Admittedly, it feels necessary to repeat “I swear, he really is great” to a world that mostly knows Bobby McFerrin as the perpetrator of 1988’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”: quite possibly the most irritating Top 40 hit of the past quarter-century. So, one more time for the record: the man is an awesome talent, and a completely unique one: the Alpha and Omega of a capella music. How many other people on earth can create the full, polyphonic sound of a hard-swinging jazz ensemble with only his mouth—-and without overdubbing? Well, okay, so he also thumps his own chest to help out with the rhythm, but that’s small potatoes. The man sings his own melody and lyric lines, simultaneously sings his own accompaniment, and then launches into vocally generated improvisations of all of the above without ever missing a beat or a chord change. Sometimes he improvises the entire tune and vocalized arrangement from scratch. If you ever hear someone else called a “virtuoso vocalist,” ask if they can do that.
Now imagine that same person leading an expansive vocal choir—-like Howard University’s famed Afro Blue. He performs as heavily as ever, but then conducts a stage full of fellow singers in large-scale orchestrations (if that’s the applicable word). What you get is previously unimagined ideas of texture, mouth percussion, polyrhythm, and counterpoint. You also get the performance that McFerrin is giving tonight: easily a keynote of the festival.
Bobby McFerrin and Afro Blue perform at 7:30 PM at the Warner Theatre, 513 13th Street NW. $39 – $81.75.