Concert review: Afrocubism Celebrates Brooklyn!

Date: June 9, 2012
Venue: Prospect Park /Bandshell (Brooklyn, NY)

Review by Augusta Palmer

Though the weather forecast threatened a downpour, the skies miraculously cleared just as the opening act, Alsarah and the Nubatones, took the stage at Prospect Park last Saturday for the second show in the 2012 Celebrate Brooklyn Season. Alsarah is a Sudanese-born singer, songwriter, and ethnomusicologist with a gorgeous, velvet- toned voice. Alsarah and the Nubatones played a selection of Nubian “songs of return” from the 1970s as well as original material and traditional music from central Sudan. The band, which also includes Karine Fleurima on vocals, Haig Manoukian on oud, Rami El Aasser on percussion, and Mawuena Kodjovi on bass, got the crowd moving with their beautiful vocal duets, lyrical oud, and infectious beat.

But it was Afrocubism, the collaboration between Malian and Cuban musicians that was supposed to happen during the filming of what became The Buena Vista Social Club, that most were there to see. Cuban singer and guitarist Eliades Ochoa deftly piloted Afrocubism Airlines to heights of musical delight, but this fusion project is by no means a nominal collaboration behind a unifying frontman. The band played together seamlessly, collaborating generously to the benefit of a rapt audience. Legendary kora player Toumani Diabate served as the show’s emcee with occasional help from ngoni master Bassekou Kouyate, Kasse Mady Diabaté sang in several languages, balafon player Lassana Diabaté played so hard he almost broke the balafon in half.  Guitarist Djelimady Tounkara has been called one of Africa’s best guitar players, and his performance Saturday did not disappoint. Together with the amazing sounds of Grupo Patria – José A. Martinez  (double bass), Jorge Maturell (bongos & congas), Osnel Odit (guitar), Eglis Ochoa (maracas), Lennis Lara (trumpet), Alain A. Dragonit (trumpet) – Afrocubism  had nearly everyone in the audience up on their feet, dancing in the aisles, and begging for more by show’s end.