March 1: Nabintou Diakite is a popular Wassoulou singer we were scheduled to film at the site of the former Presidential Palace. Three cabs are organized and we load up. Most cabs are plain yellow, their universal color? The car I got in was yellow with the writing:
A TRANS N. 1 on the side. Our driver is wearing Matrix sunglasses and drives like he's in the movie. When we reach the main road, all 3 drivers pull over for a pit stop refreshment of gunpowder tea before heading out.
We got there an hour before Nabintou was to arrive. David, Jim, and Aja, the senior production crew, immediately began looking for a location that hadn't been used before.
On the other side of the spring from the Palace grounds, they found a nice rock plateau cropping out from a gorge in the side of a hill just downstream from a waterfall. The roar of falling water amplified by the concave stone gorge causes concern for the Director that the audio will be compromised. We can only set up once - if the sound doesn't work, the day is wasted. I say, let's try it and estimate a 75% probability for success.
Steep stone steps carved out of the rock makes for a treacherous descent to the spot. A man with jet black skin wearing a blue work shirt rests by the bank of the spring smoking a cigarette. He then resumes fishing with no pole, throws out and reels in a line with a hook. Some of us venture to the edge of the small waterfalls and douse our heads in the cool water. A nice temporary relief from the 100 + degree temperature in the hot afternoon sun.
Nabintou arrives and negotiates her way down the stairs with some assistance. She's wearing a formal dark maroon dress with gold embroidery. After some conferring with Wardrobe, she walks down a ways and disappears behind a tree to change into less formal, more traditional attire. It's a dark blue dress with lighter blue stripes that looks somewhat like a structured tie dye.
An elderly woman appears who is said to be the caretaker of the Spirits of this location. After being introduced, Nabintou sings a 5 minute song of praise to her while holding her hand in a handshake as a show of respect. I guess the Spirits will be on our side for this one.
A kamale n'goni player shows up to accompany Nabintou dressed causally in blue jeans and a bright orange T-shirt. Wardrobe quickly rushes out a brand new pea green KSK T-shirt emblazoned with a silhouette design of an African musician named Taga Sidibe. Coincidently, the n'gonist has the same surname. His name is Kasim Sidibe.
The rock plateau we are set up on is split into two halfs with about a 4 foot gap in the middle that you wouldn't want to fall into. One half is just the right size for a 'stage', the other half has just enough room for the camera tracks and the jib. My station is at the back of the gorge in the shade. The performers are positioned so that the camera angles will pick up the waterfalls behind them. The thinking is that if you see water in the frame, it will make sense to hear it as part of the audio recording.
The micing was very simple: the Sanken lavalier mic and the U87 for the vocals, a DI for the n'goni pick-up. The U87 was positioned as close as the camera guys would let me get it without compromising the shot. The lav worked well to pick up Nabintou's vocals with very little of the rushing water sound bleeding through. The U87 sounded great combined with the lav adding clarity and a quality of openess to her vocal sound. It did pick up the water sound but this was still in the background to her vocal.
They performed 4 songs as a duo then Nabintou sang a song acapella for two takes. Her singing was smooth, captivating and authoritative. Angelic was an adverb I frequently heard to describe her voice. I found it mesmerizing and transporting. She was most emphatic on the chorus of the acapella piece. I asked what it was about and was told it's a song about women acting honorably. Empowering women is a common theme in the songs by Wassoulou female singers.