Betty Bonifassi Le Cabaret du Mile-End, Montreal QC, November 21
Published Nov 22, 2014After performing for the past few decades alongside Champion and Beast, Betty Bonifassi has finally released her first solo self-titled album earlier this year. A passion project revolving around the music of African-American slaves in the 1920s, her album revamps the material for a 21st century audience, infusing the traditional soul music with synths, drums and samples, and transforming the material into dance-ready rock songs. Her live show continues this conceptual path, with digitally manipulated images of plantations, slave communities and workers displayed in the background. While it teeters on the edge between representation and appropriation at times, Bonifassi's heart is in the right place. And that voice; oh, that voice.
There's a reason she's been the vocalist for multiple projects, including her Grammy-nominated work on the soundtrack to Les Triplettes de Belleville, because Bonifassi believes in her voice as an instrument, and treats it as such. Her reinterpretation of "Black Betty" had most people in attendance moving — this was definitely one of the dancier crowds of the evening — and the dubstep-undercut "Working Down" was a definite crowd-pleaser. "No More My Lawrd" could have benefited from a more understated performance, as the piano-driven and electronic drum infused cut lost its potency when it would veer into hard rock territory. The situation was reversed during "Go Down Old Hannah" which started off as an effectively more straightforward rock composition, until its electronic backend, which was completely unnecessary.
Still, the crowd loved it and chanted for more, which they got when Bonifassi came back for a quick encore, performed from within the excited crowd. These were seasoned performers who had a great command on their material, who managed to stay true to themselves while being greatly entertaining.