The second edition of the Black Atlantic series brought an excellent sampling of African and Afro-rooted music to Durham, North Carolina.
The first concert featured South African musician Derek Gripper, Congolese guitarist Jaja Bashengezi and Ugandan multi-instrumentalist Kinobe. Classically-trained Gripper has adapted the kora technique to the guitar. Kinobe played a fascinating Baganda harp called ndongo. This was a relaxed, virtuosic concert, focusing on the melodic side of African music. Derek Gripper has two albums related to his kora reinterpretations: One Night on Earth (2012) and Libraries on Fire (2016).
One of the highlights of the festival was Malian artist Fatoumata Diawara. I had seen her a few years ago when she was a rising artist. Years later, she has blossomed into one of the finest acts from West Africa and the world music scene in general. Her sold-out concert featured an explosive mix of modernized Malian traditional music, Afrobeat and Afro-rock. She speaks English very well and engaged the audience easily with her charisma and charm.
What surprised me (and the audience) the most is when she picked up her electric guitar several times and started soloing, ranging from Malian desert blues to Afro-rooted rock. Clearly spectacular. Fatoumata’s recent albums include Fatou and Fenfo.
The third concert in the series featured the captivating, trance-like Western Saharan sound of Mauritanian singer and ardine player Noura Mint Seymali along with her electric band. Her discography includes Tzenni (2014) and Arbina (2016).
Next was another highlight, spectacular Cuban singer Daymé Arocena. She also expressed herself in English very well, encouraged dancing and call and response interaction with the audience, and explained how Cuba is proud of its African and Spanish roots. Daymé bridges traditional Cuban, Afro-Cuban and American jazz. Her dazzling band featured world class Cuban instrumentalists, who obviously love jazz-rock fusion when they get opportunities to jam. Daymé’s highly recommended albums include Nueva Era (2015) and Cubafonía (2017).
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the Friday and Saturday concerts, although a colleague reported that the Dafnis Prieto Big Band concert was stunning. The show featured a 17-member big band performing Afro-Cuban jazz and ballads. This format appears in Dafnis Prieto’s album Back to the Sunset.
Kudos to Duke Performances for this highly successful series and special thanks to Eric Oberstein and King Kenney for their support.