The Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita SUBA Trio featuring percussionist Gustavo Ovalles culminated a successful U.S. & Canada Tour on Sunday, May 7, 2023 in Montréal. Starting on April 16, this tour took them to twelve different cities in North America in 22 days: Worcester, MA; Oakland, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles, in California; Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; Phoenix, AZ; Chicago, IL; Washington, DC; Brooklyn, NY; Boston, MA and finally Montréal, QC.
Nuits d’Afrique Productions presented the SUBA Trio at Le National, a historic venue conveniently located in the downtown area [1220 Rue Ste-Catherine est]. The National Theater, when it opened in 1900, was the very first French-speaking professional theater to see the light of day. In the years 1960 to 1980 it became a cinema with various vocations (neighborhood cinema, then Chinese cinema and then gay cinema) before resuming to present various shows and concerts towards the end of the 1990s. In 1997, the venue gradually resumed its vocation. La Compagnie Larivée Cabot Champagne took over management in February 2006 and to this day, continues to promote artists from here and elsewhere. Le National is a very intimate, iconic venue that can accommodate 575 people sitting, or 757 standing.
I had the pleasure of attending the SUBA Trio concert on Sunday, May 7. Romain Malagnoux was the opening act. Originally from France and living in the province of Québec, Canada since 2004, Malagnoux is a singer, guitarist, composer and author who’s very passionate about West African music. He is at ease in all the most popular styles: rock, pop, country, blues, reggae, indie, soul, folk. He performed some of his compositions and engaged the audience with his artistry. He set the tone for the main act in a delightful manner.
The SUBA Trio entered the stage with a warm welcome and immediately started involving us, the audience, in their musical athmosphere. Piano and kora, Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita are perfectly suited to each other. Their sound, their songs are a perfect match. A match made in heaven. While listening to their performance, several adjectives came to mind: soothing, relaxing, comforting. And when we add master percussionist Gustavo Ovalles, their music takes a turn that can only be described as magical. They revisited and re-created songs from their two albums, Transparent Water and SUBA.
Omar Sosa, in a previous zoom interview expressed how they always feel when performing live in front of an audience. “For us, a concert is a ceremony, it’s a moment of collective communion. We take every concert we give as if it was our first and last. We give it all, we project all the energy we have inside in our music, we don’t hold anything. And that creates a community with the audience, a spiritual connection.” And rightfully so.
For Seckou Keita, the energy created while performing live “is something incredible, and that energy is hard to describe sometimes, to express it with words. When musicians meet on the stage with open minds, and wanting to share their energies, everything flows easily. Everywhere we go, and every different place where we play it’s a different energy… It’s about the music we create together, the chemistry we have listening to each other that allows the music to speak by itself, to shine.
There were several highlights during this memorable concert. But there are two songs that I can’t get out of my head. Allah Léno [from the album SUBA]. Its lyrics “revolve around a Mandingo proverb that says: The traveller who’s leaving knows he’s leaving, but he cannot know when or how he will return.” For Omar, this song is “about our connection with the supreme force. For Muslims, it can be Allah. For me, it can be Olofi.” On an extended, improvised version, each musician had enough space to shine on their own, and as a tight ensemble, of three.
The other song is Fatiliku [from the album Transparent Water]. It is mesmerizing, electrifying. One could feel El Manicero playing in the background. Cuban rhythms interacting harmoniously with North African music. What a perfect way of closing the concert, definitely a memorable evening.
Seckou Keita will be back in Montréal next July, for the 37th edition of the Nuits d’Afrique International Festival. He will be performing at the Gesù on July 16, 2023 as a solo artist.
Photos by André Rival. Courtesy of Nuits d’Afrique Productions [click on images to enlarge]
Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita SUBA Trio at Le National