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05 Jul Written by  Ladi Opaluwa

All that Jazz

There I was at the 1st Abuja Jazz Festival with nothing to complain about. All was going well. The hall at Abuja Pavilion was full, snacks had been served, and Stephane Wrembel and his group were performing. What can be said against a man who composed the theme score of 'Midnight in Paris' and provided a soundtrack on Vicky Christina's 'Barcelona'? Collaborating on any Woody Allen movie is by itself a certification of genius.

With Stephane on stage, everything felt right with the world. His music was lively and layered, with audible Gypsy elements, but the presentation was subdued. No histrionics, no gimmicks. The performance was so understated I feared some might misinterpret it as boring. Each act was preceded by a prologue, and at the end there was an applause, inevitably.

If like me you haven’t seen 'Midnight in Paris' listening to 'Bistro Fada' performed by the composer himself was a consolation. And when I eventually do see the movie, it would be with the knowing smile. And I’ll hack back to my memory of this event and wear out anyone near with its details.

At a point on the track 'Water is Life', there was a lull in which the hum of the double bass silenced other instruments. The spotlight panned over to Dave Speranza, the bassist, as he plucked his instrument as though trying to loosen an intricate knot. Stephane stood back and watched with a smug grin, and Dave, oblivious of the gaze, continued in his work until the bass released a rumble as of gushing water. The scene as it played out looked unrehearsed but they must have perfected this spontaneous pose through years of practice and execution. The ease was the charm.

Earlier there had been an Open Mic session. Discounting a few cringe-worthy interludes, the performances were tolerable, if not brilliant. All shortcomings seemed to stem from indiscretion, rather than a lack of talent. The dance group, Hip Hop on Wheels, did well. A lengthy opening monologue detracted from what might have been termed a brilliant performance. With corresponding steps they transited from one genre of music to the other. If their choreography was not uniform, their generic smile and enthusiasm made up for that.

There was a musician, Big Daddy, wearing studs and blings, with beards dyed brown. This might have been appropriate for Wizkid, but Big Daddy here is neither young nor talented. I reckon with Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother) on the hot-to-crazy ratio. He explains that a person is allowed only to be as crazy as they are hot. It is alright to be crazy, so long as the vices and idiosyncrasies are matched with equal or bigger talent. To be lukewarm and crazy, to prioritise appearance over skills, is offensive.

In monetary terms, the gap between Stephane and Biggy is accentuated by the cost of their CDs. While the former’s is priced at N2000, Biggy’s is N0.00 naira. When I saw him approach with free copies of his CD, I averted my eyes, knowing how these flat, weightless discs accepted out of politeness can suddenly become cumbersome. You are not cruel enough to break it or throw it away, yet you won’t listen to it.

The most impressive local performances would come at the end of the show. Baba 2010 was absolutely entertaining with Fela’s 'Lady'. I do not know where to lay the compliment: on Fela for creating the song, or the band for reproducing it accurately? Whatever the formula, Fela plus Baba 2010 equals perfection. The band also did a jazzed up version of Tony Tetuila’s 'My Car'. Equally brilliant performances came from King Faj, Steve Black, Shola Sax, and the Aso Rock Band, after which there was jam session with these musicians and Stephane, for which we, those of us faithful to the end, besieged the stage and watched up close.

One can hardly get enough of Stephane. I went wherever my search online for him took me. Among other things, I was looking for a proclamation of his impression of Abuja, and there was plenty of it, in words and in pictures.

Dog