It started with the biggest group hug I‘ve ever seen. I strolled into
the rather sparse arena and up to the front of the room and quickly saw
that the dance floor was full, but everyone was parted like the Red Sea.
Retro Stefson bounced around onstage, in a breakdown of their
infectiously danceable song Senseni, leading a clap-along and a
countdown. Before I could even get my hands into rhythm with the crowd,
they yelled “four, three, two, one!” and the parted audience rushed
towards each other, arms akimbo, teeth grinning and shouting wild and
joyfully, into each others’ arms. Too stunned to process the
heart-warming sight in time to take part in it, the only natural
reaction was to start dancing. Then the song ended, and that was their
After the quickest, most efficient set change I’ve ever seen, the guests
of honour were graciously escorted onstage by crewmembers as their band
set the tone with a low-down groove. The crowd then proceeded to… sit
perfectly fucking still for the first seven songs. Despite the
well-blended bluesy African beats and indie pop overtones, spectacular
light show and numerous clap-alongs, the Reykjavík Art Festival elite
kept their knees tightly crossed and their hands gently folded across
their laps. Except for a handful of folks dancing to the extremities of
the stage and all the way at the back of the room, it was about as crazy
as an Amish funeral. Mariam suddenly left the stage, aided by a
crewmember, but it was actually only for a very awesome costume change.
Suddenly, one brave woman with no shoes on strayed from the small group
of dancers to stage-right and danced her way into the large, barren
space between the stage and the first row of seats. Within moments she
was joined by a second woman. Then I turned my head to the left and
beheld a glorious sight—the kids from Retro Stefson went to the back of
the room, gathered all the dancers and were dancing their way down the
aisles with a massive conga line in tow. In a split second, everyone was
up on their feet and the seated audience had their view blocked by the
wall of gyrating, writhing, sweaty people.
The clap-alongs became more intense and frequent. All the
French-speaking audience sang along at the top of their lungs. People of
every age and persuasion danced with each other with a primal
genuineness, smiling and spinning and grinding around the floor. Friends
hugged, lovers kissed, strangers held hands and moved freely. It was
one love, baby.
After a nice lengthy set full of stellar beats and beautiful singing,
the audience unanimously demanded more from this band that had come all
the way from Mali to play the opening ceremonies of the festival. They
ended the night with massively extended versions of three more songs,
including their wonderful love song Je Pense à Toi (I’m Thinking of
You), during which Mariam affectionately caressed her husband’s head and
neck, both of them smiling in complete puppy love with each other. It
was enough to give a hardened cynic the vapours.
- Bands: Amadou & Mariam, Retro Stefson
- Where: Laugardalshöll, May 12th, 2010
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