Water Music Festival in Berlin: Dance with the river gods – culture

New Orleans is unlike any other American city. The rousing love letter to The Big Easy, the amazing HBO Treme series is all about music, food and Mardi Gras, nothing else seems more important here. Life is hard, racism is everywhere, and yet you meet at parties. In a deeply divided America, this is not a matter of course.

And one is proud of its immense musical heritage. Traditional and modern jazz, blues, rock’n’roll, zydeco, bluegrass and gangsta rap are played in clubs and on the streets. Everything seems possible here, the main thing is that you can entertain your audience.

Kumasi performed with Tony Allen once

So the choice of the opening act for the Water Music Festival at the House of Cultures of the World, which this time is devoted to the musical traditions that developed around the Mississippi, is perhaps not as unusual as it might seem at first glance. The 14-person band Kumasi comes from New Orleans, a city in the Mississippi Delta, but plays music more associated with West Africa.

Namely Afrobeat, a style that will forever be associated with key characters such as Nigeria’s Fela Kuti and Tony Allen. But what is Afrobeat after all? A mix of West African highlife music as well as jazz and funk. So there’s a whole lot of New Orleans in Afrobeat where jazz and funk have their roots, as you know.

Heather Nolan, who sings with Kumasi and operates the chekere, a West African rattle, and Logan Schutts, drummer and band founder, go even further. You will meet them at the hotel near HKW. You just flew in from New Orleans, but you seem wide awake.

They emphasize that at their concert in Berlin they will play only one song by Fela Kuti and one by Tony Allen, the rest are their own compositions. However, their admiration for both musicians is huge, which can be clearly heard. You can see it too. The website of her band, founded in 2014, features recordings of a Kumasi concert with Tony Allen in New Orleans.

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Schutts and Nolan met Allen at one of his concerts in the United States. Logan Schutts later flew to Paris, where the Afrobeat drummer lived for a long time before he died in April 2020. A man from New Orleans took drumming lessons from his idol. They became friends, and Schutts invited Allen to his hometown. At the concert, Tony Allen then took his place on the drums. It wasn’t bad, according to Schutts, he was just playing conga and “constantly bringing everyone whiskey and enjoying the concert.”

Merely worshiping Fela Kuti is a little more difficult. While it may shine like an icon of Afrobeat and anti-colonialism, it is also controversial. Not only did he set up his own club in the Nigerian capital Lagos, where he regularly gave concerts, celebrated like ceremonies. Not only did he become embroiled in military government and resist oppression, he also had dozens of wives who he did not always treat well. He also denied the existence of the HIV virus, which eventually resulted in his death himself.


Heather Logan says: “He sang about everyday problems and difficulties, and our music is about institutionalized racism, for example. Our and Fela’s music is connected by the fact that we dance and celebrate it, and at the same time we call for political changes. ”

Logan Schutts adds: “In New Orleans, stronger than any American city, partying and dancing is a way to deal with everyday challenges. Life in New Orleans is not that easy for most people. ” He notices the similarities between his hometown and Nigeria in the 1970s.

[Haus der Kulturen der Welt, bis 6. August. Konzert von Kumasi, 16.7., 19 Uhr]

The Kumasi are at best an insider’s tip in the US, even in their hometown. Nolan and Schutts say they never perform outside of New Orleans. They were all the more surprised when the request for the festival came from far away Berlin. According to Schutts, the more they were concerned with his program back then, the more they felt that it actually fit quite well.

The festival will feature the music of Cajun, zydeco, all these species that developed in the marshy areas of the southern United States around the Mississippi River. But Nolan and Schutts can easily connect the mighty river with Afrobeat, the American river with the music of West Africa.

Nolan says: “On holidays like Mardi Gras, New Orleans has rituals that include the Mississippi River. People spend their time by the river, building small altars or throwing flowers into them. It is integrated with life, we have a relationship with it. ”

Schutts also forms links with the religion of the Yoruba ethnic minority in Nigeria, of which Fela Kuti felt a part of. The Yorubs believe in pantheistic deities they call Orishas. One of them is Oshun, the fertility goddess. According to Schutts, it is symbolized by water, lakes and rivers. “So you could say the Mississippi is the embodiment of Oshun.”

Finally, he asks: Do Berliners like to dance? Despite all the discourse, it is important to him: please dance at the concert of his band.

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