Posts Tagged ‘WOMEX’
The French-rooted communities in Canada and Louisiana have become treasure houses of culture, and that culture summons up a way of life where people worked hard, loved hard, and danced just as hard.
A good dance band has to keep the dancers moving. And if the beat isn’t right, the dancers will know it — and show it. So not only do you have to be fleet-fingered, your energy has to match that of the dancers, it has to push them, lift them, provide that wonderful ride and release that is a good dance. Watching and listening to the Québécois band De Temps Antan at their WOMEX showcase, that point was powerfully brought home. The room was only just large enough for the crowd that came to hear them, and there was certainly no room for dancing. Still, one could see the many dance gigs that must have shaped this trio. You’ll see a superb interaction and great joy in their presentation, and they feed off the energy in a room and get stronger with each song. Having reviewed the footage I shot many times, I can tell you that I almost felt exhausted myself by the end of the set– yet their tempos remained rock solid and their arrangements tight.
That said, I’ve chosen to start off my video with one of their slower songs, one they found in an archive. These guys do their homework researching older material and giving it fresh new arrangements. “Jeune et Jolie” (young and pretty) has a sturdy melody, and the band works it for all its worth. It gives you a chance to see that these guys –who all, by the way, tenured with “La Bottine Souriante” that institution of Québécois music — aren’t just wonderful instrumentalists, they are also excellent singers. This is followed by a buoyant dance medley.
Watching a performance like this makes me wonder what we may have lost in our journey towards more and more impersonal modes of music delivery. I ask myself “what is the difference in the experience of dancing to a live band, and dancing to a deejay?” It’s a hard one to answer, but there are differences, and they are worth thinking about and evaluating.
De Temps Antan is: Éric Beaudry (guitar, bouzouki, vocals, feet), André Brunet (fiddle, vocals, feet) and Pierre-Luc Dupuis (accordion, harmonica, vocals, feet).
Papa Wemba was already a huge star in the Congo when I was just getting my feet wet in world music over twenty-five years ago. I first encountered Congolese popular music through the recordings of Tabu Ley Rochereau. The music was incredibly buoyant, reminding me a lot of the uplifting character of Haitian compas. I spent many an hour dancing alone in my apartment to that insanely happy beat called soukous. Papa Wemba’s name is likewise associated with soukous and Congolese rhumba, and he is a major force in his own right, cranking out hit after hit. As you will hear, his voice is sweetness itself, and if you are not already familiar with his music I suspect you will want to hear more.
Wemba was surely the headliner at this year’s WOMEX, and he did not disappoint. He and his band turned in a stellar set, getting the big auditorium pulsing with irresistible beats, infectious riffs and fluid guitar lines. It was a formidable reminder that Wemba is definitely open for business, and by the end of the set, just about everyone was up and dancing, and the African fans in the audience were blissed. I was dutifully busy videotaping and that doesn’t always allow for enjoyment, but when the song featured here came up, I thought to myself “Whoa. This is the sh-t.”
Here’s some background from the WOMEX guide: “His glittering career spans four decades of Congolese music history, in which he’s played a crucial role. Since his debut in 1969 as one of the founders of the influential Zaïko Langa Langa, who shook up the rhumba scene with their powerful new approach and set the scene for the soukous craze, he’s set trends.…now celebrating 40 years at the top.” And of course, just Google the name and you’ll have more info than you know what to do with.
My heartfelt thanks to Afropop Worldwide for sharing the excellent clean recording of the concert (which they in turn received from the BBC; thanks to them too!) without which I would never have posted the video.
The accordion is one of those instruments (along with the bagpipe) that contains its own hand-pumped air supply. In the case of the accordion, the bellows can create and support very long lingering tones, or short, staccato passages. The air flow through these “lungs” bring out a physical response in me. I find myself drawn into the breathing of these instruments. And while we think of most accordion music as upbeat, there are several musicians and bands that have used this breathing feature to create meditative music. Danças Ocultas is such a band.
I first heard them at the annual Accordion Festival in Torres Vedras, a small city just north of Lisbon. They were sharing the stage with Renato Borghetti, from southern Brazil and Martin Lubenov, from Bulgaria. Both of these masters are soloists who display high technical skill and velocity. By contrast, Danças Ocultas was very much a four man team, where no one player dominated the sound. When they played, there was an almost palpable relaxation in the audience, a settling back from the edge of the seat, into a sensuous, sonorous environment.
At WOMEX, the band produced the same reaction. But let’s set the stage: As a delegate to the convention, you have been in a noisy convention center all day. You have a quick dinner and hurry over to the main concert hall where there are multiple showcases happening on three levels and several wings of the building. The main foyer is jam packed with people checking out two different stages, from which the bands and deejays are pumping out high-energy and high-decibel beats. Everywhere people are doing the quick schmooze before going to check on another act. You walk into the darkened main concert hall and suddenly, all that falls away, there are four men on stage, and they are creating a space where you can relax, breath and luxuriate in beautiful sounds.
Of course Danças Ocultas’ compositions also display a playful side, but it is the darker, more mysterious places in their repertoire that appeal to me. I also have to admit that they are hard to capture on videotape; after all it’s not all that interesting to look at a video of four men in chairs. So I took some artistic license with this piece, and hope you will find that it reflects the music in a way that a straightforward performance video could not.