I was standing patiently by the far right of the stage to watch The Legendary Pink Dots perform at Mono three years ago. Having been a fan of the band for many years, this was the first time I caught them live. The lights died, and a Dutchman dressed like a polka-dot tool entered the room blaring on a saxophone decorated with christmas lights. My stomach sunk. Immediately I knew this was going to be a shit concert. The crowd that were there were jubilant. Screaming at how amazing the saxophonist was with his manner of self-confidence and perpetual show-off techniques.
It was almost like being at the Jazzhuset in Copenhagen back in 1998 when I started to attend Jazz shows and hated the “solos”. He went on and on. The Legendary Pink Dots played their earnest set, and amidst the cacophony of Dutch indulgence I found moments of solace, further ruined by the lengths he went to to show people he was gifted at his instrument.
I didn’t come to see the Legendary Pink Dots to hear a saxophone solo for 65 minutes. Sorry.
Boubacar Traore has been on my musical radar for many years now. I have listed to him intently in periods, and let him slide to the wayside for months and months. However, I have always kept a place in my heart for some of his songs, and looked forward to the day when I could actually witness his music live. That day came today. I have looked forward to it for months.
I left work, trudged up hills on soggy leaves rotting and secreting slippery excrements on which to guide your steps, arrived home, ate, slept for an hour to gain some reasonable energy with which to depart the house again, walked into sheets of rain pouring down from gods hatred for us all, slipped and slid until I reached Crossroads, entered a warm and inviting den filled to the brim with acquaintances, friends, enemies and colleagues. Found a respectable perch on which to stand, waited for Boubacar to come out to throngs of worshippers and a stellar performance.
What transgressed was far from expected. I stood as close as I dared to the stage without compromising the sound. He came out. I had goosebumps. Genuinely. He walked on stage with his glorified pajamas and acoustic guitar flanked by a percussionist who looked like he should be in a hip hop video and a caucasian who I mistook for his tour manager.
The show slid out from under us and Boubacar moved around on stage like a fluid master. He seemed on top, alive, energetic. His drummer stood quietly doing his thing, keeping things moving. The hair in the soup was his harmonica player. Sometimes it’s nice to hear a few bars here and there of the instrument, but with such a shrill and overpowering tone to it, things have to be right to work. This man seemed possessed. In my opinion he actually thought he was the star. Perhaps he was once voted the top 10 Harmonica players on earth, but this wasn’t his show to conquer. We all came here to see the down to earth, stripped, bare, honest songs of Boubacar Traore, not a stiff in the suit playing over every single melody line of almost every song and rabbit trailing away on solo after solo until I actually considered leaving.
One of my friends did. Another told me afterwards he was disappointed at the harmonica wankfest, yet most people seemed to cheer louder when he finished a 3 minute mouth-a-thon, than when Boubacar had his few precious moments to shine. It was an anti-climax in my opinion. Sadly the fault lies with Boubacar for hiring this person to follow him on tour, but perhaps he doesn’t have the perspective to see how it eats away at his own music.
I for one hope that he fires him and tours again in Scandinavia alone, because that’s where Mali´s heart is. Not in the hands of a person struggling to get his elbows in.
Two days before I had the privilege to attend the opening of the OWMF at Rockefeller where El Gusto would screen their new documentary and play a concert. Rockefeller was filled to the brim with people of slightly older age-groups than myself. It’s rare in Oslo that I feel young. The documentary started, as seats all over Rockefeller were swamped and a fair few had to stand on the sides. The film offered a great insight into how the band formed, played, and disbanded due to the war, and reunited years later in Marseille. The documentary itself was poorly done, with far too many quick edits, an overwhelming amount of information that was skipped back and forth to so many times you lost what was happening, but regardless of that it set up the tone for the concert.
After we had snatched some “African Food” from the side-room El Gusto appeared on stage in their old and young counterparts formation. The crowd were euphoric. The show was not. It seemed tame, subdued. The sound levels were very low, but that wasn’t the issue. From watching the film, the songs promised more bite, more passion, more boisterous energy, but that never really translated to the audience and left a strange vacuum of expectation vs deliver. I was privileged to be part of the opening day, and there was a fair amount of excitement when they first walked out onto the stage, but it was with a slightly disappointed feeling that I walked down the ramp of Rockefeller on my way out.
ETHIO ACTION JAZZ NIGHT
The highlight of the week by any form of comparison. Paal Nilssen Love’s labour of amore to bring together 13 Ethiopian musicians and dancers to play almost continually for 6 hours, with the help of the Dutch masters The Ex filling in and helping organize the onslaught and the master himself, Mats Gustavsson able and bodied to cope with the strain of his saxophone.
A completely packed Blå waited in anticipation as the head of the OWMF introduced the night with palpable enthusiasm, which spilled over to the crowd hovering above their Ethiopian grass floor (Bales of grass had actually been flown in from Addis to cover the floor for the night).
As the crowd simmered and bounced to the tunes DJ Vemund spun from his little corner of Addis-in-Oslo, the first artist walked on stage with the strangest instrument I have ever seen. It was a cross between an old suitcase and the frame of a huge mirror which had ropes tied to it and produced a sound that wasn’t too far away from noises I have heard in deep Tibetan Monasteries in the Himalayas. He chanted/growled/sang to a mesmerized crowd setting the mood in a slow rise to the boil. After a couple of songs it was time for Paal Nilssen Love, Mads Gustavsson and an Ethiopian musician to inflict 30 minutes of the most intense free-jazz cacophony I have heard in a long time. It absolutely worked.
People recoiled who expected a song and dance party, the music nerds shuffled closer to the stage, Mats’s head looked like it was going to explode as torrents of sputum sprayed over the stage from his frenetic playing. Paal kept it all solid and fluid, while the Ethiopian musician used plastic tubing, Heineken bottles and other implements to create a drony, wailing sound from his strange harp-like instrument. It was sensational.
After a short recess a man dressed with a golden crown (complete with a 100 kr note sticking out of it) marched onto the stage and got everyone going apeshit. The venue was moving, people bopping up and down, dancing, smiling, screaming, random women leapt up on the stage to dance, men scrambled up to shake their shoulders, it was almost impossible to believe this was happening in Oslo. Someone had found the key to unlock the stiff Northerners into letting go and having a good time. Magic in the making.
Beyond that, a few stage invasions, a dreadlocked mama shaking her bits at the man in green, smiles abounding, high fives and shrieks, I had to make the lonely trudge up the hill to take my place behind the CD players at Hells Kitchen for the rest of the night knowing that Blå was witnessing one of the best nights it has ever had. At least I got to enjoy it for a couple of hours, which made more of an impact on me than the last 20 concerts in this town!
Kudos to Oslo World Music Festival for striving to bring old and new acts to Oslo. Kudos to PNL for spending his time and energy on assembling such an extravagant fest for the people of this small town.