The Sidiki Dembele Experience
What an all-round amazing evening at the Brothers Tour in Swinton, Greater Manchester: fun, dynamic, and almost epic: The Sidiki Dembele Experience.
I had already had the Sidiki Dembele experience at Bridgewater Hall back in 2010, as a keen follower of his very active music life and as a session performer on my debut album (he played the n’goni strings and the djembe drum which he masters superbly) so I knew I would be in for a treat but I don’t think I could have truly be prepared for what happened.
The evening was introduced as part of an effort from Sidiki Dembele and the brothers to build a school in a remote African village. I know already that Sidiki (bless him, he will probably kill me for letting this out) has always been a hard worker and that most of his money has gone back there to continue to form the youngsters that he had been initiating to the wonderful power of music. Now his vision is clearer and he knows that music is only one part of education and that he himself cannot do it all alone but only be one part of the appeal.
Well, he was right, the evening was packed with an audience ready to embrace both the cause and the experience. Nobody there was really a stranger. They all had some stake in this effort, either having trained with the master drummer himself, having watched a previous concert, accompanying someone who had, or just knowing and believing in what Sidiki and the brothers were performing for.
The performances started on a happy beat, literally, with the Kontaani (meaning happy in Mandingue and definitely sounding like content 😉 ) drumming group, a name that fitted the band like a glove and contaminated the audience to their soul. The band is headed by Macclesfield-based Marie Millward and gathers dedicated amateurs of all ages, genders and ability. They weren’t just drumming, they were dancing, at some point they were singing with amazing African-inspired guttural solos from their vocalist Dee, they were smiling to their ears, they were enjoying themselves and that was uncannily contagious. Marie had always been passionate about percussions and inspired by the passion and dedication of abstract percussionist Evelyn Glennie for whom she used to organise tour travelling, took the opportunity to learn the Djembe to its furthest dimension since now she is teaching it and performing with her own group doing their own creations never straining too far from the African source that so much inspired her.
Sierra Leone musician Sam Maitland was next, offering a lovely set of own original music and one cover in homage of the great Miriam Makeba. His exceptional guitar skills were on show, testimony of the disciplined musical training he received from his choir master. He was able to draw in the public singing in Creole about his home town Freetown and with his rhythms aided by his drumming machine made of sounds he himself played and pre-recorded in the studios, an alternative and less disruptive or distracting way, he later admitted to me, of adding backing drums than the loops. It was no wonder the Brothers invited him to perform, since they clearly have similar ambitions to share great African music with the world through training, performances and working hard to that end around the world one audience at a time.
Another group that was taking part in this event and supporting the brothers was Tanante whose beats got the room up and dancing. For both drum performances, Sidiki Dembele appeared to support his brothers like the master he is and we even had the pleasure of seeing the wonderful director of Ballet Nimba, Idrissa Camara putting his energetic West African traditional choreographies in the midst to complement the rhythms.
Sidiki Dembele and friends
When the piece de resistance came, I thought I was full. However, I listened in and quickly realised with the sounds that were expressed, that I had plenty more room for that kind of heartfelt and stirring beauty. The Kora, the Ngoni, two Guitars, the Bass, the Calebasse, lead and backing Vocals and the Fulani flute all came together to bring us some extraordinarily pure fusions as Sidiki Dembele and friends took stage. This sated me like a main and a dessert would all at once, performing songs from the brothers’ EP*. The set started with England meeting West Africa when the female vocalist, Justine Hart, also playing one of the guitars, served us folk verses that sounded almost Elizabethan** while the brothers accentuated the song with gentle West African rhythms and catchy backing and chorus sounds. It then went on to borrow at times reggae beats and even sometimes sounding a little like Bhangra, a friend** suggested, but never losing the West African feel and always cleverly fusing sounds. The message was clear throughout, about peace, solidarity and happiness with titles like stop the war, prayer for peace, the tears of the orphan and happiness and musical fusions and rhythms that you cannot help but dance on.
When Sidiki asked “Are you having a good time?“, to an audience that had been sitting there for a long while already, the resounding “yes” proved that no one was sleeping and the music was still entrancing its listeners. If all the songs had this effect on the audience as well as the performers, Nyangy, the title track had a personal connotation for Sidiki, who composed most of the songs. It means the tears of the orphan, Sidiki explained and it is the reason for all the tour, the CD. This was an experience that showcases how music, solidarity and dedication can bring hope for the future of the Abogo kids, dry the tears of the orphans and to each of us the feeling of having been part of something exceptional, better heard and acquired via its bandcamp link below and at one of the Brothers’ performances near you.
Sidiki Dembele & Friends have created this beautiful album to help raise money for a free school to be built in Sidiki’s home town of Abobo, Ivory Coast. Capturing the heart and soul of this magical village, Nyangy celebrates and pays homage to the spirit of a war torn nation held together by the strength of community and the kindness of this talented Griot.
Released 05 January 2015
Sidiki Dembele: Vocals, Djeli N’goni, Kamelen N’goni, Dounou, Djembe
Baba Galle Kante: Fulani Flute
Yahael Camara-Onono: Calibasse
Justine Hart: Vocal, Guitar
Pippa Beckford: Guitar
Barry Neilsen: Bass
Jed Hoile: Vocals, Percussion
Kate Bruce: Vocals, Percussion
Malc Smith: Vocals, Percussion
Pippa Beckford & Barry Neilsen: Production
Jed Hoile: Cover Photo
Kate Bruce: Artwork
Recorded by Duncan Lee at XYZ Music Academy
Tracks: 1. Nyangy Tears of the orphan) 2. Faso Dennou (Prayer for peace) 3. Sonfor 4. Daman Djai 5. Aramata 6. Dounou Nian (Massanou Cisse) 7. Baraka (Djembe Kan)
Thanks to Marie for agreeing to that mini-interview, to all the performers for giving us the audience something to remember and to Sidiki Dembele.
** a suggestion of music dj Geli Berg