Sunday, August 7, 2016

So Happy

By the second primal-sounding song, just about everyone in the room was moving, if not dancing.

The Malian Blues Quartet, dressed in traditional, bright-colored garb, attracted a crowd that ranged from old hippies to jazz musicians and fans to a young guy dancing enthusiastically in a presumably ironic black t-shirt with big white letters that read "Hall and Oates."

Familiar faces and conversation came from the jazz critic (who shared a hilarious story about Hitler), the DJ, the sax and clarinet player, the woman who works on film costuming/make-up, the banjo player. A guy with a white buzz cut did the Mr. Roboto dance non-stop.

By the fourth song, the room had gone from cool to warm with no signs of changing direction.

Although the band spoke almost entirely in French, after most songs, the band's leader would smile broadly and say, "Thank you very much. So happy!" He didn't appear to be making that up.

By the time we got to the shank of the show, the band would start playing another song with unusual and shifting time signatures and the crowd would struggle to find a beat to dance to while the group's singer played guitar and gazed out at us with a beatific smile that seemed to say, "Don't sweat it. Let your body go anywhere it wants to."

Kudos to the band for taking what has to be the shortest break on record before returning us to our trance-like dancing to Malian music.

During intermission, while others danced to a DJ playing "Groove is in the Heart," a world music fan and Balliceaux regular I'd met a few years back found me to discuss the set.

"It's the first time I've heard the sound of Celtic music come through in African music," he said. "If you listen, that guitar could be a fiddle and it would be Celtic!"

Of course, once he pointed that out, I could hear nothing but how much of Celtic music had a direct link to the music we were hearing.

It was after intermission that late arrivals - like the guy in a deep blue v-neck t-shirt with a gold chain worn without irony or the guy in the Richmond football jersey almost to his knees - began showing up, making just another post-midnight stop on their Saturday night rounds.

More than a few of that type walked in, made a loop and decided a closed-eye crowd trance dancing was apparently not their thing. It was ours.

By 1 a.m., the four members of the Malian super-group were dancing off the stage one by one to end the show to wild applause.

Walking up Lombardy, the world music lover caught up to talk about how excellent the show had been, how they'd played a lot of songs by a noted African composer. "You should look him up," he tells me. "You should know about him."

I shared that after his intermission observation, I'd been unable to listen without hearing what Celtic music had pulled from what we were hearing tonight. We paused at the street corner to go different ways.

"When you come down to it, all music is African music," he reminded me before smiling, waving farewell and walking off.

When you come down to it, all summer nights spent dancing, much less to Malian music, are excellent nights.

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