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"Africa Now!" at the Apollo Theater

by Steven Pisano

(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

DJ Black Coffee at Africa Now! at the Apollo TheaterThe sixth annual "Africa Now!" concert co-sponsored by the World Music Institute and the Apollo Theater was focused more on the electronic side of African music. The featured act in the first half brought together legendary drummer Tony Allen and techno wiz Jeff Mills, supported by keyboardist Jean-Philippe Dary. The Nigerian-born Allen is widely credited with establishing Afrobeat music back in the 1970s as part of Fela Kuti's band Africa '70. Paired with the Detroit-born Mills, the resulting set was a long improvisational groove that was at turns jazzy, Afrobeat, and techno - and always dreamy. A vibrant light show helped to engage the audience, since the musicians barely moved.

The second half of the show spotlighted the night's big draw, the internationally acclaimed DJ and record producer Black Coffee (Nkosinathi Innocent Maphumulo) from South Africa. The Apollo instantly changed from concert hall to dance club, with the entire house rising up from their seats and dancing. Basically it was house music with a South African flavor.

Jean-Philippe Dary, Tony Allen, and Jeff Mills at Africa Now! at the Apollo Theater
Pierre Kwenders (stage name of José Louis Modabi), born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but now hailing from Montreal, performed a playful, loose-limbed set. Kwenders can sing and rap in at least five languages--English, French, Tshiluba, Lingala, and Kikongo.

Pierre Kwenders at Africa Now! at the Apollo TheaterStarting off the night was the charming Ayo (born as Joy Olasunmibo Ogunmakin in Germany to a Nigerian father), who now lives in Brooklyn. A self-taught guitar player, Ayo offers a gentle musical style inflected by jazz, Afrobeat, and reggae. Probably better appreciated in a club than a concert hall, she nevertheless had the crowd eating out of her hand with her smiling charm.

Ayo at Africa Now! at the Apollo Theater

The night was emceed by Michael Mwenso and his multinational group, the Shakes,who hail from Sierra Leone, South Africa, Madagascar, France, Jamaica, as well as from Florida, Hawaii, and New York. Singing a little, dancing a little, and joking around a little, the group opened and closed the night, and performed at in between acts.

  Mwenso & the Shakes at Africa Now! at the Apollo TheaterMore photos can be found here.