Eric Bibb and Habib Koité, Musical Instrument Museum, 2/11/13

Categories: Last Night

Koite-Bibb MIM 2-11-13 001.jpg
Glenn BurnSilver
Both artists enlivened the proceedings with tales about how the songs were written. Bibb was somewhat matter-of-fact about his explanations while Koité, who hails from a family of Malian Khassonké griots, or storytellers, was just that, eliciting plenty of laughs for his lengthier ramblings. Explaining "L.A.," Koité discussed the time when he, Bibb, and others desperately searched for late night food in the City of Angels. A kind soul served them, but also provided a drink inspirational to the songs mariachi-like bridge and chorus: "Tequila make me happy/ L.A. tequila time."

That was one small part of the fun that extended the entire night. Not just for the audience, but the performers as well. Koité could barely hold still, constantly shifting in his hard-back chair, while Bibb's smile never faded as he too moved back and forth in his seat. Koné, for his part, never dropped his infectious smile.

Perhaps one of the strongest examples musical merging was on the song "Tombouctou," about the Northern Mali city of Timbuktu. Bibb played a rollicking blues shuffle while Koité dug deep into his West African blues roots. Both artists sang, one completing the sentences of the other for a mesmerizing interplay that was as remarkable as it was beautiful.

Both artists also took turns on the banjo, with wildly different results. Though originally an African instrument, the banjo is played much differently in America, most commonly with a syncopated rhythm. This was how Bibb used it, with slight modification, for a version of "Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad." Koité, on the other hand, slowly picked the banjo. In his hands all the dark edge and brooding emotion of the instrument was unleashed. "I've never heard the banjo like that before," the woman sitting next to me declared. Chances are, few others in the near-full house had, either.

In fact, chances are the few had ever heard music of this nature before. It was just two master musicians playing, but two believers in the power of music finding a common ground and generating something refreshingly unique and original.

"Music is universal," Koité explained. "It doesn't matter what country you are from, we can connect with music."

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Habib Koité and Eric Bibb

Personal Bias: Fan of both artists, but particularly Koité.

Overheard: On the way to the lobby: "That was amazing. I'm going to buy all their CDs."

Random Notebook Dump: "Deep, slow almost mournful polyrhythms battles strident calypso blues as the calabash launches percussive accentuations."


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Musical Instrument Museum Music Theater

4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix, AZ

Category: General

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