Thursday, May 22, 2008


On Wednesday evening, I headed to the Hay Ryad venue – I am staying just a few minutes walk from the stage, so it is unbelievably convenient. Freshly Ground, a South African group, composed of a female lead vocalist, a female violinist and keyboardist, a male flute and saxophonist, a male bassist, a male guitarist and a male drummer.

The music was a fluid mix of reggae and lighter rock; on the songs that employed the violin, there was almost a “country” feel to it. (Perhaps if you are familiar with Willie Nelson’s reggae album Countryman, the concept of “country-reggae” may not be so abstract).

The highlight of the show was a cover of Bob Marley’s “Zimbabwe,” a classic song about the struggle for equality in the troubled nation. (It is quite depressing to think that Marley wrote the song in 1979 to draw attention to the political strife in Zimbabwe; and today, the Robert Mugabe regime still maintains control of the country, despite his recent defeat in a democratic vote for the presidency).

The second act of the evening was Omar Pene, a smooth vocalist from Senegal. Having recorded over thirty records, Omar Pene is more of an institution than musician, in terms of Senegalese music.

The band is composed of Omar Pene on vocals, two female background vocalist, a bassist, an electric guitarist, a keyboardist, a synth player, a kora player (a 21-stringed harp-like lute), a percussionist (playing three different types of djembes) and a drummer (on a regular Western kit).

I had never seen a kora before; I feel so lucky to have the privilege to be exposed to so much new music (and, thus instruments, even if they are not in the percussion family). Because of the tremendous diversity of music at the Mawazine festival, I have been introduced to several new styles of music, which always makes for an enriching experience.

As for the music of Omar Pene, the first half of the show was rather mellow, but the second half really picked up.

The percussionist was superb: on one of his djembes, there was a metal shaker, exactly like an Ainu djembe player I saw perform in Kyoto, Japan. As the music began to be more upbeat, the percussionist used a drum stick on his hand drums to augment the power of the sound made from each drum. Sometimes it is difficult to coordinate multiple rhythms in a performance; yet, the percussionist and drummer played together seamlessly, often trading triplet-filled fills back and forth.

What was most impressive about the performance was the devotion the audience: the VIP area in front of stage (reserved for press and other artists) was absolutely packed. In fact, proportionally, there were more people in the VIP section than general admission section: it is always a positive testimony to the credibility of the artist on stage when the crowd is filled with other musicians.

At the end of the show, I ran into Saad, of Hoba Hoba Spirit – H2S performs tomorrow night at the Qamra scene and I am really looking forward to it! Below are a bunch of photographs and videos. As always, enjoy!

Freshly Ground, from South Africa, at Hay Ryad

Omar Pene of Senegal

View from the soundboard on the side of the stage.

A guest MC, also from Senegal

(Thanks Julie for taking this photo!)

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