When Kim Yu-Na, the Korean “rock star” figure skater, neared the end of her gold-winning performance in Vancouver, commentator Sandra Bezic declared, “This is glorious… one of the greatest Olympic performances I have ever seen.”
I felt a similar sense of WTF when I first heard the song, “Ami O,” on jazz guitarist Lionel Loueke’s new album Mwaliko (released March 1, 2010, Blue Note Records).
You can check out the track on Loueke’s MySpace site.
In my research for this review, I learned that “Ami O,” is a popular international hit, originally penned in 1962 by Cameroon’s Ebanda Manfred (entitled “Amie,” French for friend). Bebe Manga, also from Cameroon, covered the song, which she called “Amio,” in the ‘80s to wide acclaim. Countless artists have recorded the song since. One article I read likened “Amio’s” popularity to that of the Cuban song “Guantanamera” by Joseíto Fernández.
Loueke, who has made a name for himself in recent years for his fusion of African and jazz music, is joined on “Ami O” by legendary vocalist Angelique Kidjo, who gives an athletic interpretation of the song.
I saw Kidjo in Houston several years ago at the International festival, and she is equal parts great singer and exciting entertainer. I wouldn’t describe her voice as pretty; it’s more muscular than that. On “Ami O,” she belts out the lyrics from start to finish, kind of like a triple lutz of the vocal chords.
[picapp align=”left” wrap=”false” link=”term=kidjo&iid=1509659″ src=”e/0/f/1/39th_NAACP_Image_4537.jpg?adImageId=11204760&imageId=1509659″ width=”500″ height=”364″ /] Angelique Kidjo
Loueke doesn’t play the song safe, either; no Freddie Green modesty here. He is matching Kidjo step for step, bringing in percussive picking, polyrhythmic accents against jazz harmonies. And that’s just his guitar. He also displays an African version of beat box to great effect.
By the way, Loueke and Kidjo go way back. Their families knew each other in Benin, and the history between the two artists shows. Their rhythmic reference points allow them to interact with such ease that this listener can’t help but be spellbound.
So check out “Ami O” and use your own superlatives to try to explain in words what Loueke and Kidjo so effortlessly share through their respective instruments, vocal or otherwise.
As a side note, in 2008, I saw Loueke play with his trio and with Herbie Hancock at the Vancouver Jazz Festival as the city was preparing for the 2010 Olympics. Loueke’s trio was tight as an accountant on April 14th, which was such a contrast to Herbie’s group. I feel terrible saying it, because I’m one of Hancock’s biggest fans, but that night, Herbie’s band, which included drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (who is also terrific), sounded like several musicians playing together, but with ear plugs so they couldn’t hear each other. I was so disappointed, I left early.
Lyric Request: If you have the lyrics to “Ami O,” either in French or English, please post them in the comments section of this review. Thanks!
# # #