“Television,” Baaba Maal featuring Didi and Sabina of Brazilian Girls
My love for the New York-based art-dance band Brazilian Girls is legion and legendary, though I have to admit, I wasn’t so wild about their last album, New York City. I miss crazy bassist Jesse Murphy, even if he was crazy (he liked to play in his underwear; he was cute enough that he could almost get away with it. He also seemed to drink a lot. He was a party naked kind of guy, which probably gets real old real fast in a van driving across country.) But I’m relieved after hearing their recent collaboration with great Senegalese singer Baaba Maal to realize that the Girls (only one of whom is female, and none of whom are Brazilian) have not lost “it” — whatever “it” is exactly. Certainly, singer Sabina Sciubba was the It Girl of 2005, when the band released its delicious first album, and she became famous for crafting the coolest outfits this side of Grace Jones and Bjork.
“Television” is the title track of Maal’s latest album. It’s been out for a few minutes, but I just heard it recently on Morning Becomes Eclectic, the KCRW radio show that has made LA worth the move. It’s a lovely, loping, long track, in which the two singers bounce off each other in measured melodies. Both have voices that are strong on tonality but not on force. They sing in French; it’s one of four languages Sciabba knows. This is a postcolonial polyglot collaboration. The rhythm is African, but club worthy. This is a great trend of the year, the meeting of singers from the dark continent with dance tracks: “Sabali” from the Amadou & Mariam album Welcome to Mali is one of the best songs of the year. (I’m hoping to make it to the blind couple’s Oct. 2 show at the Henry Fonda Theater.) Of course, this isn’t a new type of fusion: Hugh Masekela brought African beats to world pop decades ago. DJs spinning grooves from Africa helped fuel the rise of disco. When it comes right down to it, you can pretty much trace most modern dance music back to African drumming. But on the day of President Obama’s first speech to the United Nations, let’s acknowledge the importance of transcontinental meetings of the minds — and bodies. The video for “Television” shows Maal walking through a cartoon Africa, then telescopes out to show him walking around the globe. Then it’s one cultural postcard after another, plus planes and trains. Welcome to the new world beat.
Brazilian Girls are coming to LA’s Avalon Oct. 19, one of four shows they’re doing, their first of 2009. Then they’re recording their next album — yeah! While their CDs may have slipped somewhat, I have never seen the band not put on a great show. Sciabba is just too mesmerizing to watch, and Aaron Johnston just too much the John Henry drummer, outmanning the presets every time. And of course, Didi Gutman is the mad dreadlocked Argentine genius, pulling together all the different genre strains and then sending them out to space. See you there?