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Sacré Bleu Bayou!

France takes center stage at the Houston International Festival

Two other African bands taking the World Music Stage for the first time have the potential to establish themselves in the perennial favorite class. After years of success in Zimbabwe as a musician, producer and actor, singer/guitarist Oliver Mtukudzi ("Tuku," for short) has finally achieved acclaim beyond the borders of his homeland. Carrying the torch lit by chimurenga pioneer Thomas Mapfumo (with whom he briefly played in the late 1970s), Mtukudzi is both a musical and political force, unifying a nation torn by internal strife, rampant alcoholism and the AIDS epidemic. With his band Black Spirits, Tuku performs a proud and joyful collection of Ndebele- and Shona-language songs that are reminiscent of the South African ghetto music that sustained the masses under apartheid -- the embodiment of the indomitable human spirit. For a preview, catch the band April 22 on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Cheikh Lô labored in Senegal as a backup musician and producer (with a brief sojourn -- naturally -- in France) until his famed countryman Youssou N'Dour heard a demo tape and brought Lô into the studio. A drummer and guitarist as well as an accomplished vocalist, he knows how to put just a few pieces together and maximize the return; a horn blast, a sustained keyboard chord, an acoustic guitar riff, beats of the talking drum. Constructed around a foundation of Senegalese percussion, his compositions and lyrics echo his deep spiritual commitment to Islam. Those of you who don't speak Wolof, however, might think the dreadlocked Lô is just another fabulous, funkified African soul singer on a mission.

Paris Combo heads up a Gallic entourage at this year's fest.
Jean François
Paris Combo heads up a Gallic entourage at this year's fest.

Details

April 20, 21, 27 and 28 at various locations downtown. Parking is available in Theater District lots. Advance tickets are available at HEB stores. For more information, call 713-654-8808. For performance schedules, visit www.hif.org.

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And whether or not you speak French, this should be un enfer of a festival.

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