Dobet Gnahoré shares emotion, expression with audience

By Anastasia Skliarova

The excitement was palpable in the Stansbury Theatre at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 14 in anticipation of the evening’s performance. This was the second concert in Lawrence University’s 2014-2015 World Music Series and, as promised, we got a show that was unlike any I have ever seen before.

Dobet Gnahoré, the Grammy Award-winning singer, dancer and percussionist from the Ivory Coast, and her superbly talented band delivered.

Even after the official starting time of the concert, audience members continued to trickle in and navigate the aisles to find the few remaining seats, thrilled to have made it before the show commenced. The last minute maneuvering was worth it, because the concert—start to finish—was absolutely fantastic.

The stage was set with a lot of equipment, but the majority of it was covered in colorful swaths of fabric that featured traditional West African patterns. The lighting had blue undertones, which also added to the cool ambiance on stage that night.

The first person to hit the stage was drummer Mike Dibo, who smiled and called back to a happy audience member who hollered the second Dibo sat behind the drums. Gnahoré followed Dibo, who was followed by guitarist and backing vocalist Colin Laroche de Féline. Last to take the stage was bass player Clive Govinden, whose solo in the second half of the concert garnered him especially hearty applause.

It was clear from the get-go that this group of musicians was extremely comfortable playing with one another. Their matched talents allowed them to take musical risks with one another. The sharing of solos was done with great ease, and Gnahoré swapped instruments with some of her band members. The concert kept us on our toes, which made it even more exciting to watch.

Gnahoré’s voice was beyond powerful. Her range was massive, her dynamic shifts were sensitive and the fullness of her tone left audience members awestruck. I sat behind Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory, and it was exciting to see him nod at moments of particular intensity, as if in agreement with her presence, and look incredulous whenever Gnahoré effortlessly employed a challenging vocal technique.

The topics of her songs ran the gamut from impossible love to perseverance, from political lies to a mother’s concern. Many of her songs focused on friendship, and in between songs, Gnahoré constantly reminded the audience that her goal was to share her spirit, love and energy with us. I was sitting in the back of the venue, and even from a distance, I was impressed by how much she emoted. Many in the audience were moved.

The word “charismatic” almost doesn’t do her justice; her performance would be better characterized by underscoring her infinite enthusiasm, beauty, confidence, control and bliss. Her vibe is utterly unique and even after two hours of a demanding performance, Gnahoré looked as though she could have performed for the rest of the night.

Gnahoré’s dancing is also worth mentioning. She has spent time in the Ivory Coast’s Tché Tché dance company and her expert, vigorous dance interludes melded beautifully with her high-octane singing. She was very smooth and rhythmic, but in certain parts of her dances, she would kick her leg out to shocking heights and jump with crisp precision.

Senior Luke Rivard boldly and beautifully led the majority of the students in the audience into the front of Stansbury by standing up halfway through the concert and dancing to the edge of the stage. Thankfully, all it took was a single student feeling free to groove, and the infectious energy of the music could finally manifest in the happy rhythms of the bopping group.

It was clear that Gnahoré was thrilled when students started to race toward the stage, for this is what her music is all about: love, collective energy, joy and freedom. She picked out one particularly enthusiastic student dancer from the crowd and invited her to the stage and the two danced with huge smiles on their faces. At the end of the song, they hugged, a testament to the familiarity and warmth that Gnahoré’s music fosters.

After the show, the standing ovations and the encore, Gnahoré stayed and signed CDs and concert programs. Her open, vibrant energy was still palpable off-stage and she was even willing to humor some Lawrentians with a little French conversation. Sweetest of all, she signed our memorabilia with several little hearts: poignant reminders of the love she encouraged us to share with those around us. In short, she was inspirational from beginning to end.

The upcoming and final concert in this year’s World Music Series is scheduled for March 2 at 8 p.m. The group Caladh Nua will be performing traditional Irish music with a contemporary twist on a wide variety of instruments in the Esch Studio of the Warch Campus Center.