Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Throw Down Your Heart" - Bela Fleck and friends, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall 17 January 2009

My first visit this year to Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival, and what a belter of a concert it turned out to be. I had been familiar for some time with Bela Fleck, the Jimi Hendrix of the banjo (and I'm not being facetious there; he has as much in common with the average bluegrass picker as Hendrix had with Chet Atkins). Here he is with his regular band the Flecktones doing Copland's Hoedown. Eat your heart out, Emerson, Lake and Palmer:

The Glasgow gig was a tie-in with his recent film project, where he went to Africa to expore the banjo's roots in African instruments, and worked with musicians in Uganda, Tanzania, Mali and The Gambia.

It began (there was no support) with a solo Bela Fleck improvisation which segued seamlessly into and out of a Bach cello suite before featuring an amusing bit where he pretended to be having trouble reaching a note so played it with his nose (it was a good joke 250 years ago when Josef Haydn did it too). Then he brought on a number of other musicians who did spots by themselves, spots with him and finally a mighty 13-way collaboration (which they'd never attempted on stage before). Best-known of the guests was Mali's master of the koro, Toumani Diabate. Also from Mali was the songer Oumou Sangare, and finishing up the Malian contingent we had the tremendous Ngoni ba, led by Bassekou Kouyate on ngoni (looks like a big rebec, sounds like a banjo but very quiet unless you amplify it) and his wife Amy Sacko, a singer who can easily hold her own with Ms Sangare. Ronding off the band we had the distinctly pregnant Scots Gaelic singer Kathleen McInnes and the delightful Irish singer and whistle player Liam O Maonlai.

While not wishing to detract for a moment from the Celtic contributors, who were terrific, the evening belonged to the Africans. Ngoni ba in particular were a revelation: I'd never heard of them or the ngoni before, but was inspired to buy their album (and didn't regret it). Toumani Diabate and Oumou Sangare I knew, of course, though I'd never seen either in the flesh. iI can report that they are as great live as on record. Special mention should go to Toumani's duet with Bela, which seemed to be a pretty spontaneous jam lasting about quarter of an hour and keeping up the interest throughout. It struck me as rather amusing that Toumani Diabate rattles when he settles himself down to play: there's clearly something in his robes that rattles like a bead curtain as he shuggles about. Oumou Sangare doesn't rattle as she shimmies about (men shuggle, women shimmy - OK?), but she mesmerises: the line from Some Like It Hot about Jello on springs comes to mind.

Bela Fleck is never less than fascinating (last night he was playing a D.C. concert for the Obama inauguration) but this was sonething very special. We got to see all his own skills, not least of which is extremely sensitive accompanying; we had a great concert of African and Celtic music; and we had some very fine cross-cultural blending. An evening not to be missed: it seemed short at two hours of music.


At 20 January, 2009 08:03, Anonymous Phil said...

sounds like a banjo but very quiet

This is what the world's been waiting for! All we need to do now is develop the "but completely silent" model.

At 25 January, 2009 23:15, Blogger Rob said...

I feel that way sometimes as my son practises on his electric drum kit: to him with his headphones, a thunderous Rage Against The Machine riff; to us without, a tappity-tapping like a Lilliputian Morris side stick-dancing.

Anyway, I have no need of banjos for my instrumental jokes: one of my children plays the viola, the other drums.


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