On a sweltering Sunday, Aug. 14 in Manhattan, another fine lineup of African music acts raised spirits at Central Park SummerStage. This time the focus was Congo and Angola. Young Paris, a young rapper/singer/dancer/bandleader–out of Hudson, NY but with family roots in Kinshasa, DRC–opened up with a lively contemporary set that drew a line from Congo beats to Afrobeats, that term now becoming a catch-all for the growing variety of sounds being created by young African maestros.
Batida, a visionary artist out of Lisbon with roots in Angola, continued with an unusual mix of video, dance, politics and pumping Lusophone club beats. The set nodded to Angola’s rootsy semba sound, film clips highlighting Angola’s racist colonial past, and a demonstration in support of political prisoners of the current regime. Here, members of Amnesty International came onstage to hold up images of 17 individuals recently arrested for attending a reading of a book not favored by the regime. The set also included a nod to Congo music with an evocation of the hypnotic distorted sonorities of Konono No. 1, a group with which Batida is involved in an ongoing collaboration, including an album released earlier this year and another in production.
During Batida’s set, a brief, drenching rain cooled off the crowd, and then came the headliners: Mbongwana Star out of Kinshasa. Led by Coco Ngambali and Theo Nsituvuidi, founding members of Staff Benda Bilili, this group represents an evolution from Benda Bilili’s rumba sound. The Congo grooves and and wheelchair antics are still there, but Mbongwana’s young lead guitarist is as comfortable with speed metal ostinato vamps and explosive rock solos as with soukous seben riffs. The set was raw and rockin’, edgier and more driving than the group’s debut CD, From Kinshasa (World Circuit). The band played long, and all who had braved blazing heat and pouring rain were glad they did.
Here are a few images from the show.