It took about five minutes before the party at Lincoln Center Thursday night really got cooking. Right off the bat, a lot of the crowd didn’t quite know what to make of Colombia’s Tribu Baharu. Boricua, their tireless, fast-fingered guitarist jangled and sparkled through a vast web of riffs and broken chords that glistened with the icy chorus-box tone common to modern bachata. Bassist Chindo’s slinky, circling lines and hooks punched through the surface, way up in the highs for much of the show, hanging out around the twelfth fret. As the night went on, he ended up sliding around a lot, bachata style. And while the opening instrumental sounded kind of like fast bachata, or slow merengue, it definitely wasn’t either one. The music it most resembled wasn’t even Colombian: Tribu Baharu’s irrepressible Caribbean bounce has a lot more in common with the Hondurian Garifuna music popularized by Andy Palacio and Aurelio Martinez. Which makes sense considering that Tribu Baharu’s champeta sounds, and Garifuna music, as well, were pioneered by Caribbean coastal descendants of African slaves.
Tribu Baharu really picked up the pace when frontman Makambile and his shout man Shaka came up to the mic, and all of a sudden the floor filled up with dancers. By the time the party was finally over, about an hour and a half later, the band had mashed up the hypnotic shuffles of soca, the playful singalong quality of Veracruz folk music and the spiky leaps and bounds of soukous, among other styles. Conguero Moniqui emerged from behind his skins once to play mini-synth; otherwise, his machinegunning drive and frequent solos drew the biggest applause of the night. Makambile and Shaka took turns going down into the crowd and getting the dancers going, toddlers and old ladies with walkers included (there were two who’d been inspired to hobble to the front). Which was what you would expect from a tropical dance band whose songs are on the get-up-and-dance and I-love-you-mami tip.
Although Tribu Baharu have what’s basically a rock band lineup bolstered with percussion, they swing a lot harder than just about any rock band out there. Drummer Pocho played with a distinctive drive that was as unexpectedly dynamic and lithely elastic as it was solid and four-on-the-floor. Boricua turned out to the master of many unexpected styles as well: one suspects that he has even more than he let on to. His solo in one of the anthems midway through the set had a bittersweetly ornate George Harrison tinge. Then, on the night’s final number, he chopped his way with an icepick fury through what seemed would be an endless volley of Dick Dale-style tremolo-picking while Moniqui joined the frenzy. It was as if an entire forest along the Colombian coast was coming down. While there was definitely a Colombian posse in the house, the crowd was your typical Lincoln Center atrium mix of cultures and demographics, everybody on their feet.
The next Lincoln Center atrium dance party is on May 4 at 7:30 PM featuring jazz pianist Marc Cary, who’ll be wearing his electric piano funkmeister hat. Getting here at least a half hour early is a good idea since the crew here make sure there’s plenty of room for everybody, and the space reaches capacity fast.