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POP AND JAZZ REVIEWS : Cool Reaction to Africans at 'Roadblock'

August 02, 1993|DON SNOWDEN

The reggae-African music connection works better in theory than practice--at least that's the impression left by the lukewarm response the African artists received on Saturday at the "Reggae Roadblock" concert. A crowd of 5,000 at the Cal State Dominguez Hills Olympic Velodrome was waiting for reggae stars Third World, Pato Banton and Culture, and merely tolerated the four French-language groups in the "African Fete" package tour that was part of the show.

Senegalese singer Baaba Maal did connect with the audience, in part because he and his nine-piece band emphasized the familiar elements of dance and the talking drum. Maal's piercing voice commanded attention over the complex, layered rhythms and he even managed to pull off a delicate duet accompanied by the traditional stringed instrument, the kora .

The outdoor setting didn't help Angelique Kidjo, who threw her best punch first with the riveting, gospel-tinged hook of "Ekoleya" and then rapidly slid downhill. Ismael Lo tossed rock, reggae, R&B and even a touch of ska into his mix. Rather than a patchy hybrid, the result was an appealing synthesis of crisp, punchy riffs.

"Africa Fete's" best shot was Boukman Eksperyans' opening set. The politically controversial Haitian group has made a quantum leap, musically and as performers, since its last appearance here. Santana fans would eat up this Creole variation--as would anyone enamored of percussion-heavy arrangements that adeptly shift focus between rock guitar, slippery funk bass and vocal harmonies.

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