Anne L Ryan reports on Salif Keita, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, May 2006

Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire
All told, a tale of upstairs and down. The crowd dancing in the auditorium may have been mesmerized by the power of Keita's west African rhythms, but meanwhile up in the balcony the constant bombardment of poor sound - tinny while also far too loud - was worse than uncomfortable. You could feel it doing bad things to your ears.

Sadly, this pure loudness from the band distracted utterly from Salif Keita. He may be the golden voice of Africa, but the Malian's vocal glories came into the light only when the band were silent and he did two numbers with acoustic guitar; one solo and the other with his two wonderful female backing singers. Here at last - too briefly - his honeyed tonal quality and deep African heart could be appreciated.

Later, as part of an encore, these two backing vocalists danced in response to a hand-drum solo. One of them - and she was not a small woman - showed the nearest thing to levitation yet seen in Cambridge. In perfect rhythm, she and her partner seemed to be dancing on air. An extraordinary feat - and the crowd responded with great and deserved warmth.

But back in the balcony, things were getting bad. Unable to take any more sonic punishment, people had for some time been leaving early, clearly very disappointed. Previous Keita concerts at the Corn Exchange have not been notable for good sound quality, but tonight was a disgrace. Still, for those on the ground floor, the evening ended in great good spirits when Keita urged the crowd to come up and join him on stage. Delighted, they packed the performing area. And, quietly, as the band played on, Keita slipped away.

Writer: Anne L Ryan