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On Sydney Road, where Gambia meets Cuba via Japan and … Ballarat

A little bar in Melbourne’s north has become a magnet for world music fans, hosting Sunday sessions that are a multihued explosion of styles. The band, Ausecuma Beats, describes itself as a symbol for “unity among diversity”. Charlotte Grieve reports.

Words and pictures by Charlotte Grieve
 

It’s Sunday evening at Bar Ousso – the Sydney Road drinking hole’s biggest night of the week. At sunset the room is still sparsely filled. A man sits at the bar drinking mint tea. A younger girl sits beside him with a beer and a slice of pizza.

It’s the calm before the storm. By the door is a small stage where Ausecuma Beats is gearing up to perform. For weeks now their Sunday sessions have been packing the tiny bar to overflowing. Bar owner Ousso says he is “blessed” to have lead singer, Yusupha Ngum, playing in his venue.

“Yusupha is the first West African singer in Melbourne. Not a djembe player, not a dancer. He is the voice of West Africa in Melbourne.”

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He performs in his native tongue, Woloff. “I’m very proud to sing in my language. You can communicate without people knowing what you are saying,” he says. “Music has no boundaries, it’s a universal language.”

As the music begins to play, the bar is suddenly full. Rodolfo Hechavarria, affectionately known as “Panga” brings a Cuban influence to the percussion. Boubacar is on the djembe, maintaining the Afro-beat. Ed Crocker from Ballarat brings funk. Melody comes from the electric guitar played by Adam Halliwell, who has worked in jazz bands across Europe and Japan. Troy from Perth is on the bass.

“We’ve created a new genre. Sound-wise it’s amazing,” says Boubacar.

Within an hour, there is a queue forming around the corner. Patrons begin to dance in all different styles – a man tap dances while a young girl salsas alongside. A slow-turning fan provides no relief for frenzied fans, as one dancer uses a towel to wipe the sweat from his forehead.

The band was born off the back of a percussion night held at Bar Ousso in mid-2017. The djembe was the most common instrument – a rope-tuned, skin-covered drum played with bare hands. It hails from West Africa and the name is said to have roots in a phrase from Mali, “anke djé, anke bé,” which translates to “everyone gather together in peace.”

The drum players would meet on an ad-hoc basis but Ousso saw potential in the gathering. He offered Boubacar the Sunday night slot to put together a band early this year. “And that was the beginning, I had to select good musicians,” says Boubacar.

The band now features performers from Australia,  Gambia, Senegal, Mali and Cuba. They each bring their own history, identity and style to the music, creating an entirely unique flavour, says Boubacar. Their careers have seen fame, album deals, international tours, festivals and live performances. But for Yusupha, it’s more than that.

“Music has no colour, race or class. Music is the right tool. Music unifies.”

For the past several months the band has used Sundays at Bar Ousso as their rehearsal session. With no written or recorded songs, no single performance is the same.

“They just try to memorize and understand the dynamics of the music. That’s how they want to rehearse,” says Boubacar. “There is no boundary, there is no rule.”

Now they are gearing up for the next phase, and Ousso is confident of big things. “Before long, they will be known across the world,” he says.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, if I tell you this is a good band, believe me they have a big future”.

This Sunday, May 13, is Ausecuma Beats’ last scheduled Sunday gig at Bar Ousso before taking a four week break. The band will perform at the annual Flight to Africa event co-sponsored by PBS-FM and Foreign Brothers on Saturday, 21 July, 2018, at the Evelyn Hotel. 

Ausecuma Beats performing at Federation Square for Victoria’s Multicultural Festival. Photo: Charlotte Grieve

Ausecuma Beats performing at Federation Square for Victoria’s Multicultural Festival. Photo: Charlotte Grieve

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THE CITIZEN is a publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism. It has several aims. Foremost, it is a teaching tool that showcases the work of the students in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Journalism and Master of International Journalism programs, giving them real-world experience in working for publication and to deadline. Find out more →

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