African Soul Rebels, Brighton Dome, Brighton
Friday 22 February 2008
The African Soul Rebels package enters its fourth year, with the king of Afro-beat, the Golden Voice of Africa, and a young lion from Senegal each packing hour-long sets into what must be one of the best-value concert tours around.
The first night of an 11-date UK tour was at Brighton's Dome, and began with the Senegalese rapper Awadi, followed by a glorious acoustic performance from Salif Keita, and, for the great finale, Afro-beat jazz from the 70-year-old Tony Allen and his band.
Awadi, the young rapper from Senegal, is intent on inspiring a new generation of Africans to reappropriate their history, and his Positive Black Soul band and Presidents D'Afrique project have captured the imagination with their focus on the "fathers of African independence" of the Fifties and Sixties.
He does the usual hip-hop things – arms in the air; call-and-response routines with the crowd. The clichés of US rap may all be bling, bitches and bullets, but Awadi's between-song raps in English provide the handles to get a grip on the matter of his music. "We can't accept it any more," he says of the world's appetite for diamonds and oil. "Remember that other people are dying for your luxury."
Keita begins alone, sat in the centre of the stage with his semi-acoustic guitar threading an embroidery of delicate guitar lines around that amazing golden voice. One of Africa's greatest singers and one of its first major international stars, his performance, like his last two albums, is an all-acoustic affair.
The opening "Folou" and "Tassi" are exquisite, commanding the audience's attention from the off. On "Siro", he switches to a handsome black semi-acoustic, and is joined by a brilliant young ngoni player, Makim Toumkara, and halfway through the following "Laban" his all-acoustic Malian band of kora, calabash and congas appears. Keita has plans to record with this superb band in the autumn, and after the closing "Touyami" and "Ahmed Baba", rooted in Keita's voice and guitar but flushed with some superb calabash and ngoni, it's only the late-running and 11.30pm curfew that prevents a loudly demanded encore.
Allen used to play six-hour sets with Fela Kuti in the Seventies and Eighties, so the closing hour's set of five songs must barely break sweat on the great man's brow. His six-piece band is centred on bass and keyboards for some epic, propulsive Afro-jazz, an ensemble sound powered by Allen and reminiscent of the Afrocentric pulses of Miles Davis's mid-Seventies band.
The opening number's 10 minutes of ecstatic funk brings the audience to its feet. With his bassist locked in tight, standing in front of Allen's kit and transmitting the bass pulse to the rest of the band, and the guitarist chopping out an irresistibly funky rhythm, the ensemble takes off into some of the finest dance music you're likely to hear.
Touring to 26 February ( www.musicbeyondmainstream.com)
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