Experimental feature

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Experimental feature

Just to prove how diverse a continent it is, this concert, part of the fifth African Music Festival, saw an Egyptian-style singer and her five-piece band on the same bill as a solo troubadour from Cameroon. The crowd might have expected Arabic-influenced warbling, but for the first hour – in a supporting set that was a little too long – they were treated to Muntu Valdo’s guitar magic.

Sauntering on stage with a springy step, softly picking at his guitar and blowing in his harmonica, he resembled a youthful, latter-day Bob Dylan. But his music is from a different stream. Using a box of tricks to double-track his guitar and voice live, he added layers of sound to create full-textured, soft songs about peace, love and Cameroonian witchcraft and charmed the audience.

Natacha Atlas knows how to charm an audience too, whether it’s with her controlled and powerful voice, her sensual belly dancing or the irresistible dance beats of her Egyptian pop-style songs. Even a half-full, sedate, mostly middle-aged and surprisingly non-African audience were whistling, cheering and clapping with enthusiasm by the end.

Much of this was down to her rocking band. Keyboards, bass, drums, percussion and flute drove the sound along with distinctive Arabic-style figures and riffs, and created a strong bedding for her voice which sometimes beautifully scaled the heights her surname suggests.

With two costume changes and a moment when she dusted the stage with talcum powder and spun around barefoot like a whirling dervish, there was an element of theatre, too.

But the music was finely executed and included a range of her work from the records she has produced in the past 12 years. One of her favourite live elements, with which she closed this set, is her version of “I Put a Spell on You”, made famous by Nina Simone. In this show, she belted it out with passion, then reduced it to a soft jazzy groove and trumped it with a fine encore of “Hayeti Inta”, a song from her most recent record, Mish Maoul. Energetically eclectic.

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