Mombasa Party and the Royal Drummers of Burundi. At UCSB’s Campbell Hall, Friday, November 17.
Reviewed by Sara Barbour
The woman walking onto the stage has presence. Walking, however, is hardly an adequate description of her movement — she glides, bobs, and swings her hips alluringly with each tiny step. She exudes an aura of command, each nudge forward rustling her brightly patterned skirt and demanding the attention of everyone present. Behind her, three musicians skillfully ply their instruments to create the swaying beat for her slow advance, but she has just to execute a girlish twirl of her wrist for all to see that the stage is her dominion.
Thus began a spellbinding night of music, rhythm, and performance at UCSB’s Campbell Hall, led off by the smooth sounds of Kenya’s Mombasa Party and brought to a pounding climax by the Royal Drummers of Burundi. The two groups of performers brought their musical offerings to life with a combination of rhythm, song, and movement that showcased the energy and diversity of African culture.
A quartet of artists whose voices and instruments brought to the venue the native melodies of their home, Mombasa Party warmed the audience during the first half of the evening with their compositions and infectious smiles. Yet perhaps more endearing was the respect and dignity that characterized their performance, an aspect of presentation so often lacking in the conduct of Western musicians.
The Burundi Drummers, however, presented an entirely different embodiment of majesty, one riveting from the very first thunderous drumbeat. Athletes with arms that foretold of the group’s power even before their incredibly intense routine caused jaws to drop, the drummers created a mesmerizing string of rhythms that left no ear untouched, bringing to the stage an energy that remained to electrify the deafening silence that followed the final beat of their long, wooden drumsticks. The performers rotated around the semicircle of drums, each taking his turn at the instrument positioned in the middle, and it was a delight to watch the leaping dance of anticipation that preceded each attack on the central drum that resulted in a magnificent explosion of noise.
At the end of the evening the exuberance and vigor of the whole performance was carried out into the night air, the uniquely captivating rhythms sustained long after the last drumbeat sounded. It was an evening of diversity, melody, and excitement — and, despite the contrast of their sounds, both groups infused their performances with a humility that was beautifully inspiring and refreshing.