One of the things I miss, over here in Korea, is how few really interesting foreign acts come and do shows here — at least, how few of such shows are accessible to me, given my schedule and given the range of what comes here. There’s no demand here for, say, a group like the Trevor Watts Moiré Music Group, or, say, for someone like Pandit Ulhas Bapat to drop in on Seoul.
Once, long ago when I still lived in Montréal, I got the chance to see Salif Keita live. Which, my friends, if you don’t know how cool that is, you’re bloody missing out. I only had one album by the man at the time — Folon — but this Malinese man is a god of West African music. (His official site‘s in French, here.)
When I arrived at the show, this guy from somewhere near where Keita is from started talking to me in French. I didn’t get it all — between my poor French and his strong accent, it was a bit tough going, and even tougher when he switched to English — but it was obvious the guy was full of life, happy, well-adjusted to Montreal. He kept telling me I could learn French best from a French woman, that is, from a “sleeping dictionary.” (Alas, it was not to be, but I’ve found in Korea that a girlfriend is the WORST person to hope to learn a foreign language from.)
Anyway, he asked me how I knew of the acts, and I confessed to only knowing the headliner. He told me I was going to fall in love that night, and what do you know, but he was right. The opening act was none other than Angelique Kidjo, who blew my mind. “She’s a dancer!” the guy told me a few times, “She started as a dancer and then went to singing! Super-belle, non? Amazing!”
I don’t know if it’s true that she started at a dancer, but man could she move! She was super-belle and amazing. This was the most athletic dancing I’d ever seen, powerful, but graceful and somehow brimming with life. And then she started singing, and this voice — this strong, powerful, soulful voice filled the hall. And she did that for a long time, at least an hour. By the end, I was in shock, and then Salif came out on stage, all long white dreads (he’s an albino) and white robes and a guitar cradled in his arms. He stood up there, fairly still, really, but it was like listening to an old god tell you the truth of the world. Not a god of heaven and all the worlds, just one god among many, a creature of voice and will who could not be ignored even if you wanted to try — and when he was singing, you’d be mad even to want to try.
It was one of those moments that hits me sometimes when I wonder what my life would have been like if my parents had decided to stay in Africa, instead of going to Canada. Growing up listening to that music, what would I be like? Would I be a horn player in some afro-pop band? Would I have ended up in a suburb of Paris instead of a suburb of Seoul? Strange to think.
Anyway, things went as they did, and here I am in Bucheon, grading essays in a little coffee shop — most recently a student attempting to blame Japanese imperialism in Korea for the unpopularity of Star Trek here, a reasoning I can’t help but shrug at since everyone seems to remember The Twilight Zone in Korean translation — and on my MP3 player (which I always use when grading out in public, since the coffee shops here are invariably pumped full of loud music and, by evening, are full of droves of people talking as loudly as they can) when, suddenly, an amazing sound fills my ears.
In case LJ cuts the embedded file, here’s the link. Though I’m usually not a fan of classical music reinterpreted in unusual ways — Jacques Loussier excepted — this reimagining of Bolero is just wonderful.
Listen. You, too, will fall in love.