OFFest, Skopje, Macedonia, June 1-6, 2013
The concert took place at Frosina cinema at the Youth Cultural Centre, where earlier the Soundbreaker was screened, a documentary about the Finnish accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen done as a collaboration between OFFest and Makedoks, a documentaries film festival. The inclusion of the documentary was a great addition to the overall festival vibe. The same evening, DJ Quantic had a very dynamic DJ set at a downtown club Menada, drawing large crowds and local DJs. It was so good and colorful, and it lasted until dawn.
Day Four: Aziz Samahoui with the University of Gnawa, Ondatropica
Each night started with a group from different country or a different continent, or both, and this evening introduced two geographically separated but emotionally and historically linked musics, the Moroccan gnawa and the Colombian cumbia.
While on previous evenings the program introduced artists with music that was dance music both for the mind and the emotionsbut still music for listeningthe fourth night promised to be a groovy dance night for the body. The music of the Moroccan Aziz Samahoui and the University of Gnawa, as the name of the band suggests, is based on the gnawa music, which historically was made by descendants of slaves brought north from what is now Mali. These slaves held on to rituals that praised saints and spirits through the songs and dances with characteristically ecstatic rhythms and trance possessions they brought back with them far from their homes. Backed by an adventurous and very able band with musicians from Senegal, Samahoui broadened the gnawa music by introducing all kinds of elements into its dazzling mix.
There were no quiet introductory intros or throwaway first songs with this band. From the very start it stormed the concert hall with funky bass lines buoyed and driven by ecstatic and galvanizing grooves, while Maleem Aziz Samahoui played gimbri or a lute and sang. Actually, Samahoui was for several years part of the Joe Zawinul Syndicate where he played these same instruments. The musicians or "the students" from University of Gnawa, were utterly brilliant and steady as a rock band. All of the songs sounded differentthere were different dynamics, as not all of them were firecrackers but carefully arranged songs. The pace would have been relentless if it wasn't so joyous. Most of them were driven by the riffs on the gimbri by the leader and accelerated by the kinetic power of the polyrhythms and the infectious and catchy, almost popish, melodies.
And the audience was on its feet, driven by the band's energy and charisma. Driven by the reception of his music Samahoui was clearly enjoying himself, and his enthusiasm was contagious. As the performance showed, he was also part shaman, leading the audience in a joyous invocation, a shared celebration of living. That the band appeared to be having as much fun as the audience only made it better. A very memorable concert.
The electricity coursing from the Aziz Sahoudini's performance continued when Ondatropica hit the stage with propulsive and swinging beats. Ondatropica is a project conceived by Mario Galeano and producer Will Holland, better known as Quantic, and its aim is reinterpretation of Colombia's tropical musical heritage. For that purpose they assembled a group where neither the age was limited nor the plethora of styles to choose from. The band's music mixes such styles with ease from cumbia dance music, porro, merecumbé to salsa or Afro Caribbean rhythms mixed with ska, funk and hip hop .
Dressed in turquoise garments Ondatropica looked like they had come from outer space. Moments after trooping onstage, the band revved up and kept an infectious, syncopated grooves going for the rest of the evening. Feeding off the crowd's energy, Quantic and his band upped the ante and fed it right back to the dance floor and the fun was contagious. The band swelled to as many as eight members on stage at once, including percussion, timbales, trumpet, saxophone, bass, accordion, two singers. Needless to say, the band was rhythmic and very brassy, yet nuanced and soulful.