On a mild Saturday night in late-February, the Boston House of Blues is hosting Crashfest: A Global Music Festival.
From 5:30pm-11:30pm there are three stages pumping out Malian drum music, Flamenco with dancers, a Female mariachi band, a brilliant Moroccan belly dancer, a multi-racial Afro-funk band (Kotoko Brass with Ghanaian roots), French music and more fusions of fusions.
Now the headliner is black, beautiful and bald. She is an ambassador for the United Nations, some of her latest work exposing child marriages in Africa of very young girls to guys 3,4,5 times their age. When Angelique Kidjo seizes the stage, you get activism with your party - 75% party, 25% activism, just enough of the later to ignite your conscience. There are few women in the world who can unite a room, an arena, a stadium, get them to sing and dance (and love it) like AK.
The Talking Heads employed African rhythms on their classic Remain in Light album. Miss Angie frosts those slices of musical cake with some blistering funk as she slides and gyrates and shimmies all over the stage. I believe they can feel her tonight in the Amazon rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef, the Heart of The Congo, up north in India where the Ganges River starts... All over the Mother.
Angelique Kidjo is Mother Earth’s emissary, croons her pain and channels her joy. Out into the audience she goes, where some big big dude puts her on his shoulders so she can shine so fine.
Back on stage she invites the audience up: “First Come, First Serve,” she says. About fifty or so brave enthusiasts are funking and punking trying to keep up with The Leader. It is illuminating.
On the bridge now after the fest in the night air a ragged man stops me and says enthusiastically that I remind him of a certain Hollywood actor. Since he is looking at my multi-colored scarf, I guess: “David Niven?”
“Yes,” he beams victoriously because he knows he has me now. I am in the smooth graceful presence of a hustler, every bit the master of the street that Angelique is of the stage. Naturally he asks where I am from.
“Oh, my people are from Greece,” I inform him. “Oh, Greek. We had many Greeks in Iraq. Yes, nice people. Old civilization, very old.” (Older than Iraq, formerly Babylon?)
I mention something about the destruction of Iraq in the Gulf War and his face embraces tragedy because, get this, his children, his two sons, were blown up in a car bomb in Baghdad two weeks ago. If his two sons died in Iraq two weeks ago, so did mine. And I don’t have any sons.
But I let him carry on. The air is fresh. He is on the street. And he is almost poetic. He’s a poet. An actor. An epic liar. He is shameless, too. “Yeah, I can’t sleep at night thinking of them." So, now I am waiting. He isn’t through yet. “Yeah, I was just diagnosed with cancer.” He points to his stomach and indicates how it has spread to his other organs. “They say I don’t have long to live.”
I know, I know. I should be weeping tears the size of grapes but I hold them back. He is not done. To recap: he has the two blown-up sons and the cancer which will kill him in the coming days.
Now he is burrowing in like a hedgehog. “Oh, I haven’t put anything in my stomach all day.” Hey, the guy can’t suffer without food in his belly. That’s where I come in. “Well, jeez, lemme give you a dollar.” When I reach in my pocket I pull out two dollar bills. What the heck. There is no way that was a $1 performance. I know $1 shows. That was a $2 show.
For my subsidization of his art, he finishes me off with a sincere blessing. You have to see his face as he says: “God bless you” and god this and god that and, god, please, enough, alright already.
I will tell you this. I can’t wait to see him again and hear what he has to say then.