It’s a Tuesday and I rush to catch the Eurostar leaving London’s St. Pancras headed straight for the city of lights.
Through some twist of fate, that I most certainly do not deserve, I recently find myself on a money treadmill that requires I spend a lot of time in Paris. Having lived there for a few short but very formative years of my misspent youth, the city of lights holds a very special place in my heart. It has been home to many firsts for me: first kiss, first encounter with booze, first encounter with way too much booze, first run-in with the police (don’t worry mom, we were just streaking) the list goes on, and my latest visit made for no exception. I didn’t know it, but I was in store for my first live orchestra and first gospel show. What a city… and what a music city.
Paris is peppered with phenomenal venues for live music, from beautiful repurposed storage cellars and catacombs to the perfectly sculpted banks of the Seine, The New Morning however, is not one of them. Located in the commuter-heavy 10th Arrondissement, the place feels a lot like the bar from the dance scene in Scarface, where Pacino, sporting that exquisite wide collar, shreds the dance floor with an equally exquisite Michelle Pfeiffer. There are two oversized pillars that block the view for a good 30% of the crowd, thankfully The Como Mamas put on a show that made none of that matter.
For the uninitiated, The Como Mamas are a gospel trio from Como, Mississippi. I had failed to do any homework, so when my old friend (lets call him Dee) told me he had gotten me a ticket, I figured I was in for an interesting experience at best, but not a whole lot in the eargasm department – boy, was I wrong. Ester Mae Smith, Angela Taylor and Della Daniels are so much more than gospel: they are Soul; they are Blues; they are incredible. All three of these ladies have such beautiful and powerful voices, reminiscent of a seasoned Aretha Franklin, which they use in perfect tandem with one another and their no-frills band consisting solely of a drummer and a guitarist.
The show featured back to back tracks from their latest album Move Upstairs, which had a packed venue bobbing their heads and tapping their feet. The Mamas performed with an energy I thought was reserved for those in their 20’s. At one point during I got Jesus, Della Daniels (who had been sitting on a stool) stands up, starts dancing, and (with a very James Brown quality) delivers a half screaming, half singing solo that made the whole venue erupt in praise… I can confirm, she had Jesus.
Now, I am not a religious man, but the way these ladies sang had me believing in something, not sure exactly what, but I am sure that you should do yourself a favour and catch them live if you’re so lucky to get the chance.
If The Como Mamas weren’t enough, a couple of days later Dee surprises me again with a ticket to Ibrahim Maalouf at La Seine Musicale. I was familiar with this stunning venue having seen De La Soul there last year, but I had failed to do my homework once again (I guess some things never change) so I had no idea what to expect musically.
We arrive at the venue on the northern tip of Île Seguin, at the western fringe of the city, nice and inebriated. The event was in the main hall of the building that looks like a brand new sports stadium from the inside and a planetarium designed by Calatrava from the outside. I could taste the excitement in the air, and I knew I was in for something special when I saw a bald, middle-aged gentleman a few rows down from my seat absolutely lose his shit on a young couple behind him for allowing their bag of cookies to make the slightest noise (the show had not even started mind you).
The lights dim and the orchestra enters, Maalouf takes centre stage and starts playing a melody on the piano. The softest, smoothest melody you could imagine, while he introduces the orchestra and eventually a children’s choir. There were at least 100 voices and instruments. It was spectacular.
The entire, over ninety-minute piece followed along to that original melody, while Maalouf alternated between trumpet and piano, crescendo and solo, slow-long, story telling solos. Making full use of those voices and sounds, he takes that melody in so many different directions, but always comes back to it. It became clear that his thesis was that simple ‘The power of a melody’. Maalouf toyed with our emotions, he made jokes, dropped poems, and tickled the brass and the ivories to a salivating crowd of hundreds of fans of all ages.
It truly was something special. Looking back, I too would have lost my shit on a young couple and their cookies for their sound pollution, had I known just how special. At one point, during his solo, the light reflected off the bass player and into the crowd like some angelic beam. It felt so surreal and organic that I cannot tell if it was on purpose or not (I am starting to think I may have imagined it). Bottom line, Maalouf is extremely talented. The man is fearless in his music and an entertainer I will be sure to catch live every chance I get. I recommend you all do the same…
May I also recommend: always say yes to live music and always say yes to live music in Paris, because I guess thats the thing about Paris, it teases, if you’re lucky it lets you in on the secret, but it always leaves you wanting more.