August 4th was a very hot day in New York, but that didn't stand in the way of the throng of people who gathered at the SummerStage in Central Park for a triple bill concert of Just a Band, Theophilus London and Amadou & Mariam. I heard one concertgoer describe the bill as an "African Sandwich". I assume she was referring to the fact that Just a Band and Amadou & Mariam are African performers, and that Theophilus London was between them. I'm not going to over-analyze the statement, but in the vein of the edible motif already in place, the performances were delectable, savoury and highly palatable for everyone in attendance.
Just a Band took to the stage first, and they didn’t disappoint. I’m not sure how I would describe their music. They describe themselves as Africa's Super-Nerdy Electronic Music/Art collective, but they are more than just that. Their music is an eclectic mix of house, disco, funk, and hip hop, with an aesthetic that imbues afro-futurism. However, limiting them to that seems somehow constricting.
From their performance, I think their range in electronic dance music can be as broad as they want it to be. They play what they want to play, and trying to nail them down to a specific genre would be an exercise in futility.
(DOWNLOAD Ha-He Smoovegroove Remix)
Hailing from Nairobi, Kenya, I first heard about Just a Band a few years ago when their video Ha-He (above) was making the rounds on social networks online. Seeing them perform live cemented my initial positive impressions of them. They command the stage with confidence and authority. Not to mention the noteworthy outfits they had on; they would have fit right into Sun Ra’s Arkestra, and I mean that as a compliment of the highest order. I wonder if he was an inspiration. Nevertheless, I certainly look forward to seeing more from them, and so should you. They are a fun band to listen to and to see.
Amadou & Mariam
After Theophilus London’s riveting and highly entertaining set (complete with the bass player jumping into the audience to pluck girls to dance on the stage with the band), Amadou & Mariam took to the stage. It would have been unrealistic to expect a dozen girls shaking what the good lord blessed them with on stage for this set, but what Amadou and Mariam did bring was a sublime presence, along with their trademark Malian grooves. Their latest album is titled Folila, which simply means "music" in Bambara. The first video off the album is Wily Katasa, which features Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone from the band TV on the Radio.
Now, it goes without saying that Amadou and Mariam are a fabulous duo, and they are always on point. Equally on point was their backing band. They were all fantastic, but the musician of note was the djembe player, Boubacar Dembélé. He is a sight to behold. His hands moved with the precision of a machine. Taking pictures of his hands was not easy, as they moved very rapidly.
Rounding out the band was Christophe Tribert on bass, and Yves Abadi on the drums. Together, they provided a weighted anchor that a good supporting cast should provide. The crowd loved every minute of it, and so did I. This is Amadou and Mariam's first tour of North America since 2009, and they've a few gigs left on this one, so check here to see if they'll be hitting your town.