By Ernest Barteldes
Youssou N’ Dour/ Yacouba Sissoko
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn Festival
August 12, 2017
West African music was the focus of the final night for the 2017 season of BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, and audiences were toasted with two great performances, starting with New York-based Malian kora master Yacouba Sissoko, who came accompanied by a simple trio with the N’goni (a guitar-like instrument) and the djembe.
The trio played a selection of songs that were very mournful and peaceful with lyrics (sung in his native language) that carried messages of empowerment while also touching on political issues – including the civil war taking place in Sissoko’s native Mali at the time of this writing. All the musicians on the trio were very proficient, often taking long improvised solos on each tune.
At one point, the bandleader upped the tempo for one of the songs and encouraged the audience to get up and dance, claiming that New Yorkers were ‘the best dancers in this nation.” The number featured the percussionist, who played with great energy, motivating the audience to move.
The set closed with “All Things Must Come to an End,” a slower tempo melody that featured improvised moments from all three musicians.
Following a short break, Senegal’s Youssou N’ Dour took to the stage with a 20-piece backing band (guitars, keys, percussion, 2 backing vocalists, bass and saxophone). Taking the lead from the late James Brown, he had one of the percussionists MC the concert, constantly calling out the bandleader’s name.
I have rarely seen the degree of enthusiasm that I witnessed at this concert – as I walked from the press seats towards the photo pit, I encountered a mass of fans, all with big smiles on their faces moving enthusiastically and singing along to every song. The music was highly energetic, and the 57-year-old N’Dour moved like a teenager, dancing and jumping to the rhythm of the music.
He had a band filled with master players who had great chemistry together – the quality of the sound was perfect, and we could hear every instrument and vocal with great clarity. During some numbers, a male dancer joined the band and did traditional moves inspired by the percussion and the direction of the music.
Towards the end of the set, most of the band left the stage and N’Dour performed a tune dedicated to his native continent – it was a sweet melody accompanied solely by keyboards and drums. He then briefly left the stage for a false finale, and then the full band returned for an extended encore that included an up-tempo multilingual song (French, English and other languages) and a handful of dance-oriented numbers. As the show came to an end, each musician left the stage one by one until N’Dour found himself alone on stage thanked the audience and then the lights came on.
It was a great closing for what turned out to be one of the best seasons at Celebrate Brooklyn – it’s just a shame they have to end so soon – but we still have quite a few shows at Summerstage in the next couple of weeks.