Saturday, February 10, 2024

Rhiannon Giddens @ Maison des Arts, Créteil - February 10th, 2024

The act of giving birth to music is already miraculous in itself, but sometimes a concert transcends the mere performance. What it takes to reach this almost divine realm is elusive: sometimes it's just a matter of context, sometimes it's a performer just allowing themselves to let go, sometimes it's an audience getting rid of expectations and allowing itself to get raptured away. In the case of Rhiannon Giddens' recital at the Maison des Arts in Créteil, it was an amalgamation of things; the beauty of the compositions was, of course, a determining factor, as well as the performers' commitment. The historical subtext of the songs, the importance of the stories being told, and yes, the political statements that transpired, were also crucial to the experience. Because Giddens is not just a musician: she's a musicologist, she's a historian, and she's an activist. All of those aspects of her professional personality are intertwined and inform her artistic output.

As an audience member, you could chose to focus on any of these traits of her performance, and you'd be fully satisfied. Certainly, her vocal and instrumental talents alone are enough to transport and mesmerize you. Her repertoire, whether it's her own original songs or the traditional tunes she likes to present, is a journey unto itself. The historical narrative that she weaves into the show is captivating in itself, those often tragic stories behind the songs, the light she shines on events and systems past to highlight the way they reverberate in our present times...

It's enlightening, it's illuminating, but it's never preachy. The banjo never hits you on the head: if you don't get it, if you don't want to get it, it's your loss but you can still get lost in the grooves. Giddens' latest album "You're The One" perfectly exemplifies this: on the surface, it's one of last year's best "Americana" (for lack of a better term) releases. But scratch the surface and it reveals itself to be even more: it's a journey through musical idioms, a feminist manifesto, a chronicle of racial injustices and an indictment of the systems that allow them. Oh, and it's pretty funky, too.

Similarly, Giddens' concert at the Sons d'Hiver traversed genres and cultures: a blend of folk, blues, soul, country, jazz, and other forms, that embarks you on a trip across decades (centuries, even) and continents, telling stories that need to be heard. And the band really cooks: this is as close to a rock format as Giddens has ever gotten, with the funky, propulsive drums of Attis Clapton, the virtuosic guitar of Niwel Tsumbu weaving threads between Ireland, Africa and America, the binding stew provided by Francesco Turrisi's keyboards and accordions, Dirk Powell's guitar and fiddle and Jason Sypher's discreet but essential bass.

Some highlights were the soaring rendition of "We Could Fly", the relentless, rustic funk of "You Louisiana Man", her delicate harmonizing with frequent collaborator Leyla McCalla who was the evening's previous act, and a slamming version Sister Rosetta Tharpe's Gospel "Up Above My Head I Hear Music In The Air" which concluded the show in rousing, inspiring fashion, with the audience getting up from their seats and turned this municipal theater in a southeastern Paris suburb into a veritable Southern Baptist church.

An absolutely wonderful evening of intelligent, important and generous music, the kind of music that elevates and elates you, entertains you, and most of all stays with you.

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