Bokante – St George’s, Bristol

Thursday 31st January, 2019

It has taken me a while to write and publish this. I could make an excuse, about snow, motherhood or work. Or I can front up and tell the truth. I did not know how to write this. I did not know how to square the circle of really liking the music and the musicians with being cross at how a band standing on a platform of diversity had only one woman.

It isn’t diverse if it doesn’t include women. I make the point, not to antagonise, but to highlight what seemed so very obvious to my female eyes. I saw musicians of different ethnicities, yes, I saw musicians of different ages. Fantastic. I also saw a single woman and 7 men.

This won’t ever change unless it is challenged. That requires men to look at themselves, to inwardly examine their own biases and perceptions about the world. It requires them to listen, to take on board criticism and to act upon it. It requires men to lift up the voices of women. It may require losing some of the men in your band to make room for some women! Or adding extra musicians (although 8 in a band is already a lot I grant you). Prince managed it superbly, despite the barriers he faced as a gender non conforming black man.

I admire the spirit in which Bokante are attempting to bring together musicians from across the globe and generations together. It just isn’t enough, when the majority of the band are still North American. If you are going to stand on a platform of being a global band, representing diversity, then you have to be better. I’m sorry, you just do.

There was much to admire on the stage, much musical talent on display and some cracking tunes that I really enjoyed. Songs in Creole, about slavery reparations, about the strength of women, sung with real passion by Malika (who has a brilliant voice). It just would have meant so much more if she was not the only woman in a band of 8. Or if there had been African musicians behind her as well.

The 3 percussionists in Bokante were all superb. Each added a different layer to the sound. They complimented and enriched each other’s playing with techniques that differed from each other. There were so many varieties of percussion it was hard to keep up. The lap steel guitar (an instrument I love – I may have mentioned this before) played blues style was incredible and added something very fresh to the sound. A solid bass backed all that. The vocals were controlled, passionate and excellent. As much as I am sure they are all brilliant guitar players, I did not need, nor could discern how, 3 separate electric guitars were required; 1 is most certainly enough. There was far too much shredding going on. I heard another woman saying this, she was mansplained about how she couldn’t understand what the guitars were adding. I suspect I’ll get the same once I publish this. What would have added something to the mix would have been either a brass section (how glorious would that be?) or something more unusual like a kora or sarod. And yes, I have seen female players of both those instruments. On St George’s stage.

So as much as I enjoyed Bokante’s music very much, and they do make brilliant music, I can’t help but feel disappointed. I am trying my very best to seek out a more diverse line up of musicians, so that when I gather my 2019 stats together I won’t have seen 70% all male line ups.

 

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