This Oxford date was the second on the first ever UK tour for Rango - a group of Sudanese-Egyptian master musicians - and their namesake: a large rustic marimba whose origins are in the 1800s. Played on the kinds of traditional instrument one usually only sees on programmes like Bruce Parry's 'Tribe' (from the manjur, a cloth hip belt with attached goat hooves that rattle with rhythmic movement, to the gentle, giant rango, to talking drums and maracas made from old cans), it is instantly obvious why these folk tunes form the basis of Sudanese Zar shamanic ceremonies and traditional wedding celebrations. The complex rhythms were infectious enough to have much of the sedately seated audience in this methodist church bobbing in their chairs, and quite quickly (due in part to the sightline issues cause by the majority of musicians being seated on the floor) raised several of us to our feet to do what this music is designed to make people do: dance.
Dancing is very much part of the show, with most of the troupe (all male bar one impressive lady with a powerful Arabic singing style and glittering outfit) incorporating movement as an essential part of their performance. There were a couple of stars here: one lead singer twitched his whole robe from side to side between outstretched arms, making his body appear to jump magically; another principal dancer/drummer (in feathers in the picture on this page), wide eyed and smiling in brightly coloured polkadot dress, processed up and down the aisle egging on the already participating audience.
And then there's the sound. Repetitive rhythms interlock and flow around and over each other, seeming to transcend time signature, with a lone voice weaving an often Arabic-style melody between the beats. Talking drums interject and the listener hears an echo of a sample from modern dance music. Suddenly one hears the origins of practically all dance music genres (and more) in this complex structure of deceptively simple elements. There goes trance (unsurprisingly); there's ragga; there's blues; there's rock and roll; there's techno; there's house; there's R&B - all passing in a fleeting second, merging into one another and seeping into your bones before you notice that your head's nodding to the hypnotic beat. If you close your eyes you could be thousands of miles away, by a fire in the desert late at night, at a ceremony that only a privilieged few westerners will ever witness. I think my evil spirits were thoroughly appeased!
Thanks to Oxford's fabulous Big Village (view next events at www.bigvillage.org) for doing what they do best here: finding a rare international musical treasure for our delectation and bringing it to a fabulous, surprising venue on our doorstep. (Rango sold out their opening date as part of the Barbican's Transcender festival only 3 days previously.) We are fortunate indeed.
For Rango's remaining UK tour dates, videos, backstory and more, visit www.30ips.com/rango