MADAGASCAR SLIM with NDIDI ONUKWULU and DONNÉ ROBERT at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina), Friday (August 26). $10. 416-763-9139. Also playing with MOTO ET KAPIA DU CONGO , BLACK ICE , CHEMAGNE MARTIN and MOSAIC ARABIC as part of the Bana Y'Afrique festival of African music and culture at Metro Hall Square (55 John), Sunday (August 28), noon-11 pm. Free. 416-294-5374. Rating: NNNNN
Home is never far from the heart of Randriamananjara Radofa Besata Jean Longin, better known as Madagascar Slim (Ben, to his friends), one of our most unique bluesmen. When I call him at his home in Pickering, he's on the Net reading up on his country.
As a musician, Slim owes a great deal to Madagascar. A swift, soulful plucker who can move with ease between his culture's own melodies and time signatures and the styles of legends like B.B. King and Buddy Guy, he says his mastery of sonic opposites is all relative.
"Madagascans tend to emulate the Madagascar instruments even when playing the guitar," he explains, "so it makes you come from another direction - from another angle," he explains.
Since coming to Canada in 1979, Slim's whole angle has been to work tirelessly at perfecting his skills. Despite landing a high-profile gig as Jeff Healey's replacement in Steven C. & the Red Rockets and seeing most of the world on the strength of his guitar power, the three-time Juno Award winner would be the last person to pat himself on the back.
"I'm never satisfied, really, with what I do," the bluesman admits. "I know I have a lot of Madagasy music in me, but music changes with the person - it evolves with what you go through in life. So I'm trying to include all that in the music."
Slim is currently in the studio working on three long-playing projects with Russia's Donné Robert, with the band Tri-Continental and - most excitingly to Slim, with rising singer/songwriter Ndidi Onukwulu, whose Nigerian roots and strong blues grasp make her his logical counterpart.
"She is a voice to reckon with," he says of his young collaborator, who rocks with Slim at both of his shows this week - at the Silver Dollar Room and at the Bana Y'Afrique, which he pronounces "one of the best French music festivals in the city."
When he speaks of Ndidi, you can hear the same smile of musical appreciation in his voice as when he talks about hearing Buddy Guy at the Salmon Arm Roots And Blues Festival, which he played last week. It was a reunion of sorts, says Slim.
"I first saw him in Madagascar in 1969 or 68. He played at our school. And now I saw him again. It doesn't seem like he's aging! I'll have to ask him what he eats."