“Mesdames et Messieurs, j’ai l’honneur de vais vous presenter le soir de African Soul Rebel.”
Only the greatest night! Like, what, forever!
It was Sunday night at the Bridgewater Hall. As ever, the moment of walking into Manchester’s Crown Jewel of Musical Experiences was one to be savoured. I had Ioan and Jessy for company, and as we sat at our Circle seats I wondered whether the artists I’d suggested we see would be met with approval.
It opened with a bang. The Orchestre de Cotonou, strongly reminiscent of Buena Vista SC and Orchestra Baobab yet memorable in their own right, were groovy and more suited to a open air beach bar where gorgeously honeyed people sip cocktails into the night, swaying along with the palm trees. The horns, the bass, the drums, the big band sound, yeah man. They’ve been going for almost 50 years, and listening to them really felt like a bit of a time-warp. The guys from Benin were over much too soon for my liking.
I’d like to stay positive about the second act, the Kalahari Surfers. I’m assured they played and continue to play a not insignificant role in the political arena of South Africa with regards to the anti-Apartheid movement. However, while listening to them the thought kept occuring to me that three people were jerking off on the stage and expecting me to clap. Perhaps all music doesn’t sound good in the Bridgewater, as I previously thought. I can tell you that their electro-funk / kindergarten-poetry-recital effort certainly didn’t. And talk about stage presence! I was bored so numb I actually closed my eyes and recalled with no small delight a memorable rainy day spent indoors watching paint dry. But the organisers are surely to blame for buying a bull and asking it to give milk.
But perhaps it was a well-engineered pause, before the total immersion ahead.
As we sat down for the third time, we saw musicians enter with the tamalane, flute, djembe and guitar. As they took their places, two lithe girls entered stage left with calabash in hand and walked to the right, the strings started plucking and they opened with the choral ‘Kayi ne Wura’ (Good evening to all).
How would I describe her music? The rythms are mesmerising and primal. And when she, not too often, just opens the throttle and lets rip there’s almost an audible rustle of everyone’s goosebumps across the hall. And the subject is very homely; women and their lot, love and respect. She has always been critical of the treatment given to women in her home-town Bamako, Mali. There is castigation, but there’s also hope. And not understanding a word only made it better.
The time just flew by.
I first heard Oumou from a CD I picked up at Manchester’s Central library. It was a BBC World Music compilation with the soulful ‘Ne Bi Fe’ (I love you), which I shamelessly ripped. It led me to finding the 2-disc compilation album ‘Oumou’, which I treasure. I’ve now bought her new ‘Seya’ album.
Merci beaucoup pour tout.