Habib Koité and Eric Bibb - Brothers in Bamako, part of the Cap Global Roots series, Thursday, Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. at Kay Meek Centre. Tickets: $39/$36. Info: capilanou.ca/nscucentre.
ERIC Bibb strongly believes that anytime you collaborate with a musician from another culture, you'll be rewarded with a new lens to look through when it comes to music.
"It's very inspiring, you're forever changed," the American bluesman says of the process, something he recommends any artist undertake who's interested in another culture.
"It definitely broadens one's horizons," he adds. Not only is there much to learn through collaboration, but there are similarities to be explored.
"I think any musician can find common ground with another musician because that's the beautiful universal quality of music is the language. To actually do it with another musician is an incredibly enriching experience and I recommend it highly," he says.
Bibb is speaking from personal experience, having gained powerful new insight into his craft through his recent ongoing collaboration with Malian singer-songwriter Habib Koité.
The duo met more than 10 years ago, the result of both being included on a 1999 Putumayo compilation album entitled Mali to Memphis: An African-American Odyssey.
Long interested in West African music, Bibb was familiar with Koité and was thrilled when they were asked to join forces for a Californian promotional tour.
"He's an amazingly versatile musician who has collected and studied the many, many diverse musical traditions that the large country of Mali encompasses. . . ." says Bibb. "In his own writing and recordings, he's done something really unusual, and that is he's brought together many of these traditions into his band's repertoire and his compositions."
As they got to know one another, Bibb and Koité realized their compatibility as guitarists and singers. Sharing a mutual respect for one another as well as their musical traditions, they agreed to one day record an album.
"He's amazingly inventive and has managed to synthesize all of his influences, which include, as I said, many Malian traditions, but he also studied classical guitar. He's very aware of Western popular music, English rock, American blues and all that stuff. So in that way, we're similar. We've had quite an eclectic musical background, but we're also very grounded in specific traditions," says Bibb.
The two musicians kept in touch over the years, running into one another around the world at various concerts.
"Finally, the opportunity came along and the next thing I knew I was in Bamako recording with him," says Bibb, referring to Mali's capital and Koité's current home.
Their resulting work, Brothers in Bamako, is a unique world, folk and blues music fusion that draws on both their cultures and wide-ranging musical perspectives. The album was released last year and Bibb and Koité are in the midst of an international tour, having played a number of dates in Europe before landing in North America earlier this month.
They'll make a stop at West Vancouver's Kay Meek Centre, Thursday, Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. and continue to tour Canada and the United States before heading back to Europe next month, where they have dates scheduled into May.
Joining them on the tour is Malian percussionist Mama Kone, who's also featured on Brothers in Bamako.
While in the Lower Mainland, Bibb, who was born in New York though currently resides outside of Helsinki, Finland, will get to spend some time with his well-known father Leon, who lives in Vancouver and has a background in musical theatre, and was part of the 1960s New York folk scene.
Bibb travelled to Bamako to record the album with Koité, spending a week in the city.
"It was quite a contrast, flying from Helsinki to Bamako," he says.
They intended to do all the recording at Koité's home studio though were forced to switch gears due to unforeseen circumstances.
"There was a power outage in Habib's studio because they were putting in a new road near his house so we were forced to improvise," says Bibb. "We found an empty conference room (at my hotel) and carried on there and it just worked out fine."
Bibb found being in West Africa for the first time to have been an important muse.
"That part of the world is amazingly inventive, people find solutions to all kinds of practical challenges in a way that you don't really see in more industrialized countries in the West. There's just an amazing spirit of, 'Nothing's going to hold me back' and the music is such a part of the daily life and culture there, it's not a separate thing, like an entertainment industry thing, it's as basic as food and water. That in itself gives you a whole other take on music making and what you're doing it for and why," he says.
Prior to recording, the duo met for a week of songwriting in Brussels.
"Habib's really aware of the whole social context in which he's writing songs so we were on the same page when it comes to wanting to comment on the world around us. That's something that's part of his artistry that we have in common, so it was easy to kind of get onto the same track when it came to subject matter," says Bibb.
Likewise, their compatible approach to guitar playing allowed the instrumentation to also flow easily.
Brothers in Bamako features 13 songs, a blend of original tracks - by one or the other, or both -, as well as traditional songs and covers, including their version of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind."
One that stands out is Koité's version of a traditional song "Khafolé," which he plays on a vintage six-string banjo that Bibb brought with him to the session.
"I was just so happy that the banjo had returned to Africa because it's basically where it's from," he says.
The album's cover features a photograph of Koité playing the instrument with Bibb.
Another song that speaks to their compatibility as musicians is "Touma Ni Kelen/Needed Time." It's based on the traditional song, "Needed Time," that Bibb learned from Taj Mahal (one of the first songs the duo played together on their Putumayo tour) and Koité added a section with new lyrics and an adapted melody.
"I found it really liberating and easy to work with Habib and a great synergy developed between us, which continued onto our tours," says Bibb.
Bibb plans to follow Brothers in Bamako with an "ambitious studio project."
"I started it a long time ago and realized that it was something with a larger perspective than just another release. In other words, it was a big broad canvas that was going to take some time to finish. And so I didn't rush it," he says
The new record, which he expects to be released in October, is turning out to be complex in terms of arrangements, incorporating strings and horns, as well as guest artists, including Ruthie Foster and potentially Koité.
"It's kind of like my version of What's Going On - Marvin Gaye's record - where I'm really talking about the state the world is in and really reaching out with a global message. It's not just a blues album or something like that, this is something that is broader and has world music flavours," he says.
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