Sunday, 24 March 2013

Memory Lane

This past week has been Francophonie 2013 week at the Alliance Française in Lusaka.  There have been a range of activities and events organised from Cinema evenings, to Pétanque competitions and musical performances.  A few of us at SolarAid had decided to attend the closing night concert by Dobet Gnahore on Saturday night (23rd March).  

Dobet is a singer, percusionist and dancer from a small village in Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa.  Her father, Boni Gnahore, is a master percussionist who founded a sort of artists' community in which Gnahore grew up. She dropped out of school at age 12, determined to become a musician, and by her mid-teens, she had become a touring musician and dancer. By her early 20s, she hit the international music scene.

The concert last night was held in the auditorium at the Alliance Française, a bit like a school hall.  We (the girls) arrived early and had a few drinks at the bar as the concert wasn't due to start until 8pm.  However, 8pm passed and nothing seemed to be happening.....African timing was coming into play.  Eventually people started drifting into the auditorium but things were a little unclear, some people were taking their chairs and others were standing around.  We chose to take our seats from the bar and took a position about three quarters of the way back in the room but it was quite odd as people were standing all around us.

The concert began and Dobet came on stage.  She certainly had a presence, dressed in black skinny jeans embellished with a red and orange African print fabric, the same used to create her bodice top and hat.  Her long braided and coloured hair sprouted defiantly from the top of her hat.  Her wrists, ears and waist adorned with chunky, colourful jewellery.  For me it was like stepping back in time to my trips to West Africa, the boldness of her dress being perfectly fitting there but, in my opinion, in sharp contrast to the more subtle clothing / fashion style of Zambia.

The first few songs were relatively mellow and pleasant and had people gently swaying in their seats / the aisles.  Many of the songs were in French or tribal languages so I couldn't understand the lyrics however Della, a friend of a friend within our group, said one of the songs was about orphans so she couldn't understand why people were looking joyful - good point! - I guess that's the difficulty when you don't understand the lyrics.  The tempo quickly livened up, especially when her supporting band did solos. 

First up was the drummer / percussionist, his combination of rhythms and instruments transporting me instantly back to Benin and the voodoo festival I'd attended in Abomey.  I could almost picture the dancing with masks around the tribal elder's fire.  My friends commented after the show that they didn't think the music made them 'light up and want to dance' which I guess is partly true as some of the rhythms they were hearing were traditionally more likely to accompany tribal ceremonies or what I'd almost call 'dance theatre'.  It's not like Western dance, more a shaking / vibrating of the body that suggests an almost trance like state.  Second up was the acoustic (?) guitarist.  He was fantastic....I'm still trying to find out who he was as his playing was divine.  It sounded almost South American or Cuban in style to me.........maybe Creole music was the influence, I will have to let you know.  I would say his playing was the most popular as it was the easiest to dance to for the predominantly expat audience.  Finally, the base guitarist.  The style changed completely when he played and I could hear essences of Bangra music in the rhythms he played.  The music seemed to be seeping into my soul and drawing up memories from all my various travels, it was wonderful, a cacophony of music and memories.

By the time each had done a solo, the vibe in the room had changed completely.  We gave up our seats and joined the throngs, dancing to the music.  Dobet, a lady with an incredibly 'ribbed' body took to the stage dancing, sometimes with members of the audience and the party started :)  After over two hours of dancing and singing the band retired and we went our separate ways home.  The night had taken me down memory lane and made me realise just how much I missed the vibrancy and energy of West Africa.

I was awoken this morning by the sound of a marching band at the Dutch Reformed Church so it really is a weekend of music.  There's now an Afrikaans choir singing akapella in the garden.  Such joyful sounds have put a smile on my face.


  1. A bit like Toumani Diabate, Amadou & Miriam and
    Ali Farke Toure all rolled into one?
    I dont know what it is about West African music but it just makes you want to get up and dance or join in!.

  2. Precisely! I'm glad you like it as I'm sending a copy of the CD to your home for me to collect on my return. Feel free to use it whilst I am away.