It was a matter of bad timing. As the previous band wrapped up, the rain that had threatened all day finally broke. With only one act to go, and no shelter to be found on the pier jutting into the Hudson River, people streamed towards the exit. Maybe they knew the rain would last only a moment, or maybe their check had already cleared, but Vieux Farka Toure and his band steadily set up as the rain went from mist to big, cold drops. The BBQ tents were coming down, beer service closed. There was only one reason to stay, and they were still soundchecking.
Maybe it was the spirit of the Sahara, from whence these Malian musicians hailed, or maybe it was just a small shower to begin with, but the rain stopped before their first song did. And the people who remained seemed to be the true believers, ready when Vieux invited—or perhaps strongly advised—people to get up and dance. They set aside their umbrellas, took off their ponchos and moved.
He calls himself a guitarist more than a singer, but whichever he’s doing, Vieux is a showman. He was completely at ease and totally in his element, as though he knew his whole life he would end up playing to a grey sky and green hills of New Jersey on the far bank, and jagged midtown Manhattan behind him. He traded solos and playful facial expressions with his ngoni player and percussionists. He checked in with the crowd in between songs—“You good?”—and goaded them into more dancing--“O.K., this another rhythm, this one here is reggae! I wanna see you move!”—and the crowd couldn’t help but oblige.