In the comforts of early Fall, with the windows thrown open and nothing coming through but the sun, winter seems not to exist. It is just a story you’ve told and been told but never really believed; the cold a memory you can’t quite access from a distance.
On this particular warm fall day, months before the polar vortex and the snowiest winter in years, Cedric Watson, Sidi Toure, Abdoulaye Kone dit Kandjafa and Desiree Champagne – collectively known as International Blues Express – perform the story of “Pa’ Janvier.” At the end of a day spent drifting out to the porch and back into the kitchen, once the sun and the garden has charmed us all into a pleasant stillness, the song sends a chill into the room. The violin, ngoni and guitar harmonize in a mournful breath, like a high-pitched moan of cold wind through a crack in the door. And Cedric recounts an old Cajun tale of the icy hand of old man winter come to steal his love. Donne moi Pauline.
Now as we haunt our own houses through a forbidding winter, listening to the performance it could seem a prediction of what was to come. A fable that foretold our chilly fate.
See International Blues Express – “Hanna” (Part 1), a traditional Malian song sung by Sidi Toure.
The Creole musicians speak to their Malian bandmates in French. Most everyone in the room, Americans and Africans both, speaks French to one another, explaining what is being explained as the house is set up for the recording. The four members of International Blues Express – Sidi Toure and Abdoulaye Kone dit Kandjafa from Mali, Cedric Watson and Desiree Champagne from Louisiana – are bonded by the common language, bonded to us by it, too. Heritage, experience and instinct all combine so that musicians, filmmakers, recordists, from different continents and different corners of them, are all communicating.
The Creole and Malian musical styles and songs melt together perfectly. The bright plucking sounds of the ngoni and guitar dance lightly on the steady rhythm of the washboard and the fiddle’s dulcet drone. Celebration is something that we all experience, and we instinctively know the sound of a joyous occasion when we hear it. “Hanna” means a joyous all-night gathering, and is a song for celebrating the first child born into a family. It can take on a form that is endless, so that the dancing can continue until dawn. It is a song of thanks-giving. We are thankful for this day, thankful for the chance to see the world light up with this connection, the makings of a new musical genre emerge, the possibilities that collaboration and exploration can offer.
At the end of the day, the house is filled with the smells of the meal that everyone shares. The fundamental pieces of life are the same everywhere.
The 78 we made with International Blues Express has two Side As. In the next installment, our Creole friends take the lead, and lead us from birth to the unknown beyond it.