Review: Las Maravillas de Mali at the Norwich Theatre Royal

Las Maravillas de Mali is not as simple as just music, but listening, singing, dancing, enveloping, experiencing and becoming music. Their concerts are more than a gathering of people; instead, they are feeling. Original member Boncana Maïga leads the Malian-Cuban band through their music 50 years after their formation, performing songs from both their first self-titled album, as well as their new album, Africa Mia. As it is a show that shifts between Bambara, Spanish, French and English, an unforgettable cultural experience is promised. If their performance at Norwich Theatre Royale was anything to go by, you should know that the band is a must-see, a chance to witness genuine enjoyment of entertainment and feel a part of it.

Throughout the entire show, each band member moved with his or her instruments; a plucking of a bass string vibrated through the spine, the legs, and the toes, into salsa. Violinists dancing to the beat, so in sync, so in time, but freely. Although the layout of the theatre may not encourage the audience to participate, melodies between the band and the viewers seemed to erase the barrier of a seated arena. Guest vocalist Mory Kante from Guinea went as far as to demand us to get up and move our bodies. His mischievous smile wouldn’t allow anyone to refuse. After all, music so connected with the spirit of community is to be danced to.

Rendez-Vous Chez Fatimata was a particular showstopper. A song so deeply rooted in the history of West African and Latin music, the earth-toned lights of orange, yellow and red stripped the set bare, highlighting the soul of the band and their authentic sound as they chanted the lyrics. It can only be defined as sambroso. Pianist Pepe Rivero deserves an honourable mention for an iconic and ingenious solo that combined jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms into a truly revolutionary sound for which the crowd went wild, and Nahomi Guerra Mayab’s performance on viola was certainly inouï.

Before everyone has the chance to object, the lights dim, the colours fade and the show ends. The audience gives a standing ovation. Everybody’s amazement echoes throughout the building and the band returns to the stage for one more song at our request through cheers, screams and whistles. Guau. This concert was immersive, enriching and at times felt as if I was harmonising with family in the sitting room around a coffee table. I don’t doubt that if you witness the monumental Las Maravillas de Mali, you too will feel you are a part of them.

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