Sometimes things don’t go the way we plan. We all know this. We adapt and survive. And somehow, sometimes we not only adapt but thrive at the same time.
Late last Thursday we got the bad news that Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté would not be able to travel for their much anticipated scheduled performance on our program the following night. Clearly, this was a bummer. It’s been years since Toumani performed in Los Angeles, and never with his son here. They are amazing performers and we were eager to watch the 71st and 72nd generations from one of Mali’s most revered griot families.
Details were few in the moment and almost irrelevant as it was time for us to rally to make the necessary announcements to ticketholders and changes to the production schedule for the following evening. Luckily, this performance was always intended to be a co-headlining event with the one-and-only, the amazing Rokia Traoré so we knew there was still something great in store.
As I spread the word to the members of the media who I knew were coming, the resounding response was while the Diabatés would certainly be missed, the evening was still a must-see concert with Rokia and her full band doing an extended set.
I talked to our box office manager who had spoken to several ticket buyers on the night of the show who said they used the Toumani and Sidiki cancellation as a reason to find out more about Rokia, and chose to attend just for her.
I don’t think anyone was disappointed. She was luminous. She was powerful. She rocked. She soothed. She got us up out of the comfy seats to dance along with her and her mesmerizing duo of backup singer/dancers.
At one point in the evening she started talking about why she doesn’t write traditional love songs.
“I am, in general,” she said in her liltingly sultry voice. “In love. With life. And so, in everything I sing, I am singing about love.”
I can get on board with that sentiment. And it seemed to me that everyone who stuck around to welcome this remarkable artist to the Royce stage for the first time, felt pretty much the same way.
We were also fortunate to have among us KCRW’s Tom Schabel. I don’t know about you, but I consider this man to be my world guide. I trust him. I need him to help me hear sounds and songs and voices I might not otherwise encounter. KCRW in general is a great place for just that, but Tom’s focus on artists from around the globe as made him our local ambassador to the music of the world. He was on hand that night for a pre-show DJ set and to talk about the extraordinary music of Mali.
He shared some background information on the Diabate family, noting that Toumani’s sister had passed away which is what prevented the artists from traveling, which helped everyone listening understand, empathize and perhaps even celebrate the present moment more deeply.
The whole situation reminded me of a story I read about Afrocubism. Back in 1996, the plan was to gather in Havana a group of singers from Cuba and a group of musicians from Mali, including Toumani. For some unexplained to this day reason, the Malian artists never arrived. Instead, recording carried on with just the Cuban contingent, and a little album known as The Buena Vista Social Club emerged. (Afrocubism was finally recorded and released 14 years later).
A couple of years after that, I was working for a DVD/home entertainment magazine, covering the emerging music DVD market. The Buena Vista Social Club DVD blew my mind and made me think about the phrase “world music” in a very different and much more eagerly exploratory way.
It’s so interesting to know that it came into being by a sort of accident of fate. It’s had such a lasting impact on my music tastes. Many artists who come to our program have such an impact on my music tastes, deepening and broadening them at the same time. Rokia has taken her place among that list now.
We can’t control the fates, but we can control the way we react to them. Friday night we were thrown for a loop, but we still came together in celebration of music and the people who make music that speaks to our souls, music and artistry that maybe helps us all be just a little much more…..