December 2006

African Guitar Summit
December 22, 2006Lula LoungeToronto
Reaching Dizzying Heights
Report and photos by Tony Shivpershad

Don’t go to the Lula Lounge if it is raining; the African Guitar Summit just tore the roof off the place. Yes, that is how exhilarating the show was. The 2005 “World Music Album of the Year” Juno award winners unleashed a force that showed exactly why such an award was earned.

It was just a few days before Christmas and spirits were running high as the seven men — most clad in traditional dashikis — casually took their places on the stage. At the back on a raiser stood Ebenezer Agyekum, who would hold down the bottom end of things with some dynamic bass playing. To the right of him was Kofi Ackah, who would tear up the congas.

On the main area of the stage Pa Joe took his spot on the left, Theo Boakye to the right, “The Professor” Adam Solomon next, with Donné Roberts and Madagascar Slim rounding out the night’s line-up. Band members Alpha Yaya Diallo, Naby Camara and Mighty Popo were unable to make the trip to Toronto for the show. The beautiful voices of Oumou Soumare and Muna Mingole were also missed, but the gentlemen did do an admirable job of holding down the vocal harmonies.

The band launched into Alpha Yaya Diallo’s “Cette Vie”; a song strongly reminiscent of Buena Vista Social Club’s “Chan Chan”. The bass-laden song highlighting Agyekum’s prowess; Boakye lived up to his moniker 'golden voice', his voice really sounded smooth all night; Roberts provided the rhythm while Pa Joe and Madagascar Slim soloed throughout the song.

Pa Joe’s reggae-sounding, “Nyame Somafo” followed. The bass-line bubbled, as the mighty guitar riffs flowed over it.

Surprisingly, Solomon spent a good part of the night handling vocals, having fun with the crowd, dancing and playing percussion rather than playing guitar; alternating between the shekere and the cowbell-like, apitua with Boakye. It wasn’t until the third song of the night that Solomon picked up his guitar to lead the group in his “Jambo Bwana/Hakuna Matata”. This song is not from either of the African Guitar Summit collections, it can be found on Adam Solomon & Tikisa’s Mti Wa Maisha/Tree of Life album.

During the next song, “Obaa Y Ewa”, where the chorus of vocals was as vibrant as the guitar playing, it became evident how much fun the seven musicians on stage were having. Watching them was like seeing a group of old friends reuniting. They had an awesome respect for each other. Often, they would turn to the person next to them, listen and exchange smiles with one another.

The smiles were contagious. The whole crowd was feeling it. At a table in the corner, close to the stage sat Todd Fraracci, the producer that had assembled the group of musicians to record the two albums. He sat there beaming, like the Dr. Frankenstein that had created something larger than life, but he had gotten it right. This is what African Guitar Summit does, Marie from Music Africa told me, “they make people happy.”

On the next song, as the band was settling into the Paul Simon-esque “Malembo”, a disaster was closely averted. Solomon had just switched back to playing guitar after playing the shakere, when his guitar strap came loose and the instrument plummeted towards the stage floor. Solomon somehow caught the guitar just before it hit.

“Malembo” was a definite crowd-pleaser: As Roberts hit the first chorus, the most beautiful girl that I have ever seen raced past me on her way to the dance floor and turned to her friend exclaiming that this was her favourite song. Judging from the crowd on the floor, she wasn’t the only one who felt that way. The band was so happy with the reception the song was receiving from the crowd that they turned it into an extended jam. Agyekum came down off the riser and put on a dance show.

Pa Joe

The first set ended with “Pesa Ni Unfunguo”, an Adam Solomon showcase which saw him drop to his knees and bend-over backwards during a vicious guitar solo. During a percussion breakdown with Ackah working overtime, Solomon put on a bit of a dance show, before the band came back in and he pulled a couple of girls from the audience up on stage to dance with him.

The second set began with Madagascar Slim taking a chair and strapping on his acoustic guitar. Solomon slipped off his shoes and left them off for the rest of the night, so as not to impede his dancing. Slim led the super-group in the dramatic “Sangisangy”, which features a rap-like, rhyming, spoken-voice.

The Solomon-led “Rehema” featured some extended soloing, with everyone getting a turn, starting with Pa Joe, then Roberts, Slim and Agyekum.

A few songs later as “Sadebake” was starting, the most beautiful girl that I have ever seen raced past me on her way to the dance floor and turned to her friend exclaiming that this was her favourite song. I thought that I was experiencing deja-vu, so I stopped her and questioned her. “Didn’t you say the same thing about Malembo?” Apparently they were both her favourite; who was I to argue?

Adam Solomon, Donné Roberts and Madagascar Slim

A couple of times during the second set, Kofi Ackah slid aside while Marcus Chonsky quietly slid in to guest on the congas. Chonsky is a well-known conguero in the Toronto salsa scene and lent his talents on the latest album by Adam Solomon & Tikisa.

After “Wenge Yongo”, the band jokingly sang an a cappella chorus of “We wish you a Merry Christmas”, to which some hecklers in the crowd jokingly shouted, “keep your day jobs”.

What was amazing about the show was how effortless these seven musicians made it seem. To have the five guitars playing in harmony all night, was a huge testament to the skill of the players. They must have had some kind of telepathy going on so that they always knew what the others were going to do, where they would be and how to play along with it.

During the encore, a couple of dancers were again called up to the stage, this time some traditional African dancing ensued. The crowd was as lively as they were during the first song. Lula Lounge was filled wall to wall with people, all smiling and dancing. The band had fed off that energy all night. Would Lula Lounge ever be the same again? The African Guitar Summit had torn the roof off the place and carried us to a summit of dizzying heights.
We welcome your comments and feedback
Tony Shivpershad
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