Actually, the electric guitar was invented in California. But Arby’s four-piece band, which played two songs before its leader arrived onstage, has thoroughly assimilated it. Guitarists Abdramane Toure and M’Barka Dembele played chiming, tightly interlocked riffs that moved forward and roundabout simultaneously; the music’s modal structure and trebly timbres suggested both African and Asian varieties of trance music.
The energy level jumped when Arby appeared in a flowing, elaborate blue-and-red robe and matching headdress, yet the music didn’t change much. Arby is an ample woman, but she doesn’t possess the sort of earthy voice associated with larger performers. The “Nightingale of Mali’s North” flutters through her upper registers, hitting notes that are piercing yet pure. While her voice was commanding, it meshed with the instruments. In such tunes as “Goumou” and “Wadio,” both the voice-guitar interplay and Arby’s vocal exchanges with Dembele and drummer Mahalmadane Traore were forms of call and response.
Occasionally during the 85-minute set, Abdramane Toure shifted the tone by hitting a wah-wah pedal for a noisy solo that channeled the style of another ancestral spirit, Jimi Hendrix. The group also employed reggae rhythms generally as a sort of an undercurrent.