In perhaps the most high profile act performing as part of the inaugural season of New York University Abu Dhabi Arts Center, the reformed Malian big band Les Ambassadeurs will make their UAE debut tomorrow night with a performance at the campus. Keyboardist and arranger Cheick Tidiane Seck told us about bringing the band back together.
World music lovers celebrated when Les Ambassadeurs reformed last year after three decades. How did it happen?
If I can be honest with you, I was the one that made it happen. But it didn’t turn out to be difficult because everyone was actually thinking about it. I made some phone calls and spoke to Idrissa [keyboardist Idrissa Soumao], Amadou [guitarist Amadou Bagayoko], and Salif [singer Salif Keita] and they all agreed, just like that.
Was there some nerves when the band first played together in that rehearsal room?
Of course there was a certain element of that. But, you know, before all that came the joy. I am talking about the joy of catching up together again, sharing jokes and stories from the past. It felt like a happy school reunion and not just some old dogs coming together to perform one last time. We made a decision to come back together, perform together and try to capture the same energy that we felt before and to create that great unified sound.
The band has a dozen members. When creating new music, is it a challenge to include everyone’s creative input?
I know what you are saying and I think we as a band get around that because all of us have our own experiences in how to create and share our music. Some of us are solo artists, some play in groups, and some do that and teach music at the same time. With all our experiences, we can play different kinds of music. We can create fusion, mixing music from Africa to India.
Are you surprised by the fact that you guys can still pack out shows after being away for so long?
It is a great feeling. We get to meet people from across Africa and Europe who tell us they were influenced by us. Those moments are unquantifiable. We are also inspired by bands like that. Take the Rolling Stones, for example, they have not split up and they are still the same band from the seventies and they can still capture the same energy.
Will some new tunes feature among the crowd favourites in the Abu Dhabi shows?
Not really. For the shows, we will play a lot of our old favourites, but the crowd will hear it with a new energy. For us in the band, it is a chance to perform these old songs and at the same time get new experiences. We never get nervous or worried about playing to new audiences. At the end of the day, they are all human beings and they give and receive energy.
•Les Ambassadeurs perform at the NYUAD Arts Center NYUAD campus, Abu Dhabi,Wednesday November 18 at 8pm. Free entry. Advance reservations are required at www.nyuad-artscenter.org