Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Le Grand Dakar Block Party: Boogie in the rain!

The fifth annual Le Grand Dakar Block Party was foiled by rain this past Sunday.  It never rained hard, but it never really stopped either, and for a public grown accustomed this summer to 90-degree steamers, this was a problem.  When Afropop arrived late in the afternoon, the street was a pretty desultory scene--a block party ready to go with entertainment, eye candy and savory food, but relatively few takers.  This event features art, fashion, food and music including this year Brooklyn-based Ghanaian rapper Blitz the Ambassador, Bajah and The Dry-Eye Crew from Sierra Leone, Senagalese Sabar-stylings of Mar Gueye, and the first-ever New York appearance of the Belgium-based soulful Congolese rapper, Baloji. DJ Mihoki, DJ Laye and The City Billies.

The good news is that the music moved inside Le Grand Dakar, and despite the tight quarters, the performers and their reduced but willing audience revved up the energy and laid down a fine party despite the weather.  I caught Bajah and the Dry-Eye Crew freestyling up a storm of their own with a tight, brassy band they would share with Blitz.  Three horns, two guitars, live drums and bass cranked out tuneful grooves for the rappers, whose boisterous voices more than filled the small space.  This was a big sound, aching to burst out onto the street, but alas, unable to.  Bajah and company have been doing gigs around New York and they are sounding terrific.  We await their debut CD, expected to drop soon...

Blitz came next, with the band kicking out forceful, funky grooves, but the rapper ruled, with crisp flow and a totally committed delivery that transcended the humble setting.  Rising above circumstances, literally and figuratively, Blitz stood on a chair and gave his all, rapping, dancing as if it were Madison Square Garden.  He worked in a spitfire rap in a Ghanaian tongue that really wound up the crowd.  Blitz was asked to pause while a ceremony for the elders followed unfolded.  Sabar drums sounded in the street as the stage shifted.  After a delicious plate of herb-roasted lamb from Le Dakar's kitchen--grilled over coals!--I had to move on, but Blitz returned for more, and the African party continued.  Better luck next year.  This is a sweet event.  With a day like Saturday (sunny and in the 70s), it would make the perfect cap to an exquisite summer of free outdoor entertainment in New York City.

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