Bringing any world music artist over to the U.S.A. has gotten increasingly difficult over the years, and the recent computer fiasco over at U.S. Visa Control made Paulo Flores’ concert in New York City a cliff-hanger. But we are all the luckier for his arrival, and his performance at Le Poisson Rouge in downtown Manhattan.
The people who came to the show were there to dance the Kizomba, (which Flores brought to prominence) and the Semba, the down home dance music of Angola that is used for both celebration and mourning. They were also there to hear his lyrics, sing along, and to declare solidarity with their heritage.
If the Portuguese have left one positive thing in the wake of their various colonizations, it has been “saudade” that bittersweet musical mixture of longing, regret and fatal acceptance. “Poema Do Semba” is not just an eminently danceable track; it is also a statement of cultural identity, and a recognition of suffering; it is full of a particularly Angolan saudade. As such, semba becomes more than a dance, it is a spiritual representative of a people who have emerged from a bloody 40 year civil war that ended only as recently as 2002. In Flores’ lyric, semba is a flag, a street corner, a hilltop in flames; it embraces rich and poor, it is “the voice that makes me bear pride in being Angolan.”
Flores is a sweet-voiced and sincere performer, and his band was tight and swinging. The melodic lines and chordal fills of veteran guitarist Teddy N’singi flowed like liquid silver over all the arrangements, giving them a special elegance. Flores started out the first set with more lyrical, laid back songs, but built to heated dance numbers by evening’s end, leaving the crowd pleasantly sweaty, happy and begging for more.