Organized dancing maneuvers, such as choreographed butt shimmies, hand-waving body spins, and foot stomps on beats #2 and #4, are an under-utilized weapon in 21st century music performance arsenal. Considering that group ass wagging is perhaps one of humanity's great inventions -- especially when tassles and bellies are involved -- why is it that among many western cultures, choreography up there on the stage is so ignored? It seems only the people of Irish, Appalachian and OK Go! descent know how to really pop a move on a group scale. It's almost as if as the whites moved further away from the motherland over the centuries, this key ingredient of expression somehow got filtered out (and is probably, along with the existence of The Hills, why we're so miserable all the time.)
We're talking music and dance, and last night at the Hollywood Bowl for the first installment of KCRW's World Music Festival, the two were beautifully, remarkably combined. Take Raphael Saadiq, who learned the power of trio dancing while a member of Tony! Toni! Tone! in the 1990s, one of the funkiest and catchiest of the New Jack Swing groups. In the past few years, Saadiq slowly and admirably clawed himself up from the pit of has-been pop musicians to become one of the most engaging, thrilling -- and best dressed -- r&b singers of the late '00s. He's done this by combining a classicist's eye for history -- think Motown and Stax revues -- with a beat-heavy 21st century kick (think a male Mary J. Blige).
Playing music from his recent The Way I See It, Saadiq controlled the stage, took charge of dusk at the Bowl with a set both graceful and explosive.
Over the past two years Santi White, who is Santigold, has transformed herself from a singer with great rhythm tracks and two wicked dancers into a performer with a crack live band, remarkable charisma, catchy and smart funk-pop songs -- and two wicked dancers. A former major label A&R person, she seemed to understand pop music's turn toward international rhythms and dance, and has nudged it in a fascinating new direction.
I don't know what it is about Santi's dancers that makes me melt, but what they did last night onstage, this sort of minimal bounce thing that was jerky and smart and rigid and funky and totally symmetrical, never got boring. They performed similar maneuvers at Coachella last year (and at a weird show at Hollywood & Highland complex last summer), but onstage at the Bowl is a very different experience. Framed beneath the graceful curves of the Bowl's shell and encircled in color bands created by the phenomenal lighting design, Santigold was a revelation, this beacon at the bottom of the hill.
As she sang her biggest hit, "L.E.S. Artists," the crowd bumped, the evening light fading fast, her shimmering green suit the focus of the night. "Change, change, change/I want to get up out of my skin," she sang, "if I can shake it, I'm 'a make this something worth dreaming of." Though our ultimate dream of a Cutty Ranks/Greg Ginn/Diplo cameo for "Dutty Six Pack" didn't happen, if Santigold is a portent for the Bowl's season ahead, it's going to be a good year.
Rhythm. Dance. Music. Message. Those are the ingredients of Femi Kuti and Positive Force's music, one that draws on a West African tradition handed down by his father, the legendary Fela Kuti. Fela's oldest son played in the father's band, which, first of all, is mind-blowing, and second of all, means that what you're seeing onstage has at its genetic base one of the greatest achievements in 20th century music (and, after all, yesterday was Father's Day.)
The bawdy highlight of Femi's otherwise politically charged set of songs about Africa, wealth and poverty, and injustice, was the ode to sex, "Beng Beng Beng," a song whose urgent message was delivered to the men in the crowd on this Father's Day: "Dont come to fast." The ladies seemed to have really appreciated this message, because as the beat rolled and the dancers heaved, their ample bosoms, bellies and booties flying this way and that, each time Femi implored the men, "Don't come to fast," women cheered. "Five minutes ... ten minutes ... thirty minutes ... sixty minutes," boasted Femi as the the thirteen band members pumped and pumped, before finally declaring that he can go "from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m." The women applauded. The men shifted uncomfortably in their seats. (Maybe they need to learn how to dance.)
Love That Girl
100 Yard Dash
Search and Destroy
Just One Kiss
Let's Take a walk
Sure Hope You Mean It
Aquarious Let the Sunshine Outro
Hold the Line
You'll Find a Way
Brooklyn Go Hard
Get it Up
I'm a Lady
Killing An Arab (Cure cover)
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Femi Kuti and Positive Force
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