Review: WORLD MUSIC Thomas Mapfumo, Afro-Celt Sound System, Papa Wemba Barbican, London

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
WOMAD, the World of Music and Dance, is normally found communing in the open air with a clientele that bridges the gap between the crusty and the social worker. The plan was to bring it into a central London venue, but why this most sterile of places, the Barbican? No drinks are allowed in the auditorium where the Lion of Zimbabwe, Thomas Mapfumo, and his band, The Blacks Unlimited, make a low-key entrance, initially subdued by overly bright lights and low-decibel sound. A small crowd of dancers leap to their feet, only to be herded back to their seats by uniformed ushers mindful of fire regulations. Backed by a trio of mbira (thumb pianos, played on laps and appearing to the uninformed like an exercise in self- abuse), Mapfumo's revolutionary chimurenga style loosens up as the set progresses, and soon dreadlocks are flaying, the volume is increased, and an ambience established. Then the shambolic Mapfumo, who's been checking his watch throughout, blows a kiss and shuffles off.

The house lights go up while MC Les Rickford establishes that while dancing is not permitted, "it's OK to stand in front of your seats and sway". Next up is the much-touted Afro-Celt Sound System, brainchild of Druidic guitar god and record producer Simon Emmerson, who appear amid swirling dry ice and extra volume, which obscures the acoustic players - although James McNally's rousing tin whistle is spared. Veering between Iarla O'Lionaird's mist-over-a-spray-tossed-headland vocals and techno work-outs featuring samples from the Emmerson-produced Baba Maal Firin' in Fouta album to Afro vs Celt drum face-offs, this expansive line-up incites creative calisthenics on and off stage. Running way over time, an unsolicited encore from O'Lionaird and McNally provides the only sour note, prompting heckling from an otherwise genial (and mainly white) crowd.

Another 30-minute gap and Rickford announces that "it's time we brought the global spirit back", heralding Papa Wemba and band. Zairean Wemba possesses one of Africa's great voices, and the minute he appears - looking both "designer" and "street" in Boss-embossed sweatshirt - the relief is palpable. Papa has parallel careers, recording Parisian high-tech soukous with his Viva La Musica group for the Francophone market and a more European sound for Peter Gabriel's Real World label. The gig features the latter and, despite the angst-ridden faces of Barbican security, his plea to "stand up and dance" is taken and given.

WOMAD are keen, they say, to be invited back next year. Though organisational and technical hiccups are plentiful, the "global spirit" sentiment pervades. By the end, even the doormen are jumping.

Comments