Review – Salif Keita at The Vogue Theatre, Vancouver, April 2 2011
– review and photos by Rebecca Apostoli
Kutapira, a five-piece marimba ensemble who got their start at the Britannia Community Center world music program in Vancouver, opened the Salif Keita show April 2. Training under local musicians Jack Duncan and Myles Bigelow, these energetic young men displayed world-class chops with a diverse spectrum of percussion genres including Latin/Caribbean, Cuban, African and Portuguese.
Blending modern elements of breakbeat and hip hop into their original compositions resulted in a genre-defying mash-up that had everyone grooving. Only a few audience members accepted their invitation to dance, but two of the members busted some moves that had everyone clapping along and thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Though young, Kutapira are skilled enough to switch off turns at the three marimbas, drums set and a few varieties of hand drums. They also displayed an enthusiastic and cheerful stage demeanor that charmed and engaged the audience. These guys were the unexpected highlight of the evening, perhaps even outshining the headliner in his weaker moments.
With his glowing white dashiki and striking albino skin, Salif Keita was impressive, nonetheless. He seemed to emanate a supernatural light and goodness from his very core. Gazing magnanimously at his adoring crowd, Keita sang beautiful original songs about love, acceptance and empathy for our fellow man in his haunting plaintive voice.
His music, based on the traditional Mandinka music of Mali, is played and arranged for contemporary instruments such as the electric guitar, bass and Western drum set. Upbeat, uplifting and thoroughly dance-able, Keita’s music also incorporates many traditional instruments such as the kora, balafon, and djembe.
It was easy to get caught up in the building excitement of each song, where were played by a large band of highly skilled backing musicians, including an organist, a lead guitarist, a bassist, a kora player and two backup singers. Now 62, Salif Keita did seem a little old and frail, and did not dance as much as he has in the past, but his haunting voice, empathic gaze and striking stage presence were as impressive as ever. Those lucky enough to get tickets to the show should feel grateful for witnessing such a peaceful soul and evolved performer.
While everything musically was amazing, one thing that was definitely detracted from the show was the overly uptight, aging audience members who obstinately stayed seated the entire performance and scowled at the younger crowd who chose to dance and celebrate this fantastic legend of African music. While elder audience members grumbled about “lack of respect” and “decorum”, it was actually they themselves who were disrespecting the artist by sitting there like lumps on a log. They might as well have been asleep or at home on the couch.
During the first song of Kutapira’s set I was getting a few snaps of the band and a woman in her early 50s asked me if I was “going to be doing that all night”. Well yes, I’m a music journalist, my job here is to document the show. Even though I was nowhere near blocking her immediate field of vision, she seemed outraged that the viewfinder on my camera was going to distract her from looking at the stage.
These kinds of people are the reason why Vancouver has a reputation as “No Fun City”. If you can’t handle standing up for 90 minutes at a show, then you shouldn’t be there. Don’t get mad at someone else because they are enjoying themselves and engaging with the music.
Overall it was a wonderful show with beautiful performances from both Kutapira and Salif Keita, but turned a bit sour by a few uptight Vancouver citizens.