The warmth and bright colors of Africa swept through snowy Glasgow in a gust of beautiful music, delighting a standing-room-only crowd at the lovely St Andrews in the Square. This Celtic Connections experiment with mingling musicians from different traditions was a magnificent success.
Combine the Pride of Manchester’s Michael McGoldrick, Capercaillie’s (and Celtic Connections’s artistic director) Donald Shaw on keyboards, Irishmen Gerry O’Connor on banjo and Tony Byrne on guitar, and Scotsman James Mackintosh on percussion and you have an instant powerhouse Celtic band, which opened their set with a set of driving reels and gave the crowd an excellent selection of trad and near-trad tunes. And then, just when you settled into that groove, enter Fatoumata Diawara, a Malian musician currently living in France, and enjoy one of those Celtic Connection twists that makes you sit up and experience music with a new delight.
She changed the game, crowding the traditional sounds closer to R&B, teasing the audience with her brilliant smiles and knowing chuckles that punctuated the chorus of “Sowa.” The band rose to meet her music’s challenges. Who knew that O’Connor’s banjo could put out that kind of African/rock melody? McGoldrick’s whistles twined beautifully into her vocals, and Shaw’s keyboards added a kind of African undercurrent. But it was Diawara, smiling happiness at everyone, who captured the audience’s imagination. They hung on her every note and gave her their hearts.
It can’t be easy coming on after such a fiery and crowd-pleasing set, but the trio of wisecracking ace fiddlers from Ireland, Fidil, were more than ready for the challenge. Between jokes, they tore through a tune or three, showing off their innovative stylings, complete with string-plucking, violin-drumming, and full-on bowing. That was lovely, but the audience needed more African sunshine, and dressed in warm yellows and rust, Senegalese kora master and griot singer Solo Cissokho obliged.
At the start of the set, the lads of Fidil promised us music “from County Senegal and from County Donegal.” They hadn’t let on that the mix was going to be so much fun. As they pointed out, Solo taught them songs about “the woman,” and in exchange, they taught him tunes about sheep. No matter the subject, each tune and song was a joy to experience. Solo’s kora, a gourd-based stringed instrument, inserted a sense of mischief and fun into every plucked note; and his obvious joy pervaded the room. Most of the audience spent this set dancing in their seats, except when a few couldn’t stand it any longer and danced in front of the stage, including Diawara. To give us all a rest, Solo took a few moments to explain how one masters the kora in “seven paragraphs,” showing how a simple instrument can create complex tunes. They tried to end the set with “Glory Reel,” but the crowd refused to let them go that quickly, jumping to ther feet to demand an encore, wanting to hang onto the warmth of Solo’s smile and the fun that Fidil brought.
Michael McGoldrick www.prideofmanchester.com/music/michaelmcgoldrick.htm
Gerry O’Connor www.gerryoconnor.com/”>www.gerryoconnor.com/
James Mackintosh www.shoogle.com/biogs.htm