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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Louvre Abu Dhabi music concerts an international hit with audiences

An eclectic array of artists celebrated their career and culture in nightly concerts at the museum’s dazzling auditorium

French artist -M- performs during the opening day at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Christopher Pike / The National
French artist -M- performs during the opening day at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Christopher Pike / The National

From flamboyant rock and Malian blues to a nostalgic trip through the classical Arabic music cannon and a fiesta of Colombian folk music, Louvre Abu Dhabi’s live music series to celebrate the museum’s opening was an unqualified success. Held in the auditorium, a stunning performance space that separates the artist from the audience by a waterway, each artist lived up to the occasion and was met with an equally receptive crowd. With all fours shows selling out, the success of the series proved that the capital’s cosmopolitan crowds are interested in music that entertains as well as challenges. Let’s hope music promoters take note.

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Saturday: -M- brings rock-star bombast to opening concert

Matthieu Chedid had all the right credentials to take the honour of playing the opening-night concert on Saturday, marrying unrepentantly French character with Egyptian and Lebanese roots.

He arrived in true rock-star fashion, coaxing out a cacophonous guitar solo as he strutted onstage from the wings, spotlit all the way, before kicking into Mon Ego from 2003 album Qui de Nous Deux (Which of Us).

Clad in a spangling red-sequin jacket, with a similarly reflective yellow guitar and trademark M-shaped visor, his get-up was half A-lister and half disco mid-life crisis, but he certainly threw all the requisite shapes of a seasoned stage slayer, including at one point leaping off the drum kit. The less said about bassist Brad Thomas Ackley’s costume the better, however – the Axl Rose-esque bandana and yellow leather jacket gave the show a whiff of parody.

La Bonne Etoile (The Good Star) was the first lull of the evening, as Chedid encouraged the audience to form their own swaying, mobile-phone-based Rain of Light under the impressive Louvre canopy. The overall effect was approximately Michel Gondry meets stadium rock.

Chedid’s crowd engagement was endearing and his between-song banter brought ripples of laughter from the French-speaking members of the audience, although it was not until Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara joined M and co that any concessions were made to the internationalism of the Louvre project. Diawara’s bombastic voice dwarfed Chedid’s on a trio of songs – Cet Air (This Air), Amssetou and Bal de Bamako. The collaboration peaked on the second number, with a dozen-plus energetic dancers parading onto the stage, grinning their way through a riot of African rhythms flecked with choppy reggae tempos, as Diawara whipped around her dreadlocks.

*Adam Workman

Sunday: Fatoumata Diawara electrifies serene surroundings

We knew were in for something special when it came to Fatoumata Diawara. The mighty Malian singer nearly blew M off the stage when she appeared as special guest during his opening day concert the previous night. The 34-year-old blues artist fulfilled that promise with aplomb on Sunday night with easily the most electrifying concert of the live music series.

It began gently enough, with Diawara entering the stage in flowing emerald-green dress. Backed by her three-piece band, the first half of the show was dedicated to ruminative numbers from her 2016 solo debut Fatou. Kanou rested on gentle circular guitar riff and light percussion, while Bakanoba picked things up with its steady funk groove. Even those relatively placid numbers were livened with Diawara’s magnificent voice, which is as vulnerable as it is assertive.

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Sowa was another highlight, with its jazzy, stop-start chorus, while the inspirational Mandela was suitably anthemic. The intensity and volume stepped up considerably in the second half of the show with the arrival of M as guest musician.

While his solo output is mostly a fans-only affair, no one could deny he is a superb guitarist. He laced Diawara’s Timbuktu with a heavy groove and in Mon Afrique he went all Nile Rodgers, with peppy riffs that got the crowd moving. There was no doubt who was the ringmaster at all times, though: Diawara danced up a storm and her call and response with her band was straight out of the James Brown playbook. Fun and passionate, she gave the serene Louvre Abu Dhabi stage a welcome dose of energy.

*Saeed Saeed

Tuesday: Ibrahim Maalouf blows new life into Umm Kulthum

Abu Dhabi loves Ibrahim Maalouf. The French-Lebanese jazz man sold out his previous Abu Dhabi Theatre date in 2011 in double-quick time – and his Louvre Abu Dhabi show was no different. With hundreds of onlookers crammed into seats, stragglers had to make do with standing at the back or sitting on the stairs. A lot of that enthusiasm was down to the programme the trumpeter would be performing: an ambitious interpretation of classic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum’s 1969 suite of songs One Thousand and One Nights.

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With more than 150 similar performances over a two-year period, his four-piece band were tight, as they undulated from faithful representations of the piece to breaking out into modern jazz explorations. At the front and centre was Maalouf’s trumpet, which is specially configured to play eastern modes. The effect was intoxicating, akin to meeting a stranger that looked strangely familiar.

Then again, that is probably the point – Maalouf has made a career of bringing disparate elements together to emphasise our similarities. In his hands, One Thousand and One Nights sounded equally wistful and energised.

*Saeed Saeed

Tuesday: Toto La Momposina inspires a Colombian dance hall

“Bueno,” shouted Toto la Momposina on Wednesday night to the audience as they danced during the final concert of the series.

The 77-year-old Colombian singer and dancer never missed a beat – nor a note – in a career-retrospective set encapsulating her remarkable five-decade body of work. For nearly 90 minutes, we were transported from the rural villages to fisherman towns of Colombia, as La Momposina presented songs and dance that make up Colombia’s rich heritage, including African, Caribbean and indigenous influences.

Backed by a nine-piece band, including a variety of horns, native percussion and flamenco guitar, and augmented by two dancers, La Momposina and co conjured a heady atmosphere that veered from the carnivalesque to rootsy. Her voice was in fine form in El Pescador, with a declarative chorus that soared over a hotbed of horns and tumbling rhythms. The African influence was noticeable in Tambolero, with what La Momposina describes as “grounding rhythm”. It had a heavy groove, with everyone on stage stamping their feet and the dancers kneeling lower with each verse.

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It was in the standard cumbia numbers that the crowd really got involved. The big number of Colombian nationals in the audience nearly stole the show as they turned the first few rows into a dance floor, with La Momposina providing instructions from the stage. While there is no sign she will retire anytime soon, La Momposina has secured her legacy – the dancers were her daughter and granddaughter. Bueno indeed.

* Saeed Saeed

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