Grace Barbé

Lennox Theatre, September 17

Barbe resMajor sea ports tend to become centres for the trade of more than goods. Gene-pools and cultures intermingle, and the most fertile ground for cultural coalescence is always music. It is no coincidence that magical hybrid forms have evolved in such disparate places as the Istanbul of 400 years ago, the Cape Verde of 200 years ago, the New Orleans of a century ago and the Liverpool of just over half a century ago. The Seychelles may be added to the list. Assorted colonialists, slaves, traders and sailors created an ethnic melting pot to add to its geographical ambiguity, being 1500 kilometres off the coast of Africa out into the Indian Ocean.

This 155-island archipelago is the birthplace of Grace Barbé and her sister Joelle, and it provides a heady infusion into the songs that Grace writes, despite the fact that she now resides in Perth, and that the songs were co-written by an Englishman, Jamie Searle, her band’s musical director.

Rhythmically they are fascinating, with East African, reggae, funk, islander and other strains mingling into super-groovy, triplet-based polyrhythms with displaced beats and cunning confluences. With Grace playing bass and Joelle drums the sisters make for a rhythm section that is as unique as it is sophisticated and propulsive.

Atop these grooves come engaging melodies and Grace’s voice: rich, imposing, and perhaps more sassy than warm. This is supported by backing vocals from Joelle, Searle and percussionist Stella Savy, around which the twin electric guitars of Searle and Daniel Carroll interlace. These, too, cleverly mesh Afro-beat, reggae and searing rock figures, and a keen musical intelligence is imprinted on the arrangements of songs drawn mainly from the Welele! album.

The only reservation is about the presentation of such engaging, danceable music. While Barbé, herself, is quite at home, the rest of the band seems slightly self-conscious, when for an audience to fully surrender, it needs a contagion to spread from the stage.