Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Western Sahara, Dr Congo, Italy, Ireland - together at last

The Improvised Music Company is this Dublin-based gig promotion organisation. As the name suggests, jazz is their main thing, but they do broaden their scope sometimes to present us with what some people call World Music. And thus it was that we found ourselves in the Twisted Pepper for a night of music from various different countries.

We arrived late to find that the music had already started, with Niwel Tsumbu onstage with Francesco Turrisi and some other fellows. Mr Turrisi is a player on the local jazz scene, while Mr Tsumbu is a guitarist from the DRC*. Now, I know what you're thinking – when someone says "Congolese guitarist" you immediately think of Johnny Marr-esque jingle-jangles. But that's not what we got, because our fellow was playing an acoustic guitar and was far more coming at music from a jazz perspective. Which I suppose was why the Irish-based Italian jazz sensation was playing with him. Their set was very entertaining, but there seemed like a lot of event people in the venue – or a lot of bored girlfriends who could not shut their yap**. Either way it was slightly less than ideal but not so bad that I needed to break out the happy stick.

After a bit of a pause we then got Mariem Hassan. Like Group Doueh, she comes from the Western Sahara (or the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic as it sometimes likes to style itself). Western Sahara is that place to the south of Morocco that was invaded by its northern neighbour when the Spanish colonisers withdrew. Mariem Hassan seems to be rather political and was happy to let her concert be used to promote the cause of Saharawi freedom, of which more anon.

But first, the music. In some respects, this was a bit reminiscent of Group Doueh or Tinariwen*** - guys in robes playing electric guitars that seem to have been incorporated into their own traditional musical forms. The guitar end of things was maybe a bit more like what you get with Tinariwen than with Group Doueh, as it seemed more like their picky style than the trancey guitar work-outs Group Doueh serve up on the one album of theirs I have. But there were two big differences with either of those. First of all, there was Hassan herself, who does not play guitar but instead is primarily a vocalist with a soaring range reminiscent in some ways of various other Arab queens of song. The other variation was the more extensive use of percussion, provided here by another Saharawi lady, who had a wonderfully mad-for-it air. Hassan also did some percussion, either joining the other woman (e.g. on a particularly striking non-vocal piece, just the two of them doing synchronised drumming and handclaps while the guitarists picked away) or once on her own while the other lady danced for us.

So yes, this was all very enjoyable. Afterwards I suggested to my beloved that she buy one of the CDs they were selling, and then we went upstairs for a talk on the Saharawi people and the struggle for freedom in Western Sahara. Which was a pretty surreal experience, given that we were in a nightclub where, down in the basement, one Johnny Syntax was blasting out drum and bass tunes. I will not go on at great length about the struggle of the Saharawi people, but aside from being invaded by Morocco they have basically been fucked over by the international community in general and France in particular, with the French apparently always keen to back up the Moroccan occupiers in international forums.

After the talk, there was an Irish traditional music session, led by piper Leonard Barry, which seemed to interest some of Hassan's musicians, and a pan-African DJ set from one Nigel Wood. My beloved ventured down into the dungeon to catch a bit of Dave Syntax, but I was feeling quite tired so I gave it a miss. All in all, though, an entertaining and consciousness raising evening.

* Or "Doctor Congo", as Irish radio DJs have allegedly been known to unironically refer to the equatorial country.

** Or maybe it was a load of bored boyfriends who kept striking up conversations with their ladyfriends, who kept having to politely ask them to be quiet. Or maybe just yappy couples who can't go anywhere without talking and talking.

*** Whom I understand to come from Mali, which is a good bit away from Western Sahara but may be culturally a bit like it, in the same way that Spain is somewhat like Germany.

image source

An inuit panda production

[corrected 24/8/2011]

1 comment:

rener said...

Yappy couples at gigs should be shot with guns. As should yappy non-couples.

Two corrections: d&b DJ was Dave Syntax (his real name) and the worldy DJ was Nigel Wood. Curse those tricky first names!