Sunday, February 20, 2011

Zumana Treta

2/11/11: The next music performance filmed was with soko fiddle player Zumana Treta. We shot this on the banks of the Niger outside the same Cultural Center where KSK had put on a concert 4 years earlier. It's near the bridge that connects the two sides of Bamako and right across the river from the lone, tall bank building that repuredly holds all or most of the country's gold not in the ground. Mali is one of the biggest producers of the world's gold. Downriver from the bank is the Hotel Libya. It's the only other building in view.

Accompanying Zumana was a calabash player, and a n'goni player - the same n'goni player who sat in with Djeneba Seck the day before.

A calabash is a percussion instrument - a shell that's a gourd cut in half. It has two sounds - fast syncopated rhythms played by the fingers on top of the shell, and a low thump played by the back of the hand or sometimes a fist on the shell.

To capture the low sound I put a SM58 inside the shell - not enough room to put on a stand so the mic just rests on a piece of cloth inside the shell. A SM57 covered the top of the calabash.

Often the calabash is played on the ground. At first we planned to have all the musicians on the ground for the shot, but the calabash player brought a stand, a portable raised platform that allowed everyone to stand up. The n'goni and fiddle were run direct.

Zumana also sings. We wanted as few mics in the frame as possible. Tried the Sanken lavalier but it didn't sound right for Zumana's voice. Switched to the Audio Tech lav. It sounded pretty dark but it did pick up the throaty part of his vocal and didn't get so much of the fiddle bleeding through. I was confident that I could brighten his vocal in post production.

Still wasn't happy with the vocal so set up the U87 and set it as close to Zumana as I could without compromising the shot. It ended up about 18 - 24 inches away, farther than I would have preferred to record a lead vocal but close enough to pick up some of the higher frequencies in his voice. I was reasonably satisfied with the combination of the U87 and the lav.

I had found some shade to set up the 788 recorder in to avoid getting fried by the sun. The temperature was 107 in the sun. We arrived around 3pm then waited about an hour or so until the light was better. The sunset, around 6:30pm was quite dramatic.

Didin't have much of an audience for Zumana but his singing and playing was mesmerizing nonetheless. He played 5 pieces. The plaintive wailing of the soko fiddle often in repetitive patterns that seemed to draw one in further with each repetition, had a yearning quality, reaching for something more. Drawing one up in a mood outside the ordinary.

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