Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Habib Koïté - 28/09/2007@Flagey, Bruxelles

I went to this concert almost randomly. Over here, a Habib Koïté will play a cultural institution like Flagey, which classifies him as World Music (that said, the Touareg band Tinariwen are playing the rock-oriented Ancienne Belgique soon), but back home, I guess he'd be seen the way a rock band is here, or perhaps more accurately, like an r 'n' b band which plays contemporary stuff, but also knows its tradition. Interestingly, the drummer didn't really do the kind of awesome polyrhythmic African stuff you'd expect, but pounded out these dark and slightly laconic beats. Cheap sunglasses boosted his cool quotient.

Like a number of other concerts in Flagey's massive Studio 4, the amplified sound was flattened and muddied (I've been particularly sensitive to the depth-of-field possible when music isn't routed through two speakers since seeing the Free Music Festival and Maak's Spirit at the Vooruit). A lot of the rhythmic filigree that makes up so much of the interest of Malian music - even of a modern one like Koïté's - was inaudible, unlike when I saw Afel Bocoum at the Théâtre Molière, and the balafon sounded harsh, a far cry from its normal raindrops-on-wood timbre. One thing the venue didn't stop, though, was people rushing the stage to dance (or offer lap-dances, several times).

The second half of the concert favoured the slow, quiet and hypnotic one-riff tunes characteristic of traditional Malian music. The drummer moved to calabash and the balafonist to violin (modern and electric, not the ancient one-string kind), as the others slipped, almost instinctively, into the simple back-and-forth dance steps that resemble those of old doo-wop groups, and are just as essential.