FERTILE GROUND as part of BEATS, BREAKS & CULTURE: TORONTO ELECTRONIC MUSIC FESTIVAL at Harbourfront Centre, July 10. Tickets: free. Attendance: 800. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
After Belgian funkmaster Buscemi 's Thunderstorm of a set, I eavesdropped on a friendship being struck up behind me, just two rows back from the Harbourfront Centre 's grand outdoor stage. "You know Fertile Ground ?" the fired-up stranger asked the other stranger.
"No, never heard 'em before," he told her.
"Well, don't go anywhere, honey, because they are the shit."
That they might be, honey, I thought, but it's gonna be mighty hard for them to top Manitoba , who played here the night before as part of this crunk-ass three-day Beats, Breaks & Culture: Toronto Electronic Music Festival - which didn't cost a penny to attend, I should add.
But from the moment the Baltimore jazz/soul/house/funk group's spoken-word MC, Olu Butterfly , Princess Leia dreads crowning her head, marched out and began to weave words, the diverse audience, composed of emo nerds, couples of all racial and sexual denominations and combinations, parents of several kids, and the gentleman beside me, who I'm pretty sure was actor James Garner, had to know this performance would be some ill shit.
"Welcome to Fertile Ground," said Butterfly finally, fluttering off with a mischievous grin.
Taking her place was the eight- member group's vocalist, Navasha Daya , rocking a gold-feathered headdress, wasting no time shaking her ass to the hard funk riddim provided by her husband, keyboardist James Collins , and percussionists Mark Prince and Ekendra Das .
Then came an hour of pure lightning. Daya's robust voice lit up the night. Band members pumped their instruments mercilessly. Highlights? The track Take Me Higher, with a Dirty South-style beat driving Daya's feverish Nritya and dancehall boogie steps, the audience snapping along, trumpeter Freddy Dunn blowing a wicked Clifford Brown-style solo, and Yesterdays, a syncopated, skat-saturated high-BPM ode to the past, Daya's own cowbell knocking the song right into a jam-out about living in the moment, featuring Joe Mills 's porno-flavoured wah guitar.
And their JoJo Flores collaboration, Come To Me, the night's only slow jam, was an ode to Collins's and Daya's second anniversary that punctuated the set with sweet sentimentality.
Honey, I'm a believer. Fertile Ground is the shit.