VIVE LA WORLD with ISSA BAGAYOGO, P18 and Cheikha RIMITTI at Harbourfront Centre's main stage, July 12. Tickets: free. Attendance: 2,500. Rating: NNNN
For a bill involving three acts with as little in common as Malian Afro-electro fusionist Issa Bagayogo, French salsa rockers P18 and the grand dame of Algerian rai, Cheikha Rimitti, the Vive La World night worked out remarkably well. The logistics of staging three bands, however, meant that Bagayogo had to start the show with the venue less than half-full of spectators, many of whom were clutching Harbourfront programs over their heads to shield themselves from the scorching sun.
With guitar star Mama Sissoko at his side pulling off sweet little highlife runs, Bagayogo plucked hypnotizing oscillations on his giant lute-like kamélé n'goni along with sequenced bloinky balafon beats.
The unwieldy six-string axe with its silver-painted calabash resonator added a perfect otherworldly vibe to the whole ancient-future getdown. Whether celebrating the lives of fallen Manding warriors or dropping science on drug abuse, Bagayogo sang each tune with the same mournful falsetto, which, combined with the trance- inducing rhythms, made his entire set sound like one long song -- fortunately, it was a good one.
P18 had no difficulty shaking the drifting crowd back to consciousness with their brash salsa blasts.
Attempting a cover of Irakere's Bacalao Con Pan was a bit ambitious -- even with canned keyboard parts. But they managed to get everyone up clapping and bouncing along to their choreographed jive that only slowed for costume changes.
In more than 60 years of performing, gale-force rai belter Cheikha Rimitti has clearly learned a few things about showmanship and hasn't forgotten how to shake her stuff.
But she's also aware of her limitations, and left the majority of the wriggling to her dancing sidekick Ourida Bouadjadja. Judging by the enthusiastic whoops and shutterbug activity each time the well-tassled Bouadjadja shimmied across the stage, Rimitti should consider a co-billing.