The Power of TK

Write to Me:

See Also

100 Things About Me
The Bull's Testicles Project
Russia Trip: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
Best of 2002: Movies, Books, Music.
Best of 2003: Movies.
Best of 2004: Movies, Books.
Best of 2005: Theater, Books.
Best of 2006: Theater, Books, Television.


Other Sites

My Slate archive
Day job podcasts
YST Movie Madness
Weblog Commenting and Trackback by

Sunday, April 27, 2003

"I liked it when you did the tongue thing"
If there are chick flicks, is there also such a thing as chick restaurants? Last night R and I dined with some friends at the Agua Verde Paddle Club and Café down on the water overlooking Portage Bay. The ratio of women to men seemed to be around 4:1 or at least 3:1—and no, it doesn’t, erm, “cater to a special clientele” or anything like that. I guess chicks just did their excellent food, good margaritas and a fabulous view. Yesterday, we even had a live nature show when two drakes fought a land-and-air battle over a duck.

After dinner we went to hear Tuareg music played by the Ensemble Tartit, a group of six women and three men from Mali. Well, I guess the group formed in a refugee camp in Burkina Faso; one of them lives in Belgium, and since the Tuareg—or Kel Tamashek, as they call themselves—are a nomadic people who traveled all around the area that now corresponds with Algeria, Libya, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, it's hard to say where they "come from," but at one point they said their “homeland” was near Essakane, Mali, where they hold the Festival of the Desert.

It was an incredible concert, even though it was hard to shake off that air of “exoticism” that can get in the way of treating “world” music like any other kind of music. (To misquote the late, great Pat Parker: “The first thing you do is to forget that it’s music. Second, you must never forget that it’s music.”) Why? Certainly not because it was hard to get into it—the hard thing was not to get up and join in—but because, well, they were exotic. At the intermission and at the end of the show, members of the group went into the lobby to sell stuff (CDs at half time; leather goods afterward) and it was funny to see the audience—a protest march waiting to happen, full of hippies, lesbians, and academics, or people who were all three—trying ever so casually to get a good look at the musicians up close.

The reason I wanted to stare was that they were almost completely covered—apparently in the Tuareg society the men are veiled, though one did show some of his face—and although the women weren’t veiled per se, they wore ornate headdresses and were constantly putting their voluminous garments over their heads. And it was hard not to notice their varying skin colors—the women were relatively light-skinned, like North African Berbers, while the men seemed to be darker. (I read later that the two men who played the tehardant—which is one of only two traditional instruments played by men—are griots from the metalsmith caste, which is considered the lowest rung of Tuareg society because “they are feared for their power over the element of fire.”) So, there were two veiled men playing the tehardant, a three-stringed instrument somewhere between a guitar and a lute; one man singing and playing the electric guitar; two women singing and trading off on tinde, which is a sort of drum; one woman singing and playing the imzad, “a small one-stringed fiddle that is the symbol of Tuareg society,” and one woman singing. Actually, everyone except the tehardant players, who sort of spoke-sang—but not like Rex Harrison or William Shatner—sang, and almost everyone clapped, and most people also danced. Confused yet? Not to be.

The dancing was particularly interesting because it was so minimalist—or maybe it was just invisible. For a large part of the show they danced in a seated position—they were seated on a carpet on the floor for most of the evening—which was incredibly sexy even though the only parts of their bodies you could actually see were their hands. Even when they got up to dance toward the end of the show, their clothes were so voluminous, you could still just see their hands—and maybe a toe or two peeking out from under their robes from time to time.

Musically—and dance-move-wise—there were so many echoes of other styles of music. The hand movements looked like the South Pacific hula; the clapping was reminiscent of flamenco (of course there are obvious links with the gypsy diaspora); it wasn’t “Mali music” but you could hear bits of Issa Babayogo, and there were definitely a lot of Arab influences.

Apparently, Ensemble Tartit had been in Seattle for a week, doing residences in public schools, rotary clubs, and stuff. The fund-raising folks displayed thank-you notes that children had made for them, almost all of which said, “I liked it when you did the tongue thing,” which I imagine was a reference to their ululations. Can you imagine being a little kid in the Pacific Northwest and having some singing, dancing, and music-making nomads from the African desert come to your classroom? Incredible. The great evening definitely made me want to subscribe for next year’s UW world music series, which includes a Turkish percussionist, a “journey of the Roma” ensemble, and taiko drummers.