|Kevin Nathaniel Hylton, Dawn Padmore, and Yacouba Sissoko|
Salon/ Sanctuary Concerts was founded by Jessica Gould seven years ago, during the depths of the economic downturn; they have not only survived but thrived by virtue of presenting music from the pre-Romantic period. Her finely tuned taste has managed to expand the horizons of our 19th c. ears. Last night she presented a program of the very earliest music extant.
Anyone familiar with the National Geographic website knows that mankind originated in Africa. So it is not surprising that music originated there as well, making African music the very oldest music one can hear--older still than Greek music.
With the collaboration of The Goddard Riverside Community Center on the Upper West Side, and with special thanks to Susan Macaluso, Salon/Sanctuary Concerts presented an evening of music entitled "In The Beginning" that was compelling and satisfying both physically and emotionally.
We entered to find the stage littered with unusual instruments; we could barely wait to learn how they would sound. The musicians were of world renown--not only performers and recording artists but scholars of African music and providers of outreach to several populations.
The music came from Western Africa with Yoruba songs, Igbo Songs, and one Liberian song--Liberia being the birthplace of the singer Dawn Padmore who sings with a generosity of spirit and lovely tone. The traditional songs spoke of celebrations and grieving, birth, healing, and death. We loved the one sung for the birth of twins, and the one about a neighbor's dearth of hospitality.
Although the Igbo songs were purported to be westernized, to our ears they seemed as authentic as the Yoruba songs. Our favorite was a love song in which the man is described as a man who doesn't beat his woman but brushes her with eagle feathers. Ms. Padmore's warm spirit informed her every gesture, making this simple song sensual and erotic.
Mr. Hylton accompanied with the melodic Kalimba which has different names in different parts of Africa. Actually, he played an entire selection of them, often within the deep bowl of a gourd which we imagined would amplify the sound. This instrument was not unfamiliar to us since we once owned and played a very basic version.
Another familiar instrument was the Djembe, a skin covered drum played with the bare hands of Anicet Mundundu. Although we had never seen one before, the playing style reminded us of the playing of a conga drum, providing incredibly complex rhythmic accompaniment.
The other two instruments fascinated us by virtue of their complexity and uniqueness. The string instrument known as the Kora was expertly played by the smiling Yacouba Sissoko, a Malian musical storyteller by heredity. The Kora has 21 strings with a row of 10 strings on the right side to be plucked by the right hand, and 11 on the left side to be plucked by the left hand. Each of the 21 strings is separately bound to the neck with cowhide thongs and must be separately tuned. There are no frets. The closest sound we could think of was that of the small harp played by Mariachis. The neck runs through the hide covering the calabash.
The second astonishing instrument is the Talking Drum. We would have a hard time summarizing the various sounds as "talking"--we heard grumbling and shouting, whispering and wailing, and a few gurgles. The technique for producing these sounds is fascinating. Kofo "The Wonderman" Ayanfowora (and he is indeed a wonder!) tucked his drum under his left arm and, using a curved stick, proceeded to produce the most amazing sounds by altering the pressure of his arm and the technique of striking the head. The pitch and variety of timbre seemed limitless in their range.
Also on hand for the second half of the evening was Fatima Gozlan who improvised on a most unusual flute and provided additional percussion by tapping on gourds covered with beads.
Although we did not accept the invitation to get up and dance, we were surely dancing on the inside!
(c) meche kroop