Onstage he is intense, prowling, ebullient; and he functions as convener and ringleader as much as singer. The Shakes are his rotating cast of musicians and associates, often including other vocalists and even tap dancers. The ensemble’s repertoire pulls from early jazz and classic funk, as well as more contemporary sounds.”
Mr. Mwenso, a Sierra Leonean vocalist, comes from the jazz world, but his messages arrive in the form of a growl, not a croon, and his band, the Shakes, is a thrashing hybrid whose concerts often take the form of a prewar revue. If a tap dancer arrives to blow your mind midsong, don’t say you weren’t warned.
Mwenso led his band through repertoire with flourishes that effortlessly transported the music into the 21st century.
Mwenso’s voice is its own creature, always impassioned but well versed at exploring a rainbow of characters; the mellifluous crooning, the gritty growling, the intoxicated seesawing and the rich, hearty, chuckling syllables. He sounds like he’s constantly experimenting at the outer boundaries of his voice.