Article and photos by Ernest Barteldes
Krar Collective + Hakim
Prospect Park Bandshell
July 15, 2016
On what turned out to be a very warm night in Brooklyn, things kicked off with the England-based Ethyopian trio named after the harp-like instrument played by bandleader Temesken Zeleke (the trio is rounded out by drummer Grum Begashaw and vocalist Genet Assefa) playing a selection of uptempo tunes that showcased the band’s talent and also Zeleke’s skills They kept everything very uptempo except for a short period in which the bandleader switched to a more traditional acoustic version of the instrument.
Assefa has great energy and chemistry with the band and audience, dancing and singing the music with great feeling, being the ideal frontwoman for a trio with two musicians who are extremely focused on their instruments. During the more uptempo moments, she led the crowd to clap and sing along with the chorus even if most couldn’t understand a word.
Though Krar Kollective’s music is deeply rooted into tradition, they clearly have strong pop influences – Tamesken uses a variety of pedals to create a full band effect with an intensely improvisational sound, while Begashaw’s drumming has a strong, Ringo-like rock vibe.
There was a strong NYPD presence at the show – I spoke to one officer, who told me that they were there following the recent military coup attempt in Turkey – He said that they didn’t expect any issues, but stated that city officials would rather be safe than sorry. I smiled when he said that, and he thanked me for understanding, considering the anti-cop attitude that has dominated the media in recent times. I shook his hand and went back to hearing the music – there was some great music to be heard.
After a brief intermission, Egypt’s Hakim came on backed by a 12-piece band that included two keyboardists, a three-piece horn section, several percussionists and electric guitar and bass.
Hakim’s very tight band kicked things off with a funky instrumental piece that preceded the singer’s entrance. As he entered to thunderous applause wearing a t-shirt with the inscription “Visit Egypt” , the singer immediately engaged with the crowd, greeting them in Arabic and getting to the hits, which most of his fans sang along to.
I had never heard Hakim on a live setting before, and was impressed with his command of the stage. He seemed to look straight into the eyes of audience members and was friendly with the photographers on the pit, stopping to pose for them as he belted out the music.
The band was well rehearsed, but they allowed various spontaneous moments – one of the guitarists played an extended solo, and an accordionist had many opportunities to throw in a few improvised riffs.
I was a little disappointed that Hakim didn’t even bother to greet non-Arabic speaking fans in English, but you could see he was inside his comfort zone, with many of his compatriots waving Egyptian flags as they lost themselves into the music.
He kept the energy level up during the entire set, and mostly stayed away from ballads except for one moment when he went into a more traditional direction with a 7/8 tempo tune. Apart from that it was party time as the singer got almost entire crowd to their feet to dance.
It was a very nice evening – the energy was great and the music was highly inspiring, and it made for a fantastic musical discovery.