Day one of the Penang World Music Festival on Saturday, 30th March 2013 got started with the daily press conference at the media center, located at the Royal Hotel. Representatives of six bands discussed with the local and international press how to keep music traditions alive, the connection between traditional music and the classical musics of various traditions and other issues.
The program continued in the early afternoon with the customary workshops. The workshops took place at the Penang Botanical Gardens, in the beautiful rainforest quarry area and were led by some of the musicians that were performing at the festival. They were grouped by musical instrument or geographical area.
The first workshop was titled Know Your Music: Ancient Spice of India, focusing on the tabla. It featured members of Malaysian band Akasha and the tabla player from Indonesian band Saharadja. Next came Diddle Fiddle, centered on bowed stringed instruments, with fiddle players from Europe and Australia. This was followed by a percussion workshop and Blow Me Down, a workshop with brass and woodwind instruments featuring members from numerous bands. The workshop section ended with the workshop for children titled Kidz World.
The concerts in the evening opened with a performance by Alp Bora Quartet. This band is led by Turkish singer-songwriter Alp Bora accompanied by Julia Pichler on violin, Lukas Lauermann on cello, and Soner Tezcan on percussion. The quartet is based in Vienna and performs an intimate form of Turkish-inspired music mixed with classical music.
The second act, Bulgarian band Oratnitza, presented a superb, energetic performance. This was one of the finest acts of the entire festival. Oratnitza brings fresh blood to Bulgarian traditional music by adding elements such as the Australian didgeridoo and the Peruvian cajon. Hristan Georgiev on kaval impressed the audience with his masterful kaval solos. The group was later joined by two members of the renowned vocal ensemble Kipri. It was mother and daughter Sanka Grozdanova and Iliyana Naidenova. They incorporated the great singing tradition of western Bulgaria.
Malaysian band Rimba from the state of Saba in northern Borneo aims to combine traditional music from Saba with contemporary sounds. The overall result heard in Penang was something that came across as pop with some traditional influences.
Filipino band Kalalyo came on stage next. I was really looking forward to this band as they used to be called Pinikpikan and was familiar with one of their CDs. Unfortunately, Kalalyo went into a loud rock direction that drowned out their Filipino traditional elements. However, things got interesting during the last piece, when band leader Sammy Asuncion replaced his electric guitar with the hegalong lute, a traditional Filipino music instrument from South Cotabato.
One of the most exciting acts was Japanese group Dagaya. This group of excellent male and female drummers, shakuhachi players and a shamisen musician played spectacular taiko music, beautifully choreographed, with mesmerizing dance-like movements and timed perfectly. Dagaya was a true delight to watch and quickly became an audience favorite. The lineup featured Tetsuro Suzuki on shamisen (Japanese stringed instrument) and shinobue (transverse bamboo flute), Shinichi Tsuzuki on taiko (drum), Noriko Nanahara on shinobue, Hideyuki Saito on shakuhachi (vertical bamboo flute), Yoichi Honda on taiko, Naomi Shibata on taiko, Jun Fukuto on taiko, and Naomi Yoshiie on taiko.
The next artist scheduled to perform was Guinea Bissau’s Kimi Diabate. Unfortunately, three members of his band did not arrive. According to the festival organizers, his band was split into two groups by KLM Airlines in Amsterdam. Kimi and his drummer were routed one way and the other three musicians through Thailand. Unfortunately, the 3 musicians sent via Bangkok had difficulty communicating with the Thai immigration officials and were deported back to Portugal.
Portuguese group Mu replaced Kimi Diabate as headliners for May 30 and they delivered a spectacular performance. Although Portugal is well known for its fado tradition, Mu played lesser known contemporary folk music from various parts of Portugal in a fresh and innovative way, combining ancient European instruments like the hurdy gurdy with Indian bulbul tarang, Irish bouzouki (derived from the Greek bouzouki), accordion, cello, and clarinet with the beautiful voice and charming personality of its vocalist, Helena Madeira.
The lineup in Penang included Helena Madeira on vocals; Andreia Barão on accordion; Sandra Martinson on cello and clarinet; Ruben Monteiro on guitar and bouzouki; Hugo Osga on hurdy-gurdy, bulbul tarang, jew’s harp; and Nuno Encarnação on percussion. Their discography includes “Mundanças” (2005), “Casanostra” (2008) and “Folhas que Ardem” (2011).