The Best of iFest's First Weekend: The Wailers, Fatoumata Diarawa, etc.

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Photo by Jim Bricker
Forro In the Dark
Fans expecting to hear gentle renditions of the lilting folk melodies of northeastern Brazil from Forro In the Dark were probably initially shocked, but ultimately awed, by the New York City quintet's high energy and relentlessly rhythmic live set. The group played both days of the festival's first weekend, performing on both the Bud Light World and Center stages and adding a lively workshop set for good measure.

Each appearance offered the multitude of dancers who soon gathered an excellent opportunity for a musical workout, provided they could meet the challenge of keeping up with the spirited onslaught of sound from the stage.

Jorge Continentino, playing the pifano, a Brazilan wooden flute, instead of the music's traditional lead instrument of accordion, set the pace while percussionist Adriano Santos, on the zabumba, a sort of strap-on smaller bass drum, gave the music its distinctive beat. Guitarist Masa Shimizu added another layer of rhythm in addition to the foundation of insistent drums and booming bass behind the trio.

The rapid-fire flute work of Continentino, who also added some sax, and the propulsive polyrhythmic creations conjured up by Santos made for a muscular modernization of the forro musical style but the band also remained true to its roots by performing a classic tune by Luis Gonzaga, the genre's foremost popularizer in Brazil. MICHAEL POINT

Photo by Jim Bricker
Luther & the Healers
Houston's own Luther & the Healers took the Houston Press Rocks Off Texas stage at iFest on Saturday afternoon, and it quickly became apparent why these guys are a mainstay on the local blues scene. From the soulful, growling vocals to the howling guitar licks and the thick, steady bass groove, these guys are experts at their craft, incorporating the subtle nuances of each blues region with ease.

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Photo by Jim Bricker
Led by frontman Luther Rada and his right-hand bass man Magic, these guys led the audience on a musical tour that ventured across some of the more well-noted blues areas; from Memphis to New Orleans and across Kansas City, the Healers covered a solid range of styles without neglecting our good ol' powerful Texas blues.

The response from the crowd to hits like King Floyd's "Groove Me" and the ever-popular "Stand By Me" was flat-out endearing; it was a dance party that even drew in some of the volunteers. At one point there was even some air bass playing going on, and I can honestly say that I appreciated the hell out of that. Very rarely is there a deviation from the old standard air guitar, but you haven't lived 'til you've seen someone air-slapping a bass guitar.

So thanks, Healers; a whole lotta blues and a little air bass made for a great Saturday. ANGELICA LEICHT

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Photo by Jody Perry
Fatoumata Diawara
The first Houston performance by young singer/songwriter Fatoumata Diawara, an Ivory Coast native born of parents from Mali, introduced local fans to an ascending talent of considerable proportions. Diawara clearly captivated the curious and seemingly converted more than a few with her uniformly engaging set Sunday afternoon on the Bud Light World stage.

Demonstrating an assured stage presence befitting her film and theater background Diawara performed a set deftly combining style and substance. And with a drummer from Togo, a bassist from Cameroon and a French guitarist, Diawara's band was arguably the most international of the festival's opening weekend.

Beginning with a quiet confidence and just her solo electric guitar Diawara ultimately energized the set, and the audience, to conclude with songs that had her dancing across the stage to the accompaniment of sparkling guitar work.

Diawara's set, including songs such as "Blissa," "Clandestin" and "Sowa", drew primarily from her dazzling debut album, Fatou, but the live versions were more electric, immediate and accessible. Most dealt with the severe social problems of Mali and she explained their origin and intent before playing them. But while the subject matter may have often been serious, the music itself was almost always satisfyingly celebratory. MICHAEL POINT

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FYI: We saw the Wailers at the Austin Reggae Festival, two nights before they played Houston. The lead singer on this tour is Duane Anglin ("Danglin"), that's who is pictured. Anyway - a great show!

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