Friday, May 18, 2012

Malian magic, Ben Zabo and absent friends.

First off I want to assert that this is a great album; play it in the car, play it in the kitchen, play it loud, late on a Friday night after too much beer and rum or just collapse into a comfortable chair and listen to it as it washes over you like the soft waters of the Niger river. Mali exerts a level of influence over Western music that is too often ignored. People remain ignorant of the fact that, like humanity, rock n' roll came out of Africa as well, from it's origins with the griots playing the kora to the transported slaves voicing their despair and subjugation using the same chording and structures to compose the Blues and from there to young white boys playing electric guitars and wanting to emulate the big boss men like John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson and Charlie Patton.

Today Mali still delivers and this album is another in a long line of artists that illustrate how this riven country still punches above its weight artistically. Ben Zabo, whose band is named after him, started his career as an engineer at Studio Bogolan in Bamako working on albums by the likes of Tamikrest and the legendary Lobi Traoré. Like any young studio engineer he had his own music inside him and now it's out there.

Channelling Afro-beat through the prism of contemporary Malian music, insistent rhythms, clattering percussion and rivulets of icy, bright guitar laid over with the smooth harmonies of Western Africa Zabo delivers a cascade of sensation. Ironically his guitar work conjures up images of Amadou Bagayoko, from Amadou and Mariam, but the sleevenotes for this album studiously avoids any mention of the biggest selling African act of all time. On Sènsènbo the guitar, marimba and bassline sinuously intertwine in a way that brings to mind some of the work on Welcome To Mali; that's not to say that there's any plagiarism going on here, merely that acknowledgement of the road that has been opened up by the likes of Amadou and Mariam and Tinariwen is absent.

That small niggle aside Ben Zabo is carving his own path. Working with Chris Eckman (The Walkabouts, Dirtmusic) Zabo has crafted a polished début that has all the quality and skill required from a master musician, one that in a world unafraid of language and subtitles would propel this majestically to the upper reaches of the charts. Personally I would rather hear this on repeat than listen to Jessie J, Ed Sheeran or anything on The Voice. We live in a globalised economy; it would be wonderful if music could be a part of that too.

That's what I think.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Part of Re:Members

I stopped at the bottom of the stairs and it was as if time itself had balled into a fist and screamed down the staircase and punched me. I have no idea what triggered it but suddenly time was laid out in front of me like an ugly carpet and I saw all the stains, the beautiful blemishes, and the realisation that I have nothing to be embarrassed of and nothing to regret. The bad I have done has been done back to me and in the context of Germany and Russia or in the context of some tabloid scoop my life has been mine.

I should never have gone on that last Members tour. I was not in any fit state emotionally, the whole world was collapsing in slow motion around me and I had no other outlet. No one person was to blame, no I correct that I was to blame. So I set forth and fell in love: constantly. I had those groupie moments but what has stayed with me these thirty years since that time is the pain. The pain of cheating and the pain of falling in love constantly over and over again, like some repetitive Groundhog Day scenario. I remember them all even after nearly 25 years of marriage to an amazing woman and a nagging sense of betrayal to another amazing woman. These women in the USA, in New York, in LA, in San Francisco, in Toronto and in Fort Lauderdale. And one in Corpus Christi. No shame, nothing approximating anything like it. More a sense of what was it all about what was it I was doing and how come my emotions were carved up and spread around? What the fuck was I doing?

I stand now in the place where I am, happy, with kids and a family, without parents nearly sixty; Christ how did I get so old?  Some, maybe many, could say it I just some vague longing for the time that was most exciting in my life, like those old guys you used to meet in the Seventies who would talk endlessly about the war because it was the only exciting thing that had happened, or even worse those people who would drone on and on about University  because that was the only time they had had fun as soon after they had got fucked up with me they met their future wife and they never knew the drunken stupidity of casual sex after nightclubbing in Berlin in 1976.

Chi-Chi, Paulette, Theresa and Dory. More than names, still faces, not notches on walls. Parts of my life. Erin in the Gulf. Moments that stayed with me, nothing left a mark quite the same way they did. In Fort Lauderdale I fell in love with someone who wept when I left. I cried in the van, quietly at the very back, hidden behind my shades. I felt like those early tribes people on first discovering the perfidious white man who stole parts of their soul with the camera. Every time I left a part of me remained, forever in aspic. Stuck in time like some frozen river or posed photograph.

This beautiful sadness doesn’t brush aside the reality I live in, it never did. Where I am now is where I have always wanted to be, but now, right now, in the Bourbon hours of the night their faces come back to me. They were funny, they were fabulous and they loved me for a moment and if I had lived in that moment I would still be there. These parallel universes that we all inhabit stay with us and make us human but they also give us super-powers. They make us immortal because some place else we will always be in that moment.

I miss Fort Lauderdale and I miss LA. But I love London.