Salif live is always special but normally you have to wait for the second half before it kicks off — but not tonight. Salif had the Barbican on its feet by the second song and never let them sit down
Maybe the bass player is going to have a birthday every night of the current tour but ruse or not to get people up, when the audience dances, Salif Keita lights up, the band explode and that voice powers through.
With a new album La Diff?©rence to promote and a wealth of material from the last two discs to choose from, he has chosen to strip the band back to the basics. In his case, the basics are three percussionists, guitars and kora and the effect is to clear space for his voice to soar.
Contemporary music gigs at the Barbican deliver the best acoustics and sightlines you can get but the fact that the audience is sitting down acts as a damper for many bands and it has certainly weighed on previous visits of Salif’s. A respectful silence and three dances at the end for the encore is not enough magic. Not only did he get people dancing at the beginning, he delivered as many songs in the encore as in the ‘main’ part of the gig and rounded things off with his trademark stage invasion. Plenty of fine dancers joined him at the end but one little boy stole the show and got the biggest roar of the evening for his dance solo.
One of the highlights of the gig was the ‘duet’ between the djembe drummer and the dancer Sissoko Hawa; a frantic, powerful, elegant and sensual moment that will long live in the memory. Equally stirring were a pair of kora solos delivered with Hendrixian dexterity and showmanship.
The tour has just begun so if you are lucky enough to live in a city he is due to visit, get yourself the best tickets you can afford and get practicing your moves.