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Baaba Maal Delivers Peak Performance

Pop Music Review

August 14, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The magic of Senegal's versatile Baaba Maal was crackling all over the place Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl. Maal has been a dynamic performer for more than a decade, and his appearances are always memorable occasions.

But Sunday's concert, titled "African Funk," was so filled with visual color and visceral, body-moving rhythms that one wished the entire evening had been devoted to this consummate artist.

That's not quite the way it happened, however. Ex-Centric Sound System, with its looped, sequenced tracks, functions best in the enveloping environment of a dance club. In the openness of the Bowl, the musical thinness of the presentation was simply too apparent.

Benin's Angelique Kidjo, like Maal, has the capacity to generate intense musical voltage, but she was slow in building up a charge. Her set had a distinctly Brazilian quality, with new numbers such as "Bahia" forecasting the material on her next album. But it wasn't until her closing numbers that Kidjo's surprising coolness dissipated, as she brought the crowd to its feet for a sparkling climax to her set.

Maal's presentation, on the other hand, was at an energetic peak throughout. His 12-piece ensemble moved smoothly from percussion-heavy Senegalese grooves and Afro-pop funk to delicately woven traditional melodies. Maal handled it all superbly, dominating the stage with Miles Davis-like charisma, enlivening songs old and new with his penetratingly passionate voice.

The final topping for the colorful production was the presence of two startlingly mobile, immensely entertaining dancers, Taban Diouf and Ndiaw Samb. Their dancing--individually, in tandem and with Maal--added the perfect visual touch to one of the finest world-music sets of the season.

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