Dobet Gnahoré at The Dakota

A regal presence on stage

Tonight I had the opportunity to see and hear Dobet Gnahoré, a singer from the Ivory Coast, now living in France. I have to admit that I hadn’t heard her before and had no idea what to expect. She was, in a word, extraordinary.

I had the good fortune to be seated close to the stage at the Dakota Jazz Club, a 250 seat venue in Minneapolis. I could see the muscles tense in her arms as she sang. I could see feel the stage reverberate with her dancing. I could see the passion in her eyes, and plainly feel the passion in her voice. Singing in a number of languages I don’t understand, she nevertheless commanded attention with the ferocity of her emotions. She stalked the stage. Her dancing seemed to be filled with abandon, though in reality she had great control. She gave the spotlight to members of her groove-centric trio. The guitarist, Colin Laroche de Feline, has been a long time collaborator with Gnahore. His light, airy touch was executed with an assuredness and  facility that belied the fact he is from France and not Africa.

Gnahoré sang Congolese Rumbas, as well as Hi-Life, Afrobeat, and other African styles, most of which I don’t know. But they all sounded great coming from her strong voice. Then there was her dancing. Acrobatic, yet seeming to include many styles associated with what little I know of African dance – wide legged, kicking high, and at one point jumping about three feet above the stage. She was lithe, and barely breathing hard for all the energy she expended on those dances. Awesome. It made the twists and turns of James Brown and Michael Jackson seem like sedate waltzes by comparison. She was so inspirational, my wife leaned over and said, “I’ve got to join the Y.” Gnahoré set a confident example of a woman who is both powerful and comfortable with herself.

It was an uplifting evening.

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