Meet Antoinette Konan

The cover of Antoinette Konan's self-titled 1986 album is a photograph of an ahoko, probably her ahoko.  It's a rattle, or more formally (according to the Hornbostel-Sachs system) a vessel rattle.  (It's under category 112, struck idiophones.  The Hornbostel-Sachs system is like the Dewey Decimal System for ethnomusicologists.  It's a good day when writing one of these essays leads me to discover something as bananas as the Hornbostel-Sachs system.)  There's a central baton, and around it a nutshell full of seeds.  

It doesn't seem like the ahoko would be a precision instrument, let alone something that a person could spend years studying. Konan picked it up relatively late in her musical education when she was looking to incorporate more traditional Ivoirian elements into the music she was writing and arranging with piano and synthesizers.

You can hear the ahoko's ratchety, scrapy sound underlying the fantastic beat of "Kokoloko Tani," but what will grab your attention is her singing, which is so clear and lovely, fluently moving through repeating melody that becomes increasingly intricate over time.  It's so full of unexpected starts and stops that it feels improvisational, but the perfectly locked-in harmonies make it clear that this is very patiently composed and meticulously practiced.

Once I started looking for more of Konan's work, I found this fantastic artifact.

First and foremost, Konan's performance here is masterful.  She's in such complete command of everything happening here musically that it seems effortless.  Her singing is perfect.  Her audience is pretty great too:  they obviously know this song, and know where the call-and-response is supposed to go, and they nail it.

The setting, apparently, is a marketing seminar for water purifiers, held at a hotel in Washington DC.  I feel like everyone who is anyone in the Ivoirian Washington expat community is probably in this room. I feel for the American woman who has probably married into this and ends up being Left Shark at every social function.

What I see here reminds me parties I've been to in Mexico: The music starts up and every woman in the house gets up and starts dancing.  The ways ladies from Michoac√°n and ladies from Abidjan dance are surprisingly similar.  

The big difference is that while Mexican ladies dress to the nines, Ivoirians dress to the fourteens or fifteens.  I love the contrast between the bland, sterility of a trade show in a mediocre hotel and these women in their fantastically lively dresses, and I hope you will too.  


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