At the end of a day of long light, when the sun shone for the first time in months and its warmth healed sore moods and old aches, the last thing anyone wanted to do was enter a musty, dusty old theater before dark. But tickets had been paid for weeks ago, and how often does Senegal’s Orchestre Baobab play in Portland?
And how could I ever have thought twice about going? The dancing started right at 8pm in what passes for the mosh pit at the Aladdin and didn’t stop for 2.5 hours. The Les Paul Deluxe wa-wa cried and rippled, the tenor sax scatted, the singer wailed and trilled, the three drummers pounded and got us jumping. (Can I say I coveted the band’s brocaded and tie and died damask cloth shirts of indigo and white, azure and chocolate, cranberry and gold, sapphire and pink as things of beauty?) Local Senegalese in wax print shirts shouted in Wolof to the musicians and sang along. Money was balled up in a fist and then passed to the singers in effusive gratitude. Young children and babies, dressed up and with elaborate, decorated hair weaves, were shown off to the players. Twice a skinny and shy young boy joined the group on stage to applause. Everyone was lost in the dance and happiness was on every face. And to think the concert was just the evening’s warm up for the band. You just know their local compatriots had some plans for them.
The music was at turns mesmerizing, wild, strange and familiar. If this was as much part of our lives as it is to West Africans, we’d have no need for aerobic workouts of any other sort. And we’d be happier, IMHO.