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Concert Reviews:
Antibalas, Zap Mama a fiery combintation at Detroit's Music Hall

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, February 8, 2015

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DETROIT -- Putting Antibalas and Zap Mama together on stage looks good on paper.

And on Friday night, Feb. 6, at Detroit's Music Hall Center, it sounded even better.

The two acts are primary purveyors of contemporary African music, albeit from slightly different directions. Zap Mama (aka Belgium-raised Marie Daulne) explores shades of Afropop with her quartet's sublime vocal weave, while Antibalas' polyrhythmic fireworks are rooted in the pioneering Afrobeat melange of the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, with frontman Duke Amayo's forceful voice deployed like another instrument in the mix. They're complementary approaches, of course, but the merger of the two still had to be handled carefully in order to be effective.

That care was evident throughout the 13-song, 110-minute show, during which both groups, when on stage together, simply made each other more potent. Nowhere was that clearer than during the main-set ending "1,000 Ways" and "Nefertiti Toto," which had the entirety of the criminally small but wholly engaged Music Hall crowd on its feet and dancing, exuberantly answering call-and-response exercises with Daulne and Amayo and, during the later song, following Daulne's dance instructions -- which she punctuated with some impressive leaps and even a split at one point.

The two groups spent plenty of time together during the show. Zap Mama got things started with Daulne asking (as if she had to) "Would you be part of the journey" at the beginning of the airy "Woodabee" before members of Antibalas began joining on "Gissie." The full complement of musicians was on stage for muscular renditions of "Singing Sister" and "Africa Sunset," while Antibalas took over for a short blast of its own improvisatory magic that included "Dirty Money," "Him Belly" -- which found Amayo off the stage for some up-close-and-personal time with Music Hall's front rows -- and "Hook & Crook."

Waving scarves, Zap Mama returned for "Tombstown" and a surprising rendition of Rockwell`s 1984 Motown hit "Somebody's Watching Me," sung by Antibalas' "Marcus Farrar -- who informed the crowd he'd visited the Motown Historical Museum earlier in the day.

The lengthy and lusty encore of "Upside Down" found a barefoot Daulne down in the crowd, leading a kinetic dance party that, as far as the Music Hall fans were concerned, could have gone on all night. We can only hope the two groups will find a way to come together again, but if not then Friday's show will rank as a genuinely special moment that far too many missed.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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