Arts Desk

Acoustic Africa: Afropean Women at Lisner Tonight

While last year’s Acoustic Africa tour featured relatively well-known performers including guitarist Oliver Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe, this year’s “Acoustic Africa: Afropean Women” tour, stopping at Lisner Auditorium tonight, showcases the lesser-known Dobet Gnahore, Manou Gallo and Kareyce Fotso. Despite the lack of acclaim, this promising event is by no means less worthy of attention. Gnahore, an Ivory Coast singer/percussionist who now lives in Belgium and France, was part of the 2006 Acoustic Africa tour and bassist/vocalist Gallo, also from the Ivory Coast and living in Belgium, has received attention as part of Zap Mama.  Fotso is a Cameroonian singer/guitarist little recognized on this side of the Atlantic.  They will perform together, alternating on lead vocals, and be joined by a band led by German-American jazz guitarist Leni Stern who has recorded several African-influenced efforts. The entire ensemble, which spent a month rehearsing together for this tour, also includes impressive Malian balafonist Aly Keita, largely heralded for his work with Joe Zawinul.  The tour’s headliners answered some questions via email.

All three performers have striking voices, but Gnahore’s powerful pipes stand out the most.  Asked how and/or if her music has changed over the years, she responded, “I think the time has made me grow. In this project, I play congas, I sing and dance. I took singing lessons to improve my technique.”  Fotso believes being part of this tour will help her own songbook. “Collaboration with other artists gives me more experience in the way I sing and play guitar,” she says, adding adding that will certainly have an impact on my future album,” she concludes.

While the music performed will include polyrhythmic, danceable bass, balafon, and percussion sonics, the beats will be more traditional than popular  African electronic genres like the Ivory Coast danceclub style coupé-décalé.  Asked what she thinks of such contemporary international stylings, Fotso notes that “with globalization, the mutation of African cultures is inevitable. Our kids watch the same television as Paris or New York ... African culture is now accessible everywhere into the world." She also expressed her pleasant surprise at discovering that the 2006 World Cup anthem sung by Colombian singer Shakira was actually a cover of a popular song by the Cameroonian group Zangalewa. While Fotso is comfortable with these new techniques, she concludes with a cautionary note that “Africa, despite the current interbreeding, must preserve the essence of its culture and avoid going to a complete denaturalization.”  Fotso and her colleagues will be offering their hybrid traditional-rooted cultural styles tonight at 8 p.m.

Acoustic Africa: Afropean Women begins at 8 p.m. tonight at the Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW. $32-$45. (202) 994-6800. lisner.org.

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