Habib Koite and Dobet Gnahore: Live Last Night

Live Last Night

The two West African musicians who performed at Lisner Auditorium last night, Habib Koite and Dobet Gnahore, also appeared together on a 2006 sampler, "Acoustic Africa." That title suggests the style of both performers: easygoing folk-rock, emphasizing finger-picked guitar and embellished by indigenous African instruments. At Lisner, Koite seemed a bit confined by the formula, while Gnahore broke free.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

Backed by his longtime quintet, Bamada, Koite played long, rippling numbers that seemed more strung-together solos than actual songs. The music wasn't literally acoustic: Everything was amplified, save for Koite's voice when the Malian maestro took a stroll up the center aisle, singing and playing guitar. (The latter had a wireless link.)

But the sound was essentially traditional, with the sharp, high tones of two guitarists complementing the polyrhythms of two percussionists and a balafon (wooden xylophone) player. Koite and Bamada eventually brought most of the listeners to their feet, but never quite generated the excitement they have in previous D.C. shows.

Gnahore was accompanied by a trio that included only one percussionist, and none of the female vocalists whose lacy harmonies characterize her latest album, "Na Afriki." That format limited the Ivory Coast singer's ability to reproduce the album's sound, although she came surprisingly close with a lovely version of "Yekiyi."

Generally, however, Gnahore took a more aggressive approach, with both her voice and her body. A highly physical yet graceful dancer, Gnahore swayed, leaped and did some impressive flips. She controlled the audience as well as she did her own limbs, using a mixture of English and French to cajole fans into attempting a pygmy chant.


By J. Freedom du Lac |  April 17, 2009; 11:07 AM ET Live Last Night
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