Dispatches from the Mariposa Folk Festival night time stages (Friday)
As usual at Mariposa, Friday late night at the Pub Stage is all about the dance party.
Tanika Charles was first to get the packed-venue crowd up on their feet. She and her band performed what timeless soul music sounds like in 2023, and what it should sound like, paying homage to the origins of the music – Motown, Stax, a little jazz – while still making it her own. Her unique, piercing voice occasionally strains just a bit to get to the note, but that just makes her sound charming and authentic. Her band (guitar, bass, drums, keyboards) is very solid, very professional, and the perfect vehicle to make her first appearance at Mariposa a memorable one. Several new songs were about being compulsively attracted to an abusive ex, even after ending the relationship. I’d hate to be on the wrong side of her in a romance gone wrong – she’d end up writing a terrific song about it that would be terrible for your reputation. Not unlike Taylor Swift. Highlights included the jazzy groove of “Frustrated” and the propulsive “Endless Change,” which really got the dancers going.
Ammoye, who was next up, knows how to make an entrance: she joined her band (already playing onstage) in a Caribana-style cape that, when extended by her raised arms, looked like the wings of a giant, diaphanous, iridescent, rainbow-hued butterfly. Introduced as “reggae fusion,” she more than lived up to the term – with a hot cover of Bob Marley’s “Roots, Rock, Reggae” (a statement of her purpose, perhaps?); a reggae cover of the Nina Simone version of “Baltimore” (originally written and recorded by Randy Newman); a surprisingly soulful ska version of Toto’s “Hold the Line” (“Whaaaat?!”); and her own killer originals, the inspirational “Woman of the Ghetto” and “Soul Rebel,” both of which drove the dancers to a frenzy of motion. Her first-ever performance at Mariposa ended up being a total love-fest between the artist and the audience. Small wonder she was long-listed for a Grammy Award.
Closing the Pub Stage was Southern Italian band Kalàscima, aided and abetted by Toronto’s own Andrea Ramolo. What a wacky, wild, rollercoaster ride! Accordion, bouzouki, saxophone, Arabic horn, hand drum, a guy who raps super-fast in the deepest voice you’ve ever heard (all in Italian), Andrea whirling like a dervish, the whole band jumping up and down like pogoing punks in 1977 (inspiring the crowd to do the same) – all coming at you fast and furious, one song right after another, with no verses or choruses, just the riff taking off in a cloud of dust. What Gogol Bordello did for Romani music in the early 2000s, Kalàscima are doing for the Italian equivalent right now. A rough and rowdy lot, for sure.
Meanwhile, on the Main Stage, Matt Anderson and The Big Bottle of Joy closed the night with a powerhouse set of originals and well-chosen covers. It’s encouraging to see his remarkable guitar skills, gusty blues voice, and great song craftsmanship so recognized. His closing cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends” was so strong, it made you forget about the Joe Cocker version. The Main Stage was brilliantly hosted by David Newland, the original co-founder of Roots Music Canada; after the show was delayed because Matt’s keyboardist Chris Kirby (an excellent singer-songwriter/musician/producer in his own right) had to get his malfunctioning keyboard replaced, David joked that the audience “just witnessed a live organ transplant!”