“Sway” – as Alison Hoblyn pointed out in her review of Afrocubism seven months ago at last November’s London Jazz Festival, is a better word than “dance” to describe the way in which an audience moves to the loping grooves of Afrocubism.
It’s also worth making the distinction because a genuine dancer was onstage last night: there was the briefest of appearances by the supreme Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta at the end of Afrocubism’s Royal Albert Hall concert, to present Afrocubism with their Songlines Award for Cross-Cultural Collaboration. The band is about to head off on a North American tour.
For the record , Alison’s review and Robin Denselow’s for the Guardian have a fascinating insight into the origins of the band.
So, on the hottest day for five years in London, it was interesting to see how long it would take a not-quite full Royal Albert Hall to respond to the music, and to get up on its feet. Indeed, the Malians kept on asking the audience in an intrigued rather than a concerned tone of voice : “are you enjoying yourselves?” The answer came back that we were. But , for all that, it still takes a surprisingly long time for British reserve to be overcome other than by a few brave souls, about an hour and a quarter into the set, more or less at he point when people start to get the idea that the set might be coming to an end. We are a curious race.
Visually it was the imposing presence of the resplendently tall Bassekou Kouyaté in his flowing gown which caught the eye. Musically, the stand-out moments are the dialogues between kora and ngoni, and between African and Cuban percussion. But what stays in the mind are the contrasting but deeply emotional qualities of the two main vocalists, the Cuban Eliades Ochoa and the Malian Kasse Mady Diabaté. Their magic made the Royal Albert Hall feel, even with its (understatement) uniquely challenging acoustic, feel like an intimate space.
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