Sunday 16th April 2006

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London hosts the Warriors

Along with wishing you all Happy Easter and many resurrections to come, I have the pleasure of informing you that, officially at least, Spring is sprung in the Big Fug. It must have done, because they did something with the clocks a while back; there’s a profusion of blossom in leafy Forest Hill and crows are mating in the leafery. The temperature tells a different tale but at least daylight now extends until 8 pm.

But enough of my mother’s country’s beastly cold clime. I’m in a distinctly sunny mood, which probably originated in Mali, West Africa, as I’m listening to kora king Toumani latest album Boulevard de l’Independance.

Even for Toumani, this is a unique album (sadly and coincidentally released within days of the death of his great compatriot, friend and collaborator the guitarist Ali Farka Toure, king of the African Blues, with whom Toumani recorded the exquisite award-winning album Heart of The Moon).

Toumani comes from a long line of Mande griots, his musical roots stretching back hundreds of years but he’s made his mark by reworking some of the Mande traditions. Before him the kora, (a 21-stringed flute-like instrument, the fretboard mounted on a gourd soundbox) functioned as accompaniment, rather than a solo instrument, in much the same restricted role as the flute in the typical Cuban charanga.

Toumani developed a virtuosic triple style: playing bass, rhythm and solo lines simultaneously, launching the kora as a solo instrument with all the complexity and range of a sitar. Listening to his 1987 solo album Kaira on which he plays entirely unaccompanied, many have been fooled into believing it’s a band playing, rather than one fabulously gifted musician.

Since the early 1990s, Toumani’s Hogon nightclub in the Malian capital of Bamako has hosted a series of Friday night jam sessions that have attracted musicians, both traditional and contemporary from across the old Mande Empire: Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Bourkina Fasso and Ivory Coast.

The Hogon’s fluctuating houseband, The Symmetric Orchestra, led by soloist Toumani, has produced in Boulevard de l’Independance, which Toumani describes as “a kind of musical vision of pan-Africanism,” a meeting between different generations in which traditional instruments like the ngoni guitar, balafon (wooden vibraphone) kora and percussion are joined by electric guitars, bass, and drum-kit to produce a contemporary sound scheme with strong traditional aspects—old songs are given new arrangements, while new songs receive traditional treatment.

Unsurprisingly, the track that is guaranteed to get the Hogon sessions moving into power dance mode is Africa Challenge, a stunning Malian salsa with the kora taking the role of the piano in a wild montuno section.

The whole Symmetric Orchestra is due in the Big Fug later this year.

Besides Toumani and the hints of spring, another reason to be cheerful was last week’s reception at the T&T High Commission for some of the Soca Warriors.

With the combined help of Miss T&T UK; Theresa Mahadeo, lone representative of the Shiv Shakti Dancers; Tobago Crusoe; Soca Warriors Dennis Lawrence; Shaka Hislop; Brent Sancho; Carlos Edwards; Ian Cox and Helena B, the reigning UK calypso monarch and a sumptuous spread, the night turned into a true Trini lime.

With plate spilling over with curried duck, stewed chicken, lobster, blue food and dumpling all washed down with non-stop Carib, I knew then Spring had truly arrived.

If the lime’s going to be this good in Germany, ‘Ich bin unterweg’ and I need to get in some training and up my stamina for the celebrations when we beat England. See you in the stade.

©2003-2004 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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