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Live From Paris: Danyèl Waro, Beñat Achiary & Haffyd H

Live From Paris: Danyèl Waro, Beñat Achiary & Haffyd H
Martin Longley By

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Danyèl Waro/Beñat Achiary
Théâtre Romain Rolland
February 21, 2019

This extraordinary double bill was part of the 28th edition of Sons D'Hiver, a festival that spans around three weeks, presenting gigs at various venues in the Val-de-Marne zone of south-eastern Paris. The French Basque vocalist Benat Achiary opened the evening at this medium-sized theatre in Villejuif.

An extremely versatile, precise and sometimes extreme verbaliser, Achiary interpreted the poems of Federico García Lorca, occasionally intoning, but mostly singing, revealing a finely controlled wide range, administered as a targeted spike. He's interested in alternation of modes, switching between duets with flamenco guitar stylist Pedro Soler and freely improvised numbers with the other four members of his band.

Soler sat out during these free-formings, but all of the forces were combined at the set's climax. It was as though Peter Hammill and Phil Minton had been grafted together to appropriate flamenco song. Then, for the improvisatory sections, Achiary stood a little closer to Diamanda Galás. He duetted with his drummer son Julen, then Michel Queuille's piano got into a tussle with Nicolas Nageotte's baritone saxophone, a Coltrane aura growing and glowing. Achiary scatted huskily, sounding academically trained in his exactness, but still cultivating rough edges. Most of the Lorca poems were delivered in his native Spanish, but several were intoned in French.

Danyèl Waro was born on the French territory of Réunion Island, off the coast of Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean. The poly-cultural Réunion traditional music is predictably variegated in its origins, embracing influences from Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, France, Madagascar, India and Cape Verde, often with the ultimate source being Africa. Waro sings in Creole, and plays percussion, in the maloya folkloric tradition, joined by a five-piece group of fellow singers and drummers. There's a substantial Réunion community here in Paris, lending this sold out show an immediate frazzle of excitement. Waro capitalised on this energy, his own performances virtually guaranteed to unite passionate chant and drumming frenzy into a celebratory ritual that has its roots in the miseries of slavery.

Waro started on a two-headed drum, but spent most of the set shaking his kayanm, which is a tray-shaped rattling instrument (reed tubes filled with seeds), mostly employed in a very vigorous fashion. His kayanm colleague was Jean-Didier Hoareau, whilst the rest of the band played congas, triangle, bamboo, metal and small frame drums, plus a large, powerful drum that one of the players straddled, in charge of issuing most of the night's manic solos. Soon, many folks were dancing in the aisles, making traditional moves, as the electricity shimmered into near abandonment of the senses. The glorious harmony vocals had an audible echo, and one number featured triangle-tingler Gilles Lauret on a small amplified bass, dancing along with metal percussion, that gave this interlude a Moroccan Gnaoua character. Waro sometimes delivered poems at high velocity, but we had to be rooted islanders to grasp their full significance. The alternative was to reel instinctively, with the music's sheer visceral propulsion, becoming an honorary Réunion denizen for one evening.

Haffyd H
Bibliothèque Saint-Eloi
February 23, 2019

Haffyd H is a singer and guitarist, with an Algerian Berber background, who has been regularly playing on the Parisian jazz club scene for two decades. Bibliothèque Saint-Eloi lies in an obscure residential quarter, next to a small park, not far from Notre-Dame. It's a small library that has to be searched for, but what better mission than an unearthed freebie Saturday afternoon gig? Rows of chairs were set out in front of H's set-up, in a corner that was full of comix and compact discs: an ideal environment, and almost nostalgically proud in its support of these embattled formats.

H makes approachable music, but with an unusual blending of jazz guitar licks, Brazilian tones and traces of Berber background in the vocal delivery. It's not a radical fusion, but his strumming and picking techniques possess an unpredictable set of phrases and timings, texture and space. The audience began with two, then gradually increased to 12 or so, with a slow flow of departures and arrivals. It was a small scene, with bonus observations on how individuals reacted to a surprise musical exposure whilst going about their weekend library visit. Some completely ignored H, chatting obliviously, and others were drawn in: just like in the real world outside. For an hour, your scribe was pleased to have winkled out one of his most obscure gigs of 2019 so far, sitting and admiring the Charles Burns comix covers arranged along the sides of the gig-area.

Photograph: Melanie Merlier

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