Togolese Musician Yawo a Master of Surprises


Yawo Attivor is a name Minnesotans and, more importantly, Africans residing in Minnesota, should be familiar with. He has been based in our very own backyward for the better part of a decade, and has been known to pull off some of the most vivacious musical displays the Twin Cities has heard or seen. Therefore, it was with a heightened sense of anticpation that I entered The Cabooze on Thursday the Oct. 12.

The night’s bill included two opening acts, namely, The Lucas Cates Band from Madison, Wis., and Private Property from Iowa City, Iowa. The former, named after their lead singer, is a pop/adult alternative band, and, the latter, a reggae/ska act with a penchant for upbeat and melodic grooves. The music they put on display was excellent and went a long way in whipping the venue into a frenzy.

With a total of three albums in his locker, there was to be no shortage of inspired material for Yawo and his newly configured band to draw from. The setup had Yawo on the string guitar and vocals, supported by a rhthym section of Greg Schutte on drums and Patrice Delemos on percussions. Rounding off the group were Yohannes on electric bass,  Doug Little on saxophone and flute, and to the surprise of many, Ken Leiser from the Lucas Cates band, on the violin. Would this be transformed into wonderful synergy and a great performance? Well, we were soon to find that out.

The group immediately set out to get the crowd moving by dishing out a cocktail of high-tempoed drum-propelled tunes. There wasn’t a soul in the crowd that could resist moving some part of their anatomy to the rhythm. Once the band was at full throttle, they began to treat the crowd to a wonderful array of spontaneous improvisation by injecting solos from individual group members into each song.

Yawo, a master orchestrator, would draw the crowds attention to the next impending solo, and they would always deliver. These moments were made even more thrilling by an ingenious interplay of response solos among band members that often produced applause fom  the crowd, and was a definite hit with those with jazz sensibilities, myself included. A notable highlight was the playing of Ken Leiser on the violin. Needless to say, the incorporation of a violin in an afrobeat ensemble could prove difficult, however, he handled it deftly.

Yawo’s individual performance was a joy to behold. He sung each song with unbridled passion. His vocals never faltered even with all his physical exertions on stage. Here was a musician in his prime, intent on making positive and inspirational music. Typified by songs like ”Celebrate Life,” ”Blewu” (slowly) and ”We’ve come so far,” Yawo easily breaks down barriers with his own brand of conscious and uplifting music.

If you were like me, and thought there could be no more surprises for the night, you were soon to be proved wrong with the introduction of Whitney, a very talented dancer, to the fold. She immediately ignited the show and brought the crowd to its dancing feet with her vigorous yet graceful gyrations to the band’s music. If at this time, your attention had strayed, for some odd reason, it was surely back on track. Yawo was always quick to join her in her routine and, to our delight, she returned a number of times later in the show.

Every member of the audience had surely been moved by some aspect of this performance, and as the show came to an end, sales of his recent album, ”Celebrate life,” started making the rounds. I quickly got myself a copy and proceeded backstage to talk to the man himself.

His boundless energy was still evident as he spoke about his upcoming trip to his home country, Togo, for a series of performances, which have been ten years in the making. The release of his upcoming album by the year’s end was also high on his agenda. When asked to choose which song meant the most to him, he refused, but hinted that ”We’ve come so far” was special in the message it carried. I couldn’t hold him up for long though, as he was itching to go back out and mingle with the crowd.

My exit from The Cabooze was interrupted as I heard a burst of unbridled, hearty laughter. I turned around and caught sight of Yawo hugging two members of the audience, and I thought to myelf, ”Now that is how you take down the fences in this global village of ours.”

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