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African musician harmonises best of Malian, VN tunes

Update: May, 22/2014 - 09:32
Blending beats: Musbaba Moussa Traore (right) and his friend Abdoulaye Debele on stage. — Photo Coutersy of L'Espace

by Le Huong

It was a cool night in Ha Noi, yet the atmosphere inside a rock bar in downtown Ha Noi was as hot as it gets.

A Malian band with instruments from Africa and a Vietnamese dan tranh (36-string zither) fill the air with pounding rhythms.

From Africa is the Balafon xylophone, a Dondon drum, a Djourou Kelen (one-stringed guitar), Sogolo drum, and Bofle flute.

The audience of Westerners, Vietnamese and one or two Africans cannot stop from jumping up to dance and sing with the lead vocalist, Musbaba Moussa Traore.

The alluring rhythms draw audience to a summer night in Mali, when locals relax with music after a hard working day.

"Music erases all distance," said John Baggy, an Australian in the crowd. "We find no gaps between Malian and Vietnamese instruments. They blend well and it burns us up."

The performance was one of a dozen live fusion shows presented by Musbaba over the last three years.

"Dan tranh is the first Vietnamese instrument I came across at the Ha Noi National Academy of Music," Musbaba told Viet Nam News, "I also found several dan tranh players who later joined my group."

According to Le Thi Van Mai, a lecturer at Ha Noi Military Culture and Arts School, and one of the dan tranh player with Musbaba's project, dan tranh offers a metallic sound while Malian instruments present the resonance of timber from which they are made.

"The combination is a perfect match," she said, "Vietnamese zither can match Malian instruments well in creating rapid, strong and vivid rhythms."

She further said Musbaba's spontaneous style was a special feature of his personality. "He starts and stops rehearsal at no fixed times," she said. "The rehearsals follow no fixed order. Minutes before a show, I don't know which pieces we will play, but we all perform with spontaneity."

At a recent Hue festival, Musbaba also invited a Scottish cello artist to perform.

The cellist, Liz Burgess, said it was amazing to be involved. "I have worked in Viet Nam for three years and I feel lucky to perform with Musbaba," she said.

According to Musbaba, next month he hopes to complete an album of 14 African songs using his combination of instruments.

"I have performed at many music festivals in many countries in Africa, Europe and America, yet I have never found Vietnamese traditional instruments at them. I hope one day I can introduce them," he said.

The musician, who lives in Viet Nam with his wife, works for the United Nations.

"Vietnamese people are in between European and African culture," he noted, "Vietnamese people are always relaxed, calm, free to speak loudly in the street, while Europeans are always in a rush and speak in low voice. I feel more comfortable in Viet Nam."

Musbaba said he started beating out rhythms on cardboard boxes when he was three and started to play in musical group at six. "All my life has been devoted to music," he added.

In Viet Nam, he loses himself in music class with students, rehearsals or with friends at live shows.

When he has free time, he loves jogging around West Lake or chatting at bia hoi. — VNS

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