September 2006

African Guitar Summit
Presented by Small World Music
September 30, 2006 Danforth Music Hall Toronto
Scaling The Very Heights of Collaborative Musical Celebration
by Sebastian Cook with photos by Roger Humbert

For years, I would regularly come across a jovial, dreadlocked man playing this amazingly natural African /blues /funk /improv guitar in Toronto’s subways. Not wanting to interrupt him with an introduction, I’d just stop and listen, once to the point that I was late for work. Finally, one day I noticed he had CDs for sale. It was Safari by Adam Solomon and Tikisa. Donné Roberts and Madagascar Slim I had seen on the occasion of my very first visit to Lula Lounge for Derek Andrews’ Global Café benefit in 2004. The Mighty Popo I heard for the first time on Norman ‘Otis’ Richmond’s essential CKLN program Diasporic Music. But never before had I experienced in person the force of musical and human nature that is the African Guitar Summit; their Small World Festival headlining concert at the Music Hall was one of particular anticipation.

The estimable Garvia Bailey of CBC’s Big City, Small World introduced the band, which came together as the brainchild of producer Todd Fraracci in 2004 for the seminal African Guitar Summit album. For this evening, the AGS was in 7-man formation minus Alpha YaYa Diallo, the Mighty Popo and Naby Camara from the full lineup. They started out with a song that harmonically reminded of me of the Buena Vista Social Club’s “Chan Chan”, albeit slightly more up-tempo. Right away, I was struck by the rich acoustics of the new Music Hall, Madagascar Slim’s exquisite leads and Donné Roberts’ bluesy rhythm ringing out majestically into the disappointingly sparse crowd; the two close friends forming a 'group within a group' whose bond on-stage was particularly noticeable within the larger collective.

Adam began the second song with a hearty cry of "Jambo!" or “let’s go!” spearheading a steadily building township-jive beat with deep, resonate vocals in what sounded like Swahili. Kofi Ackah followed with a full-throttle conga solo, other members joining in with stick and gourd percussion in a beautifully dissonant polyrhythm, the audience responding to the call with a warbird chant. It represented the essential joy of African music, with the musicians so instinctively interchanging their roles, embodying a beautiful democracy of improvisation. While the band’s name may be the African Guitar Summit, it is impossible to see any of them as simply ‘guitarists’.

Pa Joe was next to take the reins of the diasporic journey, effortlessly infusing a West African funk/blues beat with the soulful gospel melodies that are his calling card. Slim’s rhythm was feverish on the low end, Roberts’ Malagasy tenor leading the stunning four-part harmony. The ease with which the band integrated four-part harmonies vocally and instrumentally was awe-inspiring; and caused me to contemplate the difference in purpose between African music which is so sonically collaborative versus our continental styles that seem so much more rooted in displaying individual brilliance. It was now time for the band to take a break on their way to this evening’s Summit.

Theo Yaw Boakye & Madagascar Slim

Adam Solomon

Pa Joe

Kofi Ackah

The charismatic percussionist and vocalist Theo Boakye introduced the second set with a nod to Pa Joe’s gospel sagacity, the 4-part harmonies picking up right where they left off, highlighted by Joe’s marvelous chanting falsetto.

It was time for some classic ‘Slim et Donné’, the shy sage elder of the band taking a seat with his trademark acoustic, reminiscent of the great Ali Farka Toure and every bit as nuanced. Taking a break from his bass, special guest Ebenezer Agyekum added a new dimension to the rhythm section with either a kalimba or bass-tuned likembe. While Theo rang out on the cowbell, Adam joyously danced between the players, bobbing and waving. Like a safari in song, the music began to take on a distinct classic Nigerian Afrobeat flavour, without the often-cacophonous horns.

Around the middle of the second set, I saw an imposing blond man enter from stage left, recognized him as Jowi Taylor of CBC’s Global Village, then with a chill of excitement realized we were to hear the Six String Nation guitar (literally constructed from dozens of pieces and two centuries of Canadian history) he had worked so hard to make a reality. I can only conclude that the cover story in Eye weekly from the summer done got some folks off their asses! Seconds after being handed the instrument, Madagascar Slim said, “I am shaking.” He was undoubtedly not alone. At first it was disappointing to not hear the Six String Nation ring out more dominantly, but then I thought that its purpose was as much in spirit as sound. Perhaps not surprisingly, Slim struggled for a few moments to tune this sonic talisman. It was Kofi’s turn to lead the four-part vocals, his voice getting somewhat lost from the back of the stage.

Adam kept the energy going with one of his up-tempo Kenyan grooves, playing from his knees, flat on his back, and behind his head without missing a beat while Pa Joe’s Afrobeat-gospel vibes led the rhythm guitars. By now the band was at its absolute apex, continuing into one of Donné’s songs from his recent album Rhythm was Born. Until then the most reserved of the four guitarists through the show, Donné unleashed a mindbending five-minute volley in which one could simultaneously hear his African roots, European world/club sensibilities and North American blues-rock in the spirit of Hendrix. This personal high point of the show was a coda added to the beginning of the song’s melody, the vocals moving from rangy harmonies to a hiphop-style scat.

The last song of the set, accompanied by the night’s most spectacular light show, brought forth a joyous calypso-flavoured rhythm, with Slim employing a fascinating acoustic reverb and Adam’s vocals commanding the harmony. By now I had been compelled to put the pen down and enjoy the final, breathtaking minutes of my first climb up the African Guitar Summit. And I realized that to go forth in documenting an experience so monumentally skilled and varied must indeed be considered an honour.

Ebenezer Agyekum

Donné Roberts
African Guitar Summit on this day
Donné Roberts – electric guitar & vocals
Madagascar Slim – electric, acoustic guitars, vocals & Six String Nation guitar
Adam Solomon – electric guitar, vocals & percussion
Pa Joe – electric guitar, vocals & percussion
Theo Yaw Boakye – vocals & percussion
Kofi Ackah – percussion & vocals
Ebenezer Agyekum – bass & vocals

We welcome your comments and feedback
Sebastian Cook
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
• •
The Live Music Report

| Home | Archives | CD Reviews | Photo Galleries | Concert Listings | Contact |

Please contact us to secure permission for use of any material found on this website.
© The Live Music Report – 2006