Review: ‘Baaba Maal; Angelique Kidjo; Ex-Centric Sound System’

Sunday's concert at the Hollywood Bowl was billed as an evening of African funk, but the moniker proved inadequate as the Senegalese singer Baaba Maal and Benin's Angelique Kidjo demonstrated in two one-hour sets how wide-ranging African-based music can be, with some not necessarily rhythmic.

Sunday’s concert at the Hollywood Bowl was billed as an evening of African funk, but the moniker proved inadequate as the Senegalese singer Baaba Maal and Benin’s Angelique Kidjo demonstrated in two one-hour sets how wide-ranging African-based music can be, with some not necessarily rhythmic. Maal is a melodist who embraces a host of African influences that continually push his music away from its native core; Kidjo has bonded with Western and Brazilian influences to create a wholly new sound that should soon expose her to a far greater audience worldwide.

Kidjo’s band includes Brazilians and Africans along with a New York City drummer, and they give her new music — four songs in Sunday’s program are from an upcoming Sony release — a universal spin that banks on the rhythms of Brazil’s Bahia region. Her latest disc, a “Best of” from Columbia, shows how her work is almost the prototypical melange of American, Parisian and African influences that was popular in the 1980s and ’90s; the newer songs find her transcending labels through an organic assimilation of even more influences — several of them quite sensual — than she tackled in earlier projects. Provided the new album captures her energy and spirit, it should be a winner in a number of countries.

Maal is a marvelous performer to watch, and he surrounds himself with musicians and dancers in colorful garb who give each number a lively spirit. His music has an airiness that allows the kora, a 21-string harp lute, to fill in the empty spaces with an exotic and high-pitched counterpoint to his mellifluous voice. Touring in support of his latest release, “Missing You” on Palm Pictures, his music gets into an uplifting mood and stay there, essentially at a peak song after song. It’s about as pleasing a monotony as you’re likely to find.

Ex-Centric Sound System opened the evening with a half-hour of African pop dominated by tin flutes and drums. Led by Israeli bassist Yossi Fine, the unit operates with an untethered vision of global fusion that borrows a little dub, a little West Africa, a little Middle East, a little whatever. Sometimes it works on individualism alone; other times it feels like a work in progress.

Baaba Maal; Angelique Kidjo; Ex-Centric Sound System

Hollywood Bowl; 17,683 seats; $75 top

Production

Presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn. Reviewed Aug. 12, 2001.

Cast

Bands: (BM) Baaba Maal, Mansour Seck, Ilon Ba, Massamba Diop, Kauding Cissoko, Hilaire Chaby-Hary, El Hadj Niang, Mami Kanoute, Bada Seck, Bahkane Seck, Taban Diouf, Ndiaw Samb, Alioune Diouf; (AK) Angelique Kidjo, Ruben Delacorte, Richard Hammond, Gilmar Gomez, Jeremy Gaddie, Joao Mota; (ECSS) Yossi Fine, Kwame Dadzie, Patricia Harris.
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