The West African repertoire of Griot celebrates a centuries old oral/musical tradition of the wandering minstrel rooted in the heritage of the pre-literate ancient lays of Praise Singers (in Ancient Greece they preceded Homer by a millennium). He was a story-teller, political commentator, satirist and, especially welcomed, a bush-telegraph ‘gossip’.
From Southern Senegal, Kadialy Kouyate, maintains an aristocratic inheritance of this life-affirming social phenomenon (see Baaba Maal) with his vocal/Kora playing dexterity being described as, ‘…blend(ing) melodious lines in to a multi-layered tonal pallet.’ www.kksoundarchive.com. Combining the voice of the common people with embellishments of timeless mysticism his role provides an important fulcrum that reaffirms the connections, importance, joys and spiritual essence of our collective identities. So it’s full praise to Birmingham’s contribution ‘Celebrating Sanctuary Festival’ being part of the ‘world musical festival’ that promotes music of refugee-producing countries from artists in exile. Tonight’s gig being sponsored by The Arts Council with Lottery funding.
Now this kora thing. Imagine a clarinet on steroids stuffed up the butt of a bloated zebra with plenty of strings attached. Then you take a life-time’s Ph.D. in wave harmonic theory coupled with explorations in sympathetic tuning juxtapositions of tritonic, tetratonic or pentatonic scales and you’re away. Being a strikingly handsome, gifted virtuoso helps as well. With electric/acoustic guitars, bass and percussion the evening glided away in a jamboree of enchanting variations on traditional styles. A little frisson of jit ‘n jive, reggae in a hurry, KK’s amphetamine spider-fingered magic beguiled the Hare punters to strut their stuff and cut the rug conga style. And Mr. K? Well, he ponders the scene with aesthete regal cool and a rift-valley wide ivory smile then riffs in to ‘Juguya’ which approximated the Pogues taking on the Bhundu Boys at a potcheen/plam-oil wine drinking duel.
There were songs of dronal-tone soothing calypso, funky plucking jazz solo dialogues and hypnotic limbo rhythms. And from the corner of your imagination you could drift away to the moonlit shores of Retba (Pink Lake) or by a waterfall that cascaded to the lilt of a Celtic harp. Music without boundaries – souls bound as one.
Setlist: Wulula, Kanu, Juguya, Fondinke, Fatu Bintu, Jalilu/Lambango, Duga/Mansa Jaly, Culture Shock, Kuno, Signoya
Review – John Kennedy