African music in northern Spain? Gotta love the global village!

I’ve recently moved to Santander, a port in northern Spain. While leaving a major European capital for a small provincial city was quite a leap, Santander has an international feel to it that I like. Being a port, it gets immigrants from all over the world, mostly China, South America, and West Africa.

The West Africans are especially numerous. They man most of the Cantabrian fishing fleet and work on the docks and in industry as well. Sadly I haven’t found any suya restaurants, but I did get to hear some great African music. Last weekend there was an African jam session at a local bar. The band was made up of guys from Senegal and the Ivory Coast playing drums, a xylophone, and the kora, with a Chilean saxophonist thrown in because. . .why not?

If you’ve never heard a kora player, try to go to a concert. The kora is a stringed instrument from Western Africa. With 21 strings it’s got quite a range and sounds like a cross between a harp and a guitar. Check out this video from kora master Toumani Diabate explaining how it works.

As I downed a generously poured rum and coke while speaking Spanish with a bunch of South Americans and listening to West African music, I got to thinking just how mixed together we’re getting. This mid-sized bar in a mid-sized city after the tourist season had people from at least half a dozen countries and four continents. Everyone drinking, dancing, talking, and listening to music. Nice. Later I stepped out for a smoke (Spain started a smoking ban this year) with a guy from the Ivory Coast and another from Cantabria. We all shivered in the cold rain of autumn and complained about the weather. Well, two of us did. The Cantabrian didn’t grow up in Arizona or West Africa, so he didn’t see what was wrong about the weather.

It was the only disagreement I heard the entire night. I can live with that.