The second annual Summer Arts Weekend turned Copley Square into a world dance party Saturday night, with pipers, drummers, horn players, and the sumptuous voice of headliner Angelique Kidjo transcending genre and ethnic boundaries.
Ukulele player Jake Shima-bukuro, Galician piper Carlos Nunez, Italian blues guitarist Noe Socha, the world-music mash-up troupe Red Baraat, Boston’s own Session Americana, and Benin’s Kidjo supplied more than eight hours of rhythm-rich music that at times had the audience lined hand-in-hand dancing around the park. Then there were times when the music held that same crowd in rapt attention, as when Berklee-trained Socha dug into Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages” or Barrence Whitfield tapped the emotional resonance of Merle Haggard’s “Irma Jackson” with Session Americana.
The plaza at Copley Square was packed by the time Shima-bukuro wrapped up his set with George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” a tune that transferred quite nicely to uke.
Nunez and his band followed with one mesmerizing tune after the other, bending the bagpipe tradition to summon Middle Eastern and Latin American influences alongside the Celtic core of his work.
Boston violinist Katie McNally and a cadre of local pipers joined Nunez for a few numbers. McNally touched on the significance of the festival’s broad sense of community happening so close to where the city suffered tragedy just months ago at the Boston Marathon.
Socha was not scheduled to play Saturday, but caused such a buzz with his set on the preceding night that organizers brought him back. And once again he sparked the crowd with a mixed bag of soul, blues, and jazz, all played with a flowing ease and intense passion.
Brooklyn’s Red Baraat stormed the stage with a sound that fused hip-hop, jazz, and Indian folk music for something that was greater than the sum of its parts and simply impossible not to move to.
The Session Americana set turned into a celebration of the diversity in Boston’s music scene. The Session ensemble first played its own “Raking Through the Ashes,” giving the festival a taste of the tight-knit musicianship the group has for years displayed at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge. Then the ensemble welcomed Ryan Montbleau, Nicole Nelson, Zoe Christiansen, Zach Sherwin, and Whitfield, who each played a couple of songs with the group.
Montbleau, Nelson, and Whitfield sang songs that spanned New Orleans soul, pop, and country. Sherwin performed comic raps, and clarinet player Christiansen led the band through klezmer numbers, further expanding the band’s brand of “Americana.”
Kidjo closed the show with a fiery set that started with a few contemplative ballads that showcased the depth of her band then launched into a dance party.
Kidjo invited Shimabukuro on stage for a sweet rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” Kidjo also covered Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” but was at her most infectious grooving to her own tunes, and at one point had audience members on stage grooving right along with her.
Summer Arts Weekend continued Sunday with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, Alison Krauss, and others.
Scott McLennan can be reached at email@example.com.