Since the Hollywood Bowl inaugurated its world music series, the bookers have attempted to find just the right mix of global and diva and have generally produced mixed results. The fifth edition, however, hit every note correctly, from the glorious voices to a satisfying representation of folkloric music from around the globe.
Headliner Tracy Chapman delivered the most measured set, settling into her standard folk-blues groove that the half-full Bowl embraced with hushed attentiveness.
She opened with Mae Axton’s “Hound Dog” as a tribute to another diva, Big Mama Thornton, and proceeded with her grab bag of hits — “For My Lover,” ” Fast Car,” “Talking ‘Bout a Revolution” and “Give Me One Reason” — in an hourlong set.
Chapman, backed by guitarist Joe Gore and drummer Quinn, surprised the crowd with a sedate yet passionate version of Nirvana’s “Come as You Are”; her guitar playing, in line with her vocals, were both textbook displays of perfect intonation.
Oumou Sangare, a force as a social commentator in her native Mali as well as a tremendous singer, gave a dazzling and hypnotic perf that could have gone on for hours and never been less than mesmerizing. Backed by seven instrumentalists and two femme singer-dancer-percussionists, Sangare’s high-pitched and plaintive vocals wound through the trance-inducing polyrhythms, funk touches and the piercing string sounds from the bolon.
Sangare’s latest disc, the career overview “Oumou,” supplied the bulk of the material for the night, much of it danceable and winding. For her most American work, the ballad “Djorolen,” she shed she flutist, violinist and singers and worked in a Southern soul idiom; if ever there were an African singer capable of recalling the great soul music that came out of Muscle Shoals, Ala., and Memphis in the 1960s, Sangare’s the one.
Opener Tania Libertdad — a Peruvian who first came to fame singing the romantic and emotional ballads known as boleros — has been heavily cross-pollinating her music across South America with a few dips into Africa. Her music has come to be rhythmically dominated, with elements of samba, Cuban son and Mexico peppering her works.
Working like many Brazilians, she embraces sparseness to great effect, never better than on “Yo Vengo a Ofrecer,” in which guitar and bass sounds are dispensed like eye drops, falling gently around the hand drums and her invigorating voice.