Tomeke Dube (left) and Alec Ncube of wicked Zimbabwean song and dance crew Black Umfolosi tore up Hugh’s Room Friday.
Thu, Jul 10
BLACK UMFOLOSI at Hugh’s Room Rating: NNNN
Sitting a few feet from the stage as Black Umfolosi sweated through one of their vocal symphonies, a woman next to me remarked that the five singers kicking and stomping percussion under intricate a cappella arrangements reminded her of a recent trip to Kenya. When I saw the faraway look in her eyes, I knew this was a moment she was relishing.
Native Zimbabweans Black Umfolosi have that profound ability to sweep you to another time and place. Even when they injected references to Toronto into a number about the wonders of summertime, it felt like the song was about some fantastic place you wished you could visit.
Their harmonies are equal to anything you’ll hear from more lauded acts like Ladysmith Black Mambazo or Soweto Gospel Choir, but where BU excel is in the engaging choreography of their dance moves, a mix of contemporary and South African traditional. And when they returned wearing only work pants and hard hats, high-kicking and shuffling for a stage-shaking encore, then the sweat really began to fly, much to the delight of their audience.
Sat, Jul 12
PUERTO PLATA at Harbourfront Centre Rating: NNNN
It says something about the music when an 83-year-old Dominican man has more energy than most of his audience – who were themselves quite festive and participatory.
As the humid summer air and pastel-coloured clouds provided a calming backdrop, Puerto Plata and his five veteran musicians delivered a set of authentic Dominican merengue tipico.
Samuel Perez cradled the bass and extracted low-end vibrations with expertise, while Edilio Paredes wielded both an acoustic guitar and accordion with equal proficiency throughout the straightforward show.
Accompanied by a half-dozen of Plata’s six-minute musical massages off Mujer De Cabaret, random couples danced meringue while others shimmied and two-stepped to the tickling Spanish guitar and springy hand drumming animating the party.
The vibe was so positive, you had to wonder if the guy who paid for the airplane with the “Sarah, Will You Marry Me? Love Matt” banner that flew overhead was part of the audience – the show was that romantic. So much so that the cute bandana-wearing African grandmother dancing salsa with a teddy bear near the back was almost too much joy to behold.
Mon, Jul 14
BORIS at Lee’s Palace Rating: NNNN
While Boris have been writing and recording since 1992, Monday marked the band’s first Toronto performance ever. The sold-out crowd was brimming with excitement when the four-piece from Toyko took the stage in front of a giant gong and a wall of amps stacked 10 feet high.
To the dismay of those in the pit, Boris started out slow and atmospheric, most likely to dispel any notion that they’re simply a metal act. Layering droning, spacey guitars, they sometimes sounded like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and definitely belong in the category of bands that could effectively provide the soundtrack to the end of the world.
After an epic opener, a battle cry from singer Takeshi Ohtani kick-started some faster fare to the delight of those itching to let loose in the front rows. The 90-minute set ended with drummer Atsuo Mizuno standing on his kit, recklessly smashing the gong with a cymbal stand. When these guys come back, they’re going to need a bigger venue.