Concert Review: Elikeh passed the field test for producing dance energy and getting a crowd going…

Date: February 22, 2013
Venue: Drom (NY)

Review by Matt Cole

On 22 February, Washington D.C.- based multinational band Elikeh played at DROM in Alphabet City. The show was a make-up for an earlier date cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy. As I had enjoyed their new CD, Between 2 Worlds, I was looking forward to hearing their live performance.

Massama Dogo (photo courtesy of Massama Dogo)

Massama Dogo (photo courtesy of Massama Dogo)

Before Elikeh began, we were treated to a song by singer/guitarist Juno Brown. Her gentle and sweet vocals and guitar contrasted nicely with guest Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi‘s raw, bluesy tenor sax. Soon after the 9-piece (including 3 horns/winds, and a couple percussionists) Elikeh took the stage and jumped right in with strong horn lines over a propulsive beat which was based in afrobeat, but also had elements of afropop and a few other influences as well. Megan Nortrup took a soulful tenor sax solo, and then Togolese bandleader Serge Massama Dogo began to sing conscious lyrics in his mellifluous tenor. Initially, he could have been a bit higher in the mix, but that was soon corrected.

The set started at a high energy level, and maintained it for the balance of the night. Dogo proved to be a dynamic front man, encouraging the crowd to dance, at one point exclaiming “If you don’t dance, I’m going to make you guys sing!” As on their album, the music was quite eclectic, with the primary influences being afrobeat and afropop, but with funk, rock, and dub also being present in the musical olio. The songs were varied enough to keep things interesting, as different elements and performers would come to the forefront at different times; at times the African influences would be more prominent, and at other times, the sound of the Americas would be at the forefront of the arrangement. Nigerian guitarist Frank Martins laid down some fine solos, and the percussion section took a few nice breaks as well. In addition, tenor man Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi joined in for a song and solo. The band was quite tight, but not to the point of sterility, and the pacing of the set was done well, with a funky dubby number providing a nice break for the ever-increasing number of dancers. I was on the dance floor for about the last quarter of the show, and I can safely say with first-hand experience that Elikeh passed the field test for producing dance energy and getting a crowd going.

My only real complaint (and most of the crowd seemed to agree) was that the set was too short; Elikeh was only able to play about an hour and a quarter as there was another act to follow. The band and crowd were fully warmed up, and could probably have gone at least another hour. However, if one’s main complaint is about the brevity of the set, that’s a pretty good sign that the music was excellent. With their many influences, and with band members coming from such far-flung places as Togo, Benin, Nigeria, California, Maryland, New York, and more, Elikeh’s music is like a child of different-looking parents; one can discern the features of the parents and ancestors, but the child has a distinct look of his or her own.

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