Acoustic Africa

Acoustic Africa

By Conor Godfrey on April 14, 2011
Last week I rounded up a few friends and saw a tremendous concert put on by Acoustic Africa at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium.

Habib Koite

The show featured three African music powerhouses—Habib Koite, from Mali, whom I have written about before, Afel Bocoum also from Mali, and Oliver Mtukudzi (goes by “tuku”), from Zimbabwe.

These guys—expecially Koite and Tuku—are household names in their regions, and in some parts of Europe, but they often have to play dive bars or cultural centers for 10 bucks a ticket when they hit the U.S. (Language being the major issue for the Malians)

Last time I saw Habib Koite was in Philadelphia at a local arts council for $10. This most recent concert was a step up—they sold out a 400-500 person auditorium at $40-$50 a ticket.

And they were worth every bit of it. I swear there is something about Malian music that makes you remember what is important in life.

Listen to Afel Bocum play Gomni, a song popularized by his uncle Ali Farka Toure, and tell me that your mind doesn’t drift to a better place.

Afel Bocoum

When Afel came to the microphone to play this song he said—“Gomni means happiness in Songhai (language spoken in Northern Mali)…it is very difficult to be happy, even though there is so much to be happy about…so try and be happy for just this one song.”

Well said Afel.

I did not know much about Tuku before the concert, but he did not disappoint either.

The sound from Zim was much closer to the Congolese Rumba, popularized by icons like Papa Wemba, than it was to the guitar driven modern Malian music that often sounds like storytelling set to music.

Real experts on Southern African music claim Tuku has a style all to himself. See for yourself.

Oliver Mtukudzi
Tuku and his band also taught me a bit about the Zimbabwean thumb piano.

You would be surprised to hear the sound that comes out of this little guy.

If you combined a Malian Balafon (xylophone) with a gong, it would sound something like thumb piano.

Listen to someone jam on the thumb piano here.

My favorite song from Tuku was Neria, about the strength of a woman; for this he turned the lights down low, kicked the Malians off the stage, and poured a hell of a lot of soul into this ballad.

If you listen to one song I link to on this blog—make this it.

And last, but certainly not least—we get to le Maitre, Monsieur Habib Koite.

I have now seen Habib three times and he has never had an off night.

He and Afel jived very well with Tuku on stage, and everyone seemed to be enjoying some genuine pan-African good cheer while they swapped songs and made an effort to sing in each other’s languages (at least for the choruses).

Habib didn’t play too many of my old favorites this time around, but I did enjoy N’Teri, and a bunch of newer songs that I wasn’t familiar with. (I would recommend checking out the Album Afriki if you are looking to buy a Habib CD.)

Habib also just looks and acts the part.

His clothes are stylish takes on traditional gear, his speaks just enough English to make it clear that there is a lot going on inside his head, and he radiates positivity.

Oh—and my favorite part—they went for 2 hours and twenty minutes with no intermission. Lets see U.S. pop icons put in that kind of performance.

The last tour date I can find for Acoustic Africa is actually for this week: Apr 14th 2011, Clarksdale, MS USA.