The tenth edition of Babel Med Music took place March 20 – 22, 2014 in the French city of Marseilles. This year, 30 bands were on stage in front of professionals and the general crowd. I attended about 10 concerts and reviewed a few.
Jupiter & Okwess International, the heartbeat of Congo Kinshasa
The word “makasi”, meaning “strong” in Lingala, an African Bantu language, reminds me of beautiful places and my youth in Congo-Kinshasa. Indeed, the music of Jupiter & Okwess International is the hypnotic power of Kinshasa, a city of nearly 10 million habitants.
In recent decades, many African musicians have settled down in Europe. Jupiter went the opposite way. Son of Congolese diplomats in Germany, he returned to Kinshasa, influenced by European and other music styles. In one of the songs, he sings “Ich bin ein Berliner”. This is a quotation from a June 26, 1963 speech by U.S. President John F. Kennedy in West Berlin.
Jupiter introduced as well a sense of organization amongst his musicians to the benefit of everyone. At fifty-one, Jupiter became an artist full of maturity and integrity.
Jupiter & Okwess International represents the heartbeat of Kinshasa, a dimension that brings us beyond the musical notes. The musicians invite us to a journey in the daily reality of the capital Kinshasa. I call it the organized chaos. During the concert, we hear musicians interfering vocally without disturbing the course of the concert. This is an element of Congolese culture where the oral communication named “la palabre” (chatter in English) is always present.
Jupiter as an ethnomusicologist makes us discover beats from the different tribes of Central Congo, Kasaï, Katanga, Bas-Congo and others living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the fourth largest country of Africa. His universal spirit allows him to have a rare perspective on the various sensibilities of Congo-Kinshasa where his roots are coming from.
Lobi (translated from the Lingala): tomorrow, later for a concert of Jupiter & Okwess International.
Rita, the Israeli princess of ethnic music sings in Persian
Rita Jahan-Farouz, Israeli of Iranian origin gave us a concert with outstanding musicians. The concert started with the guest of the evening, Mark Eliyahu, a master of kamanche, a rustic fiddle of Iranian origin. The crowd got used to the musical intervals derived from the maqams, frequently played in Eastern music and present in the ancestral cultural roots of the mountain Jews of Dagestan. It feels as the kamanche is an extension of Mark’s Eliyahu’s body. The sound he plays is flowing from his inner soul.
Then Rita took over the stage. She started with a song in Persian, the official language in Iran, followed by a composition in Hebrew. She explained to the crowd that it is her choice to sing in both languages. Her communicative vitality carries this universal message.
Her repertoire reminds her of her youth spent in Tehran, where she was born. She sings the hits of Persian artists and traditional songs she listened to in her childhood. The musicians around Rita immigrated to Israel in recent decades from the former Soviet republics of Dagestan and Tajikistan. They include harmonies of Mediterranean colors. Rita generously gave a lot of space to her band’s members so they could express their talent.
Spotlights projected bright colored beams onto the performance space. At times, some turned to the yellow color of the sun, reminding us this central message that we are all alike on this earth.
The second part of the set comprised more upbeat songs. Rita, a princess out of the tales of the Thousand and One Nights turned into an Oriental dancer moving her arms, shoulders and head in a graceful manner.
Rita created a vibrant tapestry of music, dance and songs that fused together the heat of the Persian and Mediterranean traditions before a highly enthusiastic crowd.
On musical waves of the Reunion Island with Maya Kamaty
Maya Kamaty sings and plays on a kayamb, a flat rattle made from wood, sugar cane tubes and seeds. This instrument is the soul of Maloya and Sega, the two major music styles of Reunion Island, located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar. It refers to the legacy of the slave plantations of sugar cane.
I felt a bit confused at the start of the concert. A musician playing on a synthesizer reminded me of the space music bands of the seventies.
After two songs, different vibes came up. The musicians turned into a powerful band. The arrangements took shape and were pleasant to listen to. During the performance, we rocked or surfed to the Creole rhythms of the Reunion Island.
Maya Kamaty as a songwriter and her musicians kept the attention of the crowd. Her inspiration finds the roots in Creole, blues and pop music with lyrics of her native language.
After studying in Montpellier, a city located in the south of France, she returned to Reunion Island. During this period, she became fully aware of her identity and went deeper into exploring the roots of Creole music and culture.
Her concert at Babel Med showcased the whole range of Maya Kamaty’s talent.
Next year I’ll be back at Babel Med in Marseilles to enjoy music and the Mediterranean sun.