The African-born, French-speaking DJ Kadafi (who earlier this month co-hosted the Mafrika Festival) did his best to move the mixed Central Park Summerstage crowd this past Sunday afternoon but the intense heat made it almost impossible for anyone to get into a dance groove.
His short set was very upbeat despite the lack of enthusiasm from the audience. Kadafi seemed unfazed as he brought out a couple of African dancers and a local soul singer named Rashida, who sang with the backing of a playback track.
You could notice by the large number of yarmulke-wearing fans in attendance that most were there for the Israeli musician, composer and singer Idan Raichel. Raichel gained fame back home in 2002 with his own fusion of Middle Eastern styles.
The 30-year old keyboardist, who was kicking off a short U.S. tour (he had dates scheduled in Washington, DC and San Francisco), came on stage backed by three singers, percussion, drums, guitar, drums and bass. As he approached his keyboards he received a loud ovation from the crown and set on to play the first song, to which many sang along to. He smiled as if he had not expected such a reception, and went on to play the music.
Much of the set had a very danceable feel but many songs seemed to have a strong spiritual side to them as well. “Im Telech” (If You Go), a slow number that (according to a Hebrew-speaking fan) speaks about the longing of a girl who can no longer see any emotion in her lover's eyes, had one of the best audience responses (the same fan told me that this was one of Raichel's biggest hits).
There was also a haunting instrumental tune that featured an oud solo that was accompanied solely by subtle keyboard textures that led itself to “Siyaishaya Ingoma” (Sing Out For Love), an African-inflected tune that featured plenty of loops and percussion. On lead vocal was passionate South African vocalist Bongani Xulu, who joined the band after seeing Raichel at a concert in her native country.
The Idan Raichel Project has recently had its debut released in the U.S. via the Cumbancha label, and the band's music is ripe for discovery by mainstream audiences.