Ifrikya Spirit Debuts with a Wild Dance Party at Lincoln Center

by delarue

Why is it that the music that gets the most people dancing at a concert is invariably the most rustic-sounding? You can crank a drum machine to concrete-crushing levels, but what people who like to cut a rug really want to hear is acoustic sounds. In their Lincoln Center debut last night, Algerian band Ifrikya Spirit ignited a raucous dance party. What was it that sent a posse of a couple dozen middle-school kids spinning in a line amid the rest of the dancers gathered in the center of the atrium space? A slinky, hypnotically circling gnawa number, frontman Chakib Bouzidi playing gimbri – the three-string North African bass lute – and intertwining riffs with his bandmate Rafik Kettani, who’d switched from percussion to sousanne, a slightly more trebly two-string model.

Ifrikya Spirit are hybridizers rather than stylistic chameleons. Instead of switching from one African genre to the next, they blend elements of them into a distinctive Algerian psychedelic funk. Although the band’s percussively hypnotic sound definitely has a trance element, their rhythms are more dynamic and diverse than a straight-up, funky 4/4 beat. There was a little bit of that in their roughly 90-minute set, which keyboardist Reda Mourah used as a launching pad for his expansive blues and jazz-inflected riffage. Drummer Hafid Abdelaziz and terse bassist Samy Guebouba also propelled the band through some spot-on, shuffling 70s disco interludes and a couple of dizzyingly circling, Afrobeat-influenced jams.

Singer Meziane Amiche took centerstage on a mashup of Egyptian habibi pop and North African rai. As the energy reached fever pitch, guitarist Nazim Bakour got to more opportunities to flex, particularly during a long, loping, seemingly qawwali-influenced number that brought to mind the Brent Mydland-era Grateful Dead (one suspects that Mourah knows who that was). And the whole band built to a sprint on what sounded like Malian duskcore icons Tinariwen on steroids. They rocked the gnawa hard at the end. Seemingly sensing that on a night where air conditioning might be overkill but ventilation would be a good idea, the Lincoln Center staff threw open the doors on the Broadway side of the stage, and in seconds there was a refreshing breeze wafting in. Genius.

Ifrikys Spirit are the 21st band from outside the country brought in by global music advocates  Center Stage. They’re currently on US tour; their next stop is the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis on Oct 11 and 12. And for any dancers who might regret missing this show, jazz pianist Marc Cary does his funky Fender Rhodes thing here at the atrium space tonight at 7; early arrival is always a good idea. Enter on Broadway between 62nd and 63rd.