As the Gallic equivalent of the Fourth of July, Bastille Day is a celebration of French nationalism. But Friday night on Marlborough Street, amongst the crepes and croissants, the wine and Perrier, the displays for the Tour de France and Air France, the musical program celebrated another continent entirely.
It was the sound of Africa, albeit Francophone Africa, that commanded the attention of the paying festivalgoers as well as those who were content to park themselves on the sidewalk and watch through the chicken wire for free.
Senegalese hip-hoppers Daara J opened with a set that carried many of the same musical and thematic trappings of '70s reggae, which was, after all, looking to Africa. It came full circle when, after stating that rap came from Africa, the group declared, ``Right now, rap music is mature enough to go back home." The trio's energetic songs were delivered in three different languages, including Senegal's Wolof.
Possessed of a powerful, Bob Marley-like voice, Daby Touré followed, wringing an astonishing array of sounds out of his spare lineup of acoustic guitar, electric bass, and drums/percussion. From acoustic funk to textures reminiscent of mid-period Police, he squeezed whatever he could out of his guitar, at times approaching it like a djembe with strings.
Headlining were Malian husband and wife Amadou & Mariam, Grammy-nominated for last year's acclaimed ``Dimanche á Bamako." Backed by a tight four-piece band, they delivered spindly, joyous funk that could have been a more polyrhythmic take on Stevie Wonder circa ``Songs in the Key of Life."
Mariam was onstage for only about half of the songs, but Amadou proved a capable and compelling singer, bandleader, and guitarist, building his remarkably fluid solos in ``Coulibaly" and ``Toubala Kono (Lonely Bird)" on nothing but clean notes. The other musicians came together like an especially rubbery blues band, and one astonishing moment saw a djembe solo joined halfway through by perfectly synchronized drum fills.
Even so, there was a noticeable warmth whenever Mariam would return to the stage. Taking the lead on ``M'Bifé," she spent most of the song gently rubbing her husband's head and resting her hand on his shoulder as the backing vocals, melody, and spoken-word midsection evoked the simplicity of a 1960s girl group classic fitted out with stinging guitar arpeggios. Amadou twice asked the audience, ``Do you like music?," but he never specified any particular type.