A while ago, the Afro-Cuban die was cast when certain musicians from Cuba and northern Africa felt as if they grooved to a similar drummer. The traditions of that subgenre thrive today as more and more musicians like Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca and Malian guitarist/vocalist Fatoumata Diawara feel inclined to bridge the Altantic through the power of music. Their chance meeting led to a 45 day tour of Europe as a seven-piece band and At Home: Live in Marciac is the resulting album. Right from its opening bars, this album crackles. Fonseca’s clavinet lays down a funky foundation, the crowd begins to clap along on the second and fourth beats, and the entire band are off and running. “Sowa” quickly becomes an Afro-Cuban call to worship. And for her part, Diawara is just getting warmed up.
By the time the band gets to “Connection”, Diawara is ready to give it her all. It may be a Fonseca original, but she’s still sounds at home while singing the refrain over a slow burning groove. Here, the northern African accent placed over Cuban percussion came come across as just another one of those natural things in “world” music. “Yemaya”, Fonseca’s other original, is definitely a more obscured and complex number. While it doesn’t give Diawara as many chances to shout for joy, that doesn’t mean she won’t make room for them. Diawara’s originals, on the other hand, follow in the cyclical tradition of African music doubling as performance and celebration (and once in a while, as healing). Their one joint composition is a very unique track named “Real Family”. The other five members of the band take a break while Fonseca plays gentle rubato piano, unlocking the door for Diawara’s spoken-word performance to transform into soulful chants. I don’t know what words she is singing, but it sounds deathly serious, especially when pitted against Fonseca’s left hand octave trills.
The band hops back on stage for “Clandestin” and “Neboufo”, two Diawara originals that show off different sides of her musical personality. “Clandestin” is the tight-as-bolts jam while “Neboufo” is tougher to define. Fonseca plays a pattern where each clef is emphasized in patterns, depending on the meter. Sometimes they’re playing in four, other times it feels like a fast three. It’s hard to tell because the deceptively simple chord progression grafted over it gives the whole sound a new twist. Diawara, somehow, is able to sing over the whole thing. After all, the other members of their band are no slouches themselves. Drummer Ramsés Rodriguez, percussionist Joel Hierrezuelo, and bassist Yandy Martinez make for a vitally important rhythm section. Drissa Sibide takes up the (Kamalen) Ngoni and guitarist Sekou Bah does the rest (of all the live snapshots inside At Home, there are no pictures of Diawara with her guitar).
There are numerous times on At Home where Fonseca begins pounding away on the keys towards the end of an especially energetic solo. When he does, Diawara is inclined to give an equally energetic “whoo!”, thereby giving the crowd permission to freak out. And every time that happens, it’s as if At Home: Live in Marciac has the power to mentally transport you to that very show. That alone should be reason enough to check out this release. And besides, there’s also the Afro-Cuban connection forever bridging those pesky geological gaps.