• Kenneth Aaron

I like that audiences at the Works will dance. Not only that, they’ll dance hard, and they won’t stop ‘til they get enough. Such was the case during last night’s thumping Afrobeat Tribute to Michael Jackson.

I’m not sure why everyone would cringe when I’d mention “Afrobeat Tribute to Michael Jackson,” but I have a feeling that they must connect afrobeat to over-sensitive National Public Radio hippies or something. But afrobeat is some of the most ass-shaking music around. Also, the best of Michael Jackson is some of the best ass-shaking music around. So it only stands to reason that afrobeat Michael Jackson would be the ass-shakingest.

Admittedly there were only two ways for evening the to go. Either Ben Darwish and the members of COMMOTION would be able to meld African jams with American dance jams and start a party, or it’d be an unpleasant mess that kept people in their seats for the duration.

I believe the only reason the dance floor wasn’t filled sooner than it was is because people were plastered to their chairs, amazed at the power of Darwish’s ten piece ensemble. Beginning with a driving riff on afrobeat master Fela Kuti’s “Let’s Start,” it was clear that the ensemble wasn’t fucking around, and when they began mashing in Jackson’s “Starting Something” is was certain the party was imminent. It just took one brave fellow in the front row to rush the stage, turn towards the audience and motion for them to follow. The flood of people from the seats was intense.

Dawish’s ensemble was pretty amazing with a bold horn section and spot on rhythm. Darwish, for his part, directed them well, jumping around the stage and coaxing them on. His arrangements were fantastic and it was cool to hear Jackson’s work pulled, stretched, and wrapped around afrobeat rythyms. For instance, phrases from “Smooth Criminal” would be repeated by the horn section while the syncopated beat pumped away, or Darwish would slowly sing the lyrics of Billy Jean in deep Fela Kuti baritone while the fantastic back-up singers responded in classic afrobeat style. It worked both as a live mash-up, and the collaboration you never knew you always wanted to hear.

I was moving for the entire 90 minute set and was sad when it ended with the phrase “Mama-se, mama-sa, ma-ma-coo-sa” repeated until it turned into “I’ve been saved by the sound of Michaels song” while a projection of the baby-faced Jackson smiled down from the screen behind them.

Tonight there’s sure to be more dancing when DJ Beyonda brings a collection of dusty 45’s to the Works stage at 10:30 pm for a special TBA edition of “There’s a Hole in My Soul.” It’s a can’t miss night.