March 2008

Tannis Slimmon & Mansa Sissoko
March 2, 2008 Hugh's Room Toronto
Putting On Their Lucky Blue Traveling Shoes
by Laila Boulos with photos by John Leeson
Mansa Sissoko opened the very organic evening with his earthy vocals while emitting exquisite magic from his kora. An African stringed instrument, the kora is played in polyrhythmic patterns and sounds similar to a harp. As he progressed, with subsequent gems from his album, N'Tomi, a mesmerizing Malian blues flavour began to wash over the stage as all the instruments melded together. It was a wonderful start to a very grassroots-inspired evening.

Lewis Melville then took to the stage and briefly introduced his friend, Bay Weyman, the award-winning Canadian filmmaker of Spirits of Havana (a project with Jane Bunnett) to speak about his latest film, Road to Baleya. This project began with Melville's desire to assist musicians in Africa who could not afford to record their work. Weyman was approached with Melville's idea and proceeded to contact the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for financial support. Slimmon was the coordinator and, after over 100 hours of film footage, the documentary, Road to Balyea was created.

The long version (90 minutes) was recently presented at the National Film Board, while the shorter version (48 minutes) is to be broadcast on Bravo! at 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 11, 2008. The film examines the theme of music and its impact on social and economic development.

The heartwarming 10 minute preview of Road to Balyea began with Melville's narration of, "Music shows us how to communicate with one another" as Dave Clark, Lewis Melville, Dale Morningstar and Tannis Slimmon are shown accompanying Mansa Sissoko to Baleya, Mali. The treacherous trip ended with the very emotional and festive return of Sissoko to the village that he left at the age of two and that his grandfather helped found. There, Sissoko possesses the status of a Wise Man or Medicine Man and is highly revered and respected; evidenced by the throngs of people who arrived to greet him. Witnessing the village's inhabitants curiously interacting with the visiting musicians while announcing, "Baleya's foreigners are coming", was truly an emotional spectacle. Overwhelming applause and cheers greeted this too brief preview.

Mansa Sissoko
After a short break, Tannis Slimmon took to the stage to perform, "Our Time Now". Tossing in her makeshift 'trumpet' solo which had kazoo players for miles, envious, she encouraged the audience to sing along to the very melodious piece.

The very mournful and emotional piece, "Edmonton", was introduced by Slimmon, who, almost through gritted teeth, announced that yet another soldier had died in Afghanistan. This song appears on both Melville's themed triple disc, Afghanistan, On Guard for Thee? and her own Lucky Blue. The eerie military march clickety-clack of Dave Clark's sticks striking the drums and Michael Johnston's procession solo on accordion were screaming for handkerchiefs to be passed around the room.

Throughout the performance, Slimmon spoke about friends who had passed on and to whom she wanted to dedicate songs, such as Willie (to whom she dedicated the tender "Around Him") and Rick Fielding. This, along with her gift of drawing people in, gave the evening such a wonderful homemade soup flavour.

The rocking chair ease of "Ernest, Charlie & Allan", a best song winner at the 2008 Independent Music Awards, told the story of an entrepreneur, Slimmon's father and his best friend. Melville's cutting electric guitar solos played so well with Kenemy's understated, yet effective key work and Slimmon's exquisitely layered guitar picking on this and subsequent pieces.

Providing beautiful understated backup harmonies throughout the night, the voices of Jude Vadala and Katherine Wheatley were refreshing spring rain complements to Slimmon's heart-embracing, waterfall vocals.

Exuding such warmth and freshness on stage, Slimmon allows space for each musician to enjoy the limelight and is grateful for the talents of everyone involved, including her brother Trevor's expertise with her photographic backdrop.

Explaining how the next piece, "Underground Railroad", came about, Slimmon mentioned that their trip to Mali was followed by one to Cuba where she learned of that country's (and Canada's) support of blacks escaping the slave trade. This hopeful yet bittersweet tale is the piece that arose from that knowledge.

For the encore, Slimmon, as if the audience was not yet convinced of her gift of bringing people together, asked everyone who felt so inclined to join the others on stage for "There's a Lift". George Koller, who had eloquently played bass earlier in the night and who has been known to use various parts of his bass for innovative percussive effects, was conscripted to try his hand on the djembe. Michael Herring's exuberant dexterity on bass was especially formidable on this piece.

Tannis Slimmon
The stage flowed with such pure joy as the band 'took off' with the gospel-like inspiration of "Traveling Shoes". Those in the audience not inclined to jump on stage were now encouraged to clap and sing along with "Hallelujah, I've done my duty. Get on my traveling shoes", as the licorice-flavoured honky-tonk keys of Michael Johnston filled the room. Suddenly, Slimmon dropped her guitar, began clapping and left the stage as the rest of the band followed her playfully parading through the audience as they harmonized, clapped and grooved their way towards the back of the room.

Brotherhood, community, and the funky sounds of Jeff Burke on bassoon flowed around the room and people milled around while Slimmon, Melville, Sissoko and the rest of their band packed up while graciously continuing the good will and heartwarming vibes as they spoke to their old and new fans.

The Cast
Tannis Slimmon – lead vocals, acoustic guitars
Jeff Burke – bassoon, pennywhistle,
David Clark – drums
Michael Johnston – accordion, keys
Michael Herring – bass
Jason Kenemy – accordion, keys
George Koller – bass, djembe
Lewis Melville – electric guitar, vocals
Mansa Sissoko – djembe, kora, vocals
Jude Vadala – vocals, choreography
Katherine Wheatley – vocals, choreography


We welcome your comments and feedback
Laila Boulos
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John Leeson
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The Live Music Report

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