MUSIC | Suba Trio at The Wardrobe

The Suba Trio combined the essences of Senegal, Venezuela and Cuba in a joyous and playful gig at The Wardrobe, writes MIKE CHITTY.

Friday May 11.

Through the Noise are an interesting producer of largely classical and jazz concerts, often at interesting and intimate venues. They clearly love what they do and go to great lengths to put on a brilliant show. For James Newby at Hyde Park Book Club this meant borrowing a Kawai grand piano and getting it into what used to be the petrol storage tank for an old Texaco garage.

The Suba Trio featured another glorious grand piano which Omar Sosa played with great skill and sensitivity at times, at others assaulting the keyboard with his elbow or smashing the soundboard with bundles of sticks – delighting with Cuban rhythms, chord progressions and a mischievous sense of humour. Seckou Keita’s wonderful Kora playing, haunting vocals and talking drum brought the sounds of Senegal to St Peter’s Square, sweltering in West African temperatures. The relationship on stage, the fun they had pushing each other in a Kora and piano version of duelling banjos (a much more delightful experience than that image conjures up) was a joy to watch and a privilege to hear. These really are two world class musicians whose fusion creates magic for those able to hear it. Tucked away to the side of the stage and seemingly out of the spotlight was Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles playing superb rhythms and creating wonderful textures with a variety of drums, cymbals, gourds and cowbells that provided the structure around which Keita and Sosa could play.

After the first piece the audience were chatting excitedly as Omar Sosa played some beautiful piano while Seckou Keita set about retuning his kora (40 or so strings!) and failing to notice the beauty that was on offer until a loud cry of ‘Shut the Fuck Up!’ rang around the room. This broke the tension and allowed Sosa to explain that we were there for the musicians and that the musicians were there for us and that together we could make a soulful space together. This transformed the evening from us watching a performance to us being a part of the performance. A magical experience.

I have no idea what they played, or even what language the songs were sung in; perhaps Mandinka? But this didn’t matter. The music and the musicians spoke their own language that left me spellbound.

Keita said that professional musicians have to be able to do three things consistently. First they have to make people dance. Second they have to make people smile and thirdly they have to make people cry – but tears of joy! I’m sure that for many who witnessed this gig the Suba Trio managed all three.

After a rousing opening set featuring some wonderful audience participation, Gustavo Ovalles treated us to a maracas solo. I have sat through a few drum solos on my time and most of them leave me a little bemused. But what this man did with a pair of maracas! The detail in the sound he managed to create was astounding. He then came out from behind his bank of percussion to kneel on the floor at the front of the stage where he proceeded to play water and some bamboo sticks.

Yes, he played water… a small trough full. The sound was cooling, evocative and somehow spacious. He then led Sosa and Keita into a percussion and drum led finale of vigour and ever shifting rhythms that left the audience singing, dancing and smiling.

The 90 minute set with no support flew by, and as we tumbled out into a Leeds sky that was streaked by the northern lights our ears were full of musical joy and the woes of the world were for a while set to one side.

And we got to catch the early bus home!

Look out for Through The Noise – they put on some great gigs.  And if you get the chance to see the Suba Trio – take it.