In the same week Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour sells his 1969 Black Fender Stratocaster for £3.1m, Gasper Nali sits alone on the Neuadd Ogwen stage in Bethesda, ready to support World Music legends The Garifuna Collective with the home-made bass guitar he plays. The instrument is actually called a babatoni. It is about 3 metres long, with one string, and a cow skin drum as a resonating box. Nali plays the instrument by hitting the string with a stick and changes the notes by placing an empty bottle along the string’s length. It makes a unique sound. Gilmour and Nali couldn’t be further apart on the musical spectrum but for one vital similarity. They both create magic from their art.
Nali opens his far too short set with the relatively sedate “Olemera” from his 2015 album, ‘Abale Ndikuwuzeni’. The album’s title translates as ‘People, Let Me Tell You’. Near the end of the song the single string on the babatoni breaks. There’s a groan of disappointment from the crowd, and while Nali restrings the instrument his tour manager comes on stage and explains how the strings are in fact made from the wire found in car tyres. The rubber of the tyres is melted and the wire is removed. There is a 50/50 chance a string will work. We shouldn’t worry though, as they have around 75m of wire on tour with them. This raises a laugh from the audience and then Nali is ready to carry on.
The babatoni hums and buzzes like the hazy days of Summer that Bethesda is currently basking in, while the beat from Nali’s single kick drum proves to be irresistible, the audience soon dancing and clapping in time to the second song, ‘Aliyense Adzaonetsa’.
It isn’t long though before Nali is announcing the last song of his set. It is the title track from ‘Abale Ndikuwuzeni’. The moan from the crowd is even louder than when the string broke at the start of the evening, and so Nali milks what little time he has left on stage for all it is worth, getting the audience to sing along to the song. By the time he’s finished you’re left wondering why this guy is a support act.
The Garifuna Collective are in a class of their own though, of course. Their 2007 album ‘Wátina’, recorded with the late Andy Palicio, is one of the most praised world music albums ever released, and was selected by amazon.com as the Greatest World Music Album of All Time; beating Buena Vista Social Club, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti and other worthy contenders to the title. And here are nine of the collective on stage in Bethesda.
The band appears wary at first, hesitant, testing the crowd. To be fair, Gasper Nali is a tough act to follow, no matter how short his set was. But these are seasoned artistes and they are in their element, in front of a receptive and appreciative crowd, and by the time they break into ‘Ubou’ (The World), from the album ‘Ayo’, the floor is packed with dancing bodies. Rhythms and melodies swirl through the crowd, complex structures of sound that take the feet hostage.
The Garifuna Collective is a multigenerational collection of musicians tapping into the rich history of the Garifuna people, telling stories, keeping their culture alive by infusing the traditional with their own musicianship. The result is sublime.
The audience just about raises the roof when it starts singing along to ‘Merua’ from the 2008 album, ‘Umalali’, and when two women in the audience are invited up on stage to dance along with the band you know that this isn’t just a gig, this is a full on party!
At one point the Collective plays a “Christmas” song and a dancer comes on stage dressed in an outfit that wouldn’t look out of place in a ‘Pet Shop Boys’ video. The audience might not be entirely sure what’s going on but they’re loving every second of it.
Local DJs Racubah kept everyone occupied between sets.
Neuadd Ogwen is making a name for itself with the rich tapestry of music it is promoting, and The Garifuna Collective joins an illustrious list of world renowned talent that has performed in the independent music venue over the past few years.
With such artists as Lorkin O’Reilly performing soon, with his fusion of 60’s American folk music and traditional celtic vibes, plus home grown hero Gruff Rhys set to play at the venue in September, as part of the 3 day Ara Deg festival, and the return of Cate Le Bon, Neuadd Ogwen looks set to continue with it’s mission to bring the best music there is out there to Bethesda.
The night was like many nights at the venue, brave, enlightening, and entertaining.