The Creole Connectionby Nathan Zeno / 11.05.2009
Everyone is seated and the space in front of the stage is empty. The crowd sits in a sort of hushed silence as Danyel Waro and his band pound and shake out a mournful, joyous groove. The song ends and the amphitheatre breaks into rapturous applause. As they launch into the next song, the various percussionists as one, the dance floor explodes – people are literally running down the steps to get into this hypnotic thing. And soon the full floor is like a fun exorcism.
I like a bit of Creole Island music when I’m sipping a cocktail, but really, I’ve never been a fan. But after this Danyel Waro gig at the BAT Centre, I can only be. But then the Maloya music, and the way Waro plays it, is not just island music. It’s not pithy and background, it affects you strangely, somehow grabbing you and holding you. Instruments are various drums, shakers, occasional guitar and voice, multi-voice harmonies. Maybe it’s because I can’t understand French, or despite it, that it’s possible to be drawn in.
My photographer is complaining that Waro is moving to fast to get him as anything less than a blur. And yes, Waro does move fast, in many directions simultaneously. His feet on one rhythm, his hips another, his arms shaking percussion, his head almost holding still for voice, except when he knocks the mic off balance. But it’s a frenetic comfortability that defines him, a plaintive sort of sound through which you can hear the distance between hills, over sugar cane fields.
Danyel Waro is here as part of a cultural exchange between La Port in Reunion and Durban, hosted by the Centre for the Creative Arts. To this end, he has a guest for the evening. Tumi Molekane steps onto the stage, humble and smiling like he doesn’t quite believe he’s here. Watching Tumi watch Waro perform gives you a clear idea of just how good Waro is: Tumi is shaking his head in disbelief as the complicated syncopations come out simply. Waro sings, Tumi intones translations. They combine a song. Tumi is gracious in never trying to overshadow Waro. In fact, he serves as a method of helping those in the audience who are not quite connecting to the sound of Danyel Waro.
Tumi galvanises the crowd, pulls them in and then leaves them to Waro, who is now, in his skinniness, shock of hair and thick glasses, drenched in sweat. And on the dance floor there is a smiling beatific mix of different dance styles and grooving going on. The language of music has broken down all barriers and it’s pointless to say anything more; just to feel the waves of rhythm breaking over you is enough.