July Preview: What to Listen and Watch in the Midsummer

By Ernest Barteldes

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Aterciopelados, LAMC at Summerstage, July 11

July comes with even hotter temperatures but also brings a full calendar of outdoor shows in many locations. Again, as we did on previous months, we will focus on shows that are either free of charge or with a suggested donation, as is the case with most performances at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn and at Summerstage.

At Bryant Park, the Summer movie series continues with a program that includes classics like Carrie (the Original 1976 with Sissy Spacek and a very young John Travolta), Coming to America and Goodfellas among some lesser-known titles. Films begin at sunset, but you should come early, since space in the grass is occupied as early as 6:00 PM.

The month of July marks the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of The Latin Alternative Music Conference, a citywide event that includes various showcases, panel discussions and other goodies, but for the general public there are free shows around the city. These performances include an opening show at Central Park Summerstage headlined by Mexico’s Ximena Sariñana  (Wednesday, July 10th at 5 PM), one of the most respected young pop artists in her native country. Her style brings to mind girl-power singers like Avril Lavigne and (if you think of the 90s) Alanis Morrissette. Also on the bill are iLe and Nathy Peluso. The following day, LAMC will host a showcase in Queensbridge Park (July 11th) featuring legendary Colombian band Aterciopelados, Diamante Electrico and DJ Dayansita

Later in the weekend the conference moves to Celebrate Brooklyn, where Guatemala’s Gaby Moreno (Prospect Park, July 12th) a bilingual artist that mixes pop and traditional sounds  will be sharing the bill with Mexico’s Enhambre and El David Aguilar, and then things move back to Central Park (Saturday, July 13th) with tith a big 20th anniversary party featuring Vicente Garcia, ChocQuibTown, Macaco & Guaynaa. On the same evening, Malian living legend Salif Keita will headline at Prospect Park – making it one heck of a busy weekend if you plan on attending every show.

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I’m With Her, Celebrate Brooklyn July 18

Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan are three artists with respectable careers in their own right, but when they get together for their “Supergroup” I’m With Her things get far more interesting, as they use more harmonies and musical textures that go beyond their solo works. Opening the evening is Darlingside, a four-piece group from Boston that takes inspiration from 60s groups like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Simon & Garfunkel but put their own personal imprint, being both retro and contemporary at the same time. (BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, July 18).

I’ve heard Chilean-French rapper Ana Tijoux multiple times over the years, going from her rather raw debut appearance at LAMC almost a decade ago to her more evolved, social justice-conscious phase, where her angrier raps became more melodically intricate.  She continues to evolve, so don’t expect her to simply rap to the beats in her breakout hit “1977.” She has a deeper, more powerful message these days. (Summerstage at Corporal Thomas Park, July 20)

One of the biggest hits on Broadway in recent years, Fela! The Concert celebrates the times and music of iconic Afrobeat founder Fela Kuti with a ten-piece band, dancers and singers – some who were part of the original production – a great opportunity to watch the show again or for those who missed it to actually watch it for free. (Summerstage at Coney Island, July 26 and July 31 at Central Park)

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Alceu Valença, July 27 Brazil Summerfest at Summerstage

Brazil Summerfest is a two-week long festival that celebrates everything Brazilian, kicking off with a free street fair featuring traditional music, food and even some artisanal works. There are several ticketed shows, panel discussions and movie screenings throughout the event, including a free show at Central Park Summerstage featuring Alceu Valença (July 27), a legendary singer-songwriter in Brazil but who hardly ever performs in the US (at least from memory, I cannot recall ever hearing of him performing Stateside in the two decades I’ve been here). His music is a blend of traditional Northeastern beats with theatrics and rock. He is a consummate perfectionist in spite of his eccentric stage persona – I once saw him stop a show because the sound was not of his liking, but he did apologize to the audience for that, and later gave a stellar performance after the problems were solved.

August is also promising as Celebrate Brooklyn, Summerstage and Lincoln Center Out of Doors continue their free programs – tune back in at the end of July for some cool recommendations.

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Final Concert for 2017 at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn: Yacouba Sissoko + Youssou N’ Dour

By Ernest Barteldes

Youssou N’ Dour/ Yacouba Sissoko

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn Festival

Brooklyn, NY

August 12, 2017

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Yacouba Sissoko

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.

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Youssou N’ Dour

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.

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Youssou N’ Dour

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.