Review: ‘Global Divas’

The culmination of this worldly celebration of women and song demonstrated how a free-flowing and transcendent musical sound can be created by three distinct, and seemingly non-related, barefoot performers.

The culmination of this worldly celebration of women and song demonstrated how a free-flowing and transcendent musical sound can be created by three distinct, and seemingly non-related, barefoot performers. Three soaring voices, accompanied by musicians from Zimbabwe, Peru, the Texas-Mexico border and Racine, Wisc., performing on percussion, mandolin, classical guitar and the African thumb piano, created a joyful hybrid unbound by geography yet stamped with wondrous earthly power.

Border-folk singer-guitarist Tish Hinojosa, Afro-Peruvian singer Susana Baca and Zimbabwean Stella Chiweshe, master of the mbira dza vadzimu, a 22-prong thumb piano, appear under the umbrella of Global Divas, a touring partnership focused on Women’s History Month. (Title is taken from a three-CD compilation issued by Rounder Records; Hinojosa and Baca are represented on its followup, “Divine Divas.”) Program is a lesson in diversity and the role of heritage in each musician’s work.

Baca’s 45-minute set overflowed with a glowing sensuality. At times it came from her rich and achingly beautiful voice, elsewhere it was in her slow and deliberate dancerly steps and the suave percussion display by ace drum men Hugo Bravo Sanchez and Juan Medrano Cotito. The duo, paired with Rafael Munoz Loredo’s guitar, gave the music an air of distinction rooted in familiarity. At times, Baca’s sound runs in line with the Cuban son or the samba and other coastal Brazilian music, two key sources for jazz musicians hunting for a global source of inspiration. As such, it hits American ears with a well-defined sense of place.

Chiweshe’s far more exotic-sounding music has a sharp off-kilter pace. The thumb pianos, played inside resonators that gave the instruments an added vibrancy, have a hypnotic quality when played in unison that Chiweshe maximized. Her Shona-lingo vocals recalled the shout of a mother calling for her children or a prayer-like chant, a fascinating dichotomy for the extremely steady beat on the congas.

The set from headliner Hinojosa needed its final corrido, “Con una Pluma en Su Mano,” to define her roots as deeply as Baca and Chi-weshe. As pretty and tuneful as her early numbers were, they fell easy on the ears and seemed less inspired in this setting. “Con una Pluma” and its personal tale of revolution gave her set a much-needed focal point that connected the dots between the U.S., South America and Africa, a line these three performers drew with grace and a sense of delight.

Global Divas

Veterans Wadsworth Theater; 1,300 seats; $25 top

Production

Presented by the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts. Reviewed March 8, 1998.

With

Performers: Tish Hinojosa, Marvin Dykhuis, Chip Dolan; Susana Baca, David Pinto Pinedo, Juan Medrano Cotito, Hugo Bravo Sanchez, Rafael Munoz Loredo; Stella Chiweshe, Chinembiri Chidodo, Gilson Mangoma, Leonard Ngwenya.
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