SMOD brought their interesting fusion of West African guitars, vocal harmonies and hip hop/rap outbursts at the Levitt Pavilion on Friday night. Just back up by a synth and a guitar, they knew how to work the small crowd even though most of the audience couldn’t understand a word of what they were singing… yes they were singing in French and Malian, but encouraging the public to dance and participate in English.
The songs of the Malian trio were indeed bouncy and animated, filled with their three-voice harmonies, which suddenly turned into brilliant hip hop delivery, but their rap was not aggressive, it was fluidly blending with their rhythms, so that there was no real change during the song, and it didn’t sound strange at all, but rather the most natural thing that could have happened.
Dressed with bright and colorful African outfits – that they didn’t keep till the end due to a lot of sweaty dancing during their set – their voices were the main instruments of their stretching and politically engaged songs. ‘Les dirigeants Africains’ (African leaders) for example was an acerb critique of African politics and its renowned corruption, which sounded almost too sweet with their harmonies, softly singing, ‘Parler beaucoup/manger l’argent/voyager beaucoup seulement … les dirigeants africains, les dirigeants sont comme ça’ (talking a lot/eating the money/only traveling a lot… African leaders, leaders are like that) followed by them doing the thumbs down.
Most of their songs had this political consciousness, even though a tune called ‘ça chante’ (This sings) and its lullaby theme, if it was not for these outbursts of rap, didn’t make you really think about a protest song. But the strong message denouncing Africa’s malaise, war and injustice was always subjacent behind their gorgeous chants, it was as if the seriousness of the lyrics was balanced by the sweetness of the melodies. Their dance and ‘learn my culture’ invitations worked very well on the crowd that the good emcees wanted to carry in their jumping workout, while speaking in English and using the public playfully. And I have to say that, at the top of all this, they were obviously excellent dancers, jumping their hybrid African-rap moves, throwing their legs very high faster than Michael Jackson could do the moonwalk.
Reading about them at home, I realized that guitarist and singer, Sam Bagayoko, is actually the son of the popular Malian duo Amadou & Mariam, and that their third album was produced by another popular world music expert, Manu Chao, … I effectively could notice some familiar and bouncy sound effects during their set. So with such a pedigree, they should be all right, not that they needed Chao’s help, as they are already hugely popular in their country.
They did a few more of their African-rap songs that could have lasted forever with their rhythmic and circular harmonies, and they came back naked torso (except Sam) doing their fantastic and synchronized dances that they effortlessly executed with an elastic dynamism, and it was once again question of war, politics, money and peace during their fluid hip hop parts. Funny to think that, if rap originated from African music, these Malian guys have admitted to have listened to American rappers like Snoop Dogg, Tupac and Notorious BIG, as if we needed another proof of this eternal back and forth exchange between the two worlds.