Sunday, March 22, 2009

Toumani Diabate and Bela Fleck; Berkeley for a few days

[Friday March 27th - please note I fixed the name; Diane pointed out it was Toumani Diabate and not, as I originally wrote, Mamadou Diabate!]

 If this is Sunday night I must be leaving Berkeley tomorrow, back home to my family in Berlin. After 5 glorious days in Bloomington and 8 lovely, welcoming days in Claremont I've been 3 1/2 days, maybe? in Berkeley, with my dear and, again, welcoming friends Lyn, Kristen, Diane, Michael, Cynthia, Jonathan, and kids. 

I can't even begin to tell you about my Friday walk starting from Inspiration Point with Lyn and Diane - Diane wore my fetching little black cap against the sun, the sky was blue blue blue and the wildflowers were few but brilliant orange (poppies) and purple (lupin??), the cows were alarmingly close and the bay with its many bridges was always there, sometimes nearer and sometimes farrer, we didn't get run over by the cyclists who tried, we had a picnic and then we came back. 

This morning with Cynthia I went up to Indian Rock which I didn't even know about. Oakland and the bay were at our feet, we started to climb one way but the wind was blowing and I was unsure so we went another way and found stone steps - breathtaking is a good word. We didn't get blown off. Arlington Circle. Steep, steep Marin. The clearest of clear skies.

Always, we talked, catching up, telling our stories.

And tonight, Diane and Michael and I went to hear Bela Fleck and Toumani Diabate at Yoshi's in Oakland, and I promised Cynthia I would report. Yoshi's is big and very few seats were left unreserved and yet we got a wonderful spot near the front, far on the right, and pretty able to see.

Bela Fleck plays a couple of banjos including a 'cello banjo, a deeper one I guess. He is funny and sweet-seeming and does funny things with his eyes and makes little faces at the audience. And did some humorous banjo things, teasing us with a pop goes the weasel that was never popping - lots of other things while we waited and then when we didn't expect, pop goes the finally weasel.

But what I loved was Toumani Diabate, 72nd generation kora player from Mali. The kora is like a harp. When I wasn't daydreaming about what would happen if the 72nd generation of kora player decided he didn't want to play the kora after all and broke the generations-long chain, it was a mesmerizing sound with his left thumb doing a repeating bass line (I couldn't break it apart like this at the time but he showed us later) and then all kinds of very bright high notes dancing around above. It wasn't the kind of danceable African music Diane and I were maybe both expecting but it was entrancing. As Michael pointed out, he played as though he had all the time in the world. In a gorgeous bright orange (yellow?) caftan that had a pattern that was also, in its own way, mesmerizing. On a fifty-year-old kora handmade in his family on an enormous gourd base, with cowhide and fishing line and a kind of wood you can only find in West Africa according to him. 

Then they played together - and again, there was something about both their faces. With Toumani Diabate I felt as though he must, from his face, be incredibly sweet - but of course maybe it just seems that way. And they had great fun playing off each other, with Bela Fleck doing little winks and face tics that might just have been sweet funny nods to the audience. 

And then we came outside back onto the Oakland waterfront with the trains going by - it feels like a blend of toytown and urban bustle, I haven't seen anyplace quite like it.

Thanks to you all for open arms, for oatmeal, for lovely wide-ranging conversations we never could quite conclude, for the apple pie and the shrimp salad, the asparagus and the sea bass, the peppermint tea, the concert, and the walks! (Sorry - I really don't mean to be reducing our visiting to a few words - just trying to make a pretty little paragraph but I hope you all know how much I love our time together!)

[Again - all of the above I tried to correct Mamadou Diabate, which I had originally written, to Toumani Diabate - Diane pointed it out. They are surely both part of the same family. Instead of looking at my ticket, which I still had and which would have told me, I just remembered the Diabate part and googled him and came up with the other. Just goes to show . . . ]

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