Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, Thu Oct 16
A little bit of magic happened in Adelaide last night. The lucky audience experienced the wonderfully vibrant sound of world music star Grace Barbé and her band who delivered a generous set for over two hours finishing with the whole audience up on their feet and dancing. The all ages crowd left smiling and happy many now converted fans to the music of the Seychelles and Grace in particular.
Grace Barbé commands attention, her warmth and powerful, rich voice engaging the audience immediately. Barefoot and relaxed in her interactions with the audience she sings in her own language Seychellois kreol as well as English and French. Most of the songs are original compositions by Grace Barbé and Jamie Searle using traditional rhythms from the people of the Indian Ocean, Sega combined with Afro beats fusing to create Afro-Sega; an infectious music that reflects and celebrates Seychellois culture.
Afro-Sega, Fatige and Welele! were all songs that got the crowd moving after a few tentative souls at the beginning. The band also included some traditional folk songs reinterpreted in their funky style. There are elements of reggae, pop and rock as part of this fusion, which generates some seriously good hip swaying music. This band is up there with the best of what WOMAD brings to Adelaide each year.
As Grace explained during her set she is on a mission to introduce the world to the strong culture and traditions of the Seychelles a group of islands in the Indian Ocean. With its mix of cultures including African, Indian, Chinese, and European the Seychelles have a rich heritage to draw from and Grace proudly shares this through the stories behind the music. There’s a strong awareness of their history and the importance of remembering the past in order to create a better, stronger future. Grace introduced the songs with stories to explain the meanings behind and why she chooses to sing in her own language.
Throughout, there is a positive theme about the importance of women and songs and stories about their lives. A humorous highlight was the demonstration of the way women walk to church or the markets showing off their ‘coconuts’ full of the pride in the variety of female shapes and sizes – a lesson for us all. We heard about fishermen’s wives waiting anxiously to see if they return and a pointed message was the song Woman You Don’t Have To Cry Anymore extolling the contributions women make to society and encouraging pride in being a woman. This was accentuated by the presence of the two female percussion players – which Grace explained was highly unusual in the Seychelles. The two musicians, Joelle Barbé (Grace’s sister) playing drums and Stella Savy on triangle and bongo drums, won the admiration of the audience for their mesmerizing contributions to the band. Interestingly we learned that the triangle is the most favoured percussion instrument throughout the Indian Ocean echoing the sounds of the chains worn by the African slaves on the plantations.
A highlight was the performance of the song to commemorate the people of Diego Garcia who were forcibly removed from their ancestral home in the 1960s to other Indian Ocean Islands so the US could establish a naval base. There is still a movement to return. The power of Grace’s voice and the perfect harmonies with her sister who accompanied her on the triangle conveyed the deep emotion and sadness still felt about this event.
Grace Barbé has been named best world music act five years running in her home state of Western Australia. Judging by this performance it won’t be long before she receives such accolades from across Australia and the rest of the world. Here is a true Australian world music star that learned how to play this music within the Seychellois community in Perth, mentored by Sonny Morgan and Perley ‘Tonper’ Hoareaux, and then returned to the Seychelles showing that it was important to keep the culture and music alive. There are now ongoing links between her two homes as Grace performs regularly at festivals in the Indian Ocean as well as Australia.
Grace Barbé is a truly great artist and needs to be seen and heard internationally. Meanwhile her two albums Kreol Woman (2008) and Welele! (2013) can keep fans happy and dancing before her next appearance. Don’t miss it!
by Taissa Ceric