Rhythm queens

By MATT PARISH  |  October 21, 2009

On stage in matching white-linen outfits, the musicians move almost martially, from stomping beats to grueling spirituals and lithe, wiggling dances with transitions that mash up time signatures as if they were skipping backward up an escalator. And Washington is no longer the mild-mannered stateswoman of earlier in the day. She’s a nasty drummer to begin with, but deep into the show, she starts channeling her inner priestess, calling for justice and love and letting loose a guttural rallying cry for everything from Roxbury and Mattapan to Santiago and Jerusalem. Second vocalist Radjulari belts out diva choruses with disorienting volume, and the band’s crooked breakdowns start and stop like precision machinery. They’re in full-on attack mode.

I had asked Washington before whether they tailor shows for audiences. Sometimes, it turns out, political lyrics are altered for children’s performances; sometimes there’s some exposition to help people along; sometimes they just roll through four hours of music at gigs like their residency at the Beehive. Anyone can enjoy them, so they’ll play for anyone.

“My teacher said there are three levels to learning,” Washington explains. “Bosal, kanzo, and then you’re a master. You can’t start at bosal and know everything — so we can’t expect listeners to approach us all from the same level.”

ZILI MISIK | Beehive, 541 Tremont St, Boston | October 24 at 10 pm | 21+ | free | 617.423.0069 orwww.beehiveboston.com | Milky Way, 284 Amory St, Jamaica Plain | October 30 at 9 pm | 21+ | $10 | 617.524.3740 or www.milkywayjp.com

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