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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Africa Fete, Kassav Find Diverse Groove

August 08, 1994|DON SNOWDEN

Africa Fete '94, headlined by Kassav before a full House of Blues on Friday, naturally glorified the groove, but to leave it at that would sell the artists and the creative breadth of African music short.

Kassav's 90-minute set celebrated the sparkling zouk sound that heavily influenced Caribbean and African music for the past decade, but it was Angelique Kidjo's cosmopolitan, contemporary mix that may win over new fans.

Kassav started as a studio band, so the 14-piece ensemble displayed stellar musicianship and sophisticated arrangements. The flashy, staccato lines of an extremely tight five-piece horn section provided a perfect contrast to the smooth zouk rhythm and the vocals of Jocelyne Beroard, Patrick Saint Eloi and guitarist Jacob Desvarieux.

There were times when Kassav risked losing momentum with explanations of the songs, but invariably the group found a mid-tempo, long-distance groove that sounded like it could roll on for . . . oh, seven hours or so, without getting boring.

Kassav's smoothness and sweeping sound also offer a vivid contrast to the kinetic stage presence and funky, African-Parisian dance floor blend of the Benin-born Kidjo, who was reviewed here recently.

The local debut of Ziskakan from Isle Reunion had its moments, particularly when the music emphasized the near-drones created by Harry Perrigonne, seated astride the large rouler drum. But aside from some flute-like synthesizer melodies, the electric instruments sounded added on rather than fully absorbed, and Ziskakan's sound generally was too atmospheric for a club environment.

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