Saturday, January 8, 2011

Friday Night in Timbuktu

Another fantastic set of reports from Chris Nolan @ Festival in the Desert

It's Friday night and the second night of the Festival au Desert. The film crew from Essakane Films is all over the stage area taking great shots for their upcoming film about the Festival.

Tonight's highlights so far have been a very well done comedy sketch by masked players in stereotype roles such as: the old man and the young man just home from college. The sketch talked about education in the nomadic context. "The school must adapt to the nomad and the nomad must adapt to the school."

Tonight's audience seems bigger than yesterday. There are many young people who were really laughing and captivated by the sketch. It was great to see something inserted into the program.

The band that got the most crowd response so far tonight was Bombino who is from Niger. His desert rock and roll guitar had the audience cheering. It is the new sound of Niger and with his new album and a film he'll soon be widely known. A member of the rebellion in Niger, Bombino brings a message of peace to the world and is an example of the spirit of changing guns for guitars.

Later on in the program will be Bassekou Kouyate, who is widely know to the Afropop audience as the master of the modern ngoni. I'll be taking some sound clips and a video to share with you.

Bassekou Kouyate just finished an amazing set. I've seen him play several times in Mali and in the US. But this concert was special. Everyone is aware of the devastating result of the economic freeze the western governments have imposed on this region with their dire warnings. It has led to the near ruin of the local economy and many tourism based businesses are being forced to closed.

So when Bassekou says that he made a band "with our instruments, for us" everyone in the crowd of several thousand knows what he's saying and cheers. Then the set begins! With his wife declaiming in her clarion voice and in the best Bambara style the praises of the dignitaries, guests and audience assembled tonight Bassekou's band is tight. Having spent a grueling international tour and recording a Grammy nominated album for the upcoming awards in February, these guys are at the top of their game.

Each member of the group is given space to spread out during the set. And they all synchronize moves to be a unit while Bassekou in his mud-cloth tunic walks back and forth blistering the notes from his ngoni. Then he stops and does a classic blues based tune. Exceptional musicianship! Next, he brings Habib Koite onstage! Habib's guitar and Bassekou's ngoni play with the tune and offer a collaboration of masters.

And who's following Bassekou? From the neighborhood around the Sankory Mosque on the other side of town from where the Festival is going on? Baba Salah!

What closed the night? Tartit! I thought it was an odd programming choice to place them last but I was soon proved wrong. They first played a set of their traditional songs. Unparalleled command of the music. The tende drum is a bell pacing underneath their voices.

But then they brought out the great Koudede from Niger and the Italian jazz group Dinamitri. That combination had everyone dancing happily in the sand. The lead guitar was once again Mohamed Issa! Besides being the brother of Tartit's leader, Disco, I've heard 'Med Issa at parties all week! The Italians provided the horn section for the faced paced really hot dance set. And with the big sound system of the Festival main stage, the party got down to business. Everyone dancing together! Its 3AM and there are several hundred people dancing in the sand just outside Timbuktu!
blog comments powered by Disqus