Day 16 of the SMF, and audiences were past the point of eager anticipation; they were relaxed and smiling, clearly already in the groove. The Ships of the Sea Garden, splendid in the setting sun and cool springtime breeze, was the ideal venue for this earthy, provocative line-up of African performers.
When Fatoumata Diawara appeared onstage in her yellow headpiece, cowry shells in her braids, and a vibrantly colored grasslike mini-skirt that revealed legs that were made for serious dancing, she looked so purely African. She then delivered soft swaying rhythms punctuated by an occasional yelp and wild dance move.
Diawara’s music began so unassuming -- you are only confronted with beautiful African women and some regular-looking dudes playing mainstream instruments. What ensued was a performance where her political messages against arranged marriages and the civil war in Mali were earnestly delivered through soft, sensual vocals.
She then took the audience on a tour of dance styles in throughout Africa, culminating in a pre-hunt sequence: a switch-kick head jerk move that most people would not soon recover from. Diawara's brief show left the audience revved up and loose, ready for Bombino to take it to the next level.
Bombino arrived onstage looking majestic in turquoise satin and a dominating white pashmina scarf. The band jumped right into a rhythmically layered instrumentation that the audience melted into.
He played what looked like a regular electric guitar, but played it in a way that made it unrecognizable; soft, pulsing, percussive, with an occasional hint of a classic rock sound.
Of the many Music Fest concerts I've attended over the years, the acts that hail from Africa: Bassekou Kouyate, Salif Keita, and others, are the performances that resonate with me long after. This is performance is no different. I want what they have, a relaxed sense of expression that is intent and softly direct.
But it is the weaving instrumentation where no one instrument, not even the human voice, dominates, and the unrelenting rhythm that really takes hold of you. As my friend said “if you’re not careful you can completely lose yourself in this." I did.