Live Concert Photography: Summer Thunder at Union Pool 7/28/18: Mamadou Kelly and Band with Chris Forsyth and The Solar Motel Band
Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past year or two, you’ve been made familiar with Summer Thunder, a free weekly showcase, presented by Academy Records and popular Williamsburg hotspot and music venue Union Pool that showcases up-and-coming nationally and internationally touring acts and DJs at Union’s Pool’s back patio; in fact, over the showcases’s run Union Pool has hosted Psychic Ills, the Sun Ra Arkestra, Joe Bataan, the renowned Malian desert blues act Songhoy Blues, and a long and very diverse list of other acts. This past weekend, Union Pool hosted Malian delta blues master Mamadou Kelly and his band, and Chris Forsyth and The Solar Motel Band.
Because I’ve had a strong interest in covering a diverse array of acts across the globe, I’ve written quite a bit about a number of acts that hail from the Northern African country of Mali. Sadly, during that same period of time, Mail has been violently split apart by a bloody civil war between a number of different factions. In 2012, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) took control of Northern Mali; but shortly after, they were pushed out of the region by Ansar Dine, a jihadist group, which quickly imposed sharia law, banning cigarettes, alcohol and music. A number of musicians including Songhoy Blues’ founding trio of Garba Toure, Aliou Toure and Oumar Toure (no relation, but all Songhoy people), as well as last weekend’s headliner Mamadou Kelly and his bandmates all fled south to Bamako, the country’s capital.
Originally from Niafunke, Mali, the proverbial heart of Malian delta blues, Mamadou Kelly has been a member of two of the most famous group’s in Malian music — Afel Bocoum’s Alkibar and Ali Farka Toure’s backing bands, recording on some of those act’s most revered albums and spending several years touring with them. Interestingly, Kelly is largely considered a guitar virtuoso, known for having an encyclopedic knowledge of his homeland’s music — and for representing a new sophistication in the sound of Niafunke.
After fleeing Northern Mali back in 2012, Kelly, who has toured and recorded extensively as a sideman has increasingly stepped forward into the spotlight, presenting his own original music, which meshes traditional Malian delta blues with contemporary Afro pop with a backing band that includes his brother Alpha “Hama” Sankara, a well-respected and go-to calabash player, who has made appearances on an wide array of recordings from the region, their longtime collaborator, monochord master Brehima “Yoro” Cisse, and drummer/percussionist Baba Traore. Headlining the afternoon Kelly and company’s sound managed to be both forward-thinking and timeless, full of humanity, wisdom and great joy.
Opening the afternoon was Chris Forsyth, an acclaimed Philadelphia, PA-based, guitarist, composer, solo artist and bandleader, who has collaborated with singer/songwriter Meg Baird, trumpeter Nate Wooley, analog synthesizer player Koen Holtkamp and a list of others, and may be best known for leading his own band Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band. Since 2013, the critically applauded act has developed a reputation for cinematic yet forward thinking and gritty guitar rock that has drawn comparisons to Television, The Grateful Dead, Popul Vuh, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and Richard Thompson while receiving praise from the likes of NPR Music, The Quietus, The New York Times and others.