BEIRUT: When Kandjha Kora stepped on stage at the Democratic Republic of Music Thursday evening it was his Beirut debut. It was immediately obvious, though, that the Guinean singer-songwriter is a natural performer, with a stage presence well beyond his tender 24 years.
Over the course of his brief set, Kora moved with easy-going grace from acoustic kora (the 21-string instrument associated with West African folk music) to electro-acoustic guitar to electric kora – which he at times played with a verve verging on that of a 20th-century guitar hero.
All the while he radiated the sort of unpretentious competence that breaks down the artificial barrier between stage and bleachers. Anyway it got the audience of the not-uncomfortably packed DRM dancing, some energetically enough to pose a slight danger to the waiters’ tray-loads of drinks.
At the heart of the show, of course, was the music. Kora’s silky vocal stylings meander over a wide range, from French to languages not often heard on Beirut stages – apparently including Malinke, Peul and Sousou.
Kora’s main collaborator in this show (and in the CD “La Guinee,” whose tunes the concert sampled) was Lebanese singer-songwriter Zeid Hamdan – a fixture on Beirut’s indie music scene and irrepressible band-maker.
Based behind his bank of machines, Hamdan’s contribution to the show, aside from whatever role he played in the tunes’ conception and recording, was on electronics and vocals.
Near the end the show the duo was joined by percussionist Jeremie Regnier (nee of The New Government) and Hamdan stepped from behind his machines to throw on his bass guitar.
The duo’s music moves back and forth from electronically enhanced Guinean sounds to West African reggae to hip hop. There’s nothing startling in the labels you might apply to the music: A few minutes at Virgin Megastore will uncover dozens of “East-West” collaborations – some of them including West African musicians and indie rockers.
The music emerging from this evening with Kora and Hamdan was special because of the distinct dialogue of personalities that gave it shape and brought it to life.