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Baaba Maal, Yeasayer, Tinariwen, and Fool's Gold @ The Hollywood Bowl, 6/20/10

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On a warm summer evening in June, KCRW kicked off its World Music Festival at the Hollywood Bowl in grand style. They presented the crowd with four bands, two American and two African, who couldn't be more different, but were all linked by their use African inspired drumming within their songs. It was really fascinating to watch the same beats reborn in four completely unique ways almost like a musical Iron Chef challenge.

First up were the local favorites Fool's Gold, whose debut album came out last summer on IAMSOUND Records. Clad all in summery pastels the seven members of the band looked relaxed as they launched into their first song. This is a band that doesn't shy away from any influences, but chooses to incorporate them all. It seems like everything they could lay their hands on would be part of the song. Horns, guitars, congas, various shakers, shells, even language is used to make their music more varied. Lead singer Luke Top immigrated to the States from Israel when he was young and effortlessly glides between English and Hebrew often within the same song. The result was this lovely, very ornate pop that doesn't sound like anything else. One can only wonder what would happen if you left them alone with an orchestra.

After Fool's Gold, Tinariwen took the stage in vibrant robes of blues, greens, and oranges. This group definitely took the prize for band with the most unusual history. Tinariwen is made up of Touareg fighters from the north east corner of Mali who met in refugee camps in Libya and Algeria and formed a military unit, who also played music together. After peace was declared in 1991 the group decided to put down their guns and become a band full time.

Lead singer Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, greeted the crowd with a very formal "bon soir" before launching into a set which was all sung in mournful French with lots of hand clapping and Western blues-inspired guitar licks. Their songs had a sadness that most of the crowd couldn't begin to understand, but mesmerizing to watch.

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Just as we were getting comfortable in the Southern Saharan grooves, the music landscape jumped to Brooklyn for those adorable electro weirdos, Yeasayer. Yeasayer itself is the American melting pot. I mean, the band looks like a Benetton ad. The set was comprised mostly of their latest album Odd Blood which came out early this winter. Layering complex synths on top of African inspired drumming, electric drums, guitars, and high pitched harmonies, Yeasayer is very hard to define. One just has to accept that each number is going to be completely unrelated to the last and has to be accepted as it's own unique idea.

To close out the night, Senegalese star Baaba Maal took the stage with fifteen of his closest friends all decked out in brightly colored kaftans. His songs were mostly from his latest release Television which came out last year, but what makes Maal so special live is that each song is a competition between musicians. There is a moment in the middle of each tune where two musicians duel it out in fantastically elaborate solos on the conga or djamba or whatever instrument they have handy.

Not to be outdone there was one point where Baaba Maal was kneeling next to one of the drummers trying to make his vocal chords keep up with his furious pounding. The crowd went nuts. There is nothing a crowd of people like better than a competition between two worthy adversaries going as fast as they possibly can. Each song during that set tried to outdo the last until the final number where everyone was invited on stage to get their groove on. And boogie they did down to the last section in the Bowl.

Note: Apologies for the distant quality of the photos. The Hollywood Bowl insisted that the photographers stay by the soundboard.