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In concert: Francois Ladrezo

Francois LadrezoFrancois Ladrezo and his ensemble put on a powerhouse of a percussive performance Tuesday at Millennium Stage. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

By Mark Jenkins

Studying drums in order to become a singer might seem an odd strategy. But it worked for Guadeloupe's Francois Ladrezo, the Gwoka maestro who led his voice-and-drum ensemble in a joyously percussive performance Tuesday at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage.

Midway through the set, Ladrezo briefly played the make, using the goblet-shaped drum to punctuate the thunder of the troupe's two larger, lower-pitched boulas. But the Afro-Caribbean sextet was polyrhythmic from its very first sounds, produced entirely by voices and handclaps. These instruments were also available to the audience members, and Ladrezo frequently encouraged them to join in. (This worked better with simple call-and-response patterns than with more complicated phrases.)

(Dancing down the aisle and more photos, after the jump.)

Francois Ladrezo

Singer-dancer Vanessa Tardel also worked to involve the crowd, twice bursting off the stage and shimmying down the center aisle.

Ladrezo, his long hair and full beard both braided, looked every bit the Rastafarian. But instead of "mon," he says "homme." Guadeloupe is part of France, and the musician's surname is properly spelled "Ladrezeau."

French-language lyrics were no barrier to understanding, however, since the group relied primarily on syncopation and Ladrezo's robust, penetrating voice. If the singer's flourishes verged on the operatic, the rest of the music was pan-African and beyond, suggesting everything from hip-hop's human beatboxes to the incantatory styles of Haiti and Morocco. An hour is too little time to spin a trance, but Ladrezo's Gwoka clearly had the mojo to do so.

Francois Ladrezo

By David Malitz  |  January 6, 2010; 1:22 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Francois Ladrezo  
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