There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Language barriers and close-minded radio may keep African music from ever actually reaching the American masses, but that hasn’t stopped this year’s Africa Fete bill from trying to expand the genre’s usual U.S. demographic of emigres, hipsters, and Deadheads. Salif Keita, from Mali, for more than 15 years relied on slick synthesizer bleating to support his gorgeous, melancholy timbre. But on cuts from his forthcoming CD, produced by former Living Color guitarist Vernon Reid, and included on the Africa Fete ’98 sampler, Keita exchanges jazz fusion for his new African and American Wanda Band’s blend of challenging conga beats, Afro-psychedelic guitar, and danceable West African rhythms. Congo’s Papa Wemba has two bands, one for Anglo and international audiences, Molokai, which mixes his country’s rumba rhythms with ’60s-style R&B and Peter Gabriel-like borrowings, and one for African audiences, Viva la Musica, which adds Latin and hiphop touches to his native rhythms. While the latter outfit, which backed Wemba on ’97’s fine import effort Nouvelle Ecriture, is more versatile, this longtime star’s voice is soulful in any setting. Senegal’s Cheikh Lo is part of a growing movement of African artists who sing over acoustic strumming. Discovered by Youssou N’Dour, Lo’s quietly powerful vocals exude strength thanks in part to the unique underlayer of polyrhythmic mbalax percussion, and Afro-Cuban and flamenco fingerwork. Maryam Mursal fled the civil war destroying Somalia and ended up in Denmark. On her debut, she wails in a deep-voiced, guttural Islamic style over ouds and techno-like beats. At 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 8, in the Kennedy Center’s Grand Foyer. Free. (202) 467-4600. (Steve Kiviat)