The final event in the Hollywood Bowl’s World Festival ’99 series was an inventively offbeat programming coup — a trio of headliners from three former Portuguese colonies: Brazil and Africa’s Angola and Cape Verde. At the top of the bill — and the top of his form — Brazil’s Gilberto Gil repeated his Bowl triumph of two summers ago, but the hypnotic grooves of Angola’s Waldemar Bastos were just as stirring in their own quite different way.
Gil is one of those amazing musical polymaths that Brazil has a knack for turning out — an intellectual with an earthy common touch, a sponge of influences from throughout the world on which he puts his own personal stamp. Last year’s excellent “Quanta Live” album (Atlantic/ Mesa) provides a good idea of his 1997 show — and at 57, he remains a slightly built and athletic quivering ball of energy with a voice like quicksilver and a staccato playing style that often makes his electric guitar sound like an acoustic model.
Gil’s fascination with reggae continues to flower in unexpected ways — from a thumping, straight-ahead cover of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” to a convincing Jamaican transformation of George Harrison’s “Something.” While this is perfectly consistent with his humanistic world view, Gil made his biggest impact when his expert band fed him irresistibly jiggling, Brazilian-rhythm-based grooves. With his nimble voice bouncing all over the percussive accents of “O Gandhi/De Ouro E Marfim,” augmented by a memorable recurring riff for Marcelo Martins’ soprano sax and a wild percussion duel, Gil ignited the crowd, finishing them off with an even more electrifying “Barracos.”
By contrast, Bastos and his four-piece band rely upon gradual seduction, drawing the listener in with lengthy, mysterious, revolving, increasingly sophisticated African vamps that could enjoyed all night. Besides sporting a bright, powerful baritone that reminds one a bit of Salif Keita, Bastos — who now lives in exile in Portugal — also displayed a winningly melodic guitar style in some romping instrumental jams. His sole miscalculation was ending his all-too-short set with a quiet ballad.
A onetime protegee of her now-famous countrywoman Cesaria Evora, Cape Verde’s Fantcha turned her rich, haunting, graciously lilting voice loose over the driving coladeira grooves of her nine-piece band.