Dee Dee Bridgewater performs Red Earth live for the first time in London, complete with a full jazz ensemble and a troupe of leading Malian musicians. Evoking the spirit that made the blend of Western pop and African descants so edifying on Paul Simon's Graceland, the Grammy award-nominated Red Earth fuses Bridgewater's jazz with traditional Malian music.
Bridgewater travelled to Mali in 2004 with her husband and producer, Jean-Marie Durand, on a journey that was as much a personal as a musical one. "The idea of the album was born out of the idea to find my African heritage," Bridgewater says. "There's quite a separation made in the States between Afro-American, as we are now called, and African, and I wanted to bridge that gap. Unfortunately I could only trace my family back to 150 years ago, but every time I heard the music of Mali, it spoke to me like nothing else I had heard in a long time."
Even during her extensive travels as a UN ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Bridgewater had never felt such a spiritual connection to a country and its people. "I experienced several affirmations that my ancestry is Malian. Every time I walked in the streets people would start talking to me in Barmbara, and they would identify me as 'Peul' – a northern nomadic tribe of Mali. I also found I had an innate understanding of Malian music. During recording I knew exactly where to come in, which was shocking to the musicians. They said they had never played with a foreigner who could just step into their music like that."
This bond is evident on the record. Songs such as "Bani" ("Bad Spirits") and "Massane Cisse" ("Red Earth") date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, and are arranged in the oral tradition of the griots, the custodians of Malian history and culture.
"It comes across so well live," she says. "It's a true fusion. Jazz is my tradition, and it combines perfectly with the Malian blues and percussion instruments."
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