Cookie's Bliss Kumasi

African Music

Last night, Bob was the catalyst that transformed an ordinary concert into an extraordinary experience by jumping onto the dance floor early into Vieux Farka Toure’s Kumasi appearance at the Golden Tulip. This was the excuse the small group of Ghanaians and mostly French ex-patriots needed to jump from observers to participants. A conga line metabolized, permeated the floor with joyful movement and dissipated into pods. Within a few songs, Vieux had left the stage and was tickling his guitar strings while wandering among the happy dancers.

Upon arrival Justin, Bob and I saw that the venue was an open air tiled rotunda at the Golden Tulip, Kumasi’s most posh hotel. With comfortable seats and a bar at the back, we easily settled in to await the master guitarist and his band. There were only a couple hundred chairs and by the stated start time they were 80% empty. We had hoped for a small crowd and on Bob’s recommendation chose front row seats thirty feet from center stage.

I am rarely as moved by music as I was by Vieux’s band of three guitarists and three drummers. His sound is an infusion of African and electric blues at times very traditional, sometimes bluesy (think Stevie Ray Vaughn), even psychedelic. Vieux Farka Toure has rightfully been hailed as “The Jimi Hendrix of the Sahara.” All of this beautifully moving sound is made more poignant by the current strife in Mali. Warring factions are scarring the north with violence. Thousands are fleeing their villages as Sharia law, a cruel form of religious doctrine threatens them with whipping, stoning, dismemberment and beheadings.

David Bromberg sang, “You’ve got to suffer if you want to sing the blues” and Vieux is a great example of the intense beauty which can come from suffering. Over the past week there have been numerous stories about Malian musicians being threatened with having their tongues cut out. See Washington Post November 30, 2012. When I first learned that a musician from Mali was appearing in Kumasi, I was keen to attend out of compassion for the situation in Mali. After I listened to View Farka Toure’s music, I knew I had to go see him.

A couple of months before even considering a move to Africa, Bob put on some music one evening in North Carolina that nearly brought me to tears. “What is this?!” I asked. It was African. Later I came to view this experience as a sign that we should move to Ghana.

Last night, engulfed in African music I again had tears in my eyes. My heart felt like an enormous, molten thing, a volcano exploding quietly within my breast. At times my face ached with emotion and I found myself unable to swallow. My hands were little comfort. They flew up to my face and fluttered back down to my lap.

The band was tight, starting and ending songs on the same note. The music was compelling, haunting, melodic and stirring. An indescribable balance of complex and simple, universal and unique. It evoked a sense of raw humanity, a blend of pride and strife, much like whale song or a lion’s roar.

I was impressed at how ego-less Vieux was as he walked among us, meeting our eyes with ease. Typical of the Africans we’ve met here, he valued the relationship above all. Musician, dancer, black, white, Malian, French, American – all lines melted away as we celebrated life together.

The best part about the dance party Bob helped spark was that it made us feel connected in a small town way. For a couple of hours, this tiny subset of Kumasi and six extraordinary musicians shared the simple joy of music and dance.

Vieux Farka Toure’s Website

Vieux Farka Toure’s MySpace

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.