Ton Maas offers an informal concert review

VeDaKi (Vershki Da Koreshki) and Mari Boine

BIMhuis, Amsterdam
March 1, 1999

On the 1st of March, 1999, VeDaKi (Vershki DA Koreshki) shared the bill with Sami vocalist Mari Boine at the BIMhuis, Amsterdam's main jazz venue. Apart from being their usual quirky selves (with repeated on-stage deliberations to decide on which piece to play next - rendering the room almost a village square) VeDaKi's new line-up proved surprisingly successful.

Kaigal-ool Khovalyg (of Hun-Huur-Tu fame) has been replaced by percussionist Sandip Bhattacharya from India, who plays not just a normal set of tablas, but a series of five drums out of the larger ensemble known as tablatarang (on which complete ragas can be played). I can't tell if that was what prompted their shift in emphasis towards the percussive, but Alexei Levin spent more time than usual away from the piano (and the occasional accordion), playing a self-built extended thumb-piano (which he played with all ten fingers) and a talking drum, adding to the rhythmic complexities laid down by Sandip and Mola Sylla.

With his driving and pulsating double bass playing, Vladi Volkov really got the crowd moving. Not to take anything away from Boine, but I'm afraid Mola Sylla turned out to be the star of the evening, all the way from his theatrical appearance half way during the opening piece, down to the wild and exciting encore almost three hours later. He was all over the place, singing, drumming, smiling, working himself into a trance and extracting wonderfully intricate sounds from his mbira and his ngoni.

But the most amazing piece of the whole evening was an a-capella duet by Mola and Mari, where they literally turned a traditional Sami chant into something magically sub-Saharan. I hadn't seen Boine live before, but since I'm a big fan of her recorded work, I knew quite a few of the pieces she performed, and even though I sometimes missed the focus and cohesion of her own ensemble, she blended in wonderfully. What is most amazing about VeDaKi is their unique approach to the completely unrelated musical elements they represent. Instead of trying to create something "new" and "whole", they seem to have found a way in which all the participants can just do what's basically their own thing, until by some Grateful Dead-like magic something emerges, like a moiré emerges from different patterns when they are superimposed .

The fact that "it" is not there all the time, is an important ingredient of the spell they cast on their audience: it's like watching acrobats on the high wire. You know they can fall (and at times they almost do) which makes it all the more fantastic when they don't. It is this touchy-feeliness which makes them quite a bit more exciting live than they are on record, a problem they haven't really tackled yet. After the show I asked Boine if she was going to record with VeDaKi. She told me she didn't know yet - that they'd go touring together first. We can only wait and hope. - Ton Maas

Ton Maas writes for Ode Magazine (the Dutch incarnation of the Utne Reader), and is a broadcaster with ConcertZender and IKON

VeDaKi and Marie Boine CDs are available from cdRoots

Photo: © 1999 Henk Postma

See also: Mari Boine and VeDaKi

Levin and Boine

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