Monday, April 21, 2008


Last month, Youssou Ndour flew me to Dakar and rehearse (as a dancer) with his 7 Senegalese dancers (Aziz Faye, Djilly MBaye, Bamba Gueye, Fallou Ndiaye, Penda Keita, Ndeye Gueye, Aida Dada). What a thrill and an honor!! I then performed with them at the sold out Sorano Theater in Dakar before flying to Paris to perform in front of 20,000 people at Bercy. It all happened really fast ... my flight confirmation came in two days before I departed!
w/ aziz at sorano

I had an amazing / crazy / extraordinary / brilliant time. After rehearsal 1, the dancers all said I had totally surprised them with my level of dancing. Lots of high fives and hugs and "Wow, I'm shocked!" I was in! Every day for two weeks, we met at Youssou's club, Thiossane, and practiced on the ball room floor with no mirrors. I loved how the dancers would casually get up and throw themselves 150% into a full-blown run-through of a song, then sit down for 25 minutes ... many smoking cigarettes, drinking cafe touba, and chatting. Then another blast of activity followed by more hanging around. Unfortunately, I lost my camera over there, which is a bummer, because I had some great photos of everyone...
nyari gorong left

Most days, I hung out at Aziz Faye's family's house ... the sweetest family you could imagine. Everyone so kind and warm .. and all superb dancers and drummers!

The Sorano show was amazing. It was sold out with a ton of people outside on the street. We got there early enough to spend a lot of time sitting around and then suddenly there was a rush of activity. Youssou and the band had arrived from touring in Europe (we'd not had a chance to rehearse together) and literally walked in, onstage, and started playing. Backstage, we were confused. Was there a set list? They ended up not playing four of the songs we'd rehearsed and many of our dances onstage were improvised, but the VIBE in the room was electric and SO MUCH FUN!!!
prep for last ending

At one point, Ndeye Gueye (a big dance queen in Senegal) pulled me onstage for an impromptu duet.

The other time was when Youssou called Aziz Faye's name from the stage and Aziz pushed me to run behind the stage and enter from the other side, saying "Go! Go! Go!" The result was a 2 minute improv that ended up on video. It's been seen so far by 37,000 people on! Here's the video!

and a photo...!

arms out

After the show, I went out dancing with the three brilliant dancers from Goorgoorlu (who also dance for Youssou).
Goorgoorlu at Sorano

We were all still so high from the show! However, at about 2AM, they broke the news to us that the four male dancers had been denied visas to France. This meant that all of our beautiful choreography was chucked out the window, we were all devastated, and the four women dancers (me included) had to fly to Paris to do an improvisational show ON OUR OWN with pick up dancers from Paris.

While the resulting show was awesome, it COULD have been blow-the-roof-off incredible. I was onstage twice with groups of dancers and they chose me to go out and dance another song all by myself. What a feeling!! I burst into ecstatic tears over and over that night ... God, here I was was dancing at flippin' BERCY with my all time musical hero!!!!!! During my solo turn, a group of white dancers from Holland, Finland, and Paris came up onstage behind me and we did a hilarious series of leumble moves, egged on by Mbaye Dieye Faye. Sophie Schowenaar, another sabar toubab queen, was the first up and she rocked!!! It was brilliant!

Afterwards, on the way back to the hotel, tons of Senegalese stopped me and said, "Wow!!!! Who are you? You danced so well! OMG, that was incredible!" Lots of photos and signatures and smiles. That felt soooo good!

Saturday night, there were packed after parties in Paris and the hotel was crammed with elegantly dressed Senegalese members of Youssou's entourage. Peter Gabriel turned up at the hotel on Sunday and Youssou gave an impromptu speech about Peter to the press. Very lovely and moving.

Flew home Monday morning. Tuesday, I was up cleaning, shopping, cooking. As Jack Kornfield would say, "After the Ecstasy, The Laundry!"


Our Royce Hall show at UCLA (part of The Ash Grove's 50th Anniversary) last Friday night was AWESOME from top to bottom. Ry Cooder's set was well-received. Ben Harper was transcendent, Taj Mahal charmed everyone and guested on Ben Harper's set, Laura Love was earthy and great, Holly Near's vocals / harmonies were beautiful, people loved Dr. Demento's stories. Everyone backstage was so warm and friendly, the whole evening had a great vibe.

When we came on between Holly and Ben, most of the audience had no clue who I was, but we really triumphed. When the four drummers came on and we blew the roof off along with the dancing, my dancer Kara described the look on their faces as "Shock and Awe." You could see them loving it, but trying to figure out just what was happening? Some asked me later if sabar dancing was a kind of African martial art form like capoeira? Loved that!

ash in air
Later, outside in the lobby, I was moved by how all these baby boomers just loved our set .... some literally had tears in their eyes saying how this was the new generation a world really coming together... and what a beautiful thing. They were struck by my voice, the songs, the musicians, the dancing, the drumming, and the crazy, how-can-it-be? authenticity of it all. (That word came up over and over.) One guy pulled me over to the wall by the elbow with a stern look on his face and said, "OK, break this down for me ... What has been the trajectory of your career? WHY are you not massively famous? Your voice, the songs, the dancing, you are incredible!!!" Yes!
nyari gorong
kara bird


kara and ash flying 2