Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ottawa and Montreal for Elage Mbaye and Oumar Ndiaye's Concerts

Senegalese artist Elage Mbaye and his producer, Abdou Sy, invited me to Ottawa, Canada, last weekend for the release of Elage’s new CD, Askane. Elage and I recorded a cover of Youssou N’Dour’s classic song, Pitch Mi, as a duet, for the record.

After flying from LA to Detroit, I caught a tiny plane to Ottawa. Passport control at Ottawa waved me along to be grilled by an immigration officer … which was a novel experience. For years, I have heard so many stories about my African friends and husband enduring such interrogations, I was almost proud of the Canadians for pulling over a NON-African! Go Canada!

The more I answered his questions, the more suspicious I could feel myself sounding. How long are you staying? One weekend. Who are you staying with? Elage Mbaye. How did you meet? MySpace. How long ago? Two years. Maybe I was smuggling something or someone into Canada or out of Canada or …. huh? My cellphone rang and he barked at me not to answer it. I remarked that wow, this was really interesting. What had triggered me as suspicious? And, by the way, did he know I was born in Montreal?

With that, he glanced back tensely at my passport where it read PLACE OF BIRTH: CANADA and looked embarrassed. Oh. No worries. I thanked him and said I understood and yay for Canada for pulling me over and he looked even more confused.

It was a bumpy start to a wonderful weekend. Elage and his family lived in a lovely house with snow everywhere. They all laughed at my meager coat and scarf before furnishing me with proper Canadian gear! I walked every day outside with bright skies above. So great!


Friday night, we rehearsed at Elage’s producer, Abdou Sy’s place. Abdou on keyboards, Elage singing and playing tama, Clarence Smith (from Philadelphia) on bass, and N’Sa Fall and his girlfriend Marie there as “groupies.” What a fun and festive night!

with Elage MbayePhotobucket

At rehearsal, Clarence Smith was a cauldron of sunny energy. Coming in out of the snow with a bass and guitar over his shoulder and a drum machine in one hand, he cooked up groove after slamming groove that was “straight out of Philly.” …. or hitched his energy to the bubbly mbalax singing from Abdou’s keyboard.

with the irrepressible Clarence Smith Photobucket

Elage’s show was Heaven: packed, international, and festive. He had a wonderful mix of musicians from all over Africa (Senegal, Nigeria, Congo, Tanzania, Canada, and more) and the vibe between them all was joyous and generous. Apart from singing my duet with Elage and improvising during his new Song for Haiti, I mostly danced down front. Three Senegalese party mamas named Tako, Ndeye Coumba, and Adja were my instant allies. Decked out in beautiful bazin, those three knew how to throw DOWN!

with Ndeye Coumba and TakoPhotobucket

Tako in particular was hilarious … I loved how they’d insist the crowd step back to give them space and then we’d launch into another improvised dance comedy scene. Everyone had a chance to shine. So great! Got to bed at 4am!

Tako in chargePhotobucket

with producer, Abdou SyPhotobucket

On Sunday, Abou, Elage, and I drove to Montreal for Oumar “Xosluman” Ndiaye’s show at Balattou. Beautiful drive through the Canadian countryside and I was happy in the backseat watching Youssou N’Dour’s Montreaux concert on Abdou’s laptop. I smiled to watch Riche Faye dancing with his trademark joy and confidence at such a young age. He must have been about 14! What an amazing show! Abdou, Elage and I talked about mbalax mbalax mbalax, watched videos, chatted about dancers and Dakar. Sigh. SO FUN! We stopped briefly at Ndeye Coumba’s house in Montreal for food and more fierce mbalax videos before heading over to Balattou!

Another wonderful night! I was happy to see Oumar Ndiaye’s wife, Marie-Helène at the door, as they had been so hospitable to me the last time I was in Montreal. We made our way across the packed room to the bar and Oumar said from the mic, “Tonight, we have a special guest all the way from California! We love her because she loves Senegal … and dances better than most of us! Ash-LAY Ma-YER!” To my shameless delight, all the Senegalese were looking around like, “Ash-LAY? Where? Where?” Oh Oumar, je t'adore!

In fact, some of Montreal’s finest Senegalese musicians were at the club that night. I was thrilled to see Zale Seck (I recorded the backing vocals for his last CD) and his brilliant guitarist son, Assane. I last saw Assane at Just 4 U in Dakar, backing Yoro Ndiaye, and here he was onstage with Oumar. Such a beautiful spirit and WHAT TALENT!!!!

with Zale Seck and his talented guitarist son, Assane SeckPhotobucket

Assane and Oumar “Xosluman” NdiayePhotobucket

The evening was a full blown party! The grooves were on fire, I solo-ed and sang, everyone was happy to be together, the Senegalese ALL got up and danced, Zale played drums, Elage Mbaye and Elage Diouf (of Les Freres Diouf) guested alongside excellent sabar drummer Amar Fall to cook up some BURNING sabar. Elage Mbaye later looked at his cracked / painful left thumb and said, “Wow, I haven’t played that hard in a looooonnnng time!” Neexna neexna neexna torop torop torop!

with Elage Diouf, Amar Fall, and Abdou SyPhotobucket

After a two hour drive home and a hot shower, I gratefully crawled under Elage’s son’s Godzilla duvet for a very good night’s sleep. Plane home the next day to the sunshine in Los Angeles. Ah, I love my life!

my Godzilla duvet at Elage’s house!Photobucket


Anonymous Anonymous said...

ashley i read all you have a great life and words are not enough to explain this... go one never stop senegalaise toubap!!!

2:09 AM

Blogger Ashley Maher said...

Jerejefaté! Tu es très gentille! THANK YOU! You are very kind to leave such a lovely comment. Every day, I am grateful for my life. I am truly blessed!

7:27 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Ashley, Djerejf! You are very good, I said your video 'Little Boat'. You songs very very good! I have a Senegalese husband and I am very nice to discover that there are people in to the world who love Senegalese music like me! I live in Italy and I hope to vist Canada... Inch'Allah.

6:39 AM

Blogger Tam Zezulka said...

Hello Ashley, Just wanted to let you know that my son can't get enough of your song and video for Small Boats. He is 6 and his father, sama jeker, is Bayefall from N'gor. We live in NYC. He wants to watch it all the time and can sing most of the song too. We are a family of drummers, singers and dancers and we love what you are doing. Please email us if you have a gig in New York some time.
Tam, Laye and Alaijah

8:46 AM

Blogger Ashley Maher said...

Thank you my friends from Italy and New York! Vive le Senegal !!!

1:30 PM


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