Steady Bongo To Rock Providence (Twice)

Steady-Bongo Sierra Leone activist and musician Steady Bongo is in town. Besides having the best stage name ever, Mr. Bongo (pictured with dance lesson volunteers Maria and Sarah) can boast of a collaboration with 75% of The Killdevils, a local Americana and blues band consisting of ubiquitous keyboardist Jake Haller, drummer Matt McLaren (Alec K. Redfearn & The Eyesores), and guitarist Chris Monti (The ‘Mericans), and with bassist Scott Robert (a.k.a. Death/Work).

The Killdevils (who play Nick-a-Nee’s next Thursday at 9pm) seemed an odd choice for an Afro-Pop collective, although this nice article in today’s ProJo explains the connection between Steady Bongo, Liberian Joseph Paye, and Matt McLaren. Chris Monti informs me that Joe Paye has been mentoring the Killdevils in playing African music, or what Mr. Paye calls “cultural music,” in the true folk style: orally.  Joe Paye also taught the group some West African Folk songs, to their immense pleasure. Elvis of the Dominican Republic and Mariamba of Liberia will provide background vocals, making this a true international band. (Interview after the jump.)

Free, Thursday, 5pm to 7pm, Burnside Park$5, Friday, 10pm, Tazza, 250 Westminster Street

When asked to comment on the experience of playing with legend Steady Bongo and transitioning from folk and blues to “danceable Afro-pop,” Chris informed me,

The interlocking rhythms of this music were really hard to learn.  We practiced up to three times a week for six weeks to get it to the level it is at now.  Joe is very happy with it, and it is great fun.

The politics in Steady’s music is about reconciliation in the aftermath Sierra Leone’s civil war.  Both Steady and Joseph, during the respective civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, played for both government and rebel forces.  Imagine peace-talking troubadours traveling the US in the 1860’s.

Strictly musically speaking, the music rocks.  Steady sings and dances, Joe is a great singer and a monster on the guitar, and Matt McLaren, one of the most solid and musical drummers around, put together a crackerjack band.

And for me, this is one of the most exciting projects I have ever been involved in.  I’ve always had a love for this music that I cannot explain.  There is something about “cultural music”, music rooted in the people and traditions of a land—whether it comes from Africa or India or Europe or the U.S.—that has an appeal to me.  And, for a folkie, I love to rock, and this music rocks.

After arriving on Monday from Sierra Leone via New York, Mr. Bongo had another surprise for the local musicians. “The man can dance,” Monti exclaimed. “He is really going to cut a rug on Thursday and Friday night.  He did his best in the damp basement dodging the asbestos-covered pipes, but wait until this guy gets on the stage.”

I can’t wait.

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