Tuesday, May 20, 2008


On Sunday night, once again, I was presented with a crucial choice of what concerts to attend – bear in mind that nine different venues have shows going on all at the same time.
I boiled my decision down to two stages: either I would head to the largest venue, the Bouregreg, to see Los Van Van (a very famous group from Cuba), or check out the smaller Hay Ryad scene to catch performances by groups from Congo and Mali. My good friend Amine recommended that I attend the concerts of the African musicians, as I will experience plenty of Cuban music this summer in Havana.

Just after nine o’clock, Zao, an Afrobeat band from Brazzaville, Congo, took the stage. The band consisted of a bassist, guitarist, keyboardist, trombonist, trumpeter, percussionist, drummer, two female vocalists and the singer (Zao). Within the first thirty seconds of the concert, I knew I would not regret my decision.

The band opened with an extra-funky jam, and then out came Zao, wearing perhaps the greatest hat ever made (see pictures below). I think the best way to describe Zao is that his body is not nearly big enough to fit his persona. Never before have I seen an individual with a stronger stage presence than Zao. By the truest definition of the word, Zao is animated; he is such a vivacious character that he is almost cartoon like – and I say that as a compliment. There is something magical about his ability to instantaneously connect with the audience through his music.

The dialogue Zao created with the audience was in French, Lingala (Congolese), Arabic, and a little English. Regardless of what language he was speaking, his message was always clear: often he sung of the necessity to end war as a means of diplomacy.

As for the music, it was the ultimate fusion: a handful of West African rhythms, a splash of reggae, a hint of jazz and a whole lot of funk! This mixture created for very complicated rhythms. The drummer was absolutely outstanding; definitely the best of the festival, to date.

The crowd adored Zao: the gratis-section was packed and people were dancing throughout the entire set. This concert was probably the most enjoyable show I have seen all year, and ranks as one of my all-time favorites. Of course, the short videos I will post are an unfair testimony to how great the music was: like most concerts, you simply had to be there to experience the greatness of the performance.

(Side note: I actually just bought one of his records of the iTunes store; and, as expected, it is not as exciting as the live show but is very good. Just make sure to purchase the album, “L’aiguille,” as, apparently, there is a heavy metal band also named Zao!)

Towards the end of the show, Zao introduced each of the band members, and in turn, each member soloed. Zao is a very humble band leader, indeed. As Zao’s set ended, I began to wonder how does (can?) the following act, Super Rail Band de Bamako, top this one? Quite honestly, I knew that it would be an impossible feat.

After a brief intermission, the Super Rail Band de Bamako, from Mali, took the stage. The band leader, who played the djembe, gave some background information on Mali (i.e. on the population and location). It was actually pretty cool that he would make the effort to teach the audience a little about where he comes from and tidbits about his culture. (Granted, Mali is very close to Morocco, so I am sure most of the audience knew most of the information; but, nonetheless, it was a neat gesture).

The band consisted of a djembe player, two male vocalists, a lead guitarist, a rhythm guitarist, a bassist, a percussionist (who played congos) and a drummer. Because of the abundance of percussion, the beats were much heavier than that of Zao’s music. Interestingly enough, there were a lot of straight rhythms (as in, not broken feels), mostly in 16th note feels.

I actually thoroughly enjoyed the Super Rail Band de Bamako’s performance – but, of course, it was no Zao. This has been my favorite night of the Mawazine Festival, without a doubt! Pictures and videos are below. I would post more videos, but it takes about 90 minutes to upload every 45 second video...grrr!


Best. Hat. Ever.

Pure electricity on stage

Super Rail Band de Bamako


jihn said...

rail band is very fine. djelimady is a fine guitarist

Thelma said...

Good post.

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.