Cheap eats – msimen café in Essaouira

There is a new cafe in Essaouira – it’s only been around for a few months and it’s only open in the evenings from 4-9pm, but it’s always packed to the gills and is cheap as chips. 

Come to think of it, maybe it’s like a Moroccan equivalent of a chippie or Greggs (for the non-Brits, it’s a bakery chain selling sandwiches and hot savoury pastries); only Moroccans tend not to eat on the move, so they pop in for a quick, hot snack and move on.

msimen being pulled and folded into shape

Even the menu isn’t very large.  You can have warm harira soup (3dh, around 23p), freshly griddled msimen (2dh, about 15p) and piping hot mint tea (6dh, expensive at about 45p!), or any combination of the above. That’s it!  And yet it’s probably the most popular fast food joint in town – at less than £2 for a hot meal, that’s perhaps hardly surprising! 

the msimen ladies are happy at their work!

Msimen are like a pancake made from a dough rather than a batter. Head-scarved ladies pull the dough into shape and fold it over and over itself, liberally sprinkling it with something like very fine semolina.  Then a guy griddles them out on the street.  They have a passing resemblance to Turkish gözleme or French crêpes.  They are served with either butter/oil and honey or spreading cheese (the type that comes in triangular shapes in a round box).

the piping hot msimen are nearly ready!

Harira is a traditional North African soup made from a tomato base with chickpeas, vermicelli pasta and coriander, seasoned with cinnamon, cumin, paprika and ginger. It has a velvety consistency achieved by the addition of flour right at the end of cooking and is sometimes made with lamb.  It’s warming and hearty – like a meal in a bowl – and so it’s no surprise that it’s often eaten to break the fast during Ramadan. 

The combination of savoury harira soured with a little vinegar and sweet msimen is a surprising winner.  At least the shoppers, shop keepers, corner huggers, heel kickers and general masses of Essaouira seem to think so.  The little café, with 3-4 low tables downstairs and 5-6 upstairs is always packed and is a real social leveller: everyone just grabs the next available seat, sharing a corner of a table as it becomes free.  Grannies sit beside teenagers; tourists beside jellaba-d businessmen and the young and the old dig into the sticky msimen with their fingers.

a great snack: mint tea and msimen (with a mountain of sugar!)

I think the secret to the success of the msimen café is that it brings people together.  It’s cheap, so everyone can afford it, and the food is homely and comforting.  It reminds young male migrant workers (who may not have the facilities or the expertise to cook in their accommodation) of mum’s home cooking, yet a quick snack won’t spoil the appetite of those lucky enough to have a cooked meal at home.  And in bringing people together, this small café, with its trip hazard stairs and cramped accommodation enables the local Swiris to engage in their favourite hobby of chatting, gossiping and generally catching up on the day’s events. 

Msimen Café, Avenue Istiqlal, Essaouira
(It’s on the left if you’re walking away from the beach, a bit further than the bank and on the other side, before you reach the souks)

© Lynn Sheppard (photos: Yassine Houmdi)

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Gift shopping in the souks

the souks in Marrakech

I love the crafts and goods for sale in Morocco and I love a shopping mission to hunt down the perfect gift for friends and family.  I have already written about the hunt for ma’quda to decorate towels as a present for my mum; buying spices; and my hunt for a handcrafted zellij mosaic (OK, that was a present for myself!).

The bargaining and haggling can be a bit daunting, but all you need to know are my top five tips to keep your wits (if not your cash) in the souk:

  1. The goods you want to purchase don’t have a price; you do.  The price you are quoted for the object of your desire will be entirely based on what the stallholder thinks he’ll get from you.
  2. Figure out what you’d be willing to pay and then suggest a figure around a third of the quoted price.  If the shopkeeper won’t budge, walk away.  He’ll either drop the price or you can start again at his competitor’s shop.
  3. Check the workmanship/size/quality and if it’s not good, walk away.  You’ll find better elsewhere.
  4. Above all, enjoy it!  Don’t take it too seriously.  Enjoy the banter; sip the mint tea and keep your humour.  My friend was once sold a pair of slippers of different sizes, but she really didn’t mind because the shopkeeper was so charming while he fleeced her!!
  5. Finally, these guys are experienced.  If shopping in the souk still sounds a bit intimidating to someone used to their local supermarket, do what I do and take along a local!

Item number one on my list was a summer weight djellaba (like a hooded dressing gown you pull over your head) for my mate Will’s birthday.  He thought it would be perfect for lounging around the house.  We managed to find a denim blue one in Essaouira.  First of all, we checked the price we should pay with a shopkeeper who didn’t have what we were looking for and then once I’d found one of suitable quality at another stall (no loose threads, neat top stitching and tidy rows of ma’quda), my chief negotiator went in for the kill.  One djellaba for the right (local) price; tick!

one very happy recipient of a djellaba (doing a good impersonation of Obi Wan Kenobi!)

one pair of babouches with matching ma'quda

We had spent a week in Essaouira looking for white babouches (flat leather slippers) at the request of a friend, but they were either the wrong size, poorly sewn or revealing the marker pen lines used to trace the pattern.  One pair didn’t even match!  We left that item for Marrakech and managed to find two lovely pairs – one with ma’quda and one with iridescent sequins in the souk off Rue Derb Dabachi in the medina.  Again, I took a back seat and let my friend do the talking.  Et voila!  Two pairs for the price my friend was willing pay for one; tick!

and a second pair with sequins

 I had really been struggling to find something for my mum.  She’s not keen on babouches (too flat) and she doesn’t like kaftans and djellabas (she has a weird phobia of pulling clothes over her head!) and she doesn’t need any more knick-knacks for the house.  However, she loves handicrafts and when we passed the shop of Mohamed Tijani further along Rue Derb Dabachi (opposite Derb Jdid), I knew I would find something perfect for her.  As he took pleasure in explaining to us, Monsieur Tijani sources hand embroidered tablecloths and table mats from Berber women in the villages of the Atlas Mountains.  The produce is fairly traded and provides valuable income for families in rural areas.  The patterns on the two oversized mats I bought were traditional Berber designs and Mohammed was happy to demonstrate them for the camera! Gift for hard-to-buy-for mum; tick!

Monsieur Tijani and his "broderie marcocain"

Last on the gift list was something for a couple of female friends.  Mme Ziani came up with the goods in her lovely little shop, Le Nature, on Rue Riad Zitoun Jdid.  The shop sells all sorts of beauty and home gifts and hammam accessories such as argan oil soap, embroidered cushion covers and lovely little purses, make up bags and iPad covers featuring stylised traditional designs, such as the hand of Fatima (believed to ward off evil – every woman needs that in the bathroom!!).  Cute, wipe clean purses for friends; tick!

Hand of Fatima purse

Shopping is hard work.  If you are doing yours in Marrakech, check out my chill out tips!

If you’d like me to do the hard work for you, drop me a line via the comments box.  There’s only one thing better than shopping and that’s shopping for someone else!

© Lynn Sheppard (words and pictures)

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Tinariwen in Edinburgh

Tinariwen in Edinburgh
(c) Lynn Sheppard

Wrapped in their kaftans, tagelmust (also known as chech – a scarf/turban of up to 12 metres) and adorned with brightly decorated pendant pouches, Tinariwen cut quite a dash on a stage in Scotland.

Tinariwen are a collective of Touareg and Berber musicians from the various countries which border the Sahara. The Touareg are scattered across West and North African and the name Tinariwen means ‘deserts’. It was particularly poignant to see them in this week when the latest round of Touareg rebellion (a series of separatist insurgencies which date back to at least 1916) has been in the news, along with the military coup in Mali.

The founding members of Tinariwen met as refugees in rebel training camps – first under the auspices of recently deposed Colonel Gaddafi and later with other Touareg rebels with whom some of them participated in the 1990 rebellion in Mali. After the Tamanrasset Accords in 1991, it is said that the band members turned their attentions full time to music. However, several of the older members of Tinariwen were unable to be in Edinburgh because of the latest conflict in Mali.

The Tinariwen genre is usually referred to as ‘desert blues’ and it is not necessary to understand any of the languages in which they sing to comprehend the hardship and strife they seek to express. The electric and acoustic guitar riffs and the basslines are at once recognisable as those we know from African-American blues, but they are layered with influences from ancient and modern African styles such as chaabi, raï and assouf. Unlike American blues, however, the lyrics seem to be laden with so much meaning they stretch beyond the musical phrases, like the adversity and suffering of the stateless Touareg is too great to fit.

singing through the chech
(c) Lynn Sheppard

The set, which was more than 1.5 hours long, began with songs from last year’s Grammy Award-winning Tassili album, which the band has been touring since September 2011. Then followed a selection from their other four albums. For the encore, a sixth musician came on stage to play a flute to which the band performed a mesmerising chant, like a collective moan which held the whole venue in its grasp. The crowd went wild – there was dancing in the aisles and their appreciation was shouted in English and French.

Although Edinburgh has become increasingly cosmopolitan over the 20-odd years I have called it home, it was still a very rare and special treat to see Tinariwen here in all their swaddled glory and being very much appreciated by the local audience. The band have a long way to go before they return to their conflict and coup-ravaged home of Mali, but hopefully they will remember fondly their short stop in Scotland’s capital.

A version of this post is also on my Edinburgh reviews blog.

© Lynn Sheppard (words and pictures)

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Chillin’ in Marrakech – the city’s gardens

The hustle and bustle, the bartering and the banter, plus swerving out of the way of approaching scooters, bikes and donkeys are all part of the attraction of Marrakech, but sometimes you just want a bit of peace and quiet where no-one will try to sell you something, tempt you into their restaurant, offer to be your guide or run you over. 

coloured plant pots in the Jardin Majorelle
(c) Lynn Sheppard

On a recent trip to the Pink City, we made sure to do all our shopping on Day One so that we had Day Two to do some relaxed sightseeing outside the medina.  I was with a Moroccan friend and we each chose a place the other had never been.  As it happens, our choices (the Jardin Majorelle and the Menara Gardens) were case study in the contrasting ways Europeans and Moroccans like to relax as well as the differences between how each culture organises and cares for its green spaces and cultural heritage.

Jardin Majorelle

majorelle blue buildings in the Jardin Majorelle
(c) Lynn Sheppard

I had been to the Jardin Majorelle before and find it inspirational.  I am drawn to the contrast between the colours: the bright tropical foliage and the magenta bougainvillea; the yellow, orange and powder blue plant pots along terracotta paths and around murky pools.  And, of course, the bright cobalt bleu majorellebuildings against the blindingly bright cloudless sky.  The other big attractions are the tranquillity – interrupted only by the whispers of visitors and the tinkling of the fountains – and the shade.  There is also a brand new museum of Berber culture, which we didn’t visit on this occasion, preferring to laze in the shadows of the palms.  The café – in a small courtyard – is  also excellent, although the prices are far higher than the world outside the walls!

In memory of YSL, with whom I share my birthday
(c) Lynn Sheppard

French artist Jacques Majorelle was born in 1886 in Nancy. He travelled to colonial Morocco in 1919 to recover from ill health and founded the gardens in 1924.  The gardens were opened to the public in 1947 and bought by designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé in 1980.  Following his death in 2008, Saint Laurent’s ashes were scattered in the gardens.  Bergé is President of the Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, which manages the gardens.

palms offer welcome shade in the Jardin Majorelle
(c) Lynn Sheppard

It was this latter point on which my Moroccan friend remarked.  He found the entrance fee (50dh – about €5) prohibitively expensive for the average Moroccan but conceded that such a charge was necessary to maintain the gardens in such excellent condition.  He appreciated the foundation’s role in maintaining the gardens but thought it was a pity that they weren’t in public control for all to enjoy.  We agreed, however, that the Moroccan government has other priorities at present.  According to the website, Moroccan school and other groups can enter for free on request.  

Jardin Majorelle, Rue Yves Saint Laurent, Marrakech
Tel: +212 (0)5 24 31 30 47
e-mail : info@jardinmajorelle.com

Menara Gardens

The pavilion in the Menara
(c) Lynn Sheppard

The Menara Gardens are well-used by locals and entrance is free. As we entered, I overheard a German tour guide tell his group that the site was “the nearest Marrakech gets to something like Central Park.”  However, the Menara are not public gardens according to the Western idea: there is no grass and the trees are part of an orchard rather than a designed landscape.  The broad paved pathway is perfect for the promenade so well-loved in countries of more stable climates than Northern Europe, but there is absolutely no way to enjoy the view of the (snow-capped) Atlas mountains reigning over the Gardens’ pavilion and lake in the shade!  If you are even remotely pale skinned, do not visit the Menara without a hat, parasol or – like the local ladies – a headscarf.

Although the café was closed (it’s under the bleachers at one end – these are apparently for spectators of a son et lumière show in the evenings), the gardens were full of folks enjoying them in their own ways.  There were a bunch of kids beating the heat, jumping and diving into the basin artificially created for the 12th century Almohad ruler Abd al-Mu’min.  Any attraction of that method of cooling off was quickly ruled out at the sight of the giant carp the size of small babies that periodically come up for air!  The basin, which is ingeniously filled by run off from the mountains 30km away, serves a complex irrigation system for the surrounding olive groves.  It is here that many local families were enjoying the shade, perched on the bumpy ground and the gnarled roots with picnics, barbeques and sound systems.  We joined them for a while – those locals aren’t daft (we all know what the song says about mad dogs and Englishmen…..)

camels for hire outside the Menara
(c) Lynn Sheppard

The gardens are named after the summer pavilion overlooking the water.  It must have been very relaxing to be a sultan reclining in the shade surveying all that he owned! There is a small charge to enter the pavilion, but it didn’t look like there was much to see.  Nowadays, the main view would be of the nearby airport, but surprisingly the noise didn’t carry at all.  At the gates, there’s a great photo (and transportation) opportunity with a small herd of camels available for tourists’ use as well as a direct sightline down to the Koutoubia Mosque on the medina’s edge.

Menara Gardens, Avenue de la Menara, Marrakech

For more Marrakech tips, click here.  There is much more about Morrocco on this blog here.

tranquility in the Jardin Majorelle
(c) Lynn Sheppard

© Lynn Sheppard, words and pictures

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Cornes de Gazelles ~ Kaab el ghzal ~ Gazelle’s Horns

 

Koutoubia Mosque
© Lynn Sheppard

On my recent return from Morocco, my case was too full of presents and requests for friends (more on those later) to allow any space for my usual consignment of pastries and biscuits.  But it’s hardly the done thing not to take some local sweet delicacies into work after a trip, so I thought I’d better learn how to make them myself.  The cornes de gazelle weren’t nearly as difficult as I’d feared (although I managed to turn my Moroccan macaroons into teeth-breaking pebbles! Oops !)

This recipe is from ‘The Food of Morocco’ by Tess Mallos. The little crescent moon-shaped pastries are ubiquitous in Morocco and the ideal accompaniment to a glass of mint tea.  The pastry is not at all sweet and the filling is a paste of marzipan-flavoured deliciousness.

Cornes de Gazelles ~ Kaab el ghzal ~ Gazelle’s Horns

Pastry

300g plain flour
1 egg yolk
125ml cold water
30g melted butter
2 tbsp orange flower water (if you can’t find this, use a mix of water and 1 tsp vanilla essence)

Almond Filling

300g ground almonds
90g icing sugar (plus extra to dust)
1 tbsp orange flower water (as before)
1 egg white
30g melted butter
½ teasp ground cinnamon
¼ teasp almond extract

Method

1.   Make the pastry by sifting the flour into a bowl and making a well in the centre. Beat the egg with the water and the orange water.  Pour into the well in the flour with the melted butter and mix to a soft dough.  Knead in the bowl for up 3-4 minutes to make a smooth, elastic dough.  Divide in half, wrap each half in cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

2.   Meanwhile, heat the oven to 180°C and make the filling.  Mix all the filling ingredients to a stiff paste.  Take 3 level teaspoons of the mix and roll in your hands into a log with tapered ends around 6-7cm long.  Place on a sheet of baking paper and put aside.

method for cornes de gazelles
from The Food of Morocco, Murdoch Books

3.   To make up the pastries, first thinly roll out a half of the pastry on a lightly floured surface.  Try to make a rectangle about 30x40cm.  Place three almond lozenges along the short end about 5cm in from the edge and about 2.5cm apart. Lightly brush either side and between the almond shapes with water.  Life and stretch the pastry over the lozenges and press down.  Cut a semicircle around each one with a fluted pastry wheel (like mezzaluna pasta) and nick in the middle to make a crescent moon shape (with the join on the inside edge).  Prick 4 times with a cocktail stick and lay on a lined baking tray.  Cut a straight line along the edge of the pastry and repeat until you’ve used both halves of the dough (including the trimmings) and all the filling.  It should make around 28 pieces.

 

4.   Bake for 12-15 minutes until cooked but still pale.  Transfer straight away to a wire cooling rack and dust with icing sugar.  Should they last that long, store in an airtight container once cool.

the finished product
© Lynn Sheppard

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A Single Swallow, Horatio Clare

An ancient Taoist saying goes: “The journey is the reward.” 

Horatio Clare’s journey begins in South Wales.  He decides to trace local swallows to their winter hangouts in South Africa and then follow them across Africa back to Europe.  The destination in this case, like much good travel writing, is a personal arrival rather than a physical place.  As Clare moves across Africa, through different cultures, languages, colonial heritage, poverty and occasional conflict, he does so with the locals, sharing their lives, encountering their problems and very occasionally overcoming them.  In each place, he looks for the swallows and learns about the folklore associated with them – they are heralded as the bringers of rain; in some places are considered lucky and occasionally as the medium of messages from the ancestors.

passing through Marrakech
© Lynn Sheppard

Clare’s story is charming in its romanticism and its naivety – it appears that although he knew such a journey might change his life, little prior consideration was given to the extent to which this might occur.  He travels through countries and across borders only the most intrepid would even countenance.  Sadly, due to the pace of the swallows’ migration, he is seldom in any for long.  His prose is honest (particularly as he describes a moment of apparent madness on re-entering Europe) and the profound personal impact of his journey is palpable.  Overall, he demonstrates an endearing modesty and fallibility (especially as he is fleeced by an elaborate hash con in Morocco!)  and returns home a different person as a result of what he has witnessed and experienced and the people he has met.

A good read for both travellers and birdwatchers of the active or armchair variety!

© Lynn Sheppard

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Zawiya Hamdouchia, Essaouira

the entrance to Zawiya Hamdouchia

The Gnaoua World Music Festival is well known worldwide as a celebration of gnaoua music and culture in Essaouira, Morocco. However, once the tourists and world music fans had returned home, it was an unexpected pleasure this winter to discover the Zawiya Hamdouchia in a back street of the Essaouira medina where religious adherents were practicing ancient ceremonies and celebrating their religion through music with equal fervous but much less of the pomp and colour of the Festival.

a very large tambourine

A Zawiya is a religious and cultural centre, normally featuring a domed roof and including a mosque, rooms for religious instruction and learning and often accommodation for adherents. Unlike mainstream islam, whose adherents commune with Allah directly through prayer and religious practice, gnaouis and followers of other Sufi sects communicate with their God via the means of music, trance and dance.

ancient rituals

Unlike is usually the case in Morocco’s mainstream mosques, on this occasion I and other non-Muslims were able to visit the Zawiya and observe rituals which looked like they hadn’t changed for decades – if not centuries. Surrounded by men in traditional jellabas and playing the repetitive percussive beats of ancient Africa, I felt transported back through the ages. It was only the presence of the odd man in jeans and a jumper that served to remind me I was in 21stcentury Morocco.

ritual music, dance and trance

The adherents were absorbed in their rituals and seemed un-self conscious in their religious practice, to the extent that we spectators were able to take photographs and enjoy their music in our own ways.

© Lynn Sheppard (words and pictures)

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Sierra Maestra in Edinburgh

Sierra Maestra in Edinburgh

Hailing from Havana, Sierra Maestra are no strangers to the UK.  They were here only last spring (2011), when they also played in Edinburgh. 

At their March 2012 gig, the band had everyone on their feet all night, as you would expect from a 34-year old, Latin grammy-nominated combo.  Even those less familiar with Sierra Maestra’s signature son rhythms shed their inhibitions and took to the floor.  As well as several son numbers, they played other classic Cuban rhythms such as rumba, guaguancó and a conga.  With a little animation and demonstration from Edinburgh’s tiny Cuban community, we were guided through some of the less familiar beats by experts.

Thanks to the success of the Buena Vista Social Club film and subsequent tours of its stars, son – even if European listeners don’t always distinguish it from the more popular (and populist) salsa rhythm – has experienced a recent popularity worldwide.  The Buena Vista idea (and by extension the resurgence in popularity of Cuban music and dance beyond the shores of Castro’s island) is attributed to Sierra Maestra’s tres player, Juan de Marcos González.  Many of band’s musicians wouldn’t have looked out of place in the film, age-wise.  Sadly, it took so long for the talent of the Buena Vista stars to be recognised outside of Cuba that many have now passed away.  We can be thankful, however, that bands such as Sierra Maestra are able to tour and find such enthusiastic audiences so far from the Caribbean sunshine.

the essential clave

Compared to salsa, comparatively few people outside Cuba learn or teach son.  More’s the pity, as it is one of the key building blocks of modern Cuban salsa.  Less overtly sexual than Cuban rumba; more elegant than salsa, son oozes class and a certain formality not always common to Latin dance styles.  Son steps are very similar to salsa steps – son precedes salsa historically.  However, son is always danced contratiempo (against the beat; syncopated), which is what makes it so tricky to learn.  Some teachers call it ‘on 2’, others say ‘on 4’.  However it’s described, when dancing son, you have to dig the 5 beats of the clave rhythm out of the mass of percussion and melody or it’s all too easy to slip back onto the beat.  But then it’s only the rhythmically challenged non-Cubans among us who worry about the counting anyway.  As Cuban conga player and band leader Mongo Santamaria said: “In Cuba we just play. We feel it, we don’t talk about such things.”

A version of this review also appears on my Edinburgh Reviews blog.

© Lynn Sheppard (words and pictures)

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Los Van Van in Leeds

Los Van Van, from Havana, Cuba, are an incredible band to see live.  With 16 musicians and vocalists on stage, they are true to the Spanish term for such a band: orquesta. I have seen them before – at the Roundhouse in London in 2009 – but I appreciated them so much more this time around.  Not just because I have had considerably more salsa classes or because I know more of their music, but because I now better understand timba.

Los Van Van at the Leeds O2 Academy

Timba is a complex concept.  It is much more than modern Cuban salsa.  There are many articles explaining its musical, social, geographical and probably even revolutionary origins, but like all modern Cuban music, it has its deepest roots in Africa.  Just like modern Cuban dance is a like a layered cake of Santeria-influenced Afro-Cuban styles with a filling of rumba, a marzipan of son, and icing of salsa and a sprinkling of street dance; timba is a musical layering and mixing of rhythms and instruments, heavily influenced both by the African and the Cuban but also by jazz, rock, disco and – latterly – hip hop. It’s about the clave, the essential keeper of the Cuban beat, but it’s not all about the clave.  It’s about the tempo, but it’s also about the contratiempo; the syncopation.  It’s all in there and a talented dancer will be able to pick out several rhythms in one track.

Los Van Van - 16 piece salsa orquesta

A Los Van Van performance is so engaging – there’s something for everyone.  A brass section of 4, 4 vocalists, at least 4 percussionists and the energy of the whole of Havana having a street party on the 1st January.  On top of that, no-one ever stops dancing.  The vocalists in particular – during their joint efforts as well as their solo numbers – are always stepping out the beat, and often in their trademark formation style.

just as the crowd showed the slightest signs of flagging, Los Van Van got everyone dancing again!

If Cuba did such a thing, Los Van Van would have the â sign for songo, their own variation on the timba theme. It’s a kind of rumba-funk hybrid, with the drum beats coming from the classic Cuban trio of timbales, conga and bongos, plus the addition of a full rock drum-kit, played in Leeds by Samuel Formell, son of Los Van Van founder, Juan Formell.

Undoubtedly the most recognisable number for the majority of non-Cubans in the audience was ‘Me Mantengo’ from their 2009 Arrasando album, which – thanks to Kerry Ribchester – has had a video make-over and this year won the LUKAS award for best music video (to sit beside their Latin Grammy from 2000).  This is the video:

It’s not often that the band my Cuban friends tell me is the “biggest/best/most popular (delete as appropriate) Cuban salsa orchestra in the world” comes to the UK and I’m so glad to have been there dancing and singing along!

© Lynn Sheppard

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Following in his father’s footsteps: Vieux Farka Touré

Vieux Farka Touré

It’s not often that my hometown of Edinburgh is fortunate enough to play host to the greats of African music, but during Glasgow’s Celtic Connections Festival this year, Vieux Farka Touré played in both cities.

Despite his name, Vieux Farka Touré is actually Farka Touré jnr – the son of internationally acclaimed Malian singer and guitarist, Ali Farka Touré. Against his parents’ wishes, Vieux is following in his (now deceased) father’s enormous footsteps and has successfully developed an equally international career as a guitarist.  His first album featured both his father and fellow-Malian world music superstar, Toumani Diabaté.

rockin' all over the world!

It can’t be easy stepping on stage after the warm up act has played a tribute to your dad, but I suppose Vieux Farka Touré is used to it by now.  Accompanied by a bassist with funky dreds and a white percussionist, once these guys get going, they really let rip! 

bashing the calabash

Vieux’s fingerstyle guitar playing reached an incredible intensity, but it was more about dexterirty than speed.  There were the rocking rifs of the Sahara blues but also rolling calypso-style melodies to remind us all of the West African origin of Afro-Caribbean beats.  

The set featured tracks from all three albums, but majored on the most recent, last year’s The Secret.  Tracks from that album included Ali, All the Same, Touri and Gido.  Despite the visceral beats of the calabash which opened the set, the largely white, foot-tappingly polite Edinburgh audience took a while to get going. But eventually the crowd went crazy and only reluctantly allowed the band off stage after their encore.

VFT has the audience eating out of his talented hands

A version of this review also appears on my Edinburgh reviews blog, mikanqueenreviews4U.

© Lynn Sheppard (words and pictures)

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