Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Cyndi Lauper with Li’l Kim, Dave Stewart and French first-lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy celebrated Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela‘s 91st birthday July 18 at a heavily reported Radio City Music Hall concert, but in Prospect Park Nigeria’s King Sunny Adé headlined a free five-act, seven-hour pan-African Celebrate Brooklyn! show drawing some 20,000 people. No reviews have been forthcoming, but hey, it was pretty nice, so you should know.
Beside’s Ade’s 13-man African Beats (plus two merrily callypygous female dancers), there were performances by South African pop-soul band Freshly Ground (fronted by singer olani Mahola and electric violinist Kyla-Rose Smith), the somewhat more tradition-minded Mandingo Ambassadors (vocalist Ismail Kouyaté and guitarist Mamady Kouyaté, plus balafon/elect.bass/hand-drums/saxes and reeds) out of Guinea (and they play every Wednesday at Barbés!), Afro-funk diva Abena Koomsom (born in Brooklyn, parents from Ghana), the Egyptian dervish-like dancer Yasser Darwish and the Senegalese-originating Cheikh M’baye and Sing-Sing Rhythm, starting about 2 pm and ending at 9. Despite the emphasis on percussion and electric gear — guitars, basses, keyboard-synths, even processed flute — used by all the bands except Sing-Sing and Darwish (who was accompanied by a accordionist and side-held hand-drummer), the sounds were mostly mellow. The mood was entirely upbeat; no blues, no protest (as far as I could tell — most of the singing was not in English but communicated across language barriers).