About twenty minutes into the concert Israeli musician, Idan Raichel explained to the audience how he and Malian guitar virtuoso, Vieux Farka Touré, came to be on the stage of The Dakota. If you need the back story, you can read my album review or check out the NPR story. The reason Raichel brought the story up was to explain why the newly formed collective did not have much for written material. “So, welcome to our living room,” Raichel added. Meaning: They were going to jam. And for two hours they played some of the most laid back, yet joyful music I’ve heard in a long time.
Seeing these two musicians perform together was a real kick. Besides the differences in religion, culture and hair style, Touré and Raichel couldn’t be any more different in how they play their musical instruments. Touré sat straight ahead in a chair, facing the audience, cradling his guitar like a newborn, slightly leaning to the left or the right if he needed to talk to a band member or work through a groove. Virtuoso is not an overstatement. Even though he is known back home as the African Jimi Hendrix when he straps on an electric guitar, he made playing the acoustic guitar look absolutely effortless as he produced a serene, soulful, West African sound.
Raichel – on the other hand – could not sit still. I took piano lessons in my youth, and my teacher, Sister Claire, would have been horrified by his technique. First, he sat askance with his torso and fingers facing the piano while the rest of his body faced the rest of the band. At times he even crossed his legs and somehow leaned back without missing a note. Then he was standing, leaning into the inner-workings of the concert piano.
Sister Claire once told me the piano is a percussive instrument and Raichel took full advantage of this description by muzzling and strumming the piano strings with one hand while plucking keys with the other. Listening to the album, I really didn’t notice the newly formed notes, but seeing him perform live made the musical experience even more alive and organic.
What made the night for me was seeing these two musicians interact. The reason Raichel contorted his body was to dial in on what Touré was creating. I loved their call and response. There was a deep fondness and chemistry that you normally don’t see in musicians on their first tour. Touré even teased his musical partner’s need to be surrounded by three musical instruments the (concert, electric and upright piano) while he somehow got through the night with one guitar. They were having a good time. So was everybody else. At one point Touré tried to get the audience to sing on one of the songs. It didn’t go so well, mainly because the chorus had just enough backbeat to throw off the Minnesotan crowd, but also why ruin the groove?