Salif Keita and Malick Psow at the 14th Couleur Café

(Chapo) Coffee color, the world music festival in Brussels, has never more deserved its name than this year. A blazing sun, a little dust worthy of the best slopes. And an eclectic program that brings together a good number of African, Jamaican and French sureties: Manu Dibango, Jimmy Cliff, Yuri Benventura, Zebda among others. Focus on two talents: the Malian Salif Keïta and the Senegalese Malick Pathé Sow.

How far away the time seems when Angélique Kidjo, Papa Memba and Zap Mama brought together a few thousand spectators at the Halles de Schaerbeek – a busy scene in Brussels. Today, more than 60 people can let their ears wander on the four stages of Couleur café… And all their senses in the aisles. Because, on this industrial and customs site of Tour & Taxis, which sees goods from all over the world pass through, conviviality remains the rule. The taste bud can delight in a “Street of good eating” composed of excellent specialties from Lebanon or Afghanistan, Togo or Burkina. The eye can wander at the “Cool art café” on the numerous works of art hung — giant photographs, sculptures, paintings, etc. —, or contemplate the construction of an “ecological” building in mud bricks carried out by a young architect, Sophie Bronchart.

As for thought, it finds a place of expression on the stands of the NGOs present (Sos Faim, the movement for equal rights, Amnesty international, etc.). But the thirst to discover all the music that makes this world still remains vibrant and constitutes the central element of this festive gathering. Between the traditional ode of the African griot and the electro reggae rhythms of Mad Professor, all genres were represented for this fourteenth edition and brought together an attentive audience. With a special mention this year, for the African hip-hop scene – the South African trio “Godessa”, the “Nigga Nation” from Ivory Coast or the Tanzanians “Xplastaz” – and Barcelona Sona – seeing follow one another the Latin rhythms of Wagner Pa, the wild “Dusminguet” or the more gypsy Ojos de Brujo, three groups which, with Manu Chao and Macaco, represent this new “Mestizo” movement formed around the Jamboree club in Barcelona.

Our attention was focused on two talents: Salif Keïta, who was kind enough to go beyond his usual discretion by giving us long minutes, no longer needs to be introduced; that of the Senegalese, living in Belgium, Malick Psow, undoubtedly less known, is no less promising.

Give honour where honour is due

When Salif Keïta, dressed all in purple, appears on stage, there is no need for a long introduction. Music immediately. The song then rises. The day before in Denmark, the next day in Dijon, the Mandingo prince seemed at ease on the stage. The three lines of instruments - Salif and his dancers in the front row, electric guitars and keyboard in the middle, drums and traditional percussion in the back, follow one another and intertwine like successive waves. They reflect the musical reality of Mali: mixing traditional with modern, combining melody with rhythm. A sound archaeologist could detect everything that African oral tradition has inspired in current music: reggae, rock, even techno.

By turns slow or rhythmic, incantatory or expressive, the chant gradually unfolds its effect. The faces come to life. Smiles rise to the lips. The parquet floor trembles to the rhythm of the untied feet. The public is delighted. “So much the better” he confided to us a few moments later. “ We are here to encourage people to party, to bring them happiness. There is so much gravity in everyday life – illness, wars… – that I prefer to talk about love, between a man and a woman, between parents, between cousins. » Optimistic tales, in a way, drawn largely from his latest album "Moffou". One " 100% acoustic » which also symbolizes the return of the permanent exile to the country. “ I can bring more there than in Europe which has so many people with experience ". And then " my mother was getting old, I had to come home. Since 1978, in fact, I have been on an adventure.” Political power has also changed. " I believe in the team in power now. First they are friends and then they have experience ».

On stage, Salif Keita is rather stingy with words. The first “thank you” will not come until the last quarter of the show. He prefers the hands to dialogue with his audience, encourages them to applaud his musicians, to redouble their vigor in the dance or invites them to meditate with folded hands. The Djoliba griot sometimes leaves the microphone to let his dancers demonstrate their talents – and their bodies. But he does not leave the stage, illustrating his words with gestures, with theatrical resonance. Whether these women abandon him to prefer his percussionist or his guitarist, he immediately feigns astonishment, pain, tries to attract everyone's attention, then rolls on the ground in despair, to end up getting up, and resume his place, restored, regaining hope.

Would comedy tempt him, after a first experience of the big screen? " I would love to do cinema again. I don't know if I'm a good actor. But if ever a director wants me, as a beginner, I find a lot of pleasure in that. ". While waiting for the prize for “best young male hopeful in Cannes” (smile), Selif Keïta will continue to delight us with his music. We will see him on many stages this summer. “ I'm like those whales that follow their tracks through the seasons ". A shared pleasure...

On Saturday. Another style, another genre. But still an African talent.

Malick Pathé Sow (Psow) has the honor but also the formidable task of opening the festival before the electro-dub of the Indo-British Asian Dub Foundation. While festival-goers are barely arriving on the site! A task from which this Senegalese, born in Niendane (north) some 44 years ago, will cope with elegance. A hoddu player, one of the best of his generation, PSow could have stuck to this virtuosity acquired very early, from the age of eight, from his father and brother. He preferred — to our great happiness — "to fly away on one's own wings ". In 1995, he formed, with two friends, the group Welnere — happiness, in Pulaar. Today, there are nine on stage, singers and musicians, of various origins – Senegalese, Mauritanian, Argentinian, Belgian, Congolese and French.

A multiculturality that Malick claims. " I want to participate in rapprochement, unity, peace, love, the environment, more spiritual. The lyrics underline the need to defend the Fulani culture, the difficulties linked to exile outside Africa, the nostalgia for the country, the fate of political prisoners in Mauritania…” No to discrimination “he proclaims several times the one who worships and often listens to Bob Marley and… Salif Keïta. Some compositions are more spiritual » he also says. A Muslim, like many of his compatriots from the north, P Sow also refuses the conflation often made between practitioner and fundamentalist. “ Islam is a pacifist religion, above all, open to others » he explains « Doesn’t the Koran say: “the Muslim must accept all religions”?

His music is also at this crossroads. Drums, electric guitars, djembe, bougarabou illustrate a sound with contours between the tradition of Fulani music from Fuuta Toro (named after this river in northern Senegal) and today's African pop. Around a musical phrasing, initially simple and repetitive, a more elaborate universe is built made of percussion, strings, electric and acoustic, and brass which give a jazzy side. But Malick's essential contribution remains his voice, clear, warm, which transports the viewer beyond the seas. With two albums – “Danniyanke” and “Diaryata”, Welnere should soon reward us with a third opus. It will be dedicated to Ousmane Djigo”, the former manager of the group, who died too early, in 1999. “he fought a lot for me, sown a lot,” explains Malick Pathé Sow. But we couldn’t harvest together.”

Nicolas Gros-Verheyde, in Brussels for RFI Music

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).