When: Thu., July 16, 6:30 p.m. 2009
Moroccan singer NAJAT AATABOU became a star in her homeland almost by accident—she’d snuck out of her parents’ house to sing at a wedding near her tiny hometown in the Atlas Mountains, and after a stranger clandestinely recorded her, cassettes of that performance started turning up everywhere. Aatabou left home when she was still a teenager, after her conservative family all but disowned her—they didn’t see one another for three years—but the move paid off and she quickly became one of the country’s greatest chaabi singers, using her songs to address neglected women’s issues like single motherhood, domestic violence, and adultery. She has a husky, authoritative voice and navigates the tricky polyrhythms of the Maghreb as easily as a native might wend her way through the crowded maze of a souk; lately she’s found a balance between traditional Berber melodies and modern instrumentation like electric guitars and keyboards.
Ever since Ali Farka Toure turned up on Americans’ radars in the late 80s, the nature and meaning of the connection between West African music and the blues has been debated regularly. To my ears no artist has done more to make the link tangible than British guitarist JUSTIN ADAMS—well-versed in both types of music, he collaborates regularly with Robert Plant and has produced records for Tinariwen. His latest album with Gambian griot JULDEH CAMARA, Tell No Lies (Real World), takes a few false steps—sometimes it underlines connections a bit too literally, for instance by hijacking the famous Bo Diddley beat or borrowing the tune to Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man.” But more often than not the marriage feels seamless and natural; Adams is mindful of his virtuosity, using it mostly in service to rhythm and texture, and Camara sings with easy, tightly coiled soul while unfurling beautifully droning lines on an ancient type of single-string fiddle called a riti.
Adams and Camara open; Aatabou headlines. Both acts are making their Chicago debuts. —Peter Margasak