Mari Boine walks stately onto stage; slight and powerful she scans the audience as her band, like something out of a David Lynch movie break into a sort of rolling tight freeform jugernaught jazz. And then she begins to sing, her voice floating above the music, oscillating in what, to our ears is, a strange alien music. Within a few minutes she has the audience totally, entranced, the front few rows sitting down are bewildered by the rolling and climbing power of it, the back rows pressing forward.
That Mari Boine sounds alien is natural, she is from Norway, but identifies as a Sami, a cultural division I did not know existed until this gig at the Assembly, moreover the Sami are a sidelined (to put it diplomatically) culture in their homeland, something that Boine has made great strides to address. Boine’s position on this and on how organized religion cut her ancestors off from their relationship with the earth and its cycles can be found here. I mention this primarily to preface the nature of her collaboration on this night and on her new album, “STERNA PARADISEA“ with Madosini and the Abaqondisi Brothers. I have always held deeply suspect the idea of musicians from other countries using certain South African musical elements as part of their music, a sort of borrowing, for it’s exoticness, Boine does not borrow, neither is she identifying with Madosini or the brothers as members of a previously oppressed culture, she identifies with these musicians as people whose spirituality comes from a connection to the natural rhythms of the planet. This is what makes the collaboration so natural, the rhythms of the seemingly disparate forms of music, flow so well together.
She pulls her self up onto her toes as she raises her arms pulling the vibrating sounds, her vocal interpretations of her ancestors language, from somewhere deep underground, her voice cuts through you pleasurably, like the dive into a cold mountain stream in the hot day. Madosini comes on stage ululating and stomping, and then playing the Umrhubhe, when Mari Boine sings in unison with the mouthbow, the cumulative effect is chilling and uplifting at the same time.
I could tell you about the South African musicians in the crowd taken aback by the power of the collaboration, singing along in key without knowing the words, the skinny jean hipsters who are confused yet drawn to the sidelines to stare, the patrons of the arts who don’t seem to know how to process but all of these things are merely a by product of a music that language seems to have no apt words to describe.
Over the course of the evening I hear comparisons to being at a Shul, to prog rock, to the call of the Imam, the similarity to a Native American ritual and to trance music, these are all places or times when people try connect to the spirit. Mari Boine, without us being able to understand her words, umbilical’s us straight to that core.
There is a moment when she is performing with the 12 piece a cappella group the Abaqondisi Brothers where she is swaying in front of them as the choral harmonies rotate. And as they break into dance, she does too, at first a little out of time and then perfectly in step, the Brothers look amazed at this little powerful woman keeping in time and energy with them, and then they forget to be amazed, they like us in the audience just accept the beauty of the gestalt.
Mari Boine makes music that is so primal, so raw, yet gentle and uplifting. And problematic for anyone trying to describe it. It’s not quite Jazz, but has the free form of interpretation, its not traditional, but steeped in tradition, It is not Trance music, it is trancedendent, not World but Earth music. It is the sounds of the rivers, the forests, the animals and us.
Sample Mari Boine’s music here.
Images © and courtesy Dain Withani