It made sense that it took a few members of the audience to kick-start the program Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl's "Africa Pulse" world music event--a series promoted and produced as a kind of communal experience, with a world marketplace to supplement the global sounds.
But it didn't say much for the impact of Moroccan musician-singer-dancer Hassan Hakmoun, nor, for that matter, of Guinean guitarist Alpha Yaya Diallo (replacing the originally scheduled Oumou Sangare) that the program chugged along in low gear until audience members ran onstage and began to dance. And one slender young woman, with arms and legs moving in completely independent directions, was the catalyst, awakening both the audience and the musicians with her wildly enthusiastic gyrations.
Similarly, Ethiopia's Aster Aweke, a fascinating artist with a difficult to access vocal style filled with trills, ululations, melismas and grunts, had difficulty touching the crowd until a few young people--clearly fans of her music--leaped onstage to join her. Aweke's set was further enhanced by a group of costumed performers, elegantly delineating choreographed versions of traditional Ethiopian dance, filled with energizing shakes and quivers.
Each performer, however, would have benefited from a more assertive effort to contact the audience. When pop singer Paula Cole arrived to sing a duet with Hakmoun, it would have been useful to know what the song was about. Nor did Diallo, singing in several languages, offer any spoken insights into his music. Can world music be allowed to stand on its own without explanation? Sure, and without translation if it has enough sheer musical impact. But that wasn't the case with these artists, who, despite their skills, would have been far more effective with at least a minimum of explanatory interaction with their listeners.