Thursday, May 25, 2006

mali and brazil @ molière, brussels

Afel Bocoum & Alkibar - 17/05/2006

Mali is sort of the new Cuba, but I don't know much about it. I figured Ali Farka Touré protégé Afel Bocoum was as good a place as any to start. The concert's grand concept was the same as that of his new album (which I bought after the show): travelling along the Niger river, stopping off in several cities, celebrating a tribe, animals or the river itself, visiting the Touareg and so on. Bocoum's voice is strong, yet sounds as if it is coming from far away.

The music cultivated a particular kind of slowness that revealed how tense I unconciously tend to be. With no changes to look forward to, I was forced (or, rather, allowed) to relax: they may well have played every song in the same key and on the same pentatonic scale, but the continuous, intricate, multi-layered groove was its own reward, even though it was occasionally broken up by zigzagging melodic unisons. When Bocoum said that in Mali, for better or for worse people were never in a hurry, I had no trouble believing him. It's a whole different mindset and I've been trying to integrate it into my own for the week since.

Rhythms could lean towards duple or triple meter, but often the two were deliciously superimposed. Brief acoustic guitar solos served as laconic emphasis on the power of the underlying rhythm. Dance steps latched onto slowest tempo possible, except when the lead guitarist happily drew one of his bandmates into an amused, shuffling pas de deux.

A scratchy one-string violin added background melodies, a two-string lute sounded like a mandolin and worked like a plucked rhythm guitar and the left-handed 5-string electric bass looked out-of-place, but fit in perfectly by locking in with the percussion. The percussionist played most practical instrument imaginable: a giant salad bowl. When you're done, turn it over, throw in your sticks and jacket and you can start picking up the groupies.

The main structural element I could make out were two sections, slow then fast, separated by a brief percussion break. Sometimes the change of sections led to surprising thematic development: a song in praise of harmonious male-female relations (i.e. couples) expands its scope to become a chant for world peace "all the way to Palestine."


Silverio Pessoa - 24/05/2006

I don't know what it is with me and Brazilian music: I'm one for four (Pessoa included) in concerts I've attended recently, Vinicius Cantuaria being the only one worth writing home about (the truly curious may want to read or re-read about Pascoal and Lenine).

I'll grant that the mix wasn't ideal: the two guitarists were mostly drowned by the not-particularly-loud accordion. And, of course, there's the language barrier. Still, the intensity Pessoa should have brought from the beginning was present only at the rabble-rousing end.

The concept is a 21st-century version of forro. Not knowing what 20th-century forro sounds like, I can't really say if it's successful in that sense. I can say that I was pleased to hear pan-Carribbean elements, that it didn't sound, to my uneducated ears, either like a sloppy collage or Gotan Project's yuppie-ready sheen, that I was amused by the Brazilian effemininacy of Pessoa's stage presence, that I enjoyed his use of samples (field recordings of animals, folk songs, etc.) and of a theremin-like sensor pad and that I was dancing with various degrees of conviction on certain songs. But overall, I was underwhelmed and didn't buy the CD.