nortec (exploding mad samples and loops of norteño danzón), Austin’s Vallejo (stacking Marshall amps for an attack of Lynyrd Skynyrd with a Santana underbelly), and Nuyo-Dominican tropical triphoppers Si Se—all of whom performed at shows as part of the first-ever Latin Alternative Music Conference.
With crossover fever in the air at Central Park SummerStage on August 12, disco-funqueros Los Amigos unveiled their new English tune, “Amor,” a three-chord soul-jazz anthem that answers the question “What is love?” Digging deeply into the soulful slink of bugaloo, the Amigos unveiled the mixed-tropical underpinnings of their upcoming Arepa 3000. Still, the obligatory Venezuelan flags didn’t come out until lite-porno standards like “Disco Anal” and “Ponerte en Cuatro” brought their set to a rousing climax. Argentina’s Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas took the stage, having evolved from faux-cholo lowriding rhymers into Funkadelic Boricua MCs. Cowled in ‘do-rags and turbans, IKV’s Dante Spinetta and Emmanuel Hourvilleur kicked Joe Cuba montunos on old favorite “Abarajame” and Leche‘s “Coolo” and “Jennifer del Estero.”
But not everyone is enamored with tropical funk rock, especially the payaso at Irving Plaza on August 14 who splattered Hourvilleur with beer in the middle of his Earth, Wind, and Fire falsetto in “Lo Que Nos Mata.” Performing at about the same time Rage and Ozomatli fans were getting gassed in L.A., rap-rockers Molotov got the crowd punchy—several rowdies were ejected. Expertly sticking to the rawk part of rock, Molotov—with their echoey fireworks and craftily crude rhymes—cemented their dominance as poster boys for alienated Latino youth.
The songwriters-in-the-round set at Nell’s belonged to Latin rock’s queen divas, Julieta Venegas and Andrea Echeverri. Venegas was a revelation, her off-the-cuff, bored melancholy conveyed so edgily by her raspy wisp of a voice. She performed on solo piano and acoustic guitar, then stood with an accordion doing her Tom Waits-meets-Carlos Gardel Tijuana tango “Casa Abandonada.” These tunes were reprised in the Café Tacuba-style arrangements of her new album, Buen Invento, at the Banda Elástica awards show August 15 at Irving Plaza.
Venegas’s auspicious New York debut couldn’t steal the luster from the best unsigned band of the moment, Colombia’s Aterciopelados. Head ‘pelado and Latin chanteuse of the ’00s Andrea Echeverri stopped hearts with an acoustic version of her classic “Bolero Falaz.” At Irving Plaza her exquisite, cosmic-goddess voice was unruffled by Atercio’s new electronic configuration; Echeverri and partner-in-música Héctor Buitrago transformed the punk anthem “Florecita Rockera” into a deep house trance-athon. Ecstatically imploring the faithful, Echeverri stirred up the unlikely mosh pit, swinging her arms to the beat of an ancestral drum we all had heard in our dreams. —Ed Morales