imomus (imomus) wrote,

Logobi me, Africa!

My two favourite musical experiences of the past week have been:

1. Atrium Musicae De Madrid's album "Musique Arabo Andalouse", released by the Harmonia Mundi label in 1976.

2. YouTube videos of young French "logobi" dancers like this one:

Now, you might say that these two things have little in common. One is a reconstruction of the moment when North African and Spanish musics were mingled and fused, made by a Spanish monk and his early music ensemble. The other is an African dance ritual adapted to Europe by young Parisians with family roots in the Ivory Coast. Further down the page -- like a magician waving a wand over a hen and turning it into an egg -- I hope to demonstrate that something does in fact link these two very different musics. But first I want to tell you how they popped into my life recently.

Last week I was in both Madrid and Paris. (Thank you, by the way, if you came to my concert! I had a wonderful time.) My Madrid hotel was near the big FNAC store, so I went up to the CD section to see if they had any records by Atrium Musicae de Madrid. I already have "Musique Arabo Andalouse", but since this was Madrid I thought they might have other records by the Atrium Musicae.

I went to ask the assistant if they had any "musica Arabo-Andaluse". She told me that Arabic music and Andalusian music were different things, stored in different areas of FNAC. Then, after thinking a bit, she showed me a couple of CDs that fused Islamic and Spanish idioms. I bought them, but they were disappointing. They lacked the poised strangeness and textural gorgeousness of the Atrium Musicae:

I suppose the assistant's initial denial that Andalusian and Arabic music had much to do with each other disturbed me a bit. Waiting for a train to take me to Toledo earlier that day, I'd happened to read an article in the English version of El Pais (the insert that comes with The International Herald Tribune) saying that applications to build mosques in Spain are often blocked because people think having these alien buildings in their neighbourhoods will lower the house prices. My experience of Toledo, though, seemed to suggest the opposite: all around were signs of the deep Muslim influence which plays a major part in making Toledo the world treasure that it is today.

A few days later I was in Paris, staying with friends who live between the Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis and the Chateau D'Eau metro station. It's an area heavily populated with immigrants, mostly from the Indian subcontinent, Senegal and the Ivory Coast. There are a couple of streets dense with African hairdressers and Korean nail salons. As African women emerge from the Chateau D'Eau metro station, touts from the salons grab them and try to steer them (and their custom) towards their own salons.

Researching this on the internet later, I found the video of "logobi a Chateau D'Eau". What I find so exciting in this video is the unpredictable way the polyrhythms work against each other: the shouts of the men as they dance, the drum machine programming, the synth line and the African instrument twanging along with it are all semi-independent from each other, and the result is an incredibly infectious energy, something that just bursts out of the screen.

It's also kind of exciting to me to frame this as "young French culture, happening on a Paris street". You know, a couple of years ago Time magazine ran a cover feature declaring French culture dead. When you read the article, this turned out to be because the author of the piece was looking for French culture in dead places: the Prix Goncourt, New Wave cinema, Impressionism, classical music. His article didn't mention Daft Punk, and it certainly didn't get down with the Ivory Coast logobi dancers on the Boulevard de Strasbourg.

By now you can probably see where I'm going with this, and how I'm going to connect grime-logobi to Arabo-Andalusian music. They both expand the definition of European music by infusing it with vital energy from elsewhere -- specifically the continent of Africa. As long as Europe stays open to this energy, and continues to fuse it with its own cultural forms, nobody will dare to declare our fabulous continent dead.

Originally appeared on Spanish music website Playground as Africa en Europa.

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