Thursday, November 18, 2010

Afropop Meets AfroCubism

Last Tuesday Afropop's spirited crew rendezvoused with the illustrious musicians of AfroCubism for a day of  music, stories, and reunion. Afropop's own Banning Eyre lead the team in covering the long-awaited musical merger of Mali and Cuba. Banning's experience of over two decades in the field of World Music journalism shined through in his amicable relationships with musicians of both countries formed throughout the years.

Djelimady Tounkara (Erich Woodrum 2010)

Our journey began as the ensembles of Mali and Cuba converged on their hotel in Long Island City. Upon our arrival we were quickly ushered into the room of arguably the finest guitarist in Africa, Djelimady Tounkara. Banning previously spent seven months living with the acclaimed Djelimady as a guitar apprentice in Bamako, Mali. The sojourn served as the foundation for Banning's book In Griot Time describing an extraordinary seven month journey deep into the heart of Mali's music scene. Expectantly, Djelimady and Banning eagerly exchanged stories in Bamana and French of the old and the new, with the topic of conversation inevitably leading to an impromptu display of Djelimady's talent. Guitar unsheathed, Djelimady enchanted us with a musical narrative of the connection between the music of Mali and Cuba and how the synthesis of styles is formed with AfroCubism.

Following Djelimady's presentation the Afropop crew descended upon the hotel lobby to discover what other personalities awaited us. We were greeted by several members of AfroCubism awaiting transport to Town Hall for their forthcoming sound check including: Balafonist Fode Lassana Diabate, Vocalist Kasse Mady Diabate, and Guitarist and Vocalist Eliades Ochoa.
Kasse Mady Diabate and Banning Eyre (Erich Woodrum, 2010)
Eliades Ochoa and Banning Eyre (Erich Woodrum, 2010)
Our next stop was Manhattan's own Town Hall for AfroCubism's sound check. We were delighted to receive a seemingly private concert while awaiting an interview with Toumani Diabate. The atmosphere was euphoric as the group prepared to close out their three city tour of North America before heading to Europe. Once backstage, Djelimady indulged us again with his hypnotic finger play as Toumani finished fine-tuning his majestic kora. Finally gracing us with his presence, Toumani sat down with Banning to discuss his latest collaborative project: AfroCubism. Below is a segment of a full interview yet to come.
The performance was a smash-hit and well received by the audience. The band answered the crowd's galvanizing cheers by enthusiastically returning for an encore. We engaged in post performance hobnobbing before departing for Le Grand Dakar restaurant in Brooklyn for Maffe and Jimbere with Toumani and crew. Graciously hosted by Chef Pierre in the serene African ambiance of his inspiration, we soothingly ended a most memorable day with some of the finest musicians of Mali and Cuba. You can anticipate Banning's full interviews with both Djelimady Tounkara and Toumani Diabate coming soon!

Cheers from Afropop & Co.

One final note.  Unfortunately, ngoni maestro Bassekou Kouyaté and bass player José Ángel Martinez--both integral members of the AfroCubism ensemble--did not appear in the Boston or New York shows due to visa complications.  Both these great musicians were forced to remain in Canada because their visas were delayed for "security checking."  Given that Bassekou has completed two US tours this year, his case is especially puzzling.  But despite the intervention of Representative Jim McDermott's office, and Senator John Kerry's, the US embassy in Ottawa refused to issue these two visas.  No explanation for the delay was offered. 

-Erich Woodrum
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