Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Concert Review: Sidi Touré in NYC

Sidi Touré in Vermont earlier in the tour (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)

Malian guitarist Sidi Touré performed last Thursday to a standing room only crowd at Lincoln Center. He walked onstage with a bright, shining robe, instantly grabbing the crowd’s attention and marking a sharp difference between him and the business suits of many of the New Yorkers in the audience. Alongside him were band mates Jambala Maiga and Douma Maïga in similarly extravagant attire. After saying “Hi! We are happy to be here” he had reached the limits of his English and switched into French. All the chairs of the David Rubenstein Atrium were filled, and many people stood against the wall and in the entryways. Beginning with a soulful blues intro on the guitar, Mr. Touré was then joined by the two other musicians and they settled into a tight yet effortless groove. Touré’s smooth voice carried above the ensemble as he sang in Songhaï, a language spoken in Mali and Niger. Douma Maïga’s upper body swayed back and forth as he strummed the kurbu, a percussive guitar which can produce fast cutting rhythms while the light glittered off his sky-blue robe. Each one displayed the many distinct sounds they could get out of their instruments. Despite having no traditional drums, the time felt locked in at every moment. Often Touré used his thumb to strum his lowest string, E, and keep the beat while he played the melody simultaneously with his other fingers. As the first song ended, Touré’s voice lingered, letting the audience relish in the final chord.

On Touré’s right stood Jambala Maiga on his right in a sand-colored robe, who played the kuntugui, a single-string fretless guitar which produced high, light tones. At some points he plucked the string and at others seemed to tap the instrument like a drum. To Mr. Touré’s left was Douma Maïga, an energetic kurbu player whose body moved to the beat of each song. He wore a brilliant light blue robe. During solos, he often hung on one single note for a long time, building the tension until moving to another riff. His long three-stringed lute created a rough percussive sound resembling the shekere or guiro common in Latin music.

Midway through the performance, Jambala Maiga, the older and more reserved of the three performers, began singing. His deep, harsh voice greatly contrasted with Touré’s smooth, softer tones. In his first song, he traded off with Touré in what seemed like a conversation and at times even a vocal battle. Belting into the microphone and sharply ending his notes. Mr. Maiga sang with attitude. He was the lead singer for the next few songs, and seemed a natural heading the group. That this musician is a sideman makes one wonder how many amazing it is that so many Malian singers are.

Towards the end of the set, Touré tried to engage the audience, leading a call and answer refrain which the reserved Lincoln Center crowd engaged in halfheartedly. Throughout the show, he asked the crowd questions in French, hoping for a response, while few people understood him. Later, he clapped out a rhythm for the audience to repeat. Not being in the usual 4/4 time, the audience was tripped up, with Touré left smiling and shaking his head ‘no.’ However, once the crowd got the rhythm going, it developed into a showcase song for Douma Maïga on the kurbu. Strumming lightning-fast notes, he upped the intensity, digging hard into short, repetitive riffs as the audience kept the beat with their clapping. In this and other songs, Touré and Maïga left the low stage and played directly in front of those in the front row, displaying a little bit of showmanship.

After one encore, the band finally ended what had been an impressive concert. The locked-in groove of the ensemble combined with the American rockstar-inspired showmanship combined to make for a great show. The venue, a large, open space with a small stage barely elevated off the ground seemed odd for the relaxed feel of the music. A more intimate space would have been better suited for this acoustic trio.

Mr. Touré’s tour marks the release of his album Sahel Folk, a collaborative effort with many musical guests from Mali. He played as part of Lincoln Center’s Target Free Thursdays concert series and was the first performer in a small series also by Lincoln Center showcasing Malian musicians. Malian lute master Bassekou Kouyate and his band Ngoni Ba play a free concert October 20th, also at the David Rubenstein Atrium. November 3rd and 4th features Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré collaborating with Toni Morrison and Peter Sellers for the artistic production Desdemona as part of the White Light Festival.

Check out this video of Sidi courtesy of Blogothèque:

- Eli N. Rumpf
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