mon 22/07/2024

Prom 54: World Routes | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 54: World Routes

Prom 54: World Routes

World Music celebration includes delights from Mali and Azerbaijan

Bassekou Kouyaté with the Malian band Ngoni ba© BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Why are the Malians always punching way above their weight in music? There may be some historical reasons. The French always were more welcoming to the culture of their empire than the Brits (and more used to foreign-language music), while Paris became a great centre of West African music, from where it was disseminated over Europe.

It’s also true that some of the most influential gatekeepers here – such as Lucy Duran (who presented this concert and has been to Mali about 50 times) are ardent Mali-philes. But it’s probably as much to do with the richness of the music which seems so deeply woven into the country (one reason why it seemed so shocking that music could be banned by the invading Islamicists last year).

This concert saw the debut of a highly appealing “chamber” Malian group Trio Da Kali, who play classy Mandé griot music – the trio consist of bass ngoni (lute), balafon (wooden-keyed xylophone) and the sweet, clear voice of Hawa Kassé Mady Diabaté (daughter of a legendary Malian singer). The pared-down line-up was a tremendous showcase for the sinuous and natural musicianship of the group. Often when you see a larger ensemble like the Symmetric Orchestra the colours are so varied they can become a blur.

In fact, it was in the Symmetric Orchestra that I first caught the evening’s headliner Bassekou Kouyaté (in a Bamako club heaving with locals dressed up to the nines and dancing with nonchalant elegance). Bassekou has established himself over the last few years and three albums with his ngoni-driven group Ngoni ba. The impression was of something both bang-up-the-minute but with roots going back centuries. They have created an intense group energy and a real authority, able to tranfix both vast festival crowds and the less obviously conducive surroundings of a 25-minute set in the Albert Hall with festive songs like the title track of their last album Jama Ko, as well as pre-colonial songs like “Simaly”, while touching on Mali’s recent problems in “Ne me fatigue pas”.

The other performers were on a completely different tangent, playing Mugham music from Azerbaijan. The performance was the culmination of this year’s World Music Academy in which a young musician gets mentoring from an established one, in this case 18-year-old Fidan Hajiyeva, who lives in London, and the established master of Mugham from Baku, Gochaq Askarov, whose dramatic voice was certainly impressive (Hajiyeva and Askarov pictured above right).

The quartet of musicians - including the four-stringed kamancha, oud and the oboe–like balaba - certainly intrigued and had moments of real atmospheric beauty, but they didn’t have quite the ease of group dynamics as Ngoni ba, whose bluesy music is naturally more accessible to a European audience. A problem for Askarov is that Alim Qasimov, one of the world’s great singers, also performs in this style. Coming in his wake must be akin to following in the footsteps of Bob Marley or Fela Kuti. Whereas Qasimov combines an academic approach with shocking fire and passion, this group were relatively bloodless, however accomplished as musicians. As for Fidan Hajiyeva, she isn’t the finished article but clearly has enormous talent and potential, and the freshness and sweetness of her voice was one of real highlights of the night.

The impression was of something both bang-up-the-minute but with roots going back centuries


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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3 high quality groups at this sparsely attended late night Prom. I am not sure how well the 2 Malian groups sat with the Azerbaijani musicians, one very vigorous physical music and the other on a more spiritual plane. But again it could be argued that it managed to display the emotional range of current World Music on offer. I felt somewhat sorry for Fidan Hajiyeva, the World Routes Academy mentee, who clearly has some way to go before performing extended mugham but had to sit patiently while her mentor Gochaq Askarov showed how it really should be done. I can't agree that he didn't match up to Alim Qasimov, it is just a different performing style that is lighter and less forceful but just as arresting and supported by a wonderfully sympathetic group of players some formerly with Qasimov himself. The trouble with World Music stars like Qasimov is that they often come to define how a certain style should be played to the detriment of others in the field. Again Ngoni Ba have been fashioned into an international performing group with slick routines and the addition of wah wah electronics no doubt to appeal to a wider audience but which personally I find excruciating and unnecessary. hence Peter your regrets that World Music rarely 'storms the charts' (see Artsdesk 'How to be a World Music star') is probably a good thing in some cases. Last thing I must commend the Albert Hall/BBC for the superb sound with perfect balance at this concert not something one usually expects at the AH so Southbank and Barbican please note - it is possible with these funny foreign instruments to achieve clarity and balance!

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