nells jazz & blues

Baba Zula

29.01.17 

Nells Jazz & Blues (South Kensington) 

I returned to Nells Jazz & Blues for the second time in a weekend. The first to see North West African traditional music, and this time, to see eclectic Turkish folk band Baba Zula. 

Periklie Tsoukalas of Baba Zula   Nells Jazz a Blues   29.01.18   Photo Sophie Darling 

Periklie Tsoukalas of Baba Zula 

Nells Jazz a Blues

29.01.18 

Photo Sophie Darling 

Baba Zula formed as a band in Istanbul in 1996. They have since become the polar figures, pioneers and flag masters for Turkish psychedelic rock’n’roll. The eclectic mix of sounds and influences emanating from their high energy performances beams traditional oriental instruments:  sounds such Özgür Çakırlar beating the darbuka drums providing thriving rhythms throughout. The saz, mastered by Murat Ertel, reminds us of the Arab influences, and screams maqqam, however untraditionally electrified. The result; dirty, at times distorted rock’n’roll saz solos over chorus-esc male singing, often in small phrases, or one word exclamations. Traditional percussion provides the much needed foot stopping dance tones, whilst contemporary electronic instruments such as sample pads, percussion machines, theremins, oscillators, effects pedals and an array of experimentation adds the modern dance, dub elements. All in all, the performances Baba Zula produce comes served as a mixed disciplinary experience, often travelling through long psychedelic instrumentals, thrashing into Hendrix inspired lute solos channeled through a wah wah pedal. The energy bursts out of every segment of the songs, often building up to wonderfully long dancing, jumping conclusions. 

Periklie Tsoukalas is representing a similar look to the last time I saw the boys playing; steampunk circle glasses matched with multicoloured patched waistcoat and matching shoes, with orange trousers and a larger than life afro that bobbed to every beat. Periklies position within the band is playing the electric oud and vocals. The effects pedal at his feet becomes the most important part of the the musical make-up of Baba Zula. One minute the oud will be emanating renaissance-esc melodic phrases, then with a tap of the foot, the bass strings are creating heavy dubbed bass lines that dominate the energy of the song. With another tap, the oud becomes Jimi Hendrix’s Fender Strat’ with a 70’s wah wah bending the notes, shaping the vibe into a groovy funk dance. 

With Baba Zula you journey through genres, through sounds and through themes. 

Speaking of themes, the ideologies of the band members are clear throughout. With every moment of conversation between the band and the audience, they pursued the opportunity to promote a global peaceful vision. One of no borders, no discrimination and of a ‘one people’. Speaking to the audience they ask…

“Do you feel you are from a race? from a nation? Do you think you could be wrong? We can all be wrong? We are all mixed you see… 

You don’t know your great great great grandfather do you? Nooo. So you could be wrong! You do not know!

We are all mixed, we are all living, in this world, in this now. 

We can have and learn enjoyment”

…From here they jumped into the next grooving song, punching the peaceful energy around the room. Furthermore after every song, and in every moment of pause, the members of the band adorned the universal peace signs with their hands to the audience. 

Periklie frequently triggered a pop culture reference in my head… I felt as though I were being taken back to school…. ‘The School of Rock’ to be precise, and Jack Black was telling me to “raise my goblet of rock” before “melting” my face off in this light hearted, totally rock’n’roll character, as he points around the audience before shredding on the oud. 

Techno percussionist Levent Akman is known for vibing on the spoons, the maracas, all manner of mini percussions, symbols, pads, effects, whilst experimenting with electronic devices, that at times can become so overpowering the distortion can be felt from within. 

A slight disappointment came in that female vocalist Melike Şahin didn’t join the band for this performance, there was also no explanation as to why. 

The band came on stage around 8, and started the set jumping immediately in the deep end, opening with perhaps one of their biggest hits ‘Abdülcanbaz’, played for over 10 minutes, the eventual crescendo of the song opens the set and immediately creates the high energy reaction from the already dancing audience. Screaming in support could be heard the entire evening. 

The dancing did not stop for one moment throughout the evening as Baba Zula played hit after hit demanding audience participation, which they received with an raucous passion. At one moment, the entire venue could be heard chanting “PIRASA” meaning ‘leek’ in Turkish, or as they pointed out, a word that will be accepted all across the Balkans and in Greece also. 

Together the audience sung, clapped and danced the night away with Baba. 

At a number of points, the audience was very literally dancing WITH Baba Zula as they spent a good couple of songs within the audience, either dancing with us, singing with us, asking us all to join them on them crouching low on the floor quietly, whilst Periklie sings acoustic traditional Arabic melismatic vocals that echoed around the small venue, all the while building up the energy by punctuating his vocals with the single strum of an extremely high powered, slightly distorted oud. 

Murat Ertel also acted rock’n roll in many ways, from playing his electric sax solos  behind his head in  typical ‘Vaughan’ style, to traveling across the audience via chair tops, across the room to the bar, where he climbed, saz in hand, to solo on the bar top all while commuting from stage to bar whilst playing epic saz licks.

The evening at Nells was quite juxtaposed to the Saturday evening I had spent in the venue. The first evening I spent was very serious, almost silent and specialist. However this evening was quite the opposite, with upbeat dancing from moment one, the demographic seemed far more ‘excited’ than Saturdays crowd, with a high level of chatting in between songs, it was perhaps a little too loud in laughter for my liking. However, the same set up of the stage at Saturday: minimal lights and back drop ensuring upmost attention to the music and the artist. The 200 capacity at Nells really makes for an intimate show, one where you really feel as though you have seen, even met the artists. 

I thouroughly enjoyed my evening with Baba Zula, and would recommend their live performance to anyone into dancing, Balkans, Turkish, Psychedelia, Rock’n’roll, shredding solos and all manner of hooligan-ary and fun, and of corse, impeccable musicianship. 

 

Me and Murat Ertel  Baba Zula @ Nells Jazz & Blues   29.01.18

Me and Murat Ertel

Baba Zula @ Nells Jazz & Blues 

29.01.18

 

 

 

 

Vieux Farka Touré

Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues   15.01.18  Photo: Sophie Darling 

Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues

15.01.18

Photo: Sophie Darling 

15.01.18 

Nells jazz & Blues (South Kensington)  

When I was faced with the opportunity to go to Vieux Farka Touré’s show in the South of London I was ecstatic. For me, the musical legacy of Vieux’s pioneering father; Ali Farka Touré would have been enough in itself, however the beautiful albums that have preceded Vieux Farka Tourés musical career make it clear that Vieux is expressing an innovative and personal style, differing from his fathers, but still remaining within the legacy.

A quick note on the legacy of Ali Farka Touré (1939-2006). Touré is one of Africa’s most internationally renowned artists. Ali Farka Touré took the electric guitar, so far belonging to the American blues, and innovated an eclectic genre combining West African musical traditions with the blues. All the while arguing that the blues is historically derived from African musical traditions anyway. In this sense, by playing the African blues and being one of the first Malian musicians to take his music out of Mali and take it global, out of Africa,  Ali Farka Touré managed to attain some African ownership over blues music, that had previously been incorrectly and wholly associated globally within a purely American context. This thus changed the face and historical make-up of North West African music from an outsiders perspective, and from an insiders, created a new platform of music making. 

Ali Farka Touré was born into a family of warriors, not musicians. In Mali and much of North/West African traditions, musicians are born into their musical families, and thus learn hereditarily, these families and musicians are called ‘griots’ or ‘jeli’ and they become the leading authoritative on all things to do with their instruments, be it a Kora or a Balafon, or percussion such as a calabash. Neither Ali nor Vieux were born into this griot family, and so it was quite strange at first to have an non-jeli learn the musical ways. However, after some convincing Ali Farka Touré allowed Vieux to learn to be a musician after family friend Toumani Diabaté convinced Ali. Diabaté being a famous Malian griot family learned in the Kora. 

Since Vieux began a debut album, of which his father Ali features as well as Toumani Diabaté. Vieux’s father sadly died in 2006 before the completion of the album, however was noted to have been proud, and listened to the self titled album ‘Vieux Farka Touré’ whilst waiting peacefully to pass. Vieux also decided to continue his fathers charitable legacy by donating 10% of all proceeds from his debut to the Modiba’s “Fight Malaria” campaign in Niafunké. 

Vieux has since has a lustrous career touring and playing all manor of festivals and releasing over 5 studio albums, and plenty of live renditions as well as opening the FIFA World Cup in South African in 2010 as well as many other honourable appearances and collaborations.

It is on this Saturday night in lovely South London however, that in an intimate 200 capacity venue, Vieux Farka Touré has travelled from Mali to play his first ever solo show. Having never played without fellow musicians, Vieux reflected on stage:

“I remember when I was in school, very young, and my father comes to get me out of school and says ‘you are coming with me, do you want to come with me to play around the world” to which I replied… of course” Vieux spoke with a clear conviction, drawing the entire audience into his stories and pauses at comically pleasing moments, creating a reaction of laughs. He smiles cheekily and continues, enjoying the rapport. 

“When we got to the stage, we look out at 500 people, and he says ‘Ok, you go on stage now. Play three songs and you open for me’”

Vieux jokes about how nervous he was, and how his three songs must have lasted 4 minutes in total.. 

“My point is, is that that was my first time I played in front of people, and here I am about to play for the first time by self, here in London, or ever. Thank you for being a part of this”. 

From this introduction, the evening was set to be something special. Another way in which the energy of the evening was mapped out by our host, is in his unusual request the audience sit on the floor. 

Nells Jazz & Blues is a intimate venue, with a small but special 200 capacity, a slight raised level from the entrance and with the bar and some seating tables on the outskirts and with a small standing pit hugging around the stage. Vieux’s request we sit on the floor came as the audience, whilst waiting, were perched on the floor. Upon standing for Vieux’s appearance on stage, he quickly suggested we all sat again so that the entire audience would have a chance at a descent view and in order for “everyone to feel like we are at home together”. This was met with rounds of applause and support, and thus, the entire audience found a seat on the floor, ensuring a sacred view for all. 

The stage at Nells is set for serious music. With home made signs everywhere saying “shhhhhhh when the music is playing” and with no fancy back drops, no crazy light show, very little, if not anything to distract from the artist and their music. This set up must be regular for the venue as it is held in very high respect, thus is known for attracting a serious music lovers demographic. Not a venue to go and listen to background music, nor a venue to go and chat throughout. This in mind, as Vieux started to play, the audience obeyed and sat in near silence whilst the distinct saharan blues guitar sounds resonated throughout the small intimate room.  

Vieux and his guitar. 

From 8:30pm- 10:30pm we were treated to beautiful original compositions, songs for his wife, songs of travelling, but also dedications and odes to his father Ali Farka Touré. Vieux played the his electric acoustic guitar in the ways that are distinctive to the legacy of him and his father. The sounds of playing kora pieces on a 6 string guitar, such as playing the bass consistently throughout with the thumb on the bass strings, and thus adding the cyclical melodic variants on the higher three strings. Playing in slight variations of the pentatonic scale lends the blues to the tonality. 

He told us that all of his family where here at the gig to hear him play his first solo gig, perhaps they could be noticed as one of those unable to stop dancing and smiling for one single beat throughout the show. 

What struck me was the crips sound of Vieux’s guitar. With such clear character, almost metallic, perhaps likening to the West African tradition of adding a ‘buzz’ aesthetic to their instruments, the effect definitely lends favour to the long instrumental pulsating guitar lines. All while singing in his deep, almost husky voice with lyrics in his native tongue.

Whilst Vieux’s easy flowing chat and laughters made for an easy and pleasant ride between songs, he also light heartedly brought up the issue of visas, and how increasingly difficult it is for Malian (and world wide) musicians to attain these days, thus threatening performances.

“In the old days, my father would say… Here you come with me, and he ring would up his friends say “me and my son need passports” and within ten minutes they come over with a passport and visas for me and my father *laughter*…. But now…It is so hard, this is a BIG ISSUE”. 

Vieux also shared some personal stories about how he started to become a musician. Telling of how originally his father didn’t like the idea due to the struggles he had faced, however later agreed and enrolled him in music school. It was here that originally Vieux started to learn the calabash before moving onto kora, then guitar. He told us how his grandfather had always encouraged him musically and had once brought him “a very big hat… and a very big calabash”. At this moment I look at the navy blue porkpie hat sat cool-y on the neck of his Fender electric guitar and I wonder if this hat was similar to the one his grandfather gave him. 

Vieux played and smiled and laughed with the audience for over two hours. Nothing but a man, his voice and the unbelievable guitar playing of the ‘Farka Tourés. As the last song started Vieux decided that everyone could stand up for the final tune in order to dance together, happily the audience obliged. 

I thoroughly loved the concert, for me it felt like a vey special evening. An opportunity to see live an original performance that might never be replicated, and musically and historically, such an important and imperative figure in the changing face of African music. Such innovative and noticeable guitar playing that his father pioneered, to see Vieux Farka Touré play his repertoire so soulfully was an honour. Furthermore the venue: Nells Jazz & Blues is a wonderful venue to host such superior and important music. 

Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues   15.01.18   Photo: Sophie Darling 

Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues 

15.01.18 

Photo: Sophie Darling