?Unfortunately, we?re really in limbo? 

This Sunday at 3:00 pm, Savannah will get a rare chance to see and hear some of the most significant cultural and musical ambassadors of the mysterious African country of Niger.

Well, maybe.

That is, if the United States department of Homeland Security sees fit to let them pass through our borders.

You see, in these days of heightened awareness (when most anything can be easily brought into the USA through unchecked maritime shipping containers), one of the greatest threats to the safety of the average American must certainly be a lanky Nigerian musician bearing an ethnic instrument and wearing traditional garb.

Lindsay Rust, of Santa Barbara, California’s Rhythm Arts Concerts, is the band’s U.S. Tour Manager. She says the situation this internationally-famous group finds themselves in comes as a shock, and is wreaking havoc on plans for their upcoming Amery´can dates dates which would have found them snaking their way from small gigs at rock clubs in Somerville, Massachusetts and Carrboro, North Carolina down South to New Orleans’ famed Tipitina’s, through to the heartland of Minnesota, and finally back up to Virginia’s Afropop Festival.

“I’m sad to say that unfortunately, we’re really in limbo right now,” she admits apologetically. “It’s put everybody in a really tough position.”

“The problem we’re having is with visas. The two leaders of the band, the lead singer (and flutist) and the guitarist are already here in the United States. The rest of the band is still in Niger, and have not been approved by our government.”

Rust says that all concerned are going to great lengths to try and expedite a solution, but she is doubtful one can be reached in time to make good on all of the band’s commitments.

“The lawyer that’s working on the case is supposedly meeting with the band’s manager in New York today and they’re going to try and figure out what the timetable might be. Yet, my gut feeling tells me that we’ll be very lucky to get visas for the rest of the band at this time of the year. What with the Republican National Convention starting, and everything. It’s really ridiculous and we’re just totally upset about the whole thing.”

Many in the area have been quite excited at the prospect of seeing such a well-known and respected world music phenomenon as Mamar Kassey.

In just a few short years, they have risen to near the top of their genre, and critics hail them as “one of the most exciting roots pop outfits anywhere.”

The group's masterminds, Yacouba Moumouni and Abdoulaye Alhassane, created the band in 1998 and almost instantaneously electrified Niger's (not to be confused with neighboring Nigeria’s) lackluster pop music scene. The group plays a fusion of national ethnic music (concentrating on the styles of Songhai, Fulani, and Hausa). However, what may be most interesting to audiences in our neck of the woods, is the noticeable influence of American black roots music.

The group deftly mixes native instruments such as the Fulani flute, desert fiddle and tabla-like drums with electric bass and guitar, which are played in a percussive “slap” style similar to that used in our own funk, soul and blues musics.

At times, Cuban rhythms and New Orleans backbeats appear, but are placed directly alongside the drive and power of traditional Nigerian juju grooves, resulting in one of the most exciting new sub-genres to emerge from the African continent in the past decade.

In fact, video footage from recent shows finds people in the crowd shaking and shimmying, their arms outstretched.

Caught up in the moment, many in the audience seem transported to another time and place. The provocative polyrhythms of the group’s percussionists alternate between mesmerizing and imbuing the crowd with a sense of freedom and abandon.

It’s breathtaking to behold, and it’s disheartening to consider that Sunday’s long-planned free, all-ages show at The JEA may not take place as scheduled.

“The sense that I get,” says Rust, “is that although the two-piece ensemble is available and has played all over Europe, many places just aren’t interested in hosting the show unless it’s in the full band format, which I can understand. That’s what was contracted for.”

Rust says that while each and every stop is important, at this stage in the game, both she and Mamar Kassey are willing to accept whatever they can get.

“It’s basically putting the entire tour into question,” she offers, with an audible mixture of dejection and frustration.

“We’re doing our best to figure out what we can salvage and what we can’t. It looks like Savannah may be one of those dates that we just can’t salvage, no matter how much we’d like to.”


Mamar Kassey is scheduled for 3 pm, Sunday at the Jewish Education Alliance at (5111 Abercorn St.). Call first to confirm the show at 355-8111.







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Jim Reed

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