Eric Bibb and Habib Koité, Musical Instrument Museum, 2/11/13
Glenn BurnSilver Eric Bibb and Habib Koité @ Musical Instrument Museum
Eric Bibb and Habib Koité @ Musical Instrument Museum|2/11/13
The distance between Memphis, Tennessee, and Bamako, Mali, West Africa, is geographically large, but last night that distance in musical terms was no more than the three feet separating Eric Bibb and Habib Koité on the Musical Instrument Museum stage.
Hearing the intertwined guitar styles from these two parts of the world side by side, it became obvious that historical and cultural link between musical these idioms is great. The two styles blended, becoming one. That was the fascinating appeal of this concert, how the sounds--Koité's deep, poly-rhythmic patterns and Bibb's traditional blues shuffle, even when both musicians played different songs at the same time--melded together into an ebullient, joyous, moving flow.
The show opened with each performer providing a solo song introduction. Bibb began with a traditional walking blues number; Koité picked away at slow, hypnotic Malian melody with a desert feel, accompanied by percussionist Mamadou Koné. The trio then performed the first of many songs from their collaborative 2012 album, Brothers in Bamako.
"We Don't Care" was a light-hearted blues romp with Bibb on lead vocals, enhanced by Koité's deeply rhythmic playing. "Foro Bana" followed--a sweeping, moving number by Koité full of aggressive rhythmic patterns and complex overlays. Koité explained that the song--title translated to "The Fields are Finished" -- detailed his dismay at having to wait a year and three days to marry when the fields of crops requested as dowry by the uncle were already grown. The song captured that frustrated emotion exquisitely.
The set list alternated back and forth with each performer taking the lead on the songs they wrote. The musical lineage of each was clear: The base of Bibb's songs shifted from folk to gospel to blues, but always the style was distinctly American. Koité's typically began with his multi-rhythmic finger style and built from there. But again, the amazing thing was how the two styles--no matter where the song began or what language the lyrics followed--always merged harmoniously.
Koné's masterful percussion was essential for holding it all together. Sitting behind the guitarists, Koné's main instrument was the calabash--a gourd--which he deftly played the way a rock drummer plays a full kit. The calabash was accented by bongos, wrist cymbals (like tambourines) and other surprises.