June 23, 2024

Sidiki Dembele – Live in Leeds 2024 – “the delicate to the gentle to the explosive”

Belgrave House, Leeds      7th March 2024

A capacity crowd got to see the biggest pumpkin in the world, gaffer-taped to a table, used as bass percussion. An enormously good-natured crowd, thanks to the genial performers and the unusually well-organised concert. The promoters and tour managers, Through The Noise come from a classical music perspective in giving a start time and sticking to it, eliminating the arriving too late or hanging around for ages.

Sidiki Dembele had a great band and played a sweet set of traditional songs and songs of his own, ranging from the delicate to the gentle to the explosive and time just rocketed past. Hailing from the Cote d’Ivoire, he drew songs from surrounding countries such as The Gambia and Mali. For these ears, Mali songs are always the highlight, with a sense of the desert blues and a hint of what makes the Flamenco saeta. It was a treat to look at the gorgeous instruments too. Two beautifully decorated koras, a selection of drums and the giant calabash pumpkin supplying a heavy thump.

Opening with some delicate solo kora work, Dembele held the audience in silence; however, from then on, most pieces led to intense drumming flurries built on the rising melodies of Mariatou Dembélé’s vocals. With Momo Sangaré on two big drums and Sidiki playing hand drum, calabash, as well as a small armpit-tuned drum on occasion, the cross-cutting rhythms were enthralling, fusing the gentle West African groove with tighter and busier beats. The singing impelled things with the repeated “la ilaha” at one point getting spiritual – the dancing helped too. Modou N’Diaye was a stand-out, taking on lots of vocal duties with his warm voice. and playing some gorgeous kora.

Between songs, Sidiki shared some of his story – of his grandfather, Shaka, a Mali griot (kora player, teacher, peace-maker, baby-namer) who migrated to the coast and sang a song for him. He talked about different players bringing different learning together and of the part of the audience in the evening and the desire for peace. He coached the audience in calls and beats they could contribute, adding to the appreciation of the complexities of the other parts going on around. The atmosphere around the band made it feel almost like a jam session (it wasn’t) in the responses to particularly good drum parts, with whoops and calls of appreciation. It reminded me at times of a great Friday night / Saturday morning I spent in a Flamenco Pena in Cadiz with the jaleo calls of excitement.

The evening flashed by, absorbed in the rhythmically complex music and the organic interplay of the quartet. The nature of the music is that you’ll see a different combination of these musicians next time one of them comes round but it’ll bring something new. You should be looking out for Through The Noise though – I’ve caught two of their shows (the other was Southern African cellist Abel Selacoe) and the repertoire they present is varied but curated to showcase things of quality outside the mainstream and the events have been meticulously organised so far, which to a regular gig-goer is a rare delight.

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