This is Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba playing in the Button Factory back in May. These guys are from Mali which, as everyone knows (or at least as everyone should know), is the source of a whole load of amazing music. For those yet to discover the delights of West African music I would recommend Mark Hudson’s book, The Music In My Head, which is a highly entertaining account of an English music journalist’s adventures in West Africa after falling in love with the sounds of Senegal and Mali. It will make you want to pick up as much of the music as possible, but handily enough, there is an accompanying CD, which is a superb introduction.
Anyway, the band were fantastic. Most of them were playing a small stringed instrument called an ngoni. One of them had a bass version which, when amplified, supplied thundering low-end. The singing, the playing, the energy – everything was just superb. Like a lot of African music, it managed to effortlessly combine jaw-dropping complexity with instantly accessible tunes and grooves. No mean feat.
The gig was not quite as sparsely attended as it looks from the above shot as I took the picture at the beginning, and the venue filled up as the night wore on. Curiously though, in spite of Dublin’s burgeoning African population, there seemed to be few Africans in attendance. I don’t know if there are many Malians living here, but I suspect there probably aren’t (given that Mali is a former French colony), and maybe music from Mali simply doesn’t have the kind of pan-African appeal that, for example, soukous from the Congo would have. What Malian music does have however, is bucket-loads of that gritty authenticity that Western “world music” fans tend to revere above all else, and it went down a storm with the audience.
While I really enjoyed the show too, I kept thinking how different things would be if there was some shit-hot band from Kinshasa on stage that night. Instead of traditional garments there would be French designer suits. Instead of the main mans wife singing and charming the crowd, there would be a group of nubile female “dancers” doing things they don’t even do in hip-hop videos. Instead of a virtuoso talking drum player there might even be a dancing dwarf. And the music would probably be incredible too.