Bantu Calling: Live Review

Bantu Calling: Live Review

Nov 06, 2023

Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness load up on bottled water at Crystal Ballroom on Sunday, 5 November 2023.

Global Arts Live fields another gem in its 2023/2024 world music-adjacent programming.

‘World’ music is a banned genre descriptor. We’re going ‘global.’ As in Global Arts Live.

Hump Day News reported, sort of, on Maure Aronson’s wet & wild eureka moment that birthed the long-running showcase dedicated to hosting performers from around the world. It’s been humming along for decades. And still going strong, this season’s GAL programs are popping up on stages all over Boston and beyond.

Aronson was on hand Sunday night to introduce the South African ensemble Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness at the Crystal Ballroom. That band name’s a mouthful. They go by BCUC on short copy advertising.

Davis Square served as one of many pitstops on what the frontman called the group’s “first proper tour” in the USA. Sure, they’ve played festivals and other one-off galas stateside, but the current jaunt through Massachusetts represents their first sustained effort to crack the North American live performance market after years of successful touring throughout Europe and beyond.

If Crossover Touring is a reliable guide, BCUC plays its next gig in New Mexico in mid-November. That’s quite a leapfrog! Maybe time to sightsee and smell the roses. There’s a ball of yarn somewhere in the Midwest that’s begging for a photo op.

The stage setup for BCUC consisted of two tall congas, two upright bass drums built for standing musicians, a bass guitar, three mics, and an assortment of handheld percussive gewgaws and noisemakers. It’s the kind of backline you’d expect to see left behind at a Holiday Inn after State College wins a big road game and the entire marching band drops acid to celebrate.

But these aren’t college kids on a romp. The seven musicians that make up the Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness were a well-oiled machine on Sunday night. Taking cues from their bandleading frontman, the outfit dialed up and down the intensity of their frenetic percussive dancehall attack.

The Global Arts Live scene tends to draw more than its fair share of greyhairs. Would they roll back the years to unlock the boogie? Or would the spirit be willing, but the flesh weak?

After an extended “ice breaker” and “mood maker” opening salvo, the room caught on to the irrepressible energy unfolding on stage. Moves were busted.

Extra points for the vuvuzela. Shout out to the bass player holding it all down.

It’s no exaggeration that an entire case of bottled water was deposited within arm’s reach of the performers. In a set of constant motion and musical exaltation, they needed it.

Not that exaltation always means maximum aerobic activity. The frontman dialed down the energy of the room with a few lower volume, spirit quest-type sermons. It gave him a chance to wax philosophical and gave his fellow musicians a brief respite from their furious pace.

One sermon touched on depression. The frontman shared a personal story about a friend who hanged himself. He wondered aloud whether he had done enough to help, whether the friend’s family had done enough to help, whether society-at-large had done enough to make mental health a priority. The answer seemed to be no on all counts.

Another sermon exalted the virtues of American democracy. The frontman appealed to the room to appreciate what a powerful force for the good that democracy can be. No doubt in the grand historical scheme of social and political awfulness the American model of democracy stands as a great achievement. The room, though, received the praise more or less mutely. Most of us in the room have observed decades of post-9/11 jingoism, and been displeased with the results.

But what Global Arts Live shows can accomplish, in ways few other local series can, is to put us in close contact with artists who arrive with entirely different historical baggage, inheritances, assumptions, and priorities. Self-assessments of the success of the American project, whether “liberal” or “conservative,” are hopelessly short-sighted, self-interested, and parochial.

It’s refreshing to hear a different take. Not because you’re looking for a pat on the back or a rap on the knuckles. Because fresh takes, musical or otherwise, are how human beings find ways through problems that hitherto appeared impassable.

Can we write this BCUC guy onto the November 7th election ballot in Somerville?