Djembe & Mande Music Page/Review Section(last revision on 02/11/99)
CONCERT: AFRICA FETE 1998 PLACE: ATLANTA, GA TIME: JUNE 8-13 1998
Well, I haven't seen anyone post a review of Sunday night's concert of Africa Fete yet so I will give my thoughts. I was really looking forward to this concert after reading the review of their New York show. This had the makings of a great afternoon of African music and dance. There was even a break from Atlanta's recent record heat. The sky was overcast and there was even a nice breeze. Unfortunately, the concert didn't quite live up to its billing, IMHO. It just never seemed to take off.
This free concert was scheduled to start at 4:00 pm on the "main stage" at Piedmont Park as part of the bi -annual National Black Arts Festival (NBAF). When I arrived a little after 5:00, there was no one on stage yet. When the concert did finally start around 5:30, Maryam Mursal, a diva from Somalia, opened the show. She had some great songs and a great voice but it seemed like she and the band just never got to that point where they were making great music together. To my ears, something was missing. From where I was at in the audience, it sounded like there were some serious sound problems. The right mix just never seemed to happen and there were volume fluctuations.
Cheikh Lo and his band were next. I have a tape of this Senegalese group and had high expectations. I may be prejudiced here but the sabar and tama drumming would have been enough for me. I would have preferred at least one number where these drummers were the focal point. It never happened. Good music, not so great sound again, but a good time and some incredible drumming. Still, it did not reach the heights I would like to have heard and that I know they are capable of. It was great seeing some of the local Senegalese dancers go down front and dance to Cheikh Lo's music though. However, my Senegalese friend told me that even she had a hard time keeping time to it. "There is too much American rock n' roll in it," she said.
The third group did liven things up a bit. Papa Wemba & Molokai from Zaire brought me to my feet. They seemed to connect much better as a group of musicians working together than the two previous bands. The vocals were great and there were two women vocalists/dancers who really added a spark to the music. They seemed to really enjoy what they were doing. There may have been problems with the microphones on the djembes. The sound just wasn't what I expected to hear from great djembe players.
Salif Keita & the Wanda Band were the greatest disappointment. I have a video of Salif in concert when he performed for the Public Broadcasting Station -- a superb video of this talented musician. To see him perform in person was why I went to the Africa Fete in Atlanta. After Papa Wemba, the Master of Ceremonies (Mor Thiam) announced that Salif Keita would be out in 10 minutes. That was the longest 10 minutes. From my vantage point and over the next 50 minutes while we waited for "the King," I saw half of the audience leave. A light sprinkle came and went and still we waited. Two vans pulled up behind the stage and I figured the wait was over. Another 10 minutes later and Salif and his band were on stage. They played one song and I could tell something was wrong. This was not the entertainer I had watched in the video over and over again. Then, Salif himself explained. He said something like, "I want to say I am sorry for being late. But, this organization [NBAF] is so f..ked up." That took a lot of people by surprise, especially my Senegalese friends who are also great fans of Salif. Well, this group too just had a hard time pulling it together. The vocals were great and the lead guitarist was great but they just did not seem to connect as a group. My friend summed it up again. "It just sounds like a loud high school rock band. Where's the music?" I was told later that the "organization" made him late and then told him that he could only play for 15 minutes. He said he wouldn't play at all if he couldn't do all of his songs. They settled on 50 minutes, so the story went.
The two groups that I am most familiar with (Cheikh Lo and Salif Keita) definitely have a lot more potential than what was demonstrated in Atlanta. Maybe they were tired. Is this near the end of their U.S. tour? Or maybe this is the beginning of the tour and they haven't worked out the sound system and mixing yet? I don't know. Not at all was lost, however. It was a great afternoon for people watching, seeing old drummer friends, touring the African vendor shops, and admiring the African fashion scene. But, the music just didn't make it.
I know there were other djembe-list members there. Maybe someone else has a different perspective to share.