Sunday, May 25, 2014

Here We Go

I hate when marriage gets in the way of music.

Arriving at Balliceaux for the Oumar Konate show, eager show goers such as me were delayed by a wedding party still occupying the back room.

Once it became clear they were camping out, they let us back there to mingle until the band started. The only downside to that was that they were an annoying and shrill bunch drunk enough to repeatedly knock into the growing crowd of music lovers.

I saw a few familiar faces - the pony-tailed jazz guitarist, the world music DJ and his artist wife, the scientist, the feminist, the Turkish singer and her date - among the crowd.

The photography gallery owner was there and said he'd recently seen me out and spoken, but I hadn't responded to his hello. Turns out it wasn't me, so I felt much better about ignoring him.

The show had been advertised as a band from Mali playing jazz, funk and rock but I heard from a guy who'd seen them sound-check and he said they were mostly funky, with some amazing acoustic guitar and killer drums that required special mic'ing.

Oumar Konate took the stage alone around 10:45, with only his electric guitar and began playing intricate and dynamic music that immediately stopped half the people in the room from talking.

After a bit, he was joined onstage by the other two musicians, one of whom played a five string bass and the other drums.

But what a drum he began with! It appeared to be a gourd set on a blanket resting in a crate and he proceeded to hold shaker balls in his hand and fist the gourd like a drum to elicit rhythmic sounds.

Oumar spoke in French and a little English and sang in what I'm guessing was the native language of Mali pre-French, which only made the songs better since we couldn't understand them, instead focusing on the intricate music.

Once they'd shown us how impressive they were like that, they switched it up and the drummer moved to a full drum kit and Oumar switched to an electric guitar.

Half way through the first song, I turned to the guitarist friend who'd unexpectedly shown up and said that it sounded like 1968.

"It's like what Hendrix would have sounded like if he'd grown up on a remote island," he said, noting the pentatonic scale.

Whatever. To me, they now sounded like a late '60s British band aping American bluesmen, with intricate and ridiculously fast guitar parts and lyrics I couldn't understand.

By the end of the first high-powered song, the drummer had shed his shirt and was glistening with sweat.

Part of what made them so compelling was Oumar's infectious energy and that all three of them smiled for almost all the time they were playing, as if tickled to be doing this for us.

Before the next song, Oumar looked out at the crowd and instructed, "Danser!" Mostly, people swayed or bopped in place while some of the annoying wedding people continued to shout at each other in the back.

I loved the way the bassist and Oumar eventually got into a lock step, Motown-like, dancing in place themselves.

Late in the set, the drummer took off on a solo that was knocking everyone's socks off and people began throwing wadded up money at him as he wailed on the drums.

When he began to slow down, Oumar looked at us and said, "Il ne pas fini!" and the drummer grabbed a small, African drum, slung it over his shoulder and began hitting it with a mallet.

But it was when he came out from behind the kit and played that little drum on the floor in front of the stage that people went nuts.

It was then that the artist came up and said, "I want to suggest your next article, if you're taking suggestions. How do African musicians feel when we start throwing wadded up money at them? I bet they think we're crazy." I'm inclined to think she was right.

After song after screaming rock songs evoking the blues, the bassist and drummer left the stage and Oumar went back to just his acoustic for a bit before the three of them closed out the set together.

"They're straight up killing it!" Reggie of No BS Brass band said to me as they kept taking the crowd higher and then providing release.

Translation: sure, it would have been great to have been away for Memorial Day weekend, but we would have missed a hell of a show.

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