It’s a funny old World where Blues gets attributed so readily to Mega-money musicians like Eric Clapton and The Stones and ‘authenticity’ means Joe Bonamassa and Walter Trout. The Blues sprang in reality from many thousands of Black People out of a spiritual need, and whilst there are few Artists around today who fill that description, two of the best were In Bonn at the Harmonie on Sunday: Eric Bibb and Habib Koité:
Eric Bibb has been described as a modern Blues Troubadour and it’s an accurate description of the man, but not a complete one. He is more accurately a journeyman and despite his lighthearted demeanour his is a heavyweight search – for the spiritual origins of Black Humanity. It’s a journey that brought him to play (and devote a whole disc to) legendary Bluesman Bukka White’s guitar. On Sunday that same journey saw him in the company of one of Africa’s most revered musicians.
Eric Bibb recounted the origins of this evenings show as he signed autographs behind a table that seemed virtually under siege from an endless flood of fans. He recounted meeting Habib Koité by chance during a shared project more than ten years ago during which the two men immediately felt a common musical bond that had both keen to work together “when the time seemed right” as Eric put it. As it turned out, the time took it’s time, but it was obvious to every person in the packed out Harmonie that these men are not just ‘Brothers in Bamako’ as the album they made together is called, but really are ‘Soul Brothers’ .
Musically the evening kicked off in a plain and simple Blues fashion with Bibb’s version of Billy Oden’s classic ‘Going Down Slow’. It was though really the first and last time we heard a straightfoward Blues in the evening. Bibb’s own ‘Needed Time’ for example was mixed so gloriously into ‘Touma Ni Kelen’ with the assistance of Koité that the two seemed, like their respective players, to be joined at the hip.
Don’t get the impression this was some sort of support slot by Habib Koité though. There were plenty of people there just to see the man from Mali who famously plays in a pentatonic scale – with open strings that give his guitar a distinctive sound all it’s own. I know he had plenty of fans there because they regularly chattered with him, to the frustration of everyone who could only speak German or English. But you really didn’t need to know each and every word sung to know the man was special – just a look at Eric Bibb sitting alongside, hands spread across his guitar soundboard and eyes closed in mesmerised appreciation of what he was hearing, said it all. Songs with a message that hit home in any language – Just to know the title ‘Mama Wata’ and it’s African origins makes a long explanation about the importance (and lack of) decent water in so many parts of the World superfluous. Or the indifference of greed as on ‘We Don’t Care’ and it’s biting lyrics: “We want the gold, long as we don’t have to mine it. Don’t care who suffers, or who’s behind it” In short – Music with a Soul, a Heart and a Brain.
I have to say a special word too about percussionist Mama Koné. He appeared to be getting everything a full Tama drum-kit would supply, out of what appeared to be half a basketball on top of a blanket. It was, I later ascertained, actually more of a melon. The fruit when dried is popular as a percussion instrument and called a Calabash. I still regret not waiting around when the stage was emptied to find out what got packed away and what got eaten.
The evening though belonged to Music and Musicianship and ended all too soon with my favourite Bibb number ‘Don’t let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down’ to which I can only add – If you’re spirit is dragging, go see these guys. Music is the medicine, and Messrs Bibb and Hoité are the Doctors.