Concert Hall, April 12
One could have reasonably assumed that Mavis Staples and Angelique Kidjo were joint headline acts. Staples, after all, has been a pivotal figure in r’n’b, gospel music and even the civil rights movement. So why was she given the support-act treatment? Why the bottom-drawer production values to flatter the supposed “main” event?
She deserved more. The sound was awful: there were no overhead microphones on the drums, and Staples herself was so obnoxiously loud as to all but sabotage her performance. Yet at 75 her voice is still so mighty that if you built a church to house it you would want the ceiling to vault up to the heavens so as not to risk the roof being blown off.
The songs included Stephen Stills’ for What It’s Worth, Talking Heads’ funky Slippery People, the anthemic Respect Yourself, Curtis Mayfield’s cruising Let’s Do It Again and, best of all, she stormed and testified her way down Freedom Highway, that mighty hymn to civil rights.
Half an hour later the stage seemed to have doubled in size when Kidjo, radiating star-power and looking stunning, launched herself before the adoring crowd. Suddenly the sound was excellent and the lighting expansive, and one could revel once again in her sheer presence. The expert band, still featuring percussionist Magatte Sow, made the Afro-funk snap and pop, and Kidjo did her usual routines of singing her way through the auditorium and inviting massed dancers on to the stage.
She was as likable and feisty as ever and, as ever, used the platform of her popularity to speak eloquently on such causes as rape in war and the education of girls. She remains a hugely compelling performer, but her act did not need to be bolstered by dragging Staples – who had the more commanding voice – down a rung.