Review and photographs by Stanley Johnson
Additional photographs by Rudy Lu
“Travel the world with us, one concert at a time.” That’s the motto of the Music Haven Concert Series and the mission of Artistic Director Mona Golub. At the inaugural concert of the season in the Agnes Macdonald Music Haven in Schenectady’s Central Park, Golub remembered her first show in the park more than 20 years before, back when she ran Second Wind Productions.
“The concerts were over there on the side of the amphitheater on an old wooden stage,” she said, noting that she was particularly excited to have brought soukous musician Kanda Bongo Man to play in 1991. I remembered the show: in the wake of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album and tour, soukous – meaning “shake” – was one of several styles of African music which were suddenly all the rage, and it was something of a coupe to have the real thing in Schenectady.
Kanda Bongo Man, who is currently touring this year in Europe, had an exciting band of dancers and musicians who played the hypnotic dance music that was anchored to the drums in a repetitive rhythm that was also very intricate in the feather-light, winding guitar lines of Diblo Dibala. Once you allowed yourself the freedom to dance and found the rhythm, it was almost impossible to stop dancing.
Golub brought Dibala with his own band, Loketo, in 2003 for another great dance show, and I was really happy to see the guitarist from Congo returning once again last Sunday evening, this time with his newest band Matchatcha.
As in previous shows, the audience took a little while to warm to the idea that this was a dancing show, not a sitting and listening show. Listening not very closely, you might think the music was, like reggae or the blues can be to the casual listener, the same thing over and over.
But, once up, dancing to it requires you to realize that there is a whole lot going on in the spaces between and among the sounds of the guitar, bass and drums. The drums are the key and signal a gradual wind-up of intensity until the sound is swinging the dancers like crazy. It’s no wonder that this music has proved popular with many jam bands: “infectious” doesn’t begin to describe it.
The sidelines in the amphitheater filled with dancers, who eventually moved in front of the stage. And by the end of the show, the dancers were all over the stage itself.
The Music Haven Concert Series’ journey around the world continues at 7pm on Sunday (July 15) with the band Matuto, which fuses together the unlikely but intoxicating sound of bluegrass and Brazilian music. The Bernstein Bard Quartet will open the show. Admission is free.
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Dibala has said he was inspired by the great Congolese bandleader Franco (in whose jazz orchestra Dibala apprenticed in his teens), the 1950s Cuban rumba style and jazz guitarist George Benson. All this added up to a thrilling Afro-pop party, spiced with the sweet sting of trebly high-speed guitar. An in-demand sideman before forming his own bands — he played Music Haven in 1992 with Kanda Bongo Man — Dibala brought a sparse but strong band to Music Haven. Second guitarist Richard often echoed Dibala or dropped terse chord fills in behind the melody, while drummer Oscar and bassist Guma Lakito welded big beats, mostly in four. Dibala also brought two spirited dancer-singers, women whose names I didn’t catch, to lead by example. A sensational guitarist who used a good deal more distortion and sustain than Benson but a similar graceful swing, Dibala also proved a persuasive, unflashy singer. He alternated zippy Soukous (‘shake it’) dance numbers with slower rumbas and zouk numbers, but the slow songs weren’t actually needed for breath-catching as dancers offstage were slow to catch the fire onstage.”