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Scattershot Affairs From Zaire’s Mbilia Bel

Mbilia Bel’s featured role in the ensemble of Africa’s most popular singer, Tabu Ley Rochereau, ensures the young Zairian vocalist an immediate audience for her solo career. But Bel’s two 45-minute sets before 400 enthusiastic fans at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Culver City on Friday were scattershot affairs.

The material featured clean, muted melodies (played by Bel’s regular guitarist, Rigo Star) supporting her high, soft voice, and restrained arrangements that rarely veered toward rhythmic overdrive, and the control evident in the music extended to Bel’s formal stage presence--a sedate hip sway was her preferred movement, and she delivered the obligatory interludes of dirty dancing, African style, with the air of someone performing a vaguely distasteful duty.

Maloko, a Washington-based sextet, backed Bel and Star with punchy horn arrangements and fluid rhythms, but pacing problems--or just a shortage of distinctive, hard-hitting songs--meant that the performance repeatedly failed to sustain what momentum it did develop.


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