Review: Bokante @ West End Cultural Centre (June 23, 2017)
This is the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival show I was most excited to see. I’ve been a fan of Jazz/Funk/Rock band Snarky Puppy since hearing “What About Me?” off their album “We Like It Here”.
When I heard Jazz Winnipeg was bringing in a group with members of Snarky Puppy, I was over the moon excited. I ordered their album and I plugged them as much as I could on my own page, knowing you’d probably get sick of that real fast. But I was so excited.
I arrived at the West End Cultural Centre an hour early and found a seat in the second row. The stage was full of percussion and my eyes were wide like saucers. I LOVE PERCUSSION.
Much of the percussion at the front belonged to Casimiro Nhussi & the Nafro Band. I saw Casimiro and band back in March at the Gas Station Theatre where they played for an interpretive dance group. There was a djembe drum for every audience member in the theatre and we were expected to play along with the band. It was a cool concept and I had intended on writing a review, but frankly, I don’t really get interpretive dance. I have more questions than answers whenever I see it, and I always leave feeling uneasy. So there was no review. But the BAND was great and I knew I’d see them again.
It took awhile for the full band to take the stage so we all stopped clapping, to which Casimiro replied: “You’re too quiet, you scare me.”
He needn’t have worried, because that was the last time the West End Cultural Centre was quiet that night. From start to finish, the Nafro Band had us clapping, singing, and dancing. It was a full on celebration.
Have you ever walked or driven by a building and there’s a band inside and you can hear it from the street and you think “Holy smokes, that place is jumping…it sounds amazing, how can I get inside there…” That’s what it felt like. BUT WE WERE INSIDE and it WAS jumping.
When they finished their set, people in the audience were actually sweating. If you’re a warm up band and you want to measure your level of success, I’d say sweaty audience members is probably a good indication you’ve done your job.
As I waited for Bokante’s set, I watched their members casually set up and tune their instruments. I admired percussionist, Andre Ferrari’s funky hair. I dug that hair.
I noticed Jamey Haddad and Keith Ogawa (both percussionists) were missing and it was later announced that Keith was back in New York waiting for his first child to be born. After that, it was impossible to be disappointed the whole band wasn’t there, because that’s just good priorities.
And so began Bokante’s very first concert in Canada. To my right, stood three Snarky Puppy guys: Chris McQueen (guitar); Bob Lanzetti (guitar); and Snarky Puppy founder Michael League (baritone guitar). To my left, a hodge podge of incredible musicians with their own styles, cultures and backgrounds.
It’s that unconventional mixture, that melding of different influences, which fills my brain with wonder and leaves it wanting more.
Bokante means “exchange” and their website states: “Bokanté is a vibrant image of what it wishes to see in the world: connection, unity, and love- through exchange.” Plus, five guitarists, two percussionists and a singer from Guadalupe is always a good idea.
After the first tune which established this high calibre show, Michael introduced vocalist, Malika Tirolien and she told us a story about the next song. She was happy to hear Winnipeg has a vibrant French community and addressed us a lot in French. Bokante songs are sung in Creole or French and I understand neither, but it was lovely to watch her say and sing it.
After “Jou Ke Ouve”, Jay White played a fantastic bass solo which the crowd seemed to love and then Andre played a percussion solo which I don’t have the words for. There was so much going on and I was a touch distracted because through the whole show he held something in his mouth that looked like a meat thermometer. He had a unique style, but I wasn’t convinced it was an accessory.
Upon further investigation, I discovered it was a “Grouse Pipe” used for hunting black grouse, which apparently is popular in Sweden. Musically, where would you categorize something like that? And that’s basically what the solo was like. Unconventional, unique and intriguing – I loved it.
“Limye”, which was written after Prince passed away was very moving and I loved watching Michael during “Roudesann”. He’s one of the most expressive musicians I’ve ever seen, almost always smiling and completely digging what’s going on.
The whole band seemed to be really support each other and what they were doing, especially during solos. Roosevelt Collier (lap and pedal steel guitar) was also incredible to watch and listen to. He had my full attention during all his solos. Very moving.
“Vayan” was the song I was waiting to hear. I was so excited and overwhelmed, I almost couldn’t take it all in and after it was over I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry from sheer joy. I wanted to do both, it was so much more explosive and powerful on that stage than in the recording.
Everyone left the stage except for Michael and Malika and they performed a Snarky Puppy tune and then everyone came back on stage and Weebie Braimah, (percussion) performed a blistering djembe solo which was so fast I was ready to duck just in case his hand flew off his wrists.
After the last song, the band received a standing ovation and came back again for the encore. Michael spoke about the band and the state of the world and encouraged us to read the lyrics to their songs so we could understand the statements they were trying to make.
Usually when a band tells the audience they have one more song to play, I think “Ok, good. It’s late, I get the gist of this and I have to race home and write a review”. This time that didn’t happen. What happened was my head and heart went “NOOOO!!! NOT YET! ALREADY?!”
They played the last song, Malika’s voice was absolutely soaring and the woman next to me clutched her hands against her chest. I thought “I KNOW that feeling, I feel it right now too” and we sat there while our spirits sailed around the room.
And then it was over. The band left the stage to a rousing standing ovation and I was bummed out.
Part of the reason was due to being a Mommy by day and concert reviewer by night for the past week – I haven’t had more than five hours of sleep per night. But a large part was that I had been looking forward to this show for months and it was just as amazing as I thought it was going to be and I never wanted it to end. Sadness and lack of sleep are not a good combination for me, so I waited a few days to write this review.
Whatever I paid for the ticket, it felt like it wasn’t enough. So before I left, I bought a t-shirt for my Husband, who has never heard of Bokante. He is now the owner of a bright red shirt with their name splashed across the chest. It’s the price he pays (among others) for being married to someone who’s obsessed with music and concerts.
And that was one incredible concert. If you get a chance to see Bokante, I highly recommend it. Actually, check out anything Michael League is involved in. That guy is a musical trailblazer.
This concludes my reviews for the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival. I’m exhausted, my house looks like it was hit by a tornado, there’s no food in the fridge and all our clothes are dirty. Tomorrow morning I’ll be wearing a pair of leggings and my Husband’s oversized Bokante shirt. Actually, we might have to fight over the shirt.
It’s ok, because it was all worth it. That was a great “first” festival and I can’t wait to see who Jazz Winnipeg brings in next year. (COUGH! COUGH!) snarky puppy (COUGH! COUGH!)
P.S. Check out my live videos of this show here: https://www.facebook.com/TicketMOMsters/posts/1782445275113830
TicketMOMster is a Rock and Jazz-loving Mom; single-handedly keeping Ticketmaster alive in Winnipeg. Follow her musical journey here: www.facebook.com/TicketMOMs