Gnawa trance music from North Africa is not precisely what one expects to hear in the salsa surroundings of the Conga Room. But Marrakech-born Hassan Hakmoun, who sings and plays the traditional three-stringed, lute-like sintir, is not your typical gnawa musician, nor is the Conga Room solely a Latin music destination.
The charismatic Hakmoun and his six-piece band did offer a set of numbers in which the music, driven by the low, dark tones of his sintir, resonated with the gnawa trance qualities characteristic of traditional derderba ceremonies. But it also was underscored with driving, often funk-drenched rhythms that blended the music into a gripping combination of trance and dance elements.
Hakmoun frequently alternates between traditional outings and performances of the sort he presented at the Conga Room.
In both cases, he is always the clear focus of attention, with his penetrating, emotional singing and his remarkable capacity to use the sintir to drive a stage full of electronic instruments. At the Conga Room he occasionally supplemented his singing and playing with a display of his lithe, energetic dancing.
But his performance was undercut by a sound mix that tended to bury his voice and his sintir, and by a volume level close to the pain threshold. The Conga Room, in its admirable expansion of programming into the world music and jazz arenas, needs to give more careful consideration to the manner in which that type of programming is presented.