Jan 042010

From Sound Of The World


Last time I was at a gig at Surrey University, it was some time in the mid-18th Century and Nine Below Zero were crashing through their driving, goodtime Cockney blues stuff to a remarkably unmoved, distressingly sober crowd of students. I reviewed the evening for the legendary punk fanzine ‘Throttle Talk‘ (no, me neither)- and likened the students to a bunch of statues.

In the three intervening decades, those statues hadn’t moved. Their hair had whitened or disappeared altogether, some busybodies had sneaked in to sew patches on their jacket sleeves, they’d been placed awkwardly on chairs. And they’d opened their stoney eyes in 2009 to find themselves motionless in front of a shifting, certain, fluid man, his wife and a gang of his mates- in front of a stage full of dark, different foreigners who were making a sound so Nine Below Zero and so utterly un-Nine Below Zero, so entrancingly soul-spattered, so multi-layered and weird and familiar, so deep and so surface, so of-this-world and so of-another, so sparse and so dense, so complex and so utterly, utterly simple, so visceral and so cerebral that it couldn’t fail to astonish.

Polyrhythmic, patterned, percussive, persuasive; the statues’ attention was forced from the smile and leisurely sensuality of Amy (her sweet, harsh voice wrapping emotions in sly syllables of almost-comprehensible wit and ache), to the various ngonis (stringed man-machines of almost-blues, almost-guitar funk, pluck and fire), to the calabash and the drums (funk and rock and neither), to your man himself (taller, robed smarter than everyone else, casual in his command, flying in his fretting, mock-struggling with English, intense in French).

This time round, my drink of choice was Jack Daniels (thirty years ago it was probably warm bitter). The JD melted the early awkwardness, the longing for comfort, the sneer at the politeness of the statues. It helped me see the strangely proggy moments, the hints at European folk on the songs from ‘Segu Blue’, the clear, clear message that the very best music takes from everywhere, everywhen, respects all our histories, swallows them, digests them, then spits them out and creates something altogether fresh and transcendent. Bassekou Kouyate’s no more ‘the Malian Hendrix’ than I am: tonight, more than ever, trapping him in lazy comparisons seems both silly and redundant.

So. Too many Jack Daniels and some of the finest music I’ve heard for years- a pretty good night . . . Oh, and by the end- most of the statues were dancing.

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