REVIEW: WORLD MUSIC - SOUAD MASSI ; WORLD MUSIC SOUAD MASSI Oooo9 Shepherd's Bush Empire YORUBA WOMEN'S CHOIR O9999 Barbican SOUTH AFRICAN GOSPEL SINGERS Ooooo Barbican London

Article excerpt

The last time Souad Massi sang in London, she packed out the Queen Elizabeth Hall. This time she relocated to the rougher, more youthful ambiance of the Shepherds Bush Empire, but the gamble paid off: she found an appreciative new audience. This Algerian chanteuse loves both Western rock and traditional Arab instruments, and joined a flamenco band at 17. A mish-mash? No, a winning combination. There's an Arabic way of swinging melismatically round a note, rather than simply landing on it, and Souad Massi is mistress of it, particularly when abetted by the spike-fiddle.

We got no spike-fiddle at the Empire, but the evening polarised between the desert-dry timbre of the oud and the Spanish guitar, plus her own irresistible voice. Her manner is modest, and her natural sound is clean, strong and pure; there's a hint of the West Coast torch-singer when she forces out something more dramatic.

Down at the Barbican it was a piquant moment when the Yoruba Women's Choir took the stage. Their natural habitat is a church: while they sported flamboyant head-dresses, their power-packed leader Bola Are - resplendent in electric blues and pinks - paraded in her Sunday best. "Good evening in the name of Jesus Christ," were her first English words after a torrent of Yoruba; bent double, she jigged back and forth while giving out her calls, and the choir swayed gracefully in response. …