Sunday, September 21, 2003

N'Dour has 'em dancing in the aisles



By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Aronoff Center's Procter & Gamble Hall is probably the finest room for music in the city. But it does have one shortcoming, and the Saturday-night concert by African-music superstar Youssou N'Dour exposed it: there just isn't enough floor space for dancing.

The Senegalese singer performed a two-hour set, much of which featured his irresistible, dance-happy mbalax rhythms in songs the crowd knew by heart. But even when N'Dour slowed things down and expressed the notion to the dancers that they could sit one out, nobody was willing to stop.

The main floor was half-full, and a handful of balcony and box tickets were sold. About 30 minutes into the show, the majority of the crowd squeezed itself into the two aisles on the floor and danced the remainder of the night. The show would have been better suited for a venue with a dance floor, but to the credit of the Aronoff staff (who've never had to deal with such an issue at a Tony Bennett or an Irish Tenors show), the aisle dancers were left alone.

Even a couple of the ushers were seen dancing, and who could blame them? N'Dour's band, Le Super Etoile, is as highly regarded as the singer himself. The nine-piece group displayed its mastery of mbalax, N'Dour's light and nimble version of Afrobeat - a mix of African and Caribbean percussion and melodies with Western pop music and instrumentation.

N'Dour's multi-octave singing voice, which he delivered in African dialects, French and English, was the haunting wail that completed the sound. (He can be heard harmonizing with Peter Gabriel toward the end of Gabriel's hit song "In Your Eyes.")

N'Dour was certainly the star, but the crowd went equally crazy for Jimi Mbaye and Assane Thiam.

Every good Afrobeat band needs a great electric lead guitarist, and Mbaye's simple, looping melodies powered the group. N'Dour noted that Mbaye picked up guitar because of Jimi Hendrix, "but he plays like an African." The crowd agreed loudly.

Thiam played talking drum, which he held under his arm and hit with a bare left hand and a stick in the right hand. When he stepped forward for one of several talking-drum solos, the dancing became more feverish, and lifting up one's shirt high enough to expose one's mid-section was the dance move of choice.

E-mail cvarias@enquirer.com




EMMYS PREVIEW
And the Emmys should go to ...
Take our Emmy quiz
Who chooses Emmy Award winners?
Emmys by the numbers
What are the odds?
Order of presentation

OTHER TEMPO COVER STORIES
Tall Stacks cruise tickets almost gone
Best of the Bats: Project stands up for women players
Get to It: A guide to help make your day

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
DEMALINE: 'Lady' brings actor back home
20/20 celebrates by the numbers
Card is passport to arts discounts
Grants go to Festival of Freedom
Troupe remembers 'Hometown Heroes'
Columbus gives 'Green Gables' the green light
Comic book films here for good

CLASSICAL MUSIC
GELFAND: New opera captures slave's plight
On stage at the Black Box
Tall Stacks too noisy for classical show
Jarvi, CSO heading for the major league

CONCERT REVIEW
N'Dour has 'em dancing in the aisles

TASTE
Top chefs' cooking benefits kids
Serve it this week: Bruschetta
Don't let blackout darken your dinner plans

ALIVE & WELL
KENDRICK: Handicapped parking spaces open up debate