We are getting spoiled, or jaded, or broke, as a torrent of superb African artists continue to move through town, mostly at the indispensable Cedar Cultural Center. Last weekend Carmen Souza put on a spellbinding performance in front of a sparse crowd at the Cedar, gliding between breathy ballads, sexy funana rhythms from her ancestral Cape Verde, and a beautiful cover of Horace Silver’s “Song From My Father.”
Now comes Dobet Gnahoré, who if anything is more charismatic and visually arresting than Souza. Although she hails from the Ivory Coast, Gnahore is truly pan-African in her command of more than a half-dozen of the continent’s dialects in song. Her politics are fierce and “lefty,” her singing is by turns passionately bold and delicate as it leaps octaves and roams the scale, and her music is a naturally derived potpourri of Nigerian high life, folk, Congolese rumba and soukous, and Cameroonian bikutsi.
But you don’t have to memorize your African musical glossary to revel in Gnahoré concert. She rivets your attention the moment she enters, her head and shoulders a riot of braids, beads, dreads, necklaces and painted symbols, her bare arms muscular. When she breaks into dance — the hips the pistons, upper torso rattling, arms akimbo — the visual jolt is electric and dominant, and yet the movement furthers the rhythm and narrative of the music.
Here is a representative clip of Gnahoré onstage, this time live in Dakar, Senegal. Here she is accompanying herself on talking drum two years ago in Amsterdam. Here she is stealing the show with her dancing during Putamayo Records’ Acoustic Africa tour. And for those who want a better audio sample of Gnahoré’s music, here is her MySpace page with five songs and other bio information.
A co-presentation of the Cedar and the Walker Art Center, where Gnahoré is said to have stolen the show on that Acoustic Africa tour three years ago, this gig is highly recommended and a gorgeous way to cap off a spring weekend.
Dobet Gnahoré at the Cedar Cultural Center, Sunday, May 3, 7:30 p.m., $25 in advance ($21 for Walker members) and $30 day of show ($24 for Walker members).