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Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba, Queens Hall, Edinburgh

PostPosted: Sun Mar 29, 2009 10:01 pm
by Gordon Neill
There’s such a dearth of world music gigs up here in the frozen North, I was surprised to see that Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba were playing in Edinburgh. So I snapped up a couple of tickets before remembering that I found their Segu Blue album a little – dare I say it? –dull. It’s not I dislike the album. Of it’s type it’s as good as anything I’ve heard. But I prefer my music to be a bit less worthy, and a bit more lively.

I seemed to be heading for disaster as my date withdrew and I couldn’t face sitting at a front-row cabaret table on my own. But, having tried unsuccessfully to give the tickets away to colleagues, I found myself at the gig after all. Quite unexpectedly, a young babe offered to go with me. Probably a bit too young, to be honest, but she's very beautiful and we seemed to have a lot in common. In fact, she said she'd known me all her life. Yes, that's right, I persuaded my 12-year old daughter to go with me. :-( ‘It’ll be an experience’, I told her, although I didn’t tell her if it would be good or bad. As it turned out, it was quite an experience for me as well. Kora blimey, you might say.

Familiar with the Radio-3-friendly restaint of Segu Blue, I wasn’t ready for the force of Ngoin Ba as a live act. Bassekou Kouyate himself still comes across as the master musician, his powerful frame making his ngoni look even more ridiculously tiny. And his wife was equally impressive, swinging her child-bearing hips and showing just how powerful a singer she actually is in the flesh.

But the shock, for me, was the full-on blast of the two percussionists and the three other ngoni players. I just wasn't ready for that whallop of testoterone. Frankly, even Mrs Kouyate had more balls than the album. When they took off on a fast one, there was an unexpected whiff of rock’n’roll, particularly from the brilliant bass ngoni player who was much more prominent in the mix than on the album. As the three ngoni players did their syncopated shuffle behind Mr and Mrs Kouyate, I couldn’t help think of Chuck duck-walking and ringing his bell, with that fantastic mix of groove and fun.

One highlight was an incredibly powerful and lively version of Jonkoloni (almost unrecognizable from the politeness of Segu Blue). But I loved everything that they played, from the out-and-out attack of the fast songs to the slow, powerful bluesy numbers.

These guys roll and they rock. If you haven’t seen them, try and catch up on the rest of their UK and European tour. I just hope that their next album catches the raw excitement of the live act. Please, someone, get that bass player much higher up in the mix and turn the volume to 11.

As my daughter enthusiastically commented, 'they were alright, I suppose'.

PostPosted: Mon Mar 30, 2009 1:04 am
by garth cartwright
Great review and I absolutely agree - where the album is pleasant if rarely memorable live they positively kick ass (as Americans like to say). The syncopated ngoni shuffle surely owes less to Chuck B and more to Status Quo, ay? I think we had that debate on the forum when they first started doing it at London gigs. His wife has such presence live too! Album 2 is apparently being mixed right now so let's see if it has any of that kick ass quality to it.

PostPosted: Mon Mar 30, 2009 6:35 pm
by Des
I'll be in the front row at the Bristol gig on Thursday, as I was last year at Womad. I will only occasionally look at Bassekou's missus. Honest.