African Festival of the Arts: Harriett Tubman Band, Salif Keita, Queen Bunmi, and others | Washington Park | Fairs & Festivals | Chicago Reader
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African Festival of the Arts: Harriett Tubman Band, Salif Keita, Queen Bunmi, and others 

When: Sun., Aug. 31, 10 a.m. 2014
Price: $20, $10 in advance, $30 for families, $30 weekend pass, $75 for silver VIP, $200 for silver VIP weekend pass, $100 for gold VIP, $300 for gold VIP weekend pass
Like most African stars, Salif Keita—arguably the greatest Malian singer of the past half century—has sought a global audience by experimenting with (and occasionally struggling with) hybrids that marry the traditions of his homeland with various flavors of Western pop. On his most recent album, Talé (Universal), Keita submits the music of his Mandinka roots to the ministrations of producer Philippe Cohen Solal, best known from Parisian electro-tango outfit Gotan Project, who enlists a slew of guest singers, including British MC Roots Manuva, American jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding, and a cappella icon Bobby McFerrin. Solal uses a variety of electronic rhythms and effects, among them stuttering dubstep (“C’est Bon, C’est Bon”), anthemic four-on-the-floor kick drum (“Natty”), and accelerating-and-decelerating ambient washes (“Après Demain”). It’s a testament to the power of Keita’s soaring, protean voice that it’s unhindered by such unrewarding genre exercises. The album does better with fusions that feel like they’re looking for connections, not chasing trends: “Samfi,” for instance, collides Gnawan grooves with a prominent sample of the organ part from the B-52s’ “Planet Claire,” and “Tassi” mixes Sade-style soul with percolating Afro-Cuban rhythms. The core band on Talé includes Mamane Diabaté on balafon and Aboussi Cissoko on n’goni, and Keita’s imperturbably soulful singing never conceals its West African heritage. His voice is the only essential part of his music, and for this rare local performance, free of the guest singers and the high-end Paris studio, it should be front and center. —Peter Margasak This set is part of the African Festival of the Arts; 6:45 PM, Dee Parmer Woodtor Main Stage.

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