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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Mokoomba at the Music Haven

Not too long ago, I heard the Paul Simon song “I Know What I Know” on the radio, and was overcome by an urge to revisit his great 1986 album “Graceland.” I loaded it into the CD player in my car, and listened to it during my commute to work. It later occurred to me that “Graceland,” which was made in collaboration with South African musicians, probably marked my first exposure to African music.

On Sunday my boyfriend and I biked from Cohoes to Central Park in Schenectady to hear the Zimbabwe band Mokoomba, who kicked off this summer’s free concert series at the Music Haven. The six-member ensemble melds the sounds of traditional African music with other, more western genres — rock, funk, jazz. They play with energy and feeling, and are all accomplished musicians. As I watched them, I realized that if Paul Simon were to make another African-sounding album, the members of Mokoomba are the type of talented and charismatic people he would seek to play on it. What made the Music Haven show special was that it showcased the music of people who are often relegated to the background, or niche venues and radio stations. The alternative rock band Vampire Weekend’s fondness for incorporating African music into its sound is well-known. Well, Mokoomba is what real African music sounds like. In other words: What Music Haven attendees heard was the real deal, not some Americanized repackaging of world music.

Mokoomba was the perfect band to listen to after a long bike ride on a hot summer day. By the time we reached the Music Haven, it had cooled off, and we were able to relax comfortably on top of the hill. It wasn’t crowded, so we didn’t feel bad about being all sweaty and gross around other people. And the overall atmosphere was very pleasant. People were excited to see Mokoomba, and appreciated the band’s lively, upbeat sound.

My boyfriend, who had never been to the Music Haven before, was impressed. “This is a really nice venue,” he said. “Their lineup seems more eclectic than most of the other free summer concert series around here.” I don’t want to bash the other free summer concert series in the Capital Region, because free music is a good thing. But I will say this: The Music Haven’s programming is more adventurous and interesting than those other free summer concert series. If you’re interesting in hearing something different, that you haven’t heard before, the Music Haven is a good place to go.

I’m especially curious about the Ghost Train Orchestra, who perform on Aug. 10. Here’s what the promotional material has to say about this particular band: “... GTO echoes the ‘Hothouse Stomp’ of 1920s Harlem and Chicago as well as the exquisite, romping ‘chamber jazz’ of the 1930s. They’ve been called ‘a joyous vaudevillian ride,’ and ‘a delightful trip through a retro aural funhouse,’ conjuring up what NPR refers to as ‘old music, which somehow sounds new.’” Sounds fascinating! I hope I’m around for it.

Given the quality of Mokoomba’s music, and the fact that the concert was free, I was surprised that there weren’t more people at the Music Haven. It wasn’t that it was sparsely attended. But it should have been packed. Perhaps people don’t realize there’s this amazing free summer concert series in Central Park? Or maybe there was just a lot going on last weekend? Whichever the case, these Music Haven shows are very much worth checking out.

After listening to Mokoomba for almost an hour-and-a-half, we decided we were tired, loaded our bikes onto the car and drove home. The band was still going as strong, and we felt good. We were weary after our bike ride, and the music helped revive us.

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