On Feb. 10th we were scheduled to shoot an up and coming singer named Djeneba Seck (pronounced Jeneba Sheck). We were looking to capture both a music performance and an interview. She was contacted several times to find out what musicians would accompany her performance. We were told there would be 2 or 3 additional musicians, singing or playing acoustic instruments. We brought our full assortment of mics and stands just in case.
The shoot was at the same location we had filmed Madou Diabate, the former Presidential Palace. When we arrived, a group of musicians were waiting - more than 2 or 3, it looked like we had a full band. A few minutes later some other people started unloading equipment: a drum kit, guitar amp, bass amp, and a club-size, very beat-up looking PA sound system.
This was a suprise. We had no idea if we could make it work. First task: find some electricity. Aja went to ask the caretaker of the grounds but it didn't take long to determine that if we wanted electricity, we would have to go back and get our own generator.
All the musicians except the drummers were planning to plug-in to their time endeared PA. The only way a recording would work would be to split the microphone/line signals with one branch going to our recorders, the other going into their PA. Fortunately we had a snake that also split the signal, purchased to record a day of concert performances on a previous trip here. It was decided to send Eo and Lee back across town to get the snake and generator. In the meantime, we would interview Djeneba.
We set-up for the interview and attached the Sanken lavalier to Djeneba but soon found out that it was the wrong Djeneba. Her name was Djeneba but not Djeneba Seck. She was wearing a striped, brightly colored, crisp African dress, all the presence and appearance of someone about to perform. She turned out to be one of the background singers.
Djeneba Seck looked even more royal and regal. She had a light brown, formal looking embroidered African dress, and the bearing of someone quite comfortable with their position as star of the show. I would guess that she's in her mid 30s. Djeneba is married to another musician, guitarist/singer Sekou Kouayte. They often perform together.
The interview went well. I was concerned that we wouldn't have enough time to set-up the band and the recording before it got too dark to film. Especially since, after the band's equipment had been unloaded, no one was making any moves to set anything up. I encouraged Aja to ask the musicians to set-up and they finally got started.
The first piece of good news was that they wouldn't be using the trap set. We only had the 8 track 788 with us though we could record onto additional tracks by sending them to the camera audio inputs.
The band had brought a soundman who looked to be in charge of getting the PA up. They put the speaker cabinets on stands - 3 of them, Left, Right and Center, but positioned the speakers behind the musicians. When they started to plug in vocal mics, loud feedback howled from the speakers due to the volume they were set at. I had them move the L and R cabinets in front of the stage on either side. The center PA cabinet was taken off the stand and placed on the ground for a stage monitor. As soon as the speakers were moved, the feedback went away.
The band's line-up was:
A dun dun player - a dun dun is their bass drum. It is a large drum placed set on its side on a stand about a foot off of the ground. On top of the dun was a smaller drum, also on it's side, called a somba. It's pitch is in a similar range as a rack tom. These drums are played with a hook-shaped, wood mallet. Above that on a small stand is a metallic bell. Having limited tracks, I placed an AKG D112 in between the dun and the somba and miced the bell with a Neumann KM184.
Djembe - miced with a SM57
Bass - DI
An electric guitar through an amp - an SM 57 on the amp.
N'goni - this is a 4 string, guitar-like instrument. It has a pick-up so was run direct. You need either a pick-up or a contact mic with this instrument. It's small, solid body doesn't project sound very far. With its pick-up, it sounds a little like an electrified acoustic guitar.
Soko fiddle - played by Zumana Treta, a recording artist and master of this instrument. It's a one-string instrument played with a bow. It could be called an African violin.
The band was rounded out by two female background singers/dancers, and of course, Djeneba Seck on lead vocal. All the vocals were miced with SM58s.
With only 8 tracks on the 788, I ended up routing the two background vocals through a 2 channel Sound Designs preamp/mixer and then to the audio input of our DPs camera. Time was of the essence, so I asked Lee to set-up our U87 for ambience and run it into another camera. A miscommunication occurred resulting in that mic not getting recorded until the last song. A third camera had a RODE shotgun mic for its audio. That recorded an excellent ambience track.
I had the group run through a song for a soundcheck. Everything seemed in order though I wasn't in the best place for monitoring, about 8 - 10 feet in front of their loud and distorted PA cabinet.
I monitored with a set of closed ear headphones turned up pretty loud. The effect of hearing a clean lead vocal through the headphones and a distorted one from the PA, gave the effect of the vocal sounding like it was doubled and slightly harmonized.
The layout of the grounds, the former Presidential Palace getaway retreat, consisted of multi-leveled tiers. On one side was an empty, Olympic sized swimming pool. The band had set-up on a platform at the same level as the pool. The cameras and I were positioned one level down making it look like the band was playing on a natural stage.
The music was very infectious and catching, easy to lock in and get swept away by the groove. Djeneba's singing was passionate and dynamic - sometimes powerful, sometimes intimate.
After the first song I heard applause and turned around to see that an audience had gathered, mostly women and children, to watch the shoot. The more the crowd got into it, the more the band got into it - a mutually reciprocal feedback loop. By the end of 5 songs, one of them 20 minutes long, I definitely felt like I'd been at a concert. That same high you get when you can feel that the music has taken you somewhere. It was another case of having to make sure to keep part of my attention on the technical side as it would be easy to get carried away by the music.