Final Concert for 2017 at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn: Yacouba Sissoko + Youssou N’ Dour

By Ernest Barteldes

Youssou N’ Dour/ Yacouba Sissoko

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn Festival

Brooklyn, NY

August 12, 2017

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Yacouba Sissoko

West African music was the focus of the final night for the 2017 season of BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, and audiences were toasted with two great performances, starting with New York-based Malian kora master Yacouba Sissoko, who came accompanied by a simple trio with the N’goni (a guitar-like instrument) and the djembe.

The trio played a selection of songs that were very mournful and peaceful with lyrics (sung  in his native language) that carried messages of empowerment while also touching on political issues – including the civil war taking place in Sissoko’s native Mali at the time of this writing. All the musicians on the trio were very proficient, often taking long improvised solos on each tune.

At one point, the bandleader upped the tempo for one of the songs and encouraged the audience to get up and dance, claiming that New Yorkers were ‘the best dancers in this nation.” The number featured the percussionist, who played with great energy, motivating the audience to move.

The set closed with “All Things Must Come to an End,” a slower tempo melody that featured improvised moments from all three musicians.

Following a short break, Senegal’s Youssou N’ Dour took to the stage with a 20-piece backing band (guitars, keys, percussion, 2 backing vocalists, bass and saxophone). Taking the lead from the late James Brown, he had one of the percussionists MC the concert, constantly calling out the bandleader’s name.

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Youssou N’ Dour

I have rarely seen the degree of enthusiasm that I witnessed at this concert – as I walked from the press seats towards the photo pit, I encountered a mass of fans, all with big smiles on their faces moving enthusiastically and singing along to every song.  The music was highly energetic, and the 57-year-old N’Dour moved like a teenager, dancing and jumping to the rhythm of the music.

He had a band filled with master players who had great chemistry together – the quality of the sound was perfect, and we could hear every instrument and vocal with great clarity.  During some numbers, a male dancer joined the band and did traditional moves inspired by the percussion and the direction of the music.

Towards the end of the set, most of the band left the stage and N’Dour performed a tune dedicated to his native continent – it was a sweet melody accompanied solely by keyboards and drums. He then briefly left the stage for a false finale, and then the full band returned for an extended encore that included an up-tempo multilingual song (French, English and other languages) and a handful of dance-oriented numbers. As the show came to an end, each musician left the stage one by one until N’Dour found himself alone on stage thanked the audience and then the lights came on.

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Youssou N’ Dour

It was a great closing for what turned out to be one of the best seasons at Celebrate Brooklyn – it’s just a shame they have to end so soon – but we still have quite a few shows at Summerstage in the next couple of weeks.

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Album Review: Mehmet Polat Trio/Next Spring

By Ernest Barteldes

I first heard about Turkish oud player Mehmet Polat a few years ago via Facebook – he sent me one of his CDs but unfortunately I could not find a home for a review at the time. The most obvious publication would have been Global Rhythm, but as fate would have it the magazine had already ceased publication by then, and for a reason or another none of the editors I worked with at the time seemed interested, so I was unable to do anything with it – one of the reasons why I decided to start this music page in the first place.

On his acoustic trio CD Next Spring (Home Records) he is joined by Sinan Arat on Ney (a flute-like instrument) and Malian kora player Zoumana Diarra for an album that blends two distinctive cultures with amazing results. Polat’s oud and Diarra’s kora have this amazing blend, the sound of each instrument complementing each other seamlessly while Arat weaves around the melodies. The music is very soothing, and the musicians’ expertise is unquestionable. Among my personal favorites is the title track, a cheerful welcome to the new season as winter goes away. Polat begins on his own and is joined by the trio one by one – Diarra plays a dexterous solo while Polat creates an intricate bassline on his instrument. “You Are Not Alone” has nothing to do with the Michael Jackson track of the same name – instead, it is a fast-paced number that allows all the musicians to explore their improvisational skills.  I also enjoyed the slow-tempo “Missing You” (another track with a famous rock namesake), a tune that has almost a meditational groove and the closing track “Amarula,” which I am guessing is about the famous South African liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree. The tune is played in a cheerful tempo and again has plenty of improvisation around the melody.

Polat currently resides in Amsterdam and regularly tours around Europe (you can visit his website for dates). I am not aware of any plans of a U.S. visit, but I am sure that if the trio brought this material Stateside it would be much appreciated not only by World Music fans but also by those who enjoy improvisation – even if it is outside what one would call a jazz format.

For more information visit http://www.mehmetpolat.net/