Stunning. That’s it. Pretty much no further words required…
A packed Brunswick Town Hall in inner Melbourne on Thursday night sat enraptured listening to Aziza Brahim, singing in a language that the majority of us could not understand, to a set of music that was haunting and vital.
Invited out here to play both Womadelaide and WOMAD NZ, Brahim was humble and forthright. Speaking in a mixture of very little English and Spanish (at one stage asking someone from the audience to translate for her), she introduced songs that spoke from her experience: as a Sahrawi refugee and a world citizen.
Her band are a mix of players, mostly Spanish, and a Senegalese percussionist. It was an interesting mix of instruments – electric guitar and bass, classical guitar, percussion and drums. Brahim also played a hand drum in many of the songs. The band are top notch – plainly many have come from jazz/Latin playing backgrounds. The songs are true fusion: mixing Arabic/African/jazz/Latin and typically Spanish feels in each song.
The result is something that sounds unlike anything else. The electric guitarist plays in a way that seems to combine the chicken scratch sounds of West Africa with smooth jazz lead breaks and riffs. Layered over that is classical guitar that sounds almost like a piano or harpsichord much of the time, then breaks into Flamenco inspired solos. Similarly, the bass is a lead instrument as much as foundation maker.
It’s the drums and percussion that really carry the songs along. Brahim’s drummer is also clearly jazz trained; able to flip between modes and play differing beast with a light whisk of his wrist, then belting out big breaks when needed. A percussionist, who is able to keep the beat light most of the time, then breaks into a very African feeling section on Djembe for one song.
There was a song called Intifada, and others about being a refugee. Aziza Brahim is no shrinking violet, able to smile and move gracefully to the music in one moment, sing passionately and with heart the next. then break into joyous ululation mid song. Julud, from her third album Soutak, was another high point in the set.
The main set ended with an acapella number that said goodbye for the night. It was haunting and innocent at the same time, a piece of her heritage brought across the world for us.
The audience wouldn’t let it go with just that, clapping and stomping until the band marched back on, but for me it was time to go – that last song was too lovely, it left a spell and I didn’t want to break it.
If you’re heading across the ditch you can catch Aziza Brahim at WOMAD in NZ this weekend.