Pascal Bokar Velvet Senegalese Guitarist at the Velvet Rose

By Paul Moffett

A busted photo assignment on a Wednesday night isn't always a bad thing; sometimes it can result in a musical trip to the other side of the planet.

To Senegal, a country on the West Coast of Africa, to be exact, as represented in the persons of Pascal Bokar. guitarist, and Jah Amin Mobley, percussionist, backed up by three very hard-working road musicians from the East Coast of America. The site of the trip? Willie's Velvet Rose on Dec. l3.

The busted photo job freed me to attend this show, which I had been interested in seeing since getting a fax about it.

Bokar, billed as a jazz/Afropop guitarist and with several albums to his credit, is on tour in the States, working on building up a following. He and the band cranked out an irresistible mellow mix of electric guitar over a composite of Western and African rhythms, as enthusiastically as if the room were packing with swaying, bobbing bodies on the dance floor, even though the actual crowd was quite small and clearly uninformed about the music.

Jah Amin Mobley, left, drums with Pascal Bokar

I was only a little more informed, having read the publicity material. I hadn't actually heard any recordings by Bokar, either. It didn't matter. The music, particularly the complex rhythms laid down by a seemingly tireless Jah Amin, as energizing and soothing at the same time.

Bokar's guitar was fluid and melodic, driven along by the percussion and the rhythms themselves. He would have fit into the jazz jam at the Rudyard the same night perfectly.

"This next song we're going to take," he would say, "it is a song based on a traditional melody from Senegal," and then he would name the tune in Senegalese and laugh, then continue, "played over six-eight time."

Line dancers would not have had much luck with it. l had to sit down in order to figure out how to shake in all those directions at once.

Bokar's stage presence lent itself well to the mystical tone. Dressed in a flowing blue Merlin-style robe, he held his arms aloft as Jah Amin soloed, looking for all the world like an archetypal wizard evoking the forces of good.

A flurry of a dozen or so young neighborhood women arrived in time to watch quite a bit of the show. One of them allowed as how they had met Bokar in the parking lot of the club earlier in the day. None of them had any idea about Bokar, the music or Senegal. They stayed, however, perhaps as enchanted by Bokar's looks as his music.

The road players who were backing the band deserve mention, if for no other reason than that they were doing an excellent job with music that was not on their personal playlist.

"We had a crash course," said drummer Steve Langoone. Bassist Greg Silva nodded. Also playing was Brazilian keyboardist Jilson Scharde, who was excellent at adding those special African sounds.

The list of those who should have been there (the Louisville reviewer's eternal lament!) was long and detailed.

Bokar was philosophical about it.

"I'm new," he smiled. "Just building an audience. Perhaps next time," he laughed and shrugged.

The Velvet Rose is located at 533 E.Jefferson and is owned by Willie Bright, who also owns Willie's 537 Club on Oak Street.