New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

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Xenophiles Celebrate While We Still Can at Globalfest

Last night’s Globalfest multi-band extravaganza at Webster Hall began gently with Ranky Tanky – the Alabama Shakes of South Carolina retro gospel-pop – and ended with EDM in the basement and its even more stomping analogue two flights up. A packed, sweaty crowd got to revel in electronic musician/rapper Batida‘s sharp, sardonic sense of humor, his archive of Angolan beats and multimedia show, while the big rock room was bouncing with dancers getting down to the mighty shout-and-response of fourteen-piece Washington, DC proto-rap collective Rare Essence.

That’s the main premise of Globalfest. Over the years, the annual festival has become more eclectic, extending to acts from around the world whose music is more contemplative than danceable. Artists playing the three stages are staggered so that you can catch a little of everybody, more a nod back to the evening’s origins as part of the annual booking agents’ convention than to, say, Warped Tour. While Ranky Tanky was reclaiming the old Bible Belt folk standard O Death as a stark gullah hymn, goth-folk singer Maarja Nuut was doing her Estonian girl-down-the-well act one flight up.

The night’s most intricately entrancing moments happened right afterward, when alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa was joined by guitarist Rez Abbasi and drummer Dan Weiss, the trio working out new material over an exploratory forty-five minutes or so. Watching Mahanthappa air out one sleek wind-tunnel volley after another of variations on jaunty bhangra riffs was as adrenalizing as Abbasi’s own detours from sizzling, rapidfire raga-inflected riffage, to flurries of erudite postbop and the incisive, purposeful, judicious melodicism he’s made a name for himself with. Putting Weiss on a riser,  centerstage, reaffirmed the deep rhythmic roots of the ancient Indian sounds the saxophonist and guitarist have explored so individualistically both here and elsewhere.

But as inspiring as that set was, nothing compared to Hoba Hoba Spirit. They’ve earned a rep as the Moroccan Clash, and in a sense they are. Not only because a lot of what they play is punk rock with fearless, politically charged lyrics, but also because, like Joe Strummer’s band, they take that punk sound to so many different, complicated places. And there were times where it would have been just as easy to call them the Moroccan Stooges. When Strat player Anouar Zehouani, his amp ablaze with  a blast of searing, reverbtoned midrange, hit his wah pedal for a solo, he channeled Ron Asheton at his most surreal and incendiary.

Co-frontman/Telecaster player Reda Allali catchy, emphatic, minor-key riffs throughout the show,  opening with a rapidfire hardcore number straight out of the GBH catalog circa 1983. When charismatic singer/percussionist Othmane Hmimer put down his boomy dombek goblet drum for a pair of clanking qraqab castanets and the band launched into a hypnotically leaping gnawa groove, the crowd went wild: much of the posse from New York’s own Innov Gnawa, including the band themselves, were in the house. From there, drummer Adile Hanine and bassist Saad Bouidi shifted briefly toward roots reggae. There was an arena-rock number for whatever soccer hooligans might have been on the floor, as well as plenty of darkly slinky, serpentine art-rock. The group’s 2015 Lincoln Center debut was a lot more intimate and an awful lot of fun, but this might have been even better even though their set was shorter.

Which is where Lolapalooza-style staggered sets get vexing. It sure would have been fun to catch all of Ssing Ssing, who treated a crowd in the basement to a similarly slinky if completely different set of pansori-tinged Korean disco-punk. Bassist Young-gyu Jang played with a sly, note-bending edge that was as freaky as it was chic while the band’s three frontwomen – Hee-moon Lee, Da-hye Choo and Seung-tae Shin strutted and harmonized like a young Madonna on steroids. Dressed respectively as femme fatale, ingenue and badass, they kept a multicultural crowd on their feet and gave the downstairs headliner, Batida, a solid launching pad. Nights like these draw your eyes to the calendar: how many days are there left before 1/20/17 and we have to really dig in and figure out how – and if – we can stay on our multicultural feet in a nation fronted by an anti-culturist?

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Batida Stirs Things Up at Lincoln Center

“Somebody asked me what I thought about Black Lives Matter,” Pedro Coquenão, a.k.a. Batida mused to the crowd gathered around the stage at Lincoln Center last night. He didn’t address the matter any further, letting his multimedia performance answer that question. Footage from a rare 1972 Angolan film by Sarah Maldoror flickered on the screen above the stage, two Africans weighing the pros and cons of societal class structure. One espoused a proto-trickle-down theory: the rich are good to be around because you can work for them. The other guy was more blase: “The rich exist to keep the poor down.”

Meanwhile, Batida’s drummer kept a brisk shuffle beat going, his two dancers, a man and a woman leaping and pouncing while the Angola-born, now Lisbon-based electronic musician/rapper/freedom fighter worked a spare, catchy, pinging melody into the mix, like a mbira through a reverb pedal. But nobody was dancing: everybody was watching the screen, apprehensively. That’s Batida’s steez, sort of George Clinton in reverse: free your mind and your lower extremities will follow.

Although the atrium space was packed, this was an unusually small crowd for Batida. He typically performs for thousands at big outdoor EDM festivals, using that platform as an opportunity for tireless advocacy for human rights worldwide, and in his war-torn native country, as documented by Amnesty International. In roughly an hour onstage, his show came across as an Afro-Portuguese take on Thievery Corporation, but minus the doctrinaire worldview, with the welcome addition of a withering sense of humor. Batida is one funny guy. He jabbed at the crowd with a torrent of cynical banter between numbers, with a plainspoken charisma akin to Iggy Pop or Rachid Taha. He was that self-aware: when he broke the fourth wall and entreated the gradeschoolers in the crowd to disbehave, or self-effacingly made fun of his own penchant for appropriating imagery, for example. And he was just as intense.

And he turned out to be a master at how to work a crowd. After he’d set the scene with with some matter-of-factly disturbing found footage from years of war in his native land, he’d run the visuals through a gel filter and pick up the pace. His samples were diverse and were absolutely fascinating, the most hypnotically entrancing one being a rare mid-70s wah-guitar-driven Angolan Afrobeat vamp that he said was noteworthy for not having drums (it did have what sounded like a djembe or two on it). Iimagine that, a dance music maven spinning the one Afrobeat tune on the planet without a drumbeat. Irony is not lost on this guy.

As scenes that weighed heavy postcolonial issues, such as the lingering effects of collaborating with enemy colonizers, shifted across the screen, the sonics and the beats grew more anthemic and the crowd surged. With a sardonic grin, Batida told them that “You’ll like this one, this one’s for the ladies, it works every time.” And then eventually painted himself into a corner while poking fun at just about every gender stereotype out there. The crowd got a kick out of that, but he also held their attention when he sent a shout-out to his compadres back home who’d been sprung by Amnesty Internation’s efforts after being jailed for a year for reading literature deemed subversive by the dictatorship.

“I’m so excited I could almost die,” confided Lincoln Center impresario Meera Dugal beforehand, who explained that it had been her dream to stage this show since discovering Batida’s music four years ago at Other Music. Then without missing a beat she scurried up to the front to join the dancers. In the back, a veteran chronicler of the New York music scene, still on the mend from a nasty injury, eventually rose from one of the press seats and began swaying back and forth. Physical therapy never felt so good.

The next show at the Lincoln Center atrium – the rectangular 62nd St. space where the most culturally diverse and happening acts perform – is Jan 5 at 7:30 PM with Burnt Sugar playing a “greatest hits” show, which might include everything from hard funk to ambient soundscapes to psychedelically danceable covers by James Brown, Prince, David Bowie and Steely Dan. As always, early arrival at these free shows is always a good idea.