Saturday, August 22, 2009

SUMMER TOUR '09 - Part 4: London / Youssou NDour's show

Just returned to Los Angeles after six glorious weeks out in the world: touring, performing, singing, dancing! This is part 4

Arriving back from Dakar, I was tempted to push my entire suitcase into the washing machine in London. But luckily, a gigantic bag of café touba offset the smell of clothes that had been danced and sweated in for two heavenly weeks.

Another quick turn around. The next morning, I was BACK at Heathrow, but this time waiting for my 9-year-old daughter, Koyan, who had braved a 10 hour flight from Los Angeles to have two weeks with me in London and France. We were SO HAPPY to see one another after a month apart! She cheerfully told me she had neeearly made it, but barfed on the descent when the plane was in a holding pattern. I just LOVE her!

The next week, we pin-balled around London, seeing the sights, visiting friends, sampling the city’s awesome parks, cafes, bus routes, nooks and crannys. So much fun!

At the amazing new Diana, Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground
ashley koyan

The one Saturday I was in London, Youssou Ndour was playing at Indigo (ALHAMDOULILAH!). Koyan stayed with friends and I went alone … and early. Once inside, I sat by the wall on the nearly empty floor and just watched the place fill steadily. Anyone who loves Youssou’s music is my instant friend. Soon, I was chatting to one person after another. A young man recognized me from performing at Bercy ’08 and told me sincerely that my dancing was “grave,” (love that!). Finally, Youssou came on. Oh, he and Les Super Etoiles threw down a wonderful show.

Backstage with YOUSSOU NDOUR after his show in London
ashley maher,youssou ndour,youssou n'dour

I was particularly excited to see dancer Pape Moussa Sonko from up front. I had only seen him in videos or from the side of the stage. His dancing is so creative, powerful, fun, and effortless ... What a Master!

with Divine Dancer PAPE MOUSSA SONKO
ashley maher,pape moussa sonko

A few songs into the show, everyone onstage had spotted me. I was down front to the side dancing with a pile of hilarious SeneGambians who I’d just met. Every new song would bring on an eruption of fresh enthusiasm from the floor.

When they played the song I co-wrote for Youssou, Boul Bayekou, he called me up onto the stage. The security guard said. “No way!” until I pointed behind him. He turned to see Youssou emphatically pointing at me to say, “Get her up here NOW!” . . . Oh. . . . The guard helped me up onto the stage himself! I turned to the audience, adjusted my hat with a smile to make sure it wouldn’t fall off, and solo-ed with total glee. Afterwards? … more dancing, of course!

When the show was over, there was a rush for the backstage, but an excellent DJ was playing my fave mbalax, so I couldn’t tear myself away from the floor. Finally, Jimi Mbaye and Pape Moussa came out and they insisted I come backstage, so I did. Said Hello to everyone before more dancing outside.

WIth ABDOULAYE LO (drums) and BIRAME DIENG (backing vocals)
They both performed on my upcoming 5th CD.
(Love the pink backstage pass on my thigh!)

ashley maher,abdoulaye lo,abdoulaye low,birame dieng

It took 3 buses to get allll the way back across London that night. I met 10 SeneGambian students on the bus’ top deck and we chatted the whole way. Arrived home cold, tired, and happy at 5am! Vive Youssou N’dour et Les Super Etoiles de Dakarrrrr! Vive London!


Thursday, August 20, 2009


Just returned to Los Angeles after six glorious weeks out in the world: touring, performing, singing, dancing! HEAVEN! THIS IS PART #3

After traveling all day long from Spain, I dragged my bag up Ladbroke Grove, slept one night, did laundry the next morning, and then got a train BACK out to Heathrow to catch a flight to Paradise … DAKAR!!!!

After a midnight connection in Casablanca, my second flight arrived at Dakar’s airport at 2:30am. My dear friends, the dancers of Goorgoorlu, met and drove me to stay at their cousins’ apartment near to them. My room had a mattress, two sheets, fan, mosquito net, small adjacent bathroom with shower inside. Perfect! My flat mates were two 23-year-old hilarious, kind, and open-hearted young women named Kine Ndiaye and Mame Doeur and another relative named Issa. We all hit it off instantly, laughed and danced all day long to the steady stream of mbalax videos on the TV in the hallway.

Bamba Gueye and Fallou Ndiaye of the Groupe Goorgoorlu
bamba and fallou

My kind, warm, and hilarious apt mates:
Fatou Ndiaye and Mame Doeur
kine and mame d

Dancing every day in the corridor (note the mbalax videos on the TV!)
Kine Ndiaye, Awa Chiekh, and Mame Doeur
girls dancing in apt

For the next two weeks, Fallou Ndiaye and Bamba Gueye (and sometimes Djilly Mbaye) took me EVERYWHERE with them. My general schedule was this: I’d wake up at 10 am, have café touba, bread and butter with the girls, rehearse with Bamba and Fallou, lunch, nap, and then there would be a swirl of activity until 9pm.

Bamba Gueye, Djibril Ndiaye Rose, me, and Fallou Ndiaye
after dancing for Djibril’s new video
djibril's shoot

Once home, I’d sleep from 9pm until midnight, then get up again, groggily dress, and they’d pick me up in a taxi to dance at a club or concert until 5am … every night for two weeks. Oh, it was beyond heaven.

During the time I was there, we danced at tannebeers, at soiree Senegalaises, concerts (Salam Diallo, Orchestre Ceddo), parties, celebrations, for two videos and on TV twice. Everywhere they go, Goorgoorlu bring an infectious energy of festivity and joy. They can walk into a gathering and it becomes and instant party!

Singing and dancing for a 5-year-old relative’s birthday.
Another typical, spontaneous, Senegalese corridor party!

corridor party

Bamba Gueye – sweaty, singing, celebratory

Fallou Ndiaye - sweaty, singing, hilarious, getting his point across

It was so generous of them to include me in everything. I became the big surprise they’d pull out at these events. I’d stand on the sidelines, like any normal toubab guest, but then would suddenly bounce into view dancing sabar … and well??? Over and over again, everyone would erupt with laughter and delight. It was soooo fun!

The only thing that got me down was how little the dancers are paid for all of their hard work and effort. As stars over there (every time you turned on the TV, they were dancing in someone’s video) Goorgoorlu somehow manage always to dress well and play the part, but there is so much competition for work, people often felt at liberty to pay them little or not at all. Given their reputations, they DO get jobs that pay well, but it blew my mind how often I saw them paid the equivalent of $12 to be divided by two … after days of rehearsals, taxi rides, hot days, hours and hours of dancing, singing, or waiting around.

Bamba Gueye, Djilly Mbaye, and Fallou Ndiaye,
standing around, looking groovy, and waiting at at TV shoot
waiting, looking groovy

Staying cool inside a taxi, looking less groovy, ... also waiting
waiting in taxi

The biggest event we did was for Senegal’s Walf TV. Walf TV was hosting an mbalax special featuring the rising tassou / mbalax stars of the day. Many top dancers in Senegal reach a point where they are so familiar to the public through dancing in other people’s videos, they become tassou artists themselves. Tassou is a little like rap, but over mbalax beats, rather than hip hop beats. That day, they interviewed Pape Ndiaye Thiopet, Ndjole, Goorgoorlu, and three other tassou artists I didn’t know.

All dressed up and ready to go to Walf TV for Goorgoorlu’s appearance
before WALF Tv

Goorgoorlu took their places and made sure I was sitting in the front row of the studio audience. I spent the next four hours of filming aware that the cameras were catching audience expressions. Despite not understanding the Wolof, I would laugh when everyone laughed or look intensely focused when everyone was debating some deep point. LOL!

Eventually, each artist got to perform a playback of two songs. Goorgoorlu was up near the end and launched into a full blown dance up of their single “Chiantgi.” Halfway through the song, Bamba motioned for me to join them so I bounced out of my seat and improvised behind them. At a crucial bakk (phrase of drum music) at the song’s climax, they turned to me, like, “Take this one” and I did a hilarious and crisp set of steps and aced it. Everyone cracked up.

Sitting down all sweaty in the sweltering studio, I composed myself, only to have Ndjole call me up to dance for her song too. No prob! She also sang a traditional song that evolved into a mini-studio-tannebeer and I did a nice solo, complete with hat falling off and red hair everywhere. HAHAHAAA! By this time, everyone was looking at me, like, “Who on earth are YOU?” One of the presenters said, “Pass her a microphone!” and asked me, “Well, what’s YOUR story?”

What a window of opportunity!!!! I told them my name was Ashley, that I had met Goorgoorlu when Youssou Ndour invited me to dance at Bercy 2008, that I was grateful for their generosity and honored to be there, that mbalax was now international through the internet, that I am principally a singer, that I had just finished my 5th CD, partly recorded with five of the Super Etoiles at Jimi Mbaye’s house last September. “A singer?” they said, “Sing something!” So I sang a verse and chorus from Crown for Adorning and handed back the mic. Oh, that felt soo great!

They filmed four hours of footage that day, that would be whittled down to a 90 minute show. All week long, on the hour, Walf TV played a 30 second publicity spot, advertising the upcoming special … and about 12 of those 30 seconds was of me dancing! Everyone in the clubs kept telling me they’d seen it. Awesome!

Saturday night was my last night in Dakar. By this time, I had become friendly with the whole apartment building (everyone kept pulling me into their apartments to dance for every conceivable celebration) and when the program started, every time my image came on the screen, you could hear neighbors screaming, “Ash-LAY!!! Ashley WAYE!!!” Bamba and Fallou, who were so blasé about seeing themselves 10 million times on TV, suddenly got all nervous about seeing themselves TALKING on TV and wouldn’t watch it, but I took the whole thing in. They did an excellent job and I looked pretty damn good! WooohooooQ!

Afterwards, their phones were ringing non-stop with people congratulating them and asking them “Who IS she????”, so they said, “Look, pack your bags, put them in the back of our friend’s taxi, and let’s go out for one final dance, celebration on the way to the airport. Done. At 2:30, we arrived at a club Djilly had told us about (their first time too) and it was packed. Mbalax band playing, everyone dancing. But the minute we came in the door, to my UTTER surprise, the whole place started rhythmically chanting my name: “ASH-LAY! … ASH-LAAAAY!, ASH-LAY! …. ASH-LAAAY!” Total strangers came and picked me up off the ground, calling out my name and saying, “TOI, tu es la champione! Tu es la numero UN!!!!” The band joined in and the drummers came forward, clearing a space and insisting that I solo for them.

For the next two hours, Bamba, Fallou, Djilly, and I danced and celebrated and generally showed off! Oh, I was so high I cannot describe it. Talk about The Diva Has Landed! From there we drove to the airport (teary good-byes) where I checked in, waited, took a bus out to the plane, and walked forlornly up the stairs through the humid early morning hours. When I handed my boarding pass to the beautiful Senegalese stewardess, she said, “Hey! I saw you dancing on TV tonight! You dance so well!” WAAAAAAH !!!!

Counting the days to get back there…!

Me, painfully underdressed at a tannebeer.
Awa Cheikh, Kine, and Mame Doeur looking gloriously beautiful!
underdressed for tannebeers

Dilly Mbaye, Mami, Bamba Gueye, Fallou Ndiaye, and Maman Mbaye
(Jimi Mbaye’s daughter and my dear friend.) Also gorgeous!
everyone outside

Sunday, August 16, 2009

SUMMER TOUR '09 - PART 2 - Spain's FIMEC Festival

Just returned to Los Angeles after six glorious weeks out in the world: touring, performing, singing, dancing! HEAVEN! THIS IS PART #2


After five shows in the UK, I rehearsed for two days in London with a new band. A Spanish world music festival called FIMEC had invited me to perform, but wasn’t paying enough to bring my American band with me, so I gathered musicians based in England and France who would then serve as a less-expensive option for future European dates. I had three Senegalese artists: Idy Diallo (bass / France), Diene Sagna (dance / Manchester), and Cheikh Diop (sabar drums / Bristol. And also Phil Stevenson (guitar), Nick Ramm (keyboards), and Luciano Ciccotelli (drums) all based in London.

Diene Sagna, Idy Diallo, Phil Stevenson, Chiekh Diop, Nick Ramm
the band

Oh, the Gods really loved me … what a wonderful crop of musicians! Everyone turned up prepared and ready to work hard, no ego issues, good vibes, and a general sense of excitement to be on the gig. Rehearsals were fluid, fast, and productive. YES!!!!


Two days later, we met at Heathrow and I handed the Iberia representative our passports. When she quickly checked everything and printed out our boarding passes, I got all teary. I told her, “You really did something special today in treating these Senegalese artists like normal travelers without examining their passports for 10 minutes or asking 100 suspicious questions. It’s always easy to notice when things go wrong, but I want to tell you we really appreciate that.” She got emotional too, smiled, and said, “We are all one people!”

It was a positive start to a wonderful four days. An awesome English guy with long dreads named Nick Whitfield drove us for two hours from Sevilla to the city of Chiclana in the South, with everyone festive and howling with laughter in the van. We were put up in a lovely hotel and had our meals in a beautiful Spanish restaurant where we could meet the other bands from Columbia, Cuba, Algeria, Senegal, Morocco and more.

I had met FIMEC’s organizer, Andrea Morpurgo, at WOMEX 2008. A super friendly Italian long living in Spain, Andrea ran his festival with precision and bacchanalian joyfulness. Somehow everything always felt relaxed, yet managed to run on time.


Our Friday afternoon sound check was a dream. Andrea’s very professional crew of had us sounding The Bomb in no time.


That evening, we were the headlining band (Spanish time, that meant coming on at 1am!) The prior acts were wonderful. singer Pura Fe sounded like a world / blues / Janis Joplin / Joni Mitchell, and Gema 4 were an wonderful a cappella group of Cuban women. Andrea, who loves jam sessions, had us all perform “You Got A Friend” together before my set. Oh our voices sounded so beautiful together!


At 1am, the stage was ours at last and we rocked! SOOO great to have a chordless mic, excellent musicians, tons of space to move about, and the electric Diene Sagna dancing by my side. I apologized in Italian to the audience for not speaking Spanish and wondered how they would respond to the music? Soon it was clear that they were really into it. A big pile of kids down front danced and danced (they were up onstage with me by the end), and the crowd had every generation represented. We were the evening’s only act to receive an encore!! We played a track from my new CD called “Amazing Grace” and I sang the whole song as a call and response piece. Standing there with thousands of Spaniards singing along under the stars at 2am on a warm summer evening, I thought, “This is why I am here! To do this for the rest of my life … to sing, dance, share this music, and help create a joyful / uplifting / beautiful atmosphere. What a feeling!

dancing w diene
encore bow

The next morning we had a day to stroll around lovely Chiclana, nap, drink too much café con leche, and attend an afternoon djembe drum & dance workshop headed by another long dreadlocked Brazilian guy named Malaga … who had lived in Senegal for 13 years, played super well, and spoke fluent Wolof. (Oh, I SO want to be able to speak Wolof … I just gazed at him in admiration!)

Malaga’s group, Borom Tamba, featured a heady list of first class drummers and dancers direct from Senegal. Some of the great Pape Moussa’s brothers were dancing and, to my total delight / surprise, they said, “We know you! You dance really well!” before I even danced a step for them! Wooohooo! Diene, Cheikh, Idy, and I were in heaven!

group w cheikh

Borom Tamba’s show was HOT! Their dununba alone was ferocious!! Again, this was followed by an Andrea-inspired jam session, featuring singers and musicians from the other Saturday night bands: Abdeljalil Kodssi (Morocco), Piccola Banda Ikona (Italy), Buritaca (Colombia). So fun! We hit an excellent improvised groove .. international all the way!

Another late long laughing walk back to the hotel, an early van ride back to Seville the next morning, where we split onto different flights back to Heathrow. Diene, Phil, and I were the last to leave and enjoyed a last dance in the airport before getting on the plane. Truly a magic weekend.

dancing at the airport


Just returned to Los Angeles after six glorious weeks out in the world: touring, performing, singing, dancing! HEAVEN!

Everything started at Ty Unwin’s wonderful houseconcert in Oxford, England. Ty composes music for British TV and invited me to share an evening with singer-songwriter Ben Parker. Very festive atmosphere, with fans mixed in with people who trusted Ty’s (excellent) taste. : ) !!! After Ben’s sparkling and very funny set, I sang while Phil Stevenson accompanied me on guitar to a garden-full of people sitting / lying / sprawled on the grass at sunset. Ben noted dryly that it was the first time he had performed beside a garden shed!

Phil Stevenson and I looking very groovy in front of Ty Unwin's garden shed
w phil - darren's pic

Recording artist Howard Jones was in the audience: so positive and Present (Buddhist), and incredibly charming. He played us some wonderful tracks from his new CD before casually sitting down and singing, accompanying himself on dizzingly excellent piano. He blew everyone away. Houseconcerts are The Bomb!

Me and Tea in Deep Conversation with Howard Jones. I swear, that's the back of his head!
howard jones - back of head

Between Ty Unwin (next to me on my right) and Ben Parker (in hat on my left)

Darren Young (who took the above photos) and his dear "better half," Kevin, drove all the way from Newcastle to catch this gig! I am so blessed to have such Fan Friends!

Spent a couple of days bouncing around London. (I lived there for 12 years and it’s one of my favorite cities.) I caught up with friends, sat in my fave cafes, and walked and walked and walked! Then Phil Stevenson and I flew up to Scotland.

Like last time, Morag ONeill arranged the shows, and we stayed with her mad, merry, photographer friend, Marc Marnie and his lovely wife, Janet. They have a rambling, funky, converted, rabbit-warren-of-a house, love to cook and converse, and Marc uncannily knows what you might hunger for (a hot cup of tea, an omelette, a chunk of good chocolate) just before you realize you want it. When I went to take a bath, he had already poured it ... enormous, piping hot, and surrounded by candles! YES!!

Janet and Marc Marnie with Phil Stevenson
marc marnie and janet

That night, we opened for Senegalese artist / group Samba Sene and Diwan at The Bongo Club. Really great vibe, a good number of Scotland-based SeneGambians, and new DJ Souleymane Seck spinning top quality mbalax from 9pm until 4am.

Samba Sene, Khadim Thiam (keyboards), Jules Sow (guitar)
samba sene, khadim thiam, jules sow

The dance floor was so spacious, the tunes so tasty, and everyone so happy and festive, I literally danced for the entire 7 hours …. with 45 minute break when someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Uh, Ashley? Can you go up there and do your set, please?” Highly unprofessional, but I couldn’t help it! There are NO mbalax clubs in Los Angeles, so I was blissed out beyond description.

Our set was well received, but the downer was that someone told me minutes before I went on that Michael Jackson had died. You could feel the news’ impact on the whole room … afterwards, it was as if we danced all night long in his memory. Samba’s band put on an excellent show that night, too.

Arrived late (SO unlike me!) the next night at Glasgow’s WEST Brewery, due to slow cooking Senegalese food and slow-turning African time in Edinburgh. The restaurant’s well-soaked crowd was loud / having a ball and there was no PA to be seen (a miscommunication), so we had to hire a very expensive set of mics and amps at the last minute. Nonethess, we had a wonderful night. Once we got started, the music got through and I was sooo moved to see that Edinburgh’s Senegalese musician contingent (who had driven down to support us) get up to dance and sing “Lucky! Lucky! Lucky!,” I nearly burst into tears. That song is soooo for them!

The next day, flew home to London and was just leaving home for sound check at Inn on the Green, when a sudden heavy storm hit and the flat where I was staying in flooded … water POURING down the walls. I pounded on the door of the flat above, but the woman didn’t hear me for 10 minutes because the rain was so loud! When she finally let me in, I soon found myself with a bucket bailing out a huge deep blocked gutter on the roof, being pounded by rain and hail. What? We finally got the drain unplugged, but gallons and gallons of water still drained into the flat below. I threw towels everywhere, put cups and buckets beneath the dripping ceiling, and raced off to my gig. Surreal!

Because of the rain, many street and tube lines were closed, so the audience numbers were small. Carrie Slater and Chris Baker brought me take out Malasian food (bless them!) and some of my favorite friends and fans were there. Such a lovely night! Again, my Scottish-based Senegalese friends attended and the wonderful Jules Sow guested on guitar. Diene Sagna threw down some magic sabar moves and Phil Stevenson shone on guitar

The Senegalese hadn’t come all the way down to London just for me, though. That night, Youssou Ndour’s percussionist Mbaye Dieye Faye and singer Fatou Guewel were scheduled to perform in east London. After my show, I met with a plumber regarding the flooding, then set off on an epic 2 hour journey across London to catch the show. Arriving at 2:30 am, MDF was a no show, so it was Fatou Guewel and Salam Diallo. Salam spotted me as he came out of his dressing room and simply said, “Ash-LAY, kai fecc!” (Ashley, come dance!) before pulling me past security into the boiling festivities. Woohoo!!

The Irrespressible Salam Diallo in London in a gigantic boubou
salam in london

It was an awesome night: mbalax till dawn, tons of friends, two entertaining sets, and Jules Sow dragged me up the stage during Salam’s show to do a sabar solo. Who was I to protest? : ) !!! Arrival time home? 6: 30 am

After a couple hours of sleep, caught a 11am train to Bristol with Phil. Phil is an absolute DREAM guitarist and road companion: deeply musical, talented, sensitive, with a hilarious sense of humor, little ego, an even tempered, positive attitude, flexible, and the patience to put up with my unending stream of stories. I adore him!!

Roy Popham met us at the station, wearing a pink fedora. That should have given me an idea of the crowd we’d be playing for, but I couldn’t shake the image in my mind that a show at “Roy and Lindsay Popham’s for High Tea” would be a somewhat crusty British experience.

How wrong I was! Roy has long worked doing metalwork and set building for all kinds of events and his friends were “Intrepid Road Crew” material. One friend with tobacco stained fingers told me he had toured with the Grateful Dead for years. He and his teenage son both smoked spliffs in the kitchen. While Roy is a rollicking and colorful character, his wife Lindsay is warm and earthy. They were lovely hosts and their friends an intelligent, lively bunch of far-from-crusty characters. (NB: I have nothing against crusty, by the way. I love that type too!) We set up again in the garden and performed with Bristol’s Bay spread out before us. The Grateful Dead ex-employee came up me afterwards and said, “You’ve got major Californian balls, sitting down and singing like that!” Brilliant!

Phil, Lindsay, Me, Roy
roy and lindsay popham

Snoozed on the 9pm train back to London, but was hammered by texts from the Senegalese, begging us to come to Jules Sow’s house for a final gathering. Another night that ended at dawn, but this time I ended up face down on Jules’ couch, probably snoring and drooling!

Snoring and drooling on Jules Sow's couch at 4am

Will stop here! I LOVE ENGLAND!!!!