Party in the house: Angélique Kidjo gets Cultural Centre crowd on their feet

They were singing along and dancing in the aisles - and eventually up on stage - as African performer delivered non-stop two-hour-plus show

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 October, 2015, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 October, 2015, 12:00pm

Nobody could accuse Angélique Kidjo of not knowing how to work a crowd. For her Hong Kong debut she had most of those present on their feet for much of the show, and many of them were dancing in the aisles.

Not content with that, for the last song – before she came back for two encores – she invited as many as could fit there up on to the stage.

This was all well outside the control of some fairly stony-faced Cultural Centre staff, who made a few half-hearted attempts to enforce the “no unauthorised photography, audio or video recordings” rule before everything got hopelessly out of hand.

Good luck with that. This was a party, it was of course music to dance to, and at least some of it is already up on YouTube.

SEE ALSO: Queen of African music, Angelique Kidjo, ‘can’t wait’ for Hong Kong concert debut

There was a strong African turnout, and some members of the audience may have understood the several African languages in which the songs were sung. Most wouldn’t have had a clue, but it hardly mattered.

“I’m not afraid to say what I think,” Kidjo announced, needlessly, and as is her wont provided a few good-humoured but emphatic agitprop speeches to illuminate the messages in those lyrics she was particularly keen to get across.

Both songs and speeches were all loudly cheered.

She was preaching to the converted and, generally speaking, making points no sensible person would dispute, although her oft repeated complaint about negative views of Africa in the media is wearing a bit thin. If there weren’t so many horrifying things happening on the continent – some of which she alluded to – it wouldn’t be possible to report them.

Accentuating the positive is what she does, though, and she performed the songs from her Eve album in praise of African women with verve and commitment, supported by a small but effective band.

Dominic James supplied both acoustic and electric guitar parts, Ben Zwerin - the late Paris resident jazz and world music critic Mike Zwerin’s son - was on bass, and Chilean Edgardo Yayo Serka played drums. All three, like Kidjo now, are New York-based. A battery of additional percussion was handled by Magatte Sow from Senegal. She herself tapped out some beats on cajon.

Encouraged and engaged by Kidjo, the audience sang along surprisingly tunefully, clapped in approximate time, and whooped joyously throughout.

Batonga, Awalole and Miriam Makeba’s hit Pata Pata were highlights of the evening, and for Afirika - “the title shows how Africa is pronounced in Fon” the programme informed us helpfully - she wandered round the auditorium high fiving anybody she could reach.

Kidjo and the band performed without an intermission for around two hours, but for many it was still over too quickly. Here for only two days, she said she regretted the brevity of her visit, and that she is keen to return.

Angélique Kidjo, Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Thursday October 29, 2015