Vieux Farka Touré, and Sefo Kanuteh at Norwich Arts Centre 26 January 2016
This exquisite gig at Norwich Arts Centre already feels destined to be among my highlights of the year, a sell-out crowd enjoying beautiful music expertly played and full of soul.
Sefo Kanuteh has been living in Norwich for a few years now and I have seen him play many times, he has built an impressive musical cv in that time too, touring frequently and also playing with the likes of Baaba Maal and Toumani Diabate as well as support slots with Tamikrest here too. He is often to be found playing with other local musicians in the brilliant Meriya but tonight he is solo with his kora. Two koras in fact, with different tunings as he happily explained when an intrigued audience member asked about the instrument.
Sefo made a lasting impression on me the first time I heard him play, there’s a healing, meditative quality about the gorgeous sounds he creates, along with the positivity of his message and presence. Ever smiling and sociable he has a quiet confidence and a manner which makes everyone relaxed and at ease. This was not a token support slot, the room was full throughout and highly appreciative with fans old and new eager to hear him … the atmosphere was warm and when the audience sang along with him at the end it was sincere, unforced and beautiful. I got the impression there were many here tonight hearing him for the first time and Sefo won them all over, as he always does, with his set of 30 minutes or so which passed all too quickly.
It’s fair to say the audience was quite mixed for this gig and with an average age a bit older than most gigs I go to, there were hardly any faces I recognised and this always says to me that the gig-going culture of the city is quite wide and diverse, covering all ages. This was a Tuesday night and the gig was sold out and once the inhibitions dropped and the dancing started it did not stop.
I am a huge fan of Ali Farka Touré and have often regretted that I somehow managed to miss his gig at The Waterfront in the 1990s, when I first stumbled upon his son Vieux’s videos on YouTube I was instantly drawn to his sound too. Very reminiscent at times of his father Ali’s style but often faster and uniquely his own. Famously, Ali was not keen on Vieux taking up a career in music and discouraged this but undeterred Vieux studied the guitar secretly in Bamako. I never imagined I would get a chance to see him play live so this gig was a must-see for me, especially in our beloved NAC. It felt rather like when Tinariwen played here a year or two ago. Before leaving I dug out a couple of my Vieux CDs in case I got the opportunity to get them signed, I was amazed to discover that the first one is already ten years old.
Vieux is often described as “The Hendrix of the Sahara” which isn’t always entirely how I see him but tonight I could most definitely see where that label comes from. His guitar playing is simply tremendous and he makes it all look so effortless. Plus he is backed by two musicians who are also fantastically good, the drumming and bass throughout was compelling itself but Vieux was absolutely mesmerising, I almost had to force myself to take a few pics I was so captivated. The set started with a couple of slow, hypnotic songs with that loping rhythm of the desert I find so irresistible, which must have been the best part of ten minutes or so each and sounded stunning. Bassist and drummer high-fiving whilst Vieux was grinning and clearly enjoying himself too. He took off his trilby and placed it on the guitar which didn’t get used other than for a hatstand and raised the tempo a bit to encourage some dancing with some lively desert blues. This he duly did and asked for some light on the audience so he could watch and enjoy it too. He said he saw gigs as two concerts in one, one part of it is for thinking and the other is for moving.
I’m sure most of the audience are also fans of Ali but that’s not to say that is why they came. Vieux is a highly respected artist in his own right with an ever growing number of fans. On this evidence it is obvious to see why. A gig of close to two hours with a relentlessly high standard which meant one dare not leave the room for a second, the audience were loud in their appreciation and warm in their applause. This was a lovely, lovely gig with music of the highest calibre, it was a real privilege to be here. The set had the right amount of variety, some of it achingly moving and beautiful and also balanced with some joyous music to dance to. The icing on the cake was the encore, with just the drums for backing Vieux paid tribute to his father by performing one of my favourite songs. Diaraby. At the end special mention was made to the sound and lighting crew and everyone at the Arts Centre as well as the audience. This was well-deserved as the sound was as sensational as the music, spot-in and sympathetic in fact – making this the perfect gig.
As it turned out, I did get my CD signed, Vieux seemed quite impressed that I had his first album and happily signed and chatted to everyone who came over to see him in the bar afterwards.
Many thanks to Vieux Farka Toure, Sefo Kanuteh, and all at NAC who are putting on superb gigs with a string of sell-outs.
On Sunday I saw once again the superb Morganway in a hot and steamy, rammed Plasterers. Playing two sets, most of their album plus one or two new ones alongside some covers of the like of Johnny Cash, Fleetwood Mac, and Bruce Springsteen.
(c) shashamane 2016