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This Week in Good Things from Africa

2004-09-23 - 8:33 a.m.

There are a few wonderful things I need to report.

First of all, ZenithNadir's wedding (a shock to many who thought/hoped that he would remain the eternal ManWhore, providing a service to love-starved lasses who just needed a little time with a man who, according to all reports, is a very, VERY cunning linguist) has allowed him to avoid going to Iraq! Fifty billion hoorays and even a couple of grateful tears! Newgyptian, please give him a big hug and a big kiss from me if you see him in Tunis, although not as big as the kind I would normally give him, out of respect for the missus.

Speaking of Newgyptian, she listed me updating as one of the things she's really happy about. Awwwwwwww! So I will list her being happy about it as something that makes me happy. Awwwwwwww!

Last night, I went to one of the best concerts I've even attended, something truly wonderful after the overall crappiness that was ACL. It was at The Fillmore, which I've heard of but never been to, having never lived in the Bay Area until a month ago. This might be the best concert venue ever. At this venue, you can go right up to the front of the stage and not have to worry about going back for drinks, because a waitress comes around and takes your order from anywhere on the floor, and brings it right back to you. If there's more than one in your party--as there was with me, thanks to the wonderful company provided by a lovely Chicana in my program--one of you can even go up to the restaurant upstairs (overpriced as Hell, but nothing's perfect in this world), order food, and bring it back to the floor. So after we secured a spot right in front of the stage, we tag teamed our way to the restaurant and back and feasted on burgers (one regular, one veggie) before the opening act.

The opening act was these four African men, one on guitar and vocals, two on African drums, and one on something that looked like a marimba but with gourds hanging underneath to amplify the sound. They were fantastic. They had us all moving like madmen. Apparently, they're local, so I'm going to keep my eye out for them again. In an age of DJs, it's great to know that you can have your blood pumping at the sound of two old men playing drums. It gives the apocalypse fearing pessimist in me hope. If it all goes to shit, all we need is a drum or two, and we'll be able to have a good time.

These guys were so wonderful that I didn't want them to leave, even when they had us chanting the band's name over and over again.

I haven't told you the band's name yet, have I?

Ladies, gentlemen, and the transgender of all ages, I'd like to introduce you to . . . Zap Mama.

Zap Mama has been a longtime favorite of mine, so much so that I nearly considered naming this diary ZapRudy, which was, once upon a time, my IM name. I realized that a lot of people might consider me a JFK-assassination buff, considering the Zapruder film, so I went with Notorious RRZ. Zap Mama has changed a lot over the years, but at the core is Marie Dauline, of African and Belgian heritage, who got together her sister and a group of friends to sing polyglot a capella songs in the grand African style. Over the years, she has incorporated more and more instrumentation, particularly elements of hip hop and reggae, until a capella songs are found maybe once on any given album. It's been tough for me to describe them to people, but I've yet to find one person who doesn't love them when I play a track or two.

In fact, a few nights ago, I was driving this same lovely Latina home, along with some other friends, after a night in S.F. of dancing our asses off, and a guy came up to me when I was stopped to say that he and his girlfriend had been waiting for a cab for an hour, and they would give me money if I would drive them home. I checked with my passenger, and told them to forget about the money and hop in, hoping that they wouldn't kill us. The girlfriend sat in front with me, and in her drunken haze she leaned over to the stereo and said, "Is this ZAP MAMA?!" I told her that it was indeed and she cranked it up, telling us all that she had choreographed a dance to their cover of "Damn Your Eyes" in high school. At that point, I knew I wasn't going to get dumped in a ditch THAT evening.

The band came on first (two drummers, a keyboard player, a DJ, a guitarist, and a bass player), followed by the back-up singers. Then Marie came on in a huge raincoat that had been hand-painted with all sorts of cool designs in bright, beautiful colors, and a HUGE wide-brimmed, purple hat. The stage had already been covered in incense sticks, and she took one and said, "We got to call the spirits. We got to call the ancestors" in this thick Afro-Belgian accent. Then she and the band began to rock, and my ass did not stop moving the entire night. In the first song, she called out to the audience and said, "When I ask, 'Are you ye-yo?' you say 'Ye-yo!' ARE YOU YE-YO?!" Suffice to say, there came a huge cry of YE-YO from me and everyone else.

I have never been so completely within my body at a concert. Every part of me wanted to move. The ass may have lead the charge, but feet and arms and even tongue all wanted to join in the game. Hey, don't look at me; I was explicitly following orders. If Zap Mama tells me to move something, I move it.

It was also one of the only concerts where I've heard very few songs I know and still had an amazing time (the last time that happened? My first ever Tori show. Yes, they were that cool). I am much more familiar with early Zap Mama, and there was only one song I recognized off of 7, their third album. I recognized some stuff off A Ma Zone, their fourth, but I don't listen to that near as much as 7 and Sabsylma, the second album. Didn't matter one bit. I lived without Fulahi and Nostalgie Amoureuse and their cover of Poetry Man which, sorry Ginger, is my favorite Phoebe Snow cover ever.

What mattered was that all these musicians were up there as fellow artists and friends, even family, loving what they were doing and sending that love out into the audiences. They were warm, funny, elegant, graceful, and, in my friend's words, "ladylike." Every time Marie called out, "Are you Ye-Yo?" I yelled Ye-Yo! like my life depended on it. She'd give us a wry smile and say, "I'm Ye-Yo too."

Best of all, I was right up front the entire time, close enough to touch her (although I didn't, what with the possibility of restraining order and all). I was not cool enough to be the one whose name she asked and then turned into an a capella backbeat, but when she asked us if we had keys, I was the first to get mine out and begin shaking them to get her attention. She pointed right at me with a smile and said "Exactly!"


We shook our keys through the whole song, and in the end she quieted her band down and just listened to us.

We were all exhausted by the end of the show, but when she came on for the encore she got all of us singing again, and mananged to finish off by doing a bunch of cartwheels and breakdancing moves onstage. Zap Mama is not a teenager, folks. She was there putting us all to shame.

So, yeah. This is what they call a "phatic tool," folks. The "So, yeah."

It's funny remembering how hard Monday was, what with getting back from the sucky fest and handing in a sucky paper. Turns out all I needed was a good night's sleep on Monday night, great news from ZenithNadir, my first day of class since starting grad school where I managed to say MULTIPLE interesting things in ALL my classes, and one of the best concerts ever, and I'm on top of the world.

This isn't to say that I'm not still worried about talk of regime change for Iran over in the White House, and the fact that one of the least qualified presidents ever will probably get reelected to spend another four years ruining the country, but this, something tells me, is music that's going to help me get through, and keep working, and that's something, at least.

Are you Ye-Yo? I'm Ye-Yo too . . .

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previous - next

The End - 2005-02-11
Let's Go on With the Show - 2005-01-30
The Curse, and This Bee's a Keeper - 2005-02-01
Sisters Lolita and Matronic Explain It All for You - 2005-01-31
Cowboys and Medievalists - 2005-01-30

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