Cyndi's adventures with the wiff-waff element

Rock
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The Independent Culture
"HAVE YOU goys evah been heah befawah?" Cyndi Lauper asked the audience at the Albert Hall last Sunday. She was pleased to hear that some of us hadn't. "Oh, so theah's some wiff-waff like myself."

Typical of her. For the past decade, the predominant perception of Lauper is of a little punk goil with a Tweety Pie speaking voice and hair colouring that comes out of a selection of bottles (though bottles of what is another question). Tonight she maintained the kooky look with a yellow Monroe mop and a black mac. As her first album title said: She's So Unusual.

The image served her well at the start of her career, but Tweety Pie is now an albatross round her neck, distracting attention from vocals measurable only on the Richter scale, and from the fact that She's So Unusual is a tour de force of mainstream American rock. Since then, her material has not always been up to standard, but last year's surprise smash, Twelve Deadly Cyns . . . And Then Some (Epic), proved that she is more than a novelty act.

Tonight's show did the same, although there were certainly novelties. One was hearing that her gutsy, petulant voice can also be sweet and quiet. Another was seeing her play the recorder, melodica, guitar, washboard, accordion, and dulcimer, which she described in characteristic fashion: "It's a guitar that went on Weight Watchers."

Another multi-instrumentalist, Larry Campbell, helped to deepen the arrangements, on guitar, mandolin and particularly fiddle, but all the band acquitted themselves in style. They'd be scared not to. After her wiff-waff comments, the band struck up "She Bop". Four bars in, she told them to restart, "a little more fawceful". By the end of "Money Changes Everything", she was throttling her drummer, and pulling her guitarist across the stage by his hair. She's a tough kooky.

The girl from Queens returned for the encore dressed in a crown and ermine robe. If she sticks to this image, maybe she will receive the respect she deserves.

The problem with Baaba Maal's latest tour is that it differs so much from Baaba Maal's latest album. Firin' In Fouta (Mango) was the world music you could enjoy without ruining your street cred. Maal blended his Senegalese roots music with salsa, jazz, rave and hip hop, resulting in a cutting edge album that made you wonder if any other dance music deserved the name.

At the Royal Festival Hall on Thursday, however, Maal chose not to recreate the album's contemporary sound. Such a feat would have been difficult anyway, but when you have a dozen musicians on stage it shouldn't be impossible. Positive Black Soul, a Dakar rap duo, make a guest appearance on "Swing Yela"; otherwise the concert seems like a step backwards.

But even in traditional mode, Maal and his band, Daande Lenol, are a force to be reckoned with. Ranged in front of two giant corn-dollies, moving in a cross between break dancing and the can-can, and wearing voluminous coats of many colours, they provide a flurry of heated conversation between four talking drums, and crisp plucks of the kora (what Cyndi Lauper would call a tall guitar with a pot belly). And Maal's voice - in his native Pulaar - slices through it all like a laser. Even so, it seemed that some of the appeal was more anthropological than artistic.

On Friday night, Senser were back in London after spending "some considerable length of time smelling other parts of the world". The Nazi-baiting, Criminal Justice Bill-hating, Earth-saving gang deliver a performance of ferocious commitment. Heitham Al-Sayed thrashes like an escapologist in a particularly tough straitjacket. It is an eerie pleasure to hear his singing - in between his percussive rapping - intertwine with Kerstin Haigh's plaintive moan.

Nick Michaelson, meanwhile, makes a variety of sounds which other guitarists don't attempt. As well as his high-speed Metallica riffing there emerges a car-alarm noise, clucking, scratching and squeaking. The advent of sampling turned dance rhythm tracks into repeated snippets of guitar solo, synthesised whoops and special effects. These are now being imitated by live instruments, and the parameters of rhythm guitaring, in Michaelson's hands at least, are being expanded.

Whether Senser can establish unity between people of all creeds and colours is a moot point, but they've managed it with fans of metal, indie, hip hop, and new age, which must be almost as difficult.

Cyndi Lauper: Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, 015-948 2626, Wed; Sheffield City Hall, 0742 735295, Fri; York Barbican, 0904 656688, Sun 26 Feb; Birmingham Symphony Hall, 021- 212 3333, Mon 27 Feb.

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