Friday, 23 August 2013

Malians before midnight

Azeris too: all of them great and serious musicians, which more or less confirms the evolved consciousness of there being no such thing as 'world music', only 'world pop' and 'world classical'. Actually the inspirational Bassekou Kouyaté's ensemble of ngonis (West African boat-shaped lutes) and percussion, Ngoni Ba, crowned last night's late 'World Routes Prom' with a real pop festival to which those of us in the arena all danced or jigged around unselfconsciously (the band pictured above in the first of the irrepressible Chris Christodoulou's shots for the BBC, Bassekou in what looks like a bogolan design from Sophie's MaliMali workshop). Godson Alexander was down from Glasgow, so I think this was a good introduction to promming for him.

As I've written before, Bassekou is every inch as much a classical master of his craft as Lassana Diabaté, the balafonist pictured below on the left with the deliciously communicative lady they dub the 'Mahalia Jackson of Mali', Hawa Kassé Mady Diabaté, and Bassekou's youngest son Mamadou Kouyaté, who plays both in the first group of the evening, the Trio Da Kali, and Ngoni Ba.

All these names! But once you hear the sounds, they'll never be forgotten. The tone of the balafon, a very distinctive kind of bass xylophone, is something that went straight to our hearts in Vienna, when our widely-travelled friends Tommi and Martha - whom we met in Eritrea - took us to a heurigen to hear a fusion between another interpreter of this redoubtable instrument and a schrammel band of accordion and violins. Even then we didn't quite witness the kind of so-fast-you-can't-see-it strokes Lassana Diabaté wielded. Looking him up on YouTube introduced me to another divo, Kassy Madé Diabaté - relation to Hawa, presumably - and the young man who sings first is very fine, too. Couldn't download that one, for some reason - watch it here - but at least I can feature the balafon solo.

It was good to get the contexts of the songs and dances in the excellent programme; as I've written before, too much 'world music' can pass in a haze of uncomprehension. You'd probably have got the message that the Trio Da Kali's first number was a field-work song when Hawa Kassé took up a scythe and did an imaginary cropping dance around the stage. Then there are the recently-topical references to the violence of the Islamist extremists in the north. Ngoni Ba's 'Sinaly' is based on a song about a 19th century royal protester against Islamic oppression, and 'Ne me fatigue pas', as exuberant as the group's other three numbers, protests the problems of Malians at the time of the 2012 military coup.

'A single heart may share itself with a thousand people. Let's be friendly and mindful human beings, let's be friendly to each other'. That's the gist of Tasnif Mehriban Olaq by Azer(baijan)i composer Shafiqa Akhundova, who died last month, and it was another upbeat end to a generally more introspective sequence from the group gathered together by mugham singer Gochaq Askarov. Here, too, are masters of their art: not just Askarov with his highly inflected and ornamented poetics, but also Mirjavad  Jafarov on tar and oud, Shirzad Fataliyev playing the double-reed balaban, veering from mellow to raucous, and violinistic microtonal refinement from Elnur Mikayilov (I liked, too, the unblinking seriousness of percussionist Kamran Kamirov on naghara).

Most touching, though, was the core of BBC Radio 3 World Routes Academy's scheme to twin a maestro (in this case Askarov) or maestra with a young British-based immigrant musician. This was the beautiful 18 year old Fidan Hajiyeva with highlights in her long flowing hair, looking very apprehensive until she opened her mouth, and there was the soul of another true artist, uninhibited in the difficult coloratura. She didn't sing as much as Askarov, but her future looks bright. See how proudly and encouragingly Askarov looks at her below. Must be a nice man.

Today I wept at individual stories of dignified Syrian refugees on the BBC World Service's World Have Your Say, probably because it's been so hard to take in the scale of the chemical attacks, but I rejoiced at a Turkish reporter's news of how devout followers of Islam had joined hands in true brotherhood and sisterhood with gays, transexuals and political activists near Istanbul's Taksim Square. The good news of the Malian election, despite certain anomalies, should have made a bigger impact in the UK media than it did, and this concert was another symbol of closer understanding, how joy and humanity can connect us all.

In any case, the event doubled the evening's pleasure. In the night's first concert, which I've written up for The Arts Desk, spunky Yannick Nézet-Séguin twinkled and moued his way through much the best - by which I mean the most multi-faceted and the deepest - Prokofiev Fifth Symphony I've heard in concert.

And I've heard a lot  - too many, I was thinking before the performance when I joined James Jolly and late lamented Noëlle's perfect successor at the now ill-starred Prokofiev Archive*, Fiona McKnight, for a 5.15 talk in the Royal College of Music.

James's chairing was very accomplished, especially in steering us back to base from a rather oblique question from a member of the audience, and Fiona impressed me by covering points that I'd just realised I'd missed. Where there's deep knowledge and love, the expression of both should flow freely. Anyway, a 20 minute version of our 45 minute chat was swiftly edited by Janet Tuppen and co - how do they do it? - in time for the interval broadcast. You can hear it here for nearly a week. Less pressingly, the Discovering Music I 'did' on the symphony is available long-term here. More important than either, watch the concert - well, at least the Tchaikovsky and the Prokofiev - while you can on the BBC Four iPlayer. You'll be entranced.

Only my pre-Prom duties brought us back from the Swedish wilderness, where we'd been blissed out by the simple life for the last three days of our three-centre (Stavanger, Lake Siljan, Särna) holiday. Had it not been for that and a few other commitments - those might have been shiftable - we would have ditched our £50 return flights from Stockholm and stayed on another week. While I hang fire downloading photos and writing up aspects,  there's a bit about the final idyll on serendipitously-met friend Susannah Finch's blog. In which I am embarrassed to be cast as tough child of nature. I take the liberty of reproducing her husband Jamie's shot of a morning lake dip (for me one of five in varying places and temperatures).

We did indeed meet up with Sophie for our central sojourn in Dalarna. She'll  be back in London to host us in her reclaimed Ladbroke Grove flat for a Notting Hill carnival afternoon. I hope we'll be able to listen to the Malian bits of the Prom then, too. Catch it now**, too, while you can, and dance.

18/7 Our wonderful godson departed yesterday, well satisfied, I think, with my Proms triple bill and with J's exhaustive London walking tour on Friday while I caught up with some work. He was regretful about the late announcement of a Saturday night gig with his band, Lieutenant Tango, in Edinburgh's Grassmarket, which meant he had to leave earlier than planned. The group really has something, as I wrote before: sunny, upbeat numbers with a lot of creativity (though Alexander wants to write meaningful lyrics rather than the nonsense sounds-good ones we've had so far). Having posted the infectious 'Charlie Brash', I now give you 'Geronimo':

*The news is it's moving from Goldsmiths College to Columbia University, New York, in a year or so. Nothing on earth, it seems, we faithful few can do about it. 
**Radio only. My TAD colleague Peter Culshaw, who also reviewed the concert, has just written an excellent piece on how TV has failed so-called 'world music' here.


Susan Scheid said...

How very nice to see you back, and what a lovely time you are clearly having! We have had a complicated summer here, and while I may pop up a little post of some sorts shortly, it will be a while before I'm truly back online. That said, I wanted at least to say hello. Now, as for the Prokofiev archive, you know, it's moving to almost across the street from us in the city, so you must think of it as yet another reason to visit! Am immersed here right now, as I can,, in Shostavovich. I am not at all sure what if anything I can say that hasn't already been said, and likely better, but I am entranced. What remarkable music, and what a remarkable man.

Susan Scheid said...

Footnote: I have just listened to the excellent Prokofiev 5 Proms talk and am very glad to find out that v.2 of your Prokofiev biography is underway. Even though, without technical knowledge, I am limited in what I will be able to understand, I look forward to getting your perspective, which I wished for mightily as I explored the war sonatas.

David Damant said...

The North has a tremendous appeal for quite a few people - see C S Lewis in "Suprised by Joy". And the face of my dear mother - who did not in any way want to travel - always suddenly lit up at the mention of Norway. There is a special appeal, though I cannot articulate why that is different from the appeal of das Land wo die Citronen bluhen

Does moving important archives (and great pictures and so on) matter so much these days, when one can be in America ( where so much goes)in a few hours? Provided that access is assured at least to serious people

David said...

Thanks, Sue and David, for the warm welcome, though it's a bit odd that you've ignored the main theme; do listen to (some of) the late nighter on the iPlayer if you can. Big shame it wasn't televised.

From my own point of view, having scoured the 40 boxes of material as the first to mine the Prokofiev Archive, I won't need to use it again, but I feel very sorry for researchers who are currently benefiting from it in London, and indeed for Goldsmiths' lost prestige.

It matters for research if you regularly have to splash out a couple of hundred quid to visit. But I understand that security issues were paramount. The main reason is simple: Columbia Uni has plenty of money, Goldsmiths' doesn't. I was very surprised to learn, though, that the original documents which Lina photocopied, lodged in Paris's Bibliotheque Nationale, can also be uprooted.

David, you've remarked before about my northern inclinations, though I would say I have just as strong a leaning to the (Italian) south and the Middle East, now so mostly out of bounds. To be sure, though, August in Scandinavia - and two years ago in Iceland - seems to me the perfect solution: fewer people, brilliant sunshine along with deep blue skies (we've been lucky)and equable temperatures (except in Lake Siljan a day after the rains, which was limb numbing at 8 degrees).

David Damant said...

Apropos the Middle East being mostly out of bounds, a friend of mine in the 1960s drove alone from Kuala Lumpur to Calais. In the middle of nowhere in Asia he met the daughter of a Canon of Christ Church Oxford trekking with a friend. Quite safe. Why has there been a change? Maybe simply electronic communications. Places which were in the middle of nowhere and had been for centuries are now absolutely up to speed with the latest passions

David said...

Such routes have been closing down with horrifying rapidity. Mind you, post-hippy-trail, Afghanistan quickly became a no-go transit.

On another note of yours, our great friendship with Juliette - and via her, Sophie - was forged on one of the towers of Krac des Chevaliers in Syria, rain and mists all around (she: 'are you English? Why are you carrying that music case?') The bonding truly came when we bumped into one another in Damascus again. Her travelling companion, Nick Mellor, turned out to be already-friend Cally's landlord. He was quite cool about the fact that - as Cally later revealed - she'd said to him, 'two friends of ours are going to Syria too. You'll probably meet them at Krac des Chevaliers'.

But still no kind word for our Malian friends?

Susan Scheid said...

David: I hope I may be forgiven for leaping right to the Proms talk. I seem to find it hard to leave the Russians at the moment. I have now listened to the Malian clip that you linked (I'm not able to get the other on the iPad). The balafon is a beautiful instrument that caught my eye and ear right away. (I was reminded of a photograph Sophie had on her blog of another beautiful Malian instrument, the name of which I don't now recall.) While I don't seem to have good receptors for the music, I join in applauding what you so joyfully describe, and particularly this: "this concert was another symbol of closer understanding, how joy and humanity can connect us all."

(Just as an aside, you make important points about the issue of the relocation of the Prokofiev materials that also put in mind the problem of accessibility overall. For example, though when in NYC, I am right across the street from the Columbia library, its contents are not available to me. Given many of my interests, while I'm neither a professional researcher or academic, I miss the ability that I had while at university to have access to a great research library. Up here, as another example, just yesterday, I went to my local library to order two Shostakovich study scores from interlibrary loan, and the librarian couldn't locate any copies, even though Vassar and Bard are nearby. It's a constant frustration.)

David Damant said...

Dear David, I do not know about your other correspondents, but I recognise your vast knowledge of the musical world as compared with my own, so I am reticent in devising comment on the musical matters in your brilliant blogs. I must say that from the pictures and from your reports the performers in this entry do seem happy and committed. The " nice man" does look nice.

I have been to Azerbaijan. We were unable to have lunch at the designated place since the entire coast road was closed off for the day because for a few minutes at some unknown time during the day the dictator would be driving along it, Our hosts took it all as a normal part of life

David said...

Of course - I was only prodding, in the hope that others might take up the cudgel (or the scythe) for the Malians. Maybe it was also a balafon Sophie depicted? She has a little balafon orchestra that comes to the hotel on special occasions; we were lucky enough to witness it when we were there.

Do listen when you have time to the concert (five days left; link at end of piece). You'll be enchanted by the interaction of balafon with wonderfully characterful voice and bass ngoni.

One gain if, or rather when, Columbia houses the Prokofiev Archive is that all items may be digitised, and that would be to the benefit of everyone. The trouble is, as you well know, that despite the advent of such wonders as the Petrucci Library, not everything can be found on the web. And I just wish we in Blighty could take a leaf out of fabulously socially-conscious Sweden and keep small libraries in every small town. It's as much of a meeting point for townsfolk as the supermarket - Sarna's has a little seating area where locals can sell cakes or sit and chat.

Susan Scheid said...

I found the post (June 19, 2013)! Sophie wrote: "It is called a Kamale Goni, Susan. A 'Kamale' is a young man. A 'Goni' is string instrument. A 'Kamale Goni' is an instument easily played and often young men like our Karim makes his own instrument from a calebash. A 'Kora' is something quite different although also made from a calebash- it is an instrument for virtuosi such as Toumani Diabate." I love this use of what is at hand, like a calebash, to make such a beautiful instrument.

David said...

On that note, I should also have mentioned the curiously wrought rattle Hawe Kasse threw and caught with such rhythmic exuberance (and precision).

Howard Lane said...

Thank you so much for the e-card! A great laugh, although no-one has yet rushed to KMA... A great day too eating crepes and wandering around the Serpentine and Long Water pre-Parsifal (for C of course). I just caught the Bassekou Kouyate prom - marvellous, and not a kora in sight! I assume you mean a calabash as the rattling percussion instrument, a gourd covered with bead strings.

As for the balafon, wikipedia tells that "Records of the Balafon go back to at least the 12th century CE. In 1352 CE, Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta reported the existence of the ngoni and balafon at the court of Malian ruler Mansa Musa." The Sosso Bala of Guinea is reputed to be the original balafon over 800 years old.

Lt Tango are really good - what does James play?

David said...

I was going to hazard 'calabash', Howard, but in the photo it looked a bit small for that.

Glad you enjoyed your pre-birthday parks stroll, though I forgot to ask Claire - I hope you turned your nose up at the Fortnum and Mason pretentiousness within the wondrous Serpentine Pavilion? Annoyed at that.

Had a book about Ibn Battuta given me as a present, but the writer was so annoying about sniffing the numinous presence of the great man in whose footsteps he was following that I gave up.

It's Alexander 'Betty' Lambton I think you mean, and he plays the sax. Can be seen looking much more student-y than his colleagues in a fun little film based around another track on YouTube. Glad you like LT, anyway - such a sunny lot!