While travelling through Melbourne during the last heatwave to hit the city, it came as a refreshing surprise to find out that Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba were performing there Thursday night.
As a great fan and admirer of Mali legend Ali Farka Touré the opportunity seemed too good to miss. Reason why I happily headed to Brunswick for a night of African Jazz after a long day at the Open.
The venue did not disappoint, with a cool and laid back atmosphere, Howler’s outside bar and theatre made me feel very comfortable and at ease while waiting for the show, offering a range of cocktails and beers, making it easy to keep hydrated.
After being stamped on the arm I headed into the theatre where we found an anxious and mixed crowd from different backgrounds, adding even more to the atmosphere.
Starting with The Senegambian Jazz Band and its mix of sounds and influences (The band is composed of 6 musicians from five countries), I knew we were in for a treat. From West African cultural music like the kora to funk and jazzy tunes, TSJB’s show was a hit, and after a few minutes the audience could easily understand why their latest album was described as a “melting pot of sounds”.
After a short break Bassekou and his band entered the stage and we could hear the intriguing sounds of his Ngoni (The traditional West Africa string Instrument), cabled as an electric guitar.
He did a quick introduction in English and greeted the audience in French, saying that he would try his best to say a few words inthe local vernacular, but that didn’t really matter to those who did not understood his French, since he let his music speak for himself.
The first track reminded me of Senegalese duet Amadou & Marian, and the stage presence of Bassekou’s wife: Amy Sacko as the lead singer got everyone dancing from the start in total joy and harmony.
The following tunes had a nice blues touch to it, reminding me of Taj Mahal, but with a great feel to it by the sounds they were able to deliver with two ngonis combined with wah pedals, a drum and percussion instruments.
Throughout the performance you could see that they were all having a great time playing for us, which became even more evident later on when he introduced the band as his family. His wife Amy an impressive singer, his son Jr. played the second Ngoni and his nephew take care of percussion.
The highlight of the night happened when they played a more deep and emotional kora, where you could feel the energy and power of the ancient music (later he explained that his family been playing pour les roys for centuries).
Another great moment happened when they coordinated the audience to repeat after them, later on directing the male audience to repeat after Bassekou and the female audience to repeat after Amy’s, in a sort of naïve competition, which was really fun and entertaining to listen and participate.
During the one hour and twenty minutes’ gig the audience was entertained and excited, flocking to the stands after the show to acquire his music and try to exchange a few words with the band members.
The only let down of the night was that they never came back for one more song, despite some encouraged chants of Encore, encore, encore…. Alternating between the English and French pronounce.