Event Review: Oum @ Passionskirche (Berlin, Germany; Wednesday 4th March 2020)

‘Berlin, the city where everything works’, said no Berliner ever. 

Having witnessed the world-famous German technology out of action and run through the crowded Gneisenaustrasse U-Bahn exit (the one not closed due to construction), we scraped through the front doors of Passionskirche and found empty seats. Ironically enough, around here the gigs start right on the dot without exception.

As the house lights went down, the familiar Christian imagery of capital punishment in 1st century Judea was eclipsed by life-affirming, transcendental Moroccan spirit: a Himalayan salt lamp, an incense burner, and moments later, Oum (née Oum El Ghaït Ben Essahraoui) with her band. What followed was a well-paced 1.5-hour set that left Essahraoui ample time to engage with the mixed, responsive crowd including a large portion of punters of Maghrebian and Levantine origin.

Given the fact that last night’s show was part of her European album release tour for Daba (2019), much depended on the transition from the studio to the stage. While the individual instruments and vocals always sounded rich and detailed, on occasion synths made the sound so cluttered that more delicate textures were lost – most notably on ‘Ha’ and ‘Laji’. In a few instances – ‘Fasl’ and ‘Chajra’, for example – the drum machine couldn’t achieve the same fluidity as live percussion.

The band’s strongest moments were the most acoustic and subtle ones, bar none. Swaying from side to side in an invisible breeze with her eyes closed, switching between qraqeb and taarija, Essahraoui’s charismatic presence brought out the best in her band. Yacir Rami’s oud gave ‘Sadak’ its primal energy similar to the combination of Damian Nueva’s mysterious bassline and Camille Passeri’s reverbed trumpet solos that made ‘Rhyam’ a surreal, noirish experience. 

As we stood at the station and shared our thoughts on the show, our  frustration at the local public transport services gave way to a profound sense of fulfilment. Global cuisine aside, there isn’t a better way to travel than live music. And the genius of all that is, no matter how much we rush, we won’t reach the destination any quicker.

Photo ©: Georg Cizek-Graf