The annual IndiEarth xChange, with four editions under its belt, is a must-attend event in India for industry professionals and fans of world music and indie acts. The three-day event spanning a weekend was held recently at The Taj Connemara Hotel in Chennai, and included a conference, workshops, film screenings and a music showcase.
The IndiEarth initiative, promoting independent musicians and filmmakers, was conceptualized by the founders of EarthSync India, a music label and film production company launched by Sastry Karra, Sonya Mazumdar, Yotam Agam and Kris Karra in 2004.
Panel topics at IndiEarth xChange this year included music markets, temple instruments of India, multi-disciplinary art events, music education, international touring, copyright, business models, digital media, audience engagement, recording dynamics and festival programming.
I took part in a panel on ‘Media and the Arts: Finding an Honest Voice,’ on the agendas and activities in music journalism, and the role of music journalists in shaping the ecosystem of artists, labels, venues and festivals.
A workshop on music journalism was conducted by Simon Broughton, editor-in-chief of Songlines magazine. Two other workshops were offered for DJs, and one titled ‘Mindfulness for Creatives’ by Australian musician and yoga teacher Phoebe Kiddo. Music producer Howie B held an open session; he is hailed as one of the original exponents and creators of trip hop, and has written the music scores for major motion pictures (including the closing title music to Scorcese’s The Wolf of Wall Street).
The Queensland University of Technology presented the Indie100 Program, in which Australian producers Lachlan ‘Magoo’ Goold and Yanto Browning recorded, mixed and mastered the works of 10 indie bands.
A number of useful artist insights were offered during the three days of panel discussions. For example, musicians have to learn to be entrepreneurs as well, though many just want to do music. For legal reasons, artists need to make a habit of documenting their activities during tours, live gigs, recording sessions and collaborative performances.
Industry connections will help with international exchange of music tours and talent enrichment. Touring artists have to do more than perform – they should teach, do workshops, talk at panels and jam with other bands.
Roots music is about more than entertainment, it is about keeping folk cultures alive. Sometimes, roots music can be changed during performances for new or international audiences, but should not degrade the original messages and forms. World music artists should be proud of their indigenous traditions but need not feel they have to restrict themselves only to these genres.
Though new bands may find it hard to get audiences to download their music, they should try techniques like giving away a couple of tracks for free in exchange for users’ email ids or social media connects. This can be used for deepening audience engagement and eventually converting them into becoming fans, influencers and evangelists – and ultimately paying customers of live music, merchandise or digital tracks.
Music venues and journalists have to figure out the balance between featuring established and emerging artists. There were also some hilarious suggestions at one of the panel discussions: what if smoke machines at gigs blew ‘different’ kinds of smoke?
The three-day indoor music showcases featured artists from a range of countries: India, Netherlands, Australia, Germany, UK, France, Reunion Island, China, Ireland and Denmark. Here are profiles and photos of some of the acts which I caught; the performances were held across three separate stages, and covered Indian classical, folk, roots, world, contemporary, alternative, and electronica artists (see my 2014 writeup here: worldmusiccentral.org/2015/03/18/indiearth-xchange-annual-showcase-of-world-music-and-indie-acts-in-india).
The first day of music shows kicked off with a hypnotic performance of Hindustani classical music by Saskia Rao-De Haas from the Netherlands. Now based in New Delhi, she has adapted the western cello with an additional set of sympathetic strings for Indian classical music.
Lakhan Das Baul from Kolkata performed a haunting set of baul music, derived from the mystic minstrels from rural Bangladesh and West Bengal, India. This music is devotional but at the same time does not identify with specific orthodox religious practices in the region.
The energy ramped up with qawwali music by the Hussain Group Qawwals from Hyderabad. Ustad Ahsan Hussain Khan Quadri has been performing traditional qawwali music for over 40 years, and is the son of the late Ustad Qurban Hussain Khan Sahab, a classical singer in the royal court of the Gwalior family. His son Adil Hussain Khan also joined him on lead vocals during their mesmerising performance.
A spectacular collaboration on percussion and dance was presented by the band Thappattam from Thanjavur. The folk troupe featured thunderous thappattam drummers, on the thavil drum (a barrel shaped drum) as well as nadaswaram (a double reed wind instrument). The powerful rhythms and percussive textures were enhanced by a bass guitarist and drummer, who drove the performance to a high-energy crescendo.
Other artists performing on Day One were Zoo (electro dream pop, from Kolkata), Black Letters (indie rock, from Bangalore) and Komorebi (electronica and chillstep, from New Delhi).
The second day of live shows kicked off with Tajdar Junaid, a singer-songwriter from Kolkata, drawing on influences from India and the US. He has collaborated with artists such as Karsh Kale as well as Fred White from Acoustic Alchemy.
The Nagore Brothers from Nagore, south India, delighted the audience with a set of Sufi devotional music. The Nagore Brothers – Abdul Ghani, Ajah Maideen and Saburmaideen Babha Sabeer – sang in an ecstatic trance-like manner along with pulsating percussion.
The electronica performances began with Australian-born Phoebe Kiddo, now based in Berlin. She describes herself as a ‘musical pilgrim,’ and her set revealed a wide range of influences with synth and sub-bass textures. Her albums include ‘Artefacts of Broken Dreams.’
Ravi Chary, a leading sitar player from Goa, performed an enchanting set of Indian classical music accompanied by Suphala Patankar on tabla. Ravi’s father is the late Pt. Prabhakar Chary, a noted tabla player and musicologist. Ravi has also produced a range of fusion and world music albums, and has collaborated with artists like Salif Keita, Vikku Vinayakram, Ustad Zakir Hussain, and Robert Miles. He has performed at international festivals like WOMAD and Glastonbury.
Prateek Kuhad, a folk-pop singer-songwriter from New Delhi, then performed a set featuring some tracks from his recent album, Tokens & Charms. He has also been featured at Indian festival NH7 Weekender, and has toured in the US as well.
Howie B from the UK had the audience on their feet with his set of trip hop and dubstep. He has worked with a range of artists including Björk, U2, Mukul Deora and The Gift, and has been releasing music under his own name since the early 1990s.
Other artists performing on Day Two included Naezy (Indian rap in Urdu, fom Mumbai) and FuzzCulture (electronica duo from Delhi).
The final day of performances kicked off with a melodic set of Carnatic music by violin maestro Lalitha Kalaimamani from Chennai. She hails from an illustrious family of musicians, and represents the fourth generation of musicians in her family. Lalitha has also performed in collaborative and fusion lineups, and has played at festivals in over a dozen countries around the world. Her passion is also keeping alive the story of traditional temple instruments in India.
Bo Bun Fever from France had the audience on their feet with an insanely high-energy set of mambo and other Latin music. The story of their formation is hilarious: the members of the trio met in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand, and after a wild night they discovered a strange inscription tattooed on their torsos in black Gothic letters: Bo Bun Fever!
The musical textures switched to Asia with the band Tulegur from China, presenting a blend of of traditional Mongolian music along with ethnic rock. The duo featured hypnotic throat-singing (khoomei) along with electronic music, best described as ‘ethnic post-rock’ or ‘psychedelic nomadic rock.’
The musical tour then switched to Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, with the band Ziskakan and maloya Creole traditions. Anchor Gilbert Pounia is a charismatic storyteller-singer and has spearheaded the band since 1979 across its international tours in North America, Europe and Asia. The lively music blended the sounds of Africa (especially Madagascar) and India. Maloya was once banned under French rule, but has been kept alive and thriving by local artists.
Irish folk music and jazz-funk blended together in the next set by Aldoc from Ireland. It featured Alan Doherty on flutes and whistles, along with a high-energy lineup on bass, electric guitars and two electronica artists.
Do Moon ramped up the energy even more with a set of Afro House. The duo from Reunion Island blended groove, South African Ghetto House and maloya, and kept the audience on their feet swaying to their ocean sounds.
Another creative vocalist that night was Alo Wala, an American Punjabi who is now based in Copenhagen. The blend of electronica and hiphop with heavy doses of bass from Danish Copia Doble Systema also featured commentary and critiques of Asian and Western cultural mores.
Other bands performing on the last night included AsWeKeepSearching (post-rock, from Ahmedabad), Parekh and Singh (alternative pop, from Kolkata), The F16s (indie rock, from Chennai), Sandunes (electronica/dance, from Mumbai), Nicholson (live keyboards and electronica, from Mumbai) and Fuzzy Logic (live percussion and electronica, from Mumbai).
I also picked up a good stack of CDs from the performers for review and radio play. We look forward to the next edition of XChange already!
2015 represents a cherished first trip to Tunisia and what was a most enjoyable, brief yet direct experience with the country’s cultural scene in Tunis, the country’s capital.
Given the past year’s horrible terrorist attacks in the MENA region, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and North America, support for local cultural initiatives as a bulwark against Daesh and other Wahhabi/Salafist -related ideologies has become vitally urgent worldwide.
Tunisia was attacked brutally over the past year, for it represents a rare jewel as a moderate, secular democracy in North Africa and the Near East. I publish this dispatch from my personal notes in support of the newer cultural horizons in Tunisia I witnessed this past year, such a vital part of the country’s democratic path of development — or re-development. Tunisia shall continue to strengthen and thrive, I am convinced, for the past year was but a moment in time in its long epic history of emerging from ten civilizations of would-be conquerors.
Ever since the memorable 2013 World Nomads Tunisia Festival presented by the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF) in New York that I covered for Ibraaz.org, and FIAF’s subsequent World Nomads Tunisia Weekend this past year, where we in New York and America were introduced to several aspects of Tunisia’s culture (music, dance, cinema, visual arts, handicrafts, and literature) my interest to know more about the country has been at a high level.
Those FIAF introductions to Tunisia made me welcome the recent opportunity to make an actual visit to Tunis. My trip was a joy in this cosmopolitan, progressive city. The occasion was the third edition of the Kamel Lazaar Foundation’s Jaou Tunis Conference, May 28-31, 2015.
I sensed occasionally during my visit that while Jaou Tunis seemed to some odd few, a provocative upstart cultural event in a society whose complicated status quo values are in need of urgent and immediate reform in order to jumpstart the economy, Jaou Tunis fulfills a clear, major and key catalytic role on many fronts for the country’s current and future development path.
The Kamel Lazaar Foundation
It’s a real phenomenon in the Maghreb to discover visionary leadership and patronage coming from the private sector in contemporary arts, and even less so throughout the continent of Africa. It’s all the more striking that in Tunisia today, the Kamel Lazaar Foundation is spearheading a new era of contemporary arts appreciation in the MENA region, www.kamellazaarfoundation.org.
The Foundation is building the first contemporary arts center and museum in the country with beautiful galleries, a state of the art library, and — exciting to envision — two performing arts spaces, all of which are sure to become a main international attraction in Carthage-Tunis.
Active plans are underway by the Foundation to assist the government in the cataloguing, documentation, and conservation of its accumulated collections of art since the turn of the century. It’s noteworthy that Tunisia has had a long history of visual arts: the famed School of Tunis and the earlier European Orientalist movement, for example.
Those are just two among many other vital projects that are breathtaking in scope. Take a long look at their intellectually stimulating online publication, http://www.ibraaz.org — a window to the world of the MENA region’s contemporary visual arts, under the editorial direction of Dr. Anthony Downey with the Sotheby’s Institute in London.
Founded in 2005 by the Chairman, Kamel Lazaar, an investment banker and philanthropist, to promote art and Arab artists around the world, the Foundation fulfills a much-needed activist role in the cultural and artistic scenes of North Africa and the Middle East.
The goals of the Kamel Lazaar Foundation include:
— The promotion of visual arts and support for platforms for dialogue about cultural production across the Maghreb and Middle East.
— Support for cultural and artistic projects and activities (including patronage, fellowships, events, and conferences)
— The production of cultural knowledge through responding to the imminent need for the creation and dissemination of visuals arts in the Maghreb and the Arab world
— Support for research and publishing initiatives, exhibitions, and educational seminars
— Support for the visual arts by developing a rich collection of modern and contemporary works covering the MENA region, by creating cultural and artistic spaces and by raising awareness and democratizing art and culture.
Having worked in the development field for decades throughout Africa, with increasingly greater emphasis on the culture sector in the MENA region and sub-Saharan Africa, I have observed and continue to support and applaud the huge impact of creative economies on cultural tourism, job creation, and local innovative entrepreneurship in business. The supply and demand for local and regional traditional artisanal handicrafts industries are part of economic growth and foster pride in national identities. While attending Jaou Tunis, I often recalled a line from the poem “The Will To Live” by Tunisia’s cherished poet from the 30s, Abou Kacem Chebbi: “I bless among men, the ambitious.”
Significance of the Jaou Event
Following the indiscriminate and chilling attacks on March 18 past at the Bardo National Museum, one of the most important museums in the Mediterranean Basin region tracing the ancient history of the country, the Kamel Lazaar Foundation re-doubled and intensified its determination to present its annual Jaou conference at the museum itself. (Jaou, loosely translated from Arabic, means ‘ambiance’.) The aptly titled 2015 theme was “Visual Culture in an Age of Global Conflict”.
The beautifully designed Jaou catalogue preface stated its 2015 objectives:
How to showcase contemporary Arab culture and encourage interest around the art industry? How to successfully create links between the artists of the region and to communicate them in a major event? How to create balance between the Arab capitals, rich in history and cultural productions, and the financial centers of buyers of culture? Finally, how to pull the cultural sector out of inertia, indifference and even defeatism by establishing a meeting ground of quality that may become the catalyst for a new cultural dynamic, but also the basis for a valid project of inter-Arab dialogue? And especially how to highlight local creativity?
In response to all these questions Jaou was born. Launched in Jeddah in 2012, the event aims to be a moving platform, much like a cultural caravan that meets annually to bring together artists, intellectuals, sponsors and patrons, gallery owners, curators, art specialists.
To create the opportunity to discuss conflicts that trouble the world. To pose hard questions. To ensure that the cultural scene resists obscurantist attempts. These are the axes that drive the third edition of Jaou-Tunis, particularly through an international symposium on culture in response to terrorism, and an exhibition entitled “The Whole World’s A Mosque”, which takes up the challenge to make the arts and culture scene a lever for peace and to deliver a message of tolerance unique to Islam, as with the other religions of the Book. (Translated from the original French)
Far from a dry academic gathering, though earnest and serious, the entire Jaou event was vibrantly optimist. Visits to local galleries and special exhibitions, luncheons and dinner parties filled the agenda. Cultural expressions are richly layered and myriad in Tunisia after 10 civilizations of history. Archeological sites are famed and wondrous. Threading through the conference visual culture theme, we were afforded glimpses and tastes of the diversities in the country’s music, dance, literature and poetry, artisanal handicrafts, superb cuisine, and even Sufi spiritual philosophy.
It seems foreseeable that Jaou Tunis could evolve over time into a major regional cultural festival, embracing all or many of the forms of expressions mentioned above.
Hundreds of attendees included international media representatives, local artists, filmmakers, gallery owners, lawyers, economists, diplomats, scholars,authors, business entrepreneurs, MENA region cultural practitioners, and even two esteemed Sufi sheikhs. The event was above all a fantastic opportunity to meet with and engage in dialogue with some of the leading advocates in the Tunisian culture sector.
The conference had as its moderator the admirable and congenial Dr. Anthony Downey. Round table discussions were lively and informative about the MENA region’s art world and its concerns. Subjects ranged from “Culture in the Era of Conflicts”, “The Body in Question in Tunisian Choreography”, “What is the Place of Archives in the Contemporary Arab Art World”, “The Maghreb of Culture: The State of Places”, and “The Uncertain Future of Cultural Institutions in the Arab World”.
Distinguished panelists included one of the country’s best constitutional jurists, Ghazi Gherairi, former Minister of Culture Mourad Sakli, the Lebanese president of the Arab Center for Architecture, George Arbid, the poet and author Mohamed Aziza, a Persian French political scientist concerned with cultural developments in the Middle East, Alexandre Kazerouni, and founder of Sharjah’s Art Barjeel Foundation, Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi,
Among the many local and international artists and cultural activists who participated as panelists, there were notable presentations by choreographer Hela Fattoumi, artist Hela Ammar, architect and co-founder of La Maison de l’Image Olfa Feki, artist Hiwa K, artist Nadia Kaabi-Linke, artist Tania El Khoury, and activist collective from Berlin, Slavs and Tatars. Their combined presentations clearly signaled that revolutionary consciousness and the drive for socio-cultural change is of utmost concern.
Music and Dance
I hope that future Jaou editions will include more music and dance performances or list places where conference attendees might be able to sample more performing arts concerts. This would help give a fuller picture of Tunisia’s cultural environment.
During the opening night dinner party at the Fonduk el Attarine in the Tunis Medina, the beautiful Tunisian singer, Ghalia Benali, delivered a surprise concert. Accompanied by her Egyptian musicians on violin and daf percussion, she delivered a soulful set with a Sufi theme. One of her songs was homage to Ibn Arabi’s lyrics, “I believe in the religion of love…”
Kamel Lazaar praised her artistry to the hundreds of guests. He mentioned that her FIAF World Nomads Tunisia 2013 performance was selected as one of the 10 best concerts of the year in New York by New York Times Chief Music Critic Jon Pareles. I am often amazed that the immensely rich world of Tunisia’s traditional, folk, and contemporary music is so relatively unknown outside of the country, but I suspect this is about to change.
One of the most popular Tunisian radio stations played in every Tunis taxi is Radio Mosaique FM where I heard great popular and traditional music from the country, the MENA region, and even American favorites. The station is also the ‘soundtrack’ in the famed Cafe des Nattes in Sidi Bou Said and perfect accompaniment to the cafe’s steaming glasses of mint tea with pignoli nuts. It streams live on the internet.
During the opening exhibit of paintings by Egyptian artist Ahmed Farid at Dar el Marsa, just outside the entrance, the dancer choreographer Rochdi Belgasmi pulled off a stunning street dance piece entitled ZOUFRI Moi. In line with the country’s explosion of post-revolutionary creativity and freedom of expression, Belgasmi showcased the ‘rboukh’ style of dance popular among workers in the phosphate mining region in the south. Disdained by the conservative bourgeois in Tunisian society, the movements are considered vulgar with sexual innuendo. But this perception is changing for the better. The music was a blend of popular music for celebrations and parties with Stambali music, a trance music of exorcism played by the Gnawa musicians in the southern region. Several in the crowds happily joined the performance with its catchy dance beats.
Tunisia is a land known for its long history of strong women achievers, foremost in all disciplines throughout all MENA countries. I met with Sonia Mbarek briefly to introduce her to a couple of journalists. Whenever I interview Ms. Mbarek, I come away more and more inspired not only by her artistry as a Malouf and Sufi singer (unusual in the Maghreb as these are the traditional domains of male singers) but also as a brilliant professor of ethnomusicology, a jurist, and the director of the International Carthage Festival, http://www.festivaldecarthage.tn/fr/home.
The Carthage Festival celebrated its 50th Anniversary last year, and what incredible artists they’ve presented over the years, from Miriam Makeba and Fairouz to Youssou N’Dour and the latest heartthrob Stromae, who Ms. Mbarek believes is the “next Jacques Brel”. Taking place July-August the festival also presents cinema, theater, and dance in the gigantic Carthage Roman amphitheater holding 6,000 attendees. Their policy aims to be inclusive of all Tunisian society by presenting free to the public events outside of the main ticketed arena. And planning this year included live streaming of all the shows over the internet to reach fans all over the country.
Tunis Art Spaces
The Tunis visual arts scene is a sophisticated one, praiseworthy of high local and international quality, to be seen in the exhibitions of painting, sculpture, photography, digital and conceptual art. The avant-garde is part of the characterism, quite clearly. Excellent local art catalogue production rivals that of any international art capital. I enjoyed catching some openings that gave me a good picture of Tunisia as a burgeoning contemporary arts center in the Maghreb. Jaou organized visits to some of the most popular galleries in Tunis.
Climbing the forever lovely Sidi Bou Said promontory hillsides overlooking the breathtaking vistas of the Mediterranean Sea, it’s easy to sense why Klee, Macke, and Moilliet became entranced by Tunisia and whose painterly paths were transformed by their 1914 visit. To be found there today are the Galerie Ghaya, Galerie Atika, Galerie Aicha Gorgi, Galerie Selma Feriani, and Le Violon Bleu.
Reminiscences was the title of a show curated by Aicha Gorgi, held in the Talan exhibition space. Twenty-six Tunisian artists formed an eclectic collective. Among those I liked were works by: Douraid Souissi, Haythem Zakaria, Hela Ammar, Insaf Saada, Omar Bey, Oussema Troudi, Slimen El Kamel, and Ymen Berhouma. The vernissage was topped off by a dynamic performance piece in the darkened gallery space by Rochdi Belgasmi and electronic music by DJ Ahmed Benjemy, both members of the Design Lab collective. Belgasmi’s dance movement was circumscribed and seemingly caged by a transparent black circular enclosure; its surface dramatically lit by flashing written phrases, alluding to the title theme, “Memorium, quand le corps se fait amnesique”.
The French Institute held one of the best exhibitions during Jaou: a retrospective of the major School of Tunis painter Jellal Ben Abdallah. Born in Tunis in 1921, Ben Abdallah definitively turned to the painting metier in 1938 and moved to Sidi Bou Said in 1939. Having produced over 7000 works, he has had a spectacular career passing through experimental periods early in his career.
The scope of the show was grand. It included some exquisite miniatures from the 50s to 90s, depictions of Tunis life and women in the hammam; the 1939 painting of “The Martyr”, tribute to the 22 murdered victims, gunned down by the repressive colonial authority during a protest demonstration; and his later period starting around 1990, where the canvases sing with fresh clarity of style and neo-classical harmony. Ben Abdallah is a master of color and light in this period. The works glow with the limpid beauty of reflected sea light on a calm day. The art historian Ridha Moumni led the gallery tour with scholarly commentary and aplomb, enriching the viewing experience.
I had a good visit to El Marsa Gallery and informative chats with the owner Moncef Msakni and his partner Lilia Ben Salah. Mr. Msakni, as his father before him, is a known connoisseur of the School of Tunis and the gallery features a broad range of art from the early Orientalist movement, the School of Tunis, and contemporary expressions.
Peering into El Marsa Gallery office whose walls are covered with art, a few pieces caught and held my eye, among which a small cobalt blue and gold-flecked wooden sculpture by Khaled Ben Slimane. Lilia Ben Salah gave me a copy of his catalogue from the gallery’s 2010 exhibition and I find his work utterly sublime, especially his Sufi-inspired paintings. galerielmarsa.com/index.php/about-us
In general, Mr. Msakni is convinced that many new reforms need to take place in the Tunisian art world as the country emerges from decades of oppressive dictatorship: the creation and implementation of university level courses in the history of Tunisian art; conservation of the state collections; less state control over ‘official taste’ in contemporary Tunisian art; and the creation of a contemporary art museum.
In a separate discussion with the former minister of culture and ethnomusicologist, Dr. Mourad Sakli, he mentioned that the laws that instituted the Ministry of Culture in the 20s reflected the French model, and that over time, the ministry’s entire raison d’etre and modus operandi will have to be reevaluated.
Medina Souks, Revolution Books,
One wonderful afternoon I went on a 3 hour walk through the Tunis Medina in search of artisanal handicrafts. I was accompanied by two friends: Fathia Meddeb, a traditional and modern fashion consultant and owner of the elegant boutique ‘Comme Toi’ in the Marsa district; and Rim Temimi, the critically-acclaimed photographer Rim Temimi, editor of www.tunisiartgalleries.com, and author of a major forthcoming book of photos, documenting all the Sufi brotherhoods of Tunisia.
I came away wishing I had another few days to fully explore the labyrinthine pathways filled with souks and historical architectural wonders including the Zitouna Mosque. Built in the 7th century by Arabs, the Medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Under renovation in areas, there is so much to discover here, and chats with local merchants and knowledgeable craftsmen are part of the experience.
Later, we walked along the Avenue Bourguiba, by now known as the main revolutionary site where thousands upon thousands of protesters gathered en masse to oust the Ben Ali regime on January 14, 2011. Rim Temimi is a local heroine and young men sitting in cafes came up to greet her. These are the intellectuals and friends who know her critically-acclaimed documentary work and of her relentless activism against ‘obscurantism’.
Her photography documenting the 2011 revolution has been exhibited internationally and many of her unforgettable images are in the historic and stirring collection of photographs: DEGAGE! Une Revolution — published by Phebus Press, France. There are also moving essays, impassioned tributes to the revolution, its activists, and its photographers, by author Colette Fellous, the late author and scholar, Abdelwahab Meddeb, and the political cartoonist Georges Wolinski who was murdered in the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris earlier this year.
Just as we were passing in front of the Librairie al Kitab on the avenue, who should suddenly appear? None other than the amazing activist, philosopher, and writer, Azyz Amami, Rim’s friend. He gave me a copy of the just released book, TUNISIE, DESSINE-MOI UNE RÉVOLUTION —Témoignages sur la transition démocratique (2011-2014) (Tunisia, Sketch for Me A Revolution, Testimonials on the democratic transition 2011-2014), edited by Hatem Nafti and published by L’Harmattan Press. This book is an excellent and gripping read and needs to be published in English for wider distribution and greater in-depth analysis of the causes of the revolution.
The editor Hatem Nafti conducted a series of interviews with key figures associated with the 2011 revolution. The interviewees come from different universes: historic militants, young activists — among whom Azyz Amami is a prominent member and his personal testimony is a powerful one — media, families of the martyred, and the young unemployed. It’s an important historical read and provides a nuanced portrait of Tunisian society and her people. One of its intentions is to dismiss the meaningless, empty slogans coined by French editorialists: ‘Arab Spring’, ‘Islamist Winter’ or ‘Jasmine Revolution’. The revolution was an explosive, pent-up national demand for democracy, human rights, and dignity.
Tunis Expeditions with Photographer Rim Temimi
Time was fleeting at the end of my brief visit to Tunis and although I wished very much to visit the world-renowned Carthage archeology sites it would have taken up at least a few days of research focus. Following a quick visit to the Carthage Cathedral, Rim and I opted to explore the French musicologist and painter Baron Rodolfe d’Erlanger’s magnificent Andalusian-styled palace, known as Ennejma Ezzahra, in Sidi Bou Said built between 1909 and 1921. It’s now a landmark museum and houses the Centre des Musiques Arabes et Mediterraneennes. http://www.ennejmaezzahra-tunisie.org/ And finally, we topped off my last day in Tunis by a visit to Lina Lazaar’s brilliant Jaou art show in Carthage — All The World’s A Mosque.
Jaou Piece de Resistance: All The World’s A Mosque Exhibition by Lina Lazaar
Lina Lazaar, the Founder of JAOU and Associate Editor of Ibraaz, is recognized as one of the “10 Most Influential Women in Middle Eastern Art” — http://bit.ly/1LAlc4a. As a specialist at Sotheby’s London in Post War and Contemporary Art, her passion for Arab and Iranian Contemporary Art led Sotheby’s to hold their first European auctions in this category in 2007. Since then she has curated these sales annually and significantly increased the international exposure and discussion of Middle Eastern contemporary art. Lina is a member of the Middle East North Africa Acquisitions Committee of Tate Modern, London. In 2011, she curated a collateral event of the 54th Venice biennial The Future of a Promise, the largest Pan-Arab contemporary art show in Venice.
As tempted as I am to record in detail my admiration for Lina Lazaar’s curatorial triumph during Jaou Tunis, her absolutely spectacular All The World’s A Mosque exhibition, far better to publish here her own statement about the mammoth show. I was astounded by the conceptual brilliance and deeply contemplative values, as well as the sheer aesthetic power. A great historical visual arts exhibition event like this one, just as a great musical concert, leaves one in silent awe.
If “all the world’s a stage” and “all the men and women merely players” then the modern day certainly represents a challenging act for those in search of the miraculous. No longer ‘en-vogue’ to profess a passion for pure theism, this particular human longing – temporarily and rather acceptably redefined as a spiritual pursuit – is now confronted with a far greater challenge than that put forward by the stewards of science. How, where, what, with whom…the world over, people in search of the miraculous are increasingly forced towards a bureaucracy of beliefs, and ultimately presented with a seemingly exclusive set of choices; to ‘pray,’ or not to ‘pray,’ that is the question!
‘All the World’s a Mosque’ explores the interplay between sacred space, religious ritual, cultural convention, and everyday life. Framed within the heart of Carthage, amidst the magnificent archeological remnants of the Roman Empire, and fittingly, on the heels of an antique 2nd century theatre, ‘All the World’s a Mosque’ is housed in a bespoke construction of 22 sea containers, assembled piece by piece, to form a travelling exhibition space which doubles as a place for worship. The deliberate contrast between the angular, metallic, industrial construction, and the antiquity of surrounding Carthage, is outdone only by the conflict between the physical container, and THAT which is omnipresent, and cannot be contained.
With bright textures, kitsch compilations, vibrant colors, and interactive installations, ‘All the World’s a Mosque’ showcases thought provoking contributions by leading artists from across the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. Collectively, the rich artistic collateral, presents itself more in the form of a dynamic pop theatre-set, than the traditional solemnity associated with sacred space. Attendees are forced to reconcile themselves to the deliberate challenge presented to all five senses; the only pillars which one follows without any personal consent. Through their works, the artists lend their voices to a journey which inspires a renewed enquiry into not ‘where’ we pray, but perhaps, more importantly, ‘why’ we do so!
‘All the World’s a Mosque’ endeavours to highlight that every life step is part of a pilgrimage, every breath a means to connect, and that the only rule worth observing is that we search, amongst our many daily pursuits, for the miraculous. The exhibition space will follow a pilgrimage of its own, and will be disassembled, container by container, only to be resurrected in different international cities. The exhibition will showcase the natural interaction between life and ‘sacred’ space, all the while presenting a magnificent collection of regional art and culture. Taking inspiration from its Carthaginian origin, the exhibit will endeavor to catalyse a new Spring, awakening the consciousness of all those seeking a balance between this world, and the next.
— Lina Lazaar, Tunis, 1st of May 2015
Culture and Development: Views by Souhaib Meddeb, Tunisian Economist
Discussions with Tunisian conference speakers and attendees revealed their fervent hopes for the birthing process of their new democracy, following the Tunisian Revolution of 2011 and the January 2014 passage of the very first democratic constitution in the entire MENA region. The aftermath of decades of despotic dictatorship and economic mismanagement needs to be closely analyzed and redressed. The need for democratic reform in all sectors to bring about a strong development economy is of utmost, critical importance. And the culture sector is key.
In my Ibraaz review two years ago I wrote about Sami Tlili’s documentary film that gives focus to one of the key triggers of the 2011 revolution: “Cursed Be The Phosphate (2012) is an elegy to the protesters in the Gafsa mining basin in the south of Tunisia. Many were murdered or imprisoned as part of brutal state oppression in 2008 following labour disputes concerning unsafe working conditions and worker exploitation by the Ben Ali regime. Four years later, following this ‘revolt for dignity’ – a historical juncture and actual inspiration for the 2011 Tunisian Revolution – the director returned to the basin to uncover and honour the truth, while paying respect to those victims (or heroes and martyrs) of the revolution.”
Therefore, it was pure serendipity that during Jaou I learned some bright, positive news about the mining region from the Tunisian economist, Dr. Souhaib Meddeb. He is planning advisor to the construction of a new cement plant there. I marvelled over his thoughts about culture and his sensitivities to the well-being of the local people whose lives will be impacted by this project. Here is his brief, impressive outline of the project program:
Culture and development go hand in hand. Culture is the guarantor of the values of integrity, fairness, equity, responsibility, transparency. It’s the common denominator for building trust between citizens and investors. It’s the factor closely linked to good governance and democracy. Culture is the matrix of creativity, imagination and innovation.
The 2011 revolution was the result of unemployment among youths in the most economically and culturally deprived areas. There is nothing worse than the feeling of exclusion.
To successfully achieve an industrial project, in the case of building a cement plant at a cost of US $220 million in the region of El Guettar, Governorate of Gafsa, poses major challenges. The concept of a ‘greenfield project’ is more than just a title. To succeed in this project, we must absolutely take into consideration the socio-cultural dimension. In this regard, we are setting up a program in partnership with local civil society, in the amount of US $1 million:
Realization of the project includes immediate accessibility to the first emergency health care center open to local citizens
Realization of a multipurpose sports field, lit at night by a system of renewable energy
Partnership with technology institutes in the region for appropriate training in relation to the cement plant
Commitment to recruiting the physically disabled
Establishment of a support structure for the mentally disabled
We have taken into consideration the growing place occupied by “digital culture” and all that it brings in terms of new cultural content, the ‘public’, virtual identities, and new social networks. For this we are implementing the following :
** Installation of a digital library for the primary classes,
** Installation of equipment at key access points to enable documentary screenings and videoconferencing
** Organisation of prize competitions open to classes of secondaries for the best historical research on the Roman history of El Guettar and assist in the establishment of local cultural tourism
It is through culture that we give meaning to our lives and develop our identity and, as the driving force of values, culture guarantees a more satisfying intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual life. It’s the opening to more and newer horizons, creating conditions for self-reflection, conviviality, and creative integration.
— Dr. Souhaib Meddeb
Until the next time in Tunisia,
What struck me the most during my days in Tunis is the extraordinary, intensely epiphanic quality of light — there is a Sufi term that approximates the beauty I felt in this light. You will feel it too when you visit and visit soon, you must… It’s known as Tajalli in Arabic.
It’s that time of year and I am completely strung out on caffeine and Christmas music, so much so that I giggled so hard to Bob Rivers’s “Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire” I almost had coffee go up my nose. Really, how many of us have stood in an endless line at some store, sweating because you’re still wearing a coat and your fingers have gone numb from holding dozens of bags, listening to that oh-so-familiar squeaky version of “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” and wished for a dreadful end to those chipmunks? Maybe something that includes some duct tape, a lighter and a slingshot.
Yes, I’m hopped up, overwrought and perhaps a little feverish. Maybe I’ve overdosed on just a little too much forced good cheer and all that. And, just about anybody who’s anybody (and a fair number of nobodies) in the music business has done a holiday music CD.
There are holiday CDs by Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart, James Taylor, Elvis Presley, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Justin Bieber. Hell, there even Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart. Oh, Bob, why? You know I love you, Bob, but you’re no Louis Armstrong and you singing “Do You Hear What I Hear?” or “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” evokes not a warm and fuzzy Christmas evening, but instead makes me wonder if they picked up some weird random guy from the bus station and backed him with a choir and full symphony.
Because this is the season of too much of a good thing there’s a whole array of Christmas music out there milling about. One can get their hot little hands on the newly released 2015 recording Punk Rock Christmas on the Cleopatra label or the 2010 release of Twisted Christmas by Twisted Sister or the 2-CD set of Metal Xmas with artists like Dave Grohl, Lemmy Kilmister and Alice Cooper.
The Razor & Tie label put out a 2007 collection called Monster Ballads Xmas, and I have to say I was a little weirded out by Faster Pussycat’s version of “Silent Night.” There’s Caribbean Christmas, Celtic Christmas, bluegrass Christmas and Christmas at Downton Abby for your listening pleasure. I’m guessing that the requisite Christmas recording for most musicians comes down to a sort of cheap and easy way for musicians to meet a contractual obligation and not the more evil version I have in my head of a musician going down to the crossroads and a Christmas CD being part of a deal with the devil.
With that in mind, our holiday music lineup has new and old recordings, favorites and plummy classics with emphasis on particular tracks so you can pick and choose and mix and match to create your own music playlist for the season.
If you are looking for some religiously inspired music I’d check out any track from Gregorian Chant: The Definitive Collection by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos or individual tracks from Gregorian Chant by the Clevaux Benedictine Monks of the Abby of St. Maurice and St. Maur, Clevaux. With “Tu es pastor ovium,” “Lauda Sicon: Nunc dimittiis,” “Te Deum” and “Alma Redemptoris Mater” wonderfully sung by the monks, one really can’t go wrong with any track on these recordings for those looking for a peaceful, spiritual atmosphere.
Along that same vein is Gregorian Chant: Hymns and Vespers for the Feast of the Nativity by Choralschola der Wiener Hofburgkaelle and Hubert Dopf S.J. Again, any track off this recording is well worth a listen. Including in this recording is “Christe Redemptor Omnium – Hymnus Ad Vesperas Tempore Nativitatis Domini,” “Kyrie V – Kyrie Magnae Deus Potentiae, Vat. V/In Nativitate Domini Ad Missam In Die,” “Gloria V – In Nativitate Domini Ad Missam In Die” and “Hodie Scietis – Introitus/In Nativitate Domini Ad Missam In Vigilia.” Lovely, lovely.
This year the one to not be missed is the 2015 recording Chant for Peace. With the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz, this recording also features Jewish vocalist Timna Brauer and the Elias Meiri Ensemble. With a mix of Christian and Jewish sacred music, this recording is stunning and powerful. Goodies on this one include “Traditional: Ani Tzame Psalm 122 (121) “Laetatus sum,” “Traditional: Missa pro Pace – Alleluia: Lauda, Jerusalem,” “Traditional: Kyrie fons bonitatis” and “Traditional: Halleluia” but you really can’t go wrong with any of the tracks of the recording.
Also new this year is Christmas Music through the Ages on the Saydisc label. Packed with tracks like “Christe Redemptor” by Prinknash & Stanbrook Abbeys, “Gabriel from Heven-King” by Richard Wistreich, “In Dulci Jubilo” by The Carnival Band and “O Magnum Mysterium” by St. Clement Danes Chorale listeners get some truly lovely vocals.
There’s Of Kings and Angels by the Mediaeval Baebes on the Queen of Sheeba label. With charmingly familiar tracks like “I Saw Three Ships,” “We Three Kings” and “The Holly and the Ivy,” Of Kings and Angels also includes “Gaudete,” “Veni Veni Emmanuel,” “In Dulci Jublio and a very nice version of “Corpus Christi Carol” to capture the authenticity of the original texts and musical arrangements.
If you are seeking more traditional popular Christmas music, you might want to check out this year’s Louis Armstrong Christmas Collection on the Somerset label. You certainly can’t go wrong with “Cool Yule” with The Commanders, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” with Ella Fitzgerald, “Christmas Night in Harlem” or “White Christmas.” What Christmas collection would be without the master Louis Armstrong’s version of “White Christmas?”
Okay, now this next one is a deal. NOW Christmas is a two-CD set that has all the popular Christmas music you could want. It has Frank Sinatra’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song,” Dean Martin’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” Bobby Helms’s “Jingle Bell Rock” Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad,” insuring you get all your dose of Christmas standards out of the way. I do want to point out that the CD’s artwork is a travesty and that someone seriously needs a spanking or at least a lump of coal.
Jazzing up your Christmas is easy with this year’s A Very Swingin’ Basie Christmas! by The Count Basie Orchestra. Marking the 80th anniversary of The Count Basie Orchestra, A Very Swingin’ Basie Christmas! smooths out all the edges with “Jingle Bells,” “Let It Snow” with Ellis Marsalis, “Good “Swing” Wenceslas,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with Carmen Bradford, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” with Ellis Marsalis and Plas Johnson and a snazzy version of “Silent Night.”
If blues is your holiday mood, you’ll want to check out Bullseye Blues Christmas with kick ass tracks like “X-mas Blues” by Preston Shannon, “Help the Poor” by Larry Davis with the Memphis Horns, “Happy Christmas Tears” by Little Jimmy King with the Memphis Horns, “Merry Christmas Baby/Please Come Home for Christmas” by Charles Brown and “Lonesome Christmas” by Lowell Fulson. There’s also Talkin’ Christmas! with The Blind Boys of Alabama and Taj Mahal in this blues/gospel mix.
Looking for a little Latin spice for your holiday, you might want to check out Tarjeta de Navidad III. Packed with the artists like Melina Leon, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Cheo Feliciano, Los Hispanos and Chucho Avellanet, one really can’t go wrong with any of the tracks on this recording. Gilberto Santa Rosa put out Una Navidad Con Gilberto with tracks like “Me Gustan las Navidades,” “El Ano Viejo” and “La Navidad Mas Larga” to salsa up your holidays.
There’s enough Celtic Christmas music you can wade through until your fingers get pruny, but let me recommend Noel Mcloughlin’s Christmas in Ireland with Ger O’Donnell. You might want to check out goodies like “The Holly and the Ivy,” “I Saw Three Ships,” “Oh Christmas Tree,” “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “The Coventry Carol.”
Caitriona O’Leary’s The Wexford Carols has some lovely tracks like “The Enniscorthy Christmas Carol” by Rosanne Cash, “Now to Conclude Our Christmas Mirth” by Rhiannon Giddens, “Jerusalem, Our Happy Home” by Tom Jones and “Tell Shepherds” and “An Angel This Night” by Ms. O’Leary.
Putumayo’s Celtic Christmas has a nice mix with The Albion Christmas Band’s Here We Come A-Wassailing,” Druidstone’s “Noel Nouvelet,” “Nollaig Bhan (White Christmas)” by Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola and “Auld Lang Syne” by Dougie Maclean.
There’s also the lovely Winter, Fire & Snow by Orla Fallon. Ms. Fallon offers up “What Child Is This,” “Emmanuel,” “Oiche Chiuin (Silent Night)” and “Carolan’s Welcome.”
Filling your holiday season with folksy, country tunes is easy with Tony Elman’s Winter Creek and tracks like “O Po’ Little Jesus/Tell It On the Mountain,” “Christmas in Dixie,” “Behold That Star” and “It Came Upon Midnight Clear/Silent Night.” Or you might just want to check out the instrumental 30 Country Mountain Christmas Carols or try out the lovely track “The Christmas Song” from Charlie Daniels’s Joy to the World: A Bluegrass Christmas. The one that can’t be beat is Jerry Douglas’s Jerry Christmas. Mr Douglas offers up goodies like “The First Noel,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” “Oh Holy Night” and “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.”
The great thing about digital music is you can chose classics tracks from Celtic Woman, Mannheim Steamroller and Windham Hill without having to muddle through the tracks you’d rather not hear. There’s just so much Christmas music out there that you can rustle up a mix from Venetian Christmas, a perky selection from Polka Christmas Party or An Ukulele Christmas. And, hey, you can always go with Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart.
The United States is celebrating the month-long Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 – October. 15, 2015. Hispanic Heritage Month honors the culture and traditions of those who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
The Hispanic population of the United States as of July 1, 2014 was 55 million, making people of Hispanic origin the United States’ largest ethnic or racial minority. Hispanics constituted 17 percent of the US’s total population.
We are going to take a quick look at some of the most interesting Hispanic-related world music release of 2015 as well earlier recordings that have come across our desk recently.
One of the most impressive voices in the Argentine folk music world is Juan Iñaki, from Cordoba, who delivers chacareras, zambas, huainos, valses, vidalas, chilenas, rancheras and a baineraos. His latest recording is De siesta y monte.
“Germina” is the cross-cultural album released in Argentina and Mexico by activist singer-songwriter Nico Falcoff and his band la Insurgencia del Caracol.
Toronto has become the home for many Cuban musicians and other artists from Latin America. That’s why you’ll hear first rate salsa on Lula All Stars’ “Salsa de la Buena.”
Chico Trujillo has become one of the leading tropical music acts in Chile. Todas las Fiestas presents the Chilean masters of popular dance music.
Colombia has become one of the leading hotspots for great music rooted in tradition. Although the music from the Caribbean coast of Colombian has attracted most of the attention, fabulous music is coming out of the pacific coast. One of the best is Herencia de Timbiquí, a band that performs a hot mix of Afro-Colombian Pacific music mixed with salsa and rock. The group’s sound is characterized by the captivating marimba de chonta.
Curupira’s album Regenera showcases a melting pot of Colombian music with elements from other parts of the globe such as West African balafon. The group also uses acoustic instruments and the rare theremin.
One of the best known acts from Colombia is vocalist and dancer Totó La Momposina. Her latest album “Tambolero” strips away studio arrangements and produces a grassroots version of her songs with voice and drums.
If you miss the Buena Vista Social Club, World Circuit Records has unearthed additional recordings by this cherished ensemble of veteran Cuban artists, some of whom have passed away by now. The new album is Buena Vista Social Club Lost & Found.
Mexican singer-songwriter Lila Downs turns towards Mexican and Latin American popular music on Balas y Chocolate (Bullets and Chocolate). The album includes guest appearances by Latin music stars Juanes and Juan Gabriel.
Peru has a thriving electronic dance music scene. Some people in the world music field might be familiar with Novalima, who combine electronica with Afro-Peruvian music. Their latest recording is Planetario.
Another act from Peru takea totally different direction, Kanaku y el Tigre’s “Quema Quema Quema” is intensely influenced by North American roots music.
Sephardic music is experiencing considerable growth with a number of talented artists from various parts of Europe, Israel and other countries. One of the most exciting Sephardic acts is Jerusalem-born Mor Karbasi, an outstanding singer who relocated to London and later to Sevilla (Spain). She sings in Spanish and Ladino, incorporating Spanish copla and flamenco and global sounds. Her most recent recording is “La Tsadika.”
From Russia comes “Juego de Siempre” by Anna Hoffman & Romancero Sefardí. This recording Middle Eastern and flamenco influences.
The world music scene in Spain continues to produce fascinating fusions and mestizo music as well as flamenco and traditional and contemporary folk music from various regions.
The mesmerizing “Rústica” features four of the best known artists from the Galician contemporary folk scene: bagpiper and vocalist Cristina Pato; vocalist and percussionist Davide Salvado; zanfona (hurdy-gurdy) master Anxo Pintos; and accordionist Roberto Comesaña.
Javier Paxariño is a renowned flute and saxophone player who has been fusing jazz with flamenco and global music for years. His latest incarnation is with the Javier Paxariño Trio featuring Josete Ordoñez on guitar, mandola, and electric lute; and Manu de Lucena on cajón, darbuka, jembe and drums. Their new album “Dagas de Fuego” (2015) features Gnawa rhythms, ajechao from Extremadura (western Spain), flamenco and other influences from the Iberian Peninsula and the Mediterranean.
Spanish singer-songwriter and composer Josefina Gómez Llorente (better known as La Jose) is a leading flamenco crossover vocalist in Spain. Her mestizo flamenco sound is connected to her own family roots: she’s the daughter of a Gypsy man and a non-Gypsy mother. Her excellent album Espiral (released in Spain in 2014 and internationally in 2015) brings together flamenco ad global sounds.
Eliseo Parra is one of the most influential musicians in Spain. He has explored traditional folk music from many Spanish regions. His fascinating recreations of traditional music with new arrangements appear on “El Man Sur.”
Celebrated flamenco guitarist Juan Carlos Romero released Paseo de los Cipreses (Cypress Boulevard) earlier this year.
Southern Spanish singer-songwriter and cellist Maui, currently based in Madrid, has a new album titled Viaje interior (Nuevos Medios) where she shows her talent as a songwriter in an album that blends flamenco and various other genres.
Another leading Galician act is vocalist Davide Salvado. On his album “Lobos” (wolves) he showcases a new vision of the rhythms, dances and songs he compiled during his field trips through rural Galicia.
Marta Casas Mairal celebrates the jota, the traditional dance from Aragon, in her album “Soniando” (Nuevos Medios). In this case, she mixes jota with jazz.
“El Fill Del Llop” is the latest solo album by Efrén López, a multi-instrumentalist from eastern Spain who has explored the music of both sides of the Mediterranean Sea, East and west. “El Fill Del Llop” contains Spanish, Greek, Turkish, Persian and Medieval music influences. Recorded in Spain and Greece.
Cuban American José Conde has released one of the best recordings of Cuban son and salsa of 2015 with his band Ola Fresca. The album is Elixir.
Banda de Los Muertos (Band of the Dead) is a Mexican brass band from Brooklyn, New York. This group features musicians from Mexico, the USA and other countries. It’s deeply inspired by the Sinaloa brass bands. Banda de Los Muertos’ debut album is a tribute to the early years of the genre, but also a re-interpretation of the Mexican Banda tradition.
The Unity album celebrates the music of Michael Jackson seen through Latin music. This production features salsa, pop, R&B and rock versions of Jackson’s songs performed in English and Spanish by well-known Latin music artists.
Trombone master Papo Vázquez and his band the Mighty Pirates Troubadours fuse Afro-Puerto Rican rhythms with Latin jazz on their recent recording titled Spirit Warrior.
The popular Bugalú (boogaloo) of the late 1960s reappears in an updated form on Spanglish Fly’s “New York Boogaloo,” released just a few weeks ago.
Popular southern Florida Cuban American band Tiempo Libre celebrates Cuban irresistible timba and Latin music on Panamericano.
Remarkable Texas band Grupo Fantasma is back with its unique form of Latin funk. Their brand new album is “Problemas.”
On her new album Viva Bandolera, multifaceted Austin singer-songwriter, musician, videographer and actress, Patricia Vonne celebrates the Hispanic musical roots of Texas.
The Venezuelan delegation at this year’s EXIB showcase gave us a bunch of Venezuelan releases. One of the highlights from Venezuela is Jahkogba, an excellent world fusion band from Maracaibo that mixes reggae, electronica, jazz and world music.
La Dimension Latina is one of the most beloved salsa bands in Venezuela. The salsa pioneers are celebrating their 43rd anniversary with “43 años de pura candela.”
Los Crema Paraiso’s De Pelicula! have created a cinematic mix of Venezuelan film music and jazz.
Vintage Latino, Putumayo’s latest collection focuses on old time, nostalgic and timeless Latin music genres from across Hispanic America and the USA. Vintage Latino includes some of the lesser-known but nonetheless outstanding music of musicians from Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. It also includes other Cuban legends and respected trios who performed in cafés and prostibulos (brothels) in pre-Castro Cuba.
The Vintage Latino lineup includes Trio Melodicos (Cuba), Rolando La Serie (Cuba), République Démocratique du Mambo (France), Lágrima Ríos with Gustavo Santaolalla (Uruguay/Argentina), Armando Garzón (Cuba/Mexico), Las Rubias del Norte (USA), Néstor Torres (Puerto Rico), Orquesta La Moderna Tradición (USA), Trio Zamora (Cuba), Simón Díaz (Venezuela), Arista (Colombia), and Yuri Buenaventura (Colombia)
The annual Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysia) is now in its 18th edition, and featured 24 bands from around the planet. Performing in the equatorial rainforest venue of the Sarawak Cultural Village – located between Mount Santubong and the South China Sea – the bands this year were from Georgia, Tunisia, Morocco, Mongolia, Maldives, Poland, Indonesia, Trinidad & Tobago, Spain, Australia, Reunion Island, Congo Brazzaville, Taiwan, Scotland, Mexico, Gambia, Ethiopia and Malaysia.
See also my coverage of earlier editions of RWMF (Collaboration, Creativity and Community) and interviews with the performers (eg. Rafly wa Saja). Before the Festival, six bands held preview concerts in city malls, including Mah Meri, Harubee, Kenwy Yang-Qin Ensemble and Sayu Ateng.
Harubee consists of 16 young men from the Maldives who worked the crowd into a percussive frenzy with their drumming, chants and dance. They played boduberu music which evolved from the 11th century and draws from African, Indian and Arabic influences.
Mah Meri is an indigenous group from the Orang Asli community in Malaysia’s Carey Island. The group showcased the animist influences in their dances, which featured a fearsome mask along with women in traditional mengkuang skirts.
The eight members of Sayu Ateng (‘welcome’ in the language of the Orang Ulu from Sarawak) performed a set of folk songs on a blend of traditional and contemporary instruments. The band is headed by vocalist Mohamad Faizal Jamil, and their guitarist Mohamad Kedari Abu Bakar – though blind – drew loud applause for his skills in playing the guitar over his head and with his teeth.
Kenwy Yang-Qin featured youthful musicians on the yangqin or the hammered dulcimer. The roots of the instrument can be traced to Persia, and the musicians showcased its bright tones and shimmering range. The group from Kuching performed a range of Chinese songs in their set.
Each day began with a media meet between journalists and musicians, followed by an afternoon of indoor workshops and performances; the outdoor acts were held on two stages set in the picturesque rainforest. Traditional ceremonies were also conducted by local cultural groups at the beginning of the stage performances to bless the Festival. Local musicians in the past have included artistes such as Mathew Ngau of Lan E Tuyang on the sape.
The four members of the Georgian folk ensemble Alaverdi showcased their impressive vocal harmonies and polyphonic melodies, along with string instruments and flute in an indoor set. Dressed with traditional military accessories, the performers’ message of protection and preservation of their culture shone through, particularly as a country which was under foreign domination for decades. The group also joked that many of their songs are about appreciation of wine, since Georgia is one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world.
Sangpuy and his band performed the aboriginal music of Taiwan, where there are 15 aboriginal groups. Their songs preserved oral traditions and showed the traditional respect of the aboriginal communities for nature, in particular the forces of the ocean and wind. The group effectively blended traditional instruments such as the nose flute with Western instruments like cello.
Balinese group Kobagi Kecak performed a creative set of ‘body percussion’ and chanting. Komunitas Badan Gila (Crazy Body Community), or Kobagi, has a repertoire which includes puppetry and kecak (monkey chant where seated performers sing ‘cak’ and move their hands in unison). The group wowed the audience with their Angga Suara Murti set, where the bodies themselves are used as percussive surfaces – shoulders, chest, thighs, necks and even bellies. The group performed once on the main stage – as well as right in the middle of the audience on Day Three.
They were followed by the Cajun band Le Blanc Bros Cajun Band, with members from New Zealand and Australia. The brothers Geoff and Andrew Le Blanc (who have Acadian roots) performed Cajun songs and dance music, sung in Creole. “Music festivals promote greater sharing and understanding. They also draw out the commonalities between music,” said Andrew Le Blanc in an earlier interview.
The energy ramped up with the next band, Bargou 08 from Tunisia, who showcased the traditional wtar string instrument and blended in electronic synthesizers as well. The singer Nidhal Yahyaoui performed tunes from the north west of Tunisia, a region isolated from the rest of the country by mountains near the Algerian border. The flutist played almost incessant trance like tunes, and Ramzi Maaroufi and Benjamin Chaval were outstanding as well on percussion.
The night performances wrapped up with a foot-stomping set by award-winning Scottish folk-fusion band Shooglenifty, playing at the festival for a record third time. The band celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and still retains four of its original members: Angus Grant on fiddle, Garry Finlayson on electric and acoustic banjo, Malcolm Crosbie on guitars, and James Mackintosh on percussion. Bassist Quee Macarthur has been with them for a decade, and they now have added a vocalist: Kaela Rowan. “It is now cool to play traditional music and carry a fiddle to school in Scotland,” the group proudly said in an earlier interview.
Two outstanding indoor performances kicked off Day Two of the festival. Moroccan oud maestro (‘Poet of the Oud’) Driss El Maloumi drew a standing ovation for the virtuosity and talent in his performance – on occasion even playing with the fingers only of his left hand. He has studied Arabic literature as well, and blends traditional and contemporary Arabic sound along with African and Andalusian influences. Driss has collaborated with a wide range of international artistes, and also composed film music. His albums include ‘L’Ame Dansée’ and ‘Makan.’ The call-and-response sessions between Driss and his two percussionists, Said El Maloumi and Lahoucine Baquir, drew loud rounds of applause. The percussionists sometimes played the darbuka on its side and not just the top, and on occasion even from the inside.
One of the most charismatic and witty performers was Enkh Jargal Dandarvaanchig (Epi) from Mongolia, who played a standing-room only set of traditional Mongolian vocal and string compositions. He studied at Music Conservatorium of Ulaanbaatar, and plays a range of instruments including the moorin hoor (horsehead fiddle). The music reflects the nomadic lifestyle in Mongolia, also captured in ‘Miracle Voice’ Epi’s vast vocal range from deep bass to shrill tunes. Epi also plays in other settings such as jazz and even hip-hop. His cheerful and humorous attitude made him a huge hit in the afternoon workshops as well.
Mah Meri, who played earlier in the preview sessions, kicked off the outdoor performances, this time with a full ensemble of performers on bamboo percussion instruments as well. They were followed by Son De Madera from southern Mexico, who got the audience up on their feet with their Son Jarocho set. The group has released seven albums, and dedicated their set to their recently-deceased bassist and to the memory of journalists assassinated by the Mexican government. The solos on requinto by Ramon Hernandez and jarana by Andres Vega were outstanding.
Kenwy Yang-Qing Ensemble (Malaysia), who also played in the previews, performed a longer set on the main stage, this time in traditional costumes. They were followed by the highly energetic danceable band, Kobo Town from Trinidad & Tobago. Founded by Trinidadian-Canadian songwriter Drew Gonsalves, Kobo Town is named after the historic neighborhood in Port-of-Spain where calypso was born. The songs also reflected the wit and audience interactivity of the music. Saxophonist Linsey Wellman said his grandmother was from Borneo, much to the delight of the local audience. “We love Malaysia. We are willing to marry for citizenship,” joked Gonsalves, to even louder applause.
Another band from the earlier previews, Harubee (Maldives), carried on the high energy levels of the evening with a trance-like drum and dance set, with some of the dancers taking off their shirts in the frenzy. They were followed by Culture Shot from Penang. The Malaysian group played ‘street music’ from Penang, on the erhu, lang tin tang, and rebana, along with gongs and cymbals. The set included old Hokkien songs and traditional tunes, evoking the rich culture of Penang, a state also renowned for its legendary street food and street art. The song ‘Rasa Sayang’ (loving feeling) drew loud audience interaction.
The final act of the night was Ukandanz, with members from Ethiopia and France. Unfortunately, the vocalist Asnake Guebreye could not make it for the performance, but the rest of the instrumentalists bravely carried on with a high-energy set of funk blended with rock. Lionel Martin (tenor sax), Damien Cluzel (guitar), Benoit Lecomte (bass) and Guilhem Meier (drums) performed right to the end of their set.
The indoor performances kicked off with a spectacular set by UK-based kora player Sona Jobarteh. She is the first female kora virtuoso to come from a West African Griot family, in The Gambia. Her cousin is the renowned Toumani Diabaté. Sona was tutored by her father Sanjally Jobarteh, and she dedicated songs in her set to her grandmother (‘Mama Muso’) and to the women of the world. Sona and her talented group showcased a range of music styles, blending African percussion with Western electric bass and guitar, with a number of call-and-response interactions between kora, jembe, calabash and guitar. Her vocals have been featured in the movie ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,’ and she also drew out the audience in a range of choruses in her set at the festival.
The outdoor performances kicked off with a colorful set by Ndima from Congo Brazzaville. The group showcased the pygmy culture from the village Kombola, with natural rites and ceremonial music featuring polyphonic vocals, percussion, yodeling, harp-zither and the amazing mbela instrument with sounds like that of a Jewish harp. In a unique creative contribution of the festival, Ndima were then joined on stage by Malaysian indigenous group Mah Meri, building a rare and unprecedented bridge between the two traditional cultures through the mists of time and barriers of geography.
Sayu Ateng (Malaysia) and Harubee (Maldives), who had played earlier in the previews, took the stage again. The dancers of Harubee tossed out what seemed like an endless supply of free T-shirts and Maldivian flags to the audience, much to their delight.
One of the highest-energy folk bands of the festival then performed: Basque group Korrontzi from Spain. The award-winning band featured Agus Barandiaran on the trikitixa accordion, who played with such passion and energy that curtains of sweat flew and even steamed off him. Influences from Scotland and Sicily showed in their songs, and the percussionist and dancers kept their audience on their feet for the entire set. “Up the hands,” Agus kept screaming, urging the audience to clap along with the dancers, who changed costumes a number of times in the set.
The night performances closed in fine style with the six-piece band Lindigo from Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. Olivier Araste, the charismatic and powerful lead singer, anchored a superb high-energy set of Maloya music, reflecting the chants and dances of their ancestors from Malagasy and African slaves. The group has also played at festivals like Sakifo (see my earlier coverage: Sakifo Music Festival 2013: A Celebration of Indian Ocean Music!). They played a range of African instruments as well, such as kora, kabosy (box-shaped wooden guitar), kayamb (square rattle), and other shakers. Some of the tracks had zouk and Afrobeat influences too.
All the bands from the three days of the festival came together on stage for the grand finale, and the audience cheered them on loudly as they took their final bow. The festivities carried on with a poolside jam at the musicians’ hotel, with samples of calypso, Scottish folk and Georgian vocals.
I also received a stack of CDs from the bands over the three days of the festival, which should keep me busy with reviews for the next couple of weeks.
We already look forward to the 19th edition of the Rainforest World Music Festival, in 2016!
The 18th Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysia), regarded as one of the Top 25 music festivals by Songlines magazine, delivered a four-day delight of preview showcases, evening performances and afternoon workshops, as well as interactive discussion between media and musicians each morning.
The 2015 lineup of 17 international and 7 local groups included Alaverdi (Georgia), Bargou 08 (Tunisia), Driss El Maloumi (Morocco), EPI (Mongolia), Harubee (Maldives), Kapela Maliszow (Poland), Kobagi Kecak (Indonesia), Kobo Town (Trinidad&Tobago), Korrontzi (Spain), Le Blanc Bros Cajun Band (Australia), Lindigo (Reunion Island), Ndima (Congo), Sangpuy (Taiwan), Shooglenifty (Scotland), Son De Madera (Mexico), Sona Joberteh (Gambia/UK) and Ukandanz (France/Ethiopia). The Malaysian lineup featured Culture Shot, Kenwy Yang-Qin Ensemble, Lan E Tuyang, Mah Meri, Sayu Ateng, 1Drum.org and Sarawak Cultural Village group.
During media interactions over three days, and in separate interviews, members of these 24 bands described how they were formed, built their vision, enabled social change, blended contemporary forms, and yet conveyed a sense of fun and humor through their music.
Creating a shared vision
Many bands described how their members first met, collaborated and built upon their shared vision. “We began as friends who wanted to share the love of our traditional music along with the spirit of friendship,” said the members of Lan e Tuyang, who regard themselves as a family.
“Our Malyoya music is descended from the slave community. We sing songs for our ancestors and blend it with contemporary sound,” said the group Lindigo from Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean.
“We are actually not a professional group, but a community of musicians, a group of villagers who have come out of the island for the first time and want to spread awareness about our culture around the world,” said the members of Malaysian islander group Mah Meri.
Drew Gonsalves and Sona Djabate are based in Canada and the UK but play calypso music and the kora from their respective homelands, Trinidad & Tobago and The Gambia. Drew’s band, Kobo Town, has instrumentalists from Canada while Sona Djabate plays with UK-based musicians from countries like Jamaica.
The Maldivian trance percussion group Harubee said many of its members are cousins, and they play the music of their ancestors, a blend of Indian, African and Arabic sound.
Political messages and social change
“People laughed at our music in the Soviet years, and it was considered shameful to be singing or playing our music,” recalled members of the band Alaverdi from Georgia, who credit two music schools with preserving and promoting their local music.
“It is important to pass on the tradition of our music and culture to the younger generation. There are not enough role models of traditional music players for our youth,” explained Sona Joberteh from The Gambia. “Family and community structure are changing. Don’t just emulate the West, preserve and promote your own culture,” she urged the youth of today.
“Our music is our history, a gift from our ancestors. We must preserve it or we won’t have our future. It is not a fashion thing,” according to the group Lindigo from Reunion Island.
“We want to preserve our sounds our way, not just the way the West wants to preserve or interpret them. Original music should be kept as original as possible,” said the band Lan e Tuyang from Malaysia.
“Our traditional trikitixa accordion was not allowed to be played for a hundred years, the Church thought it produced the wind of Hell, but we want to protect and preserve it,” said the Basque group Korrontzi.
“In the era of globalization, we need to understand and appreciate other cultures,” said Andrew Le Blanc of Le Blanc Bros Cajun Band from Australia.
“Our music is not just for fun or entertainment, but serves as education on morals and ways of life,” said members of the aboriginal group Sangpuy from Taiwan. Many of their music forms are based on purely oral languages, and thus need to be protected and preserved.
“There is a renewal of pride in local music in Scotland. It is cool for students to play traditional music and carry a fiddle to school. However, folk music should not be hijacked by fascist groups,” cautioned members of Scottish band Shooglenifty.
There is a move toward homogenization into Mandarin in countries like Singapore and Malaysia, but it is important to preserve the culture of local Hokkien and Haka dialects, some of the Malaysia bands advocated.
Wit and humor
Some of the bands also shared how wit and humor were used to convey political messages. Calpyso musicians came under pressure from their Caribbean governments for criticizing politicians and policies, but metaphor and humor were used by the artistes to carry on their satire and commentary, said singer-composer Drew Gonsalves of Kobo Town from Trinidad & Tobago.
One can overcome self-righteousness with humor, funny stories and witty lines, said Drew. He also cited some local proverbs, such as “You always catch more flies with honey.” He said some of his “bastardized calypso” lyrics were effective social critiques.
Scottish group Shooglenifty composes some songs after political incidents and offers insights and critiques. The humor also appears in their album sleeve designs, which have included pictures of women fishing in quilts.
“One of the most important things about music is that music is about celebration and feeling good. You don’t need to know the lyrics or language,” added members of Son De Madera from Mexico.
“Music is not just for intoxication but for social enjoyment and cultural promotion,” said Balinese group Kobagi Kecak. Music protects the beauty of a culture, concluded Driss El Maloumi from Morocco.
Duke Performances recently revealed the programming for the 2015-2016 season. This year, the world music presentations look especially appealing. The first artist scheduled to perform at Duke is celebrated Ethiojazz musician Mahmoud Ahmed, who will appear on Thursday, September 10 at Reynolds Industries Theater.
Next will be Portuguese singer-songwriter Lula Pena, set to perform on Thursday, September 17 at the more intimate Nelson Music Room.
Try not to miss Indian violin master and innovator L. Subramaniam, He has been making memorable Indian classical, fusion and soundtracks for years. He will be playing on Friday, September 18 at Baldwin Auditorium.
On Saturday, September 26, two top dancers from Spain will appear on stage at Reynolds Industries Theater: Patricia Ibañez (Jerez de la Frontera ) and Abel Harana (Sanlucar de Barrameda). Jerez is one of the cradles of flamenco so this a great opportunity to see real flamenco dance art, featuring two emerging talents accompanied by singers, guitar and palmas (handclap percussion).
One of the highlights this upcoming season is undoubtedly the Buena Vista Social Club’s ‘Adiós Tour.’ This concert is expected to draw a very large audience so the venue moves to the Durham Performing Arts Center. Even though some of the members of the Buena Vista Social Club passed away in recent years, the lineup features several of the original members including admired vocalist Omara Portuondo; iconic singer-songwriter and tres guitar master Eliades Ochoa; trumpeter Guajiro Mirabal; and laud (Spanish lute) virtuoso Babarito Torres. This concert will take place on Monday, October 26.
Another Cuban heavyweight is set to perform on Monday, November 16. Keyboard maestro and composer Chucho Valdés will appear with a new incarnation of the legendary Cuban jazz fusion band Irakere at Page Auditorium.
Celtic supergroup The Gloaming is set to appear on Saturday, March 26 at Baldwin Auditorium. The lineup includes the unique vocals of Iarla Ó Lionáird (Afro Celt Sound System); fiddle master Martin Hayes; hardanger fiddler Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh; guitarist Dennis Cahill; and pianist and producer Thomas Bartlett, aka Doveman.
Kassé Mady Diabaté, one of the leading jeli (griot) singers from Mali, is scheduled for Friday, April 1 at Baldwin Auditorium. He will be accompanied by a traditional lineup of ngoni, bala (balaphone), and kora performed by some of the finest musicians in Mali, including kora master Ballake Sissoko.
On Friday, April 8, 2016 Chinese chamber music virtuosos Shanghai Quartet will appear with pipa (Chinese lute) prodigy Wu Man. The program will include pieces by contemporary Chinese composers for string quartet and pipa with a mix of contemporary classical and folk songs. Location: Baldwin Auditorium.
The last concert of the season will be a real treat for fans of Balkan brass bands. Two of the finest Roma (Gypsy) bands, Boban & Marko Markovic Orkestar and Fanfare Ciocarlia. The concert will take place Monday, April 11 at Page Auditorium. We’ve seen these artists at world music expo WOMEX and at Forde (Norway) and their performance is spectacular.
We regard American roots music as part of the world music family so we also recommend the concerts by former Carolina Chocolate Drops artist Rhiannon Giddens who will perform on Friday, September 25 at Page Auditorium.
Another great American roots music show is scheduled for Thursday, December 10. Rosanne Cash will present ‘The River & The Thread’ at Page Auditorium.
Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band will appear on Friday, March 4 at Baldwin Auditorium.
Lastly, we highly recommend the concert by Rez Abbasi. Although he doesn’t make world music, he’s one of the finest guitarists in the contemporary American jazz scene. Abbasi recently recorded new acoustic versions of some of the jazz-rock fusion classics from the 1970s. Rez Abbasi Invocation is set to perform Friday, January 22 at Baldwin Auditorium.
We spoke with Aaron Greenwald, Executive Director of Duke Performances about this year’s program and the future of world music at Duke Performances.
Angel Romero – At the time of selecting the program for the 2015-2016 season, you must have been approached by numerous booking agents. How did you choose the artists scheduled for the new season?
Aaron Greenwald – At Duke Performances, we’re invested in making both a balanced slate of programming & one that is full of surprises. On a season to season basis we’re committed to programming a handful of genres: jazz, dance, theater, classical music, international music, Americana and new music/contemporary classical.
In addition, we’re mission-driven to present in a network of about a dozen venues — quite large to quite small — both on campus and in town. Finally, we’re interested in engaging artists who are willing and able to interact meaningfully with our campus and community.
Within those guidelines we have an enormous amount of freedom and my choices ultimately come down to artists routing through the southeast that are too wonderful to skip — Abdullah Ibrahim, Chucho Valdes, Rosanne Cash; those that fit into a meaningful thematic scheme, global hip-hop for instance — Ana Tijoux, Rennie Harris Puremovement, Blitz the Ambassador; & those that I’ve always wanted to showcase in Durham — Bettye Lavette, Mahmoud Ahmed, Fazil Say.
AR – Do you rely exclusively on the rosters offered by booking agents or do you also seek specific artists you’re interested in?
AG -The process of engaging artists, particularly international artists, has become so complex — from both a federal tax & visa perspective — that it is very nearly a necessity to work closely with agents. That said, we’ve demonstrated an appetite for musical eclecticism for so long that we’re one of the first calls for an agent who’s trying to make an unusual project work for touring in the US. I think this is the case with the exceptional Portuguese singer-songwriter Lula Pena, as well as our grand late-April double-bill of Boban & Marko Markovic Orkestar from Serbia and Fanfare Ciocarlia from Romania.
On the other hand, while we booked the highly acclaimed Turkish pianist Fazil Say through an agent, we sought him for many months because he is likely the most important contemporary Turkish performing artist and we were anxious to engage the vibrant Turkish community here in the region.
AR – It seems like this upcoming season features more renowned world music artists than years before. We are excited because Duke Performances is the largest world music university presenter in the area. Will you feature such a strong world music program in future seasons?
We are exclusively interested in programming interesting and potentially transcendent performance. If great international artists continue to tour — across dance, music and theater — and we are able, with reasonable marketing, to attract a sizable audience to these performances, we will attempt to make more programming of this variety. It is important, perhaps, to remind local audiences that it is rather costly for international artists to tour and that their ability to do so is predicated on making a series of successful concerts while touring the US in as efficient and cost-effective manner as possible.
We are only able to program this work, and pay the fees of the artists, if audiences make a concerted effort to see the work — there is, perhaps, an ethical dimension here — if you want to live in a place that features art from around the world, you have some obligation to actively patronize that work.
AR – Can you tell us about the upgrades or changes in Page Auditorium after the renovation?
AG – Page Auditorium, Duke’s largest venue, has undergone a year-long 5-million dollar renovation. When the work is done, the venue will seat right about 1,150 people. The work done in the hall will, first & foremost, modernize a space that was built in 1934 & degraded with poor additions for nearly 8 decades.
The renovation will better allow us to effectively present music that requires some amplification, there will be flown arrays over the stage and a ceiling treatment to help dampen reverberation in the room. The lighting and seating have been modified to help focus the attention of the audience on the stage. Nearly all of the renovation budget has been spent making Page a more comfortable and effective venue for audiences — we think that folks who’ve for generations found the hall challenging, will be most pleased with the changes that have been implemented throughout the space.
World music festival Etnosur 2015 started yesterday, July 17. Here, we publish photos from the first day’s events. The festival takes place in the beautiful olive oil region of Jaen in southern Spain. It runs from July 17 to July 19, 2015.
Last May, Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, among other artists, appeared at the Blues & Ritmes Festival in Badalona (city next to Barcelona), These are three young representatives and symbols of the new American bluegrass.
Let’s remember that Sara Watkins is a founding member, alongside her brother Sean, and mandolinist Chris Thile, of the San Diego trio, Nickel Creek, considered one of the forerunners who modernized this genre. Aoife O’Donovan is the lead singer of the Boston quintet Crooked Still, while Texas artist Sarah Jarosz, from Wimberley, has been the great sensation of this genre in recent years. The New York-based musician has won several important performance, composition and recording awards.
Finally, a golden opportunity to see live these three divas or queens of the new bluegrass. In my view, all we would have needed would have been to add Nashville singer and multi-instrumentalist, Sierra Hull, and we could have completed this potential and exceptionally good young female quartet.
No, it is not frequent that one is able to attend a concert of this genuine American musical “bluegrass” genre in the southern part of Europe, particularly in the Mediterranean area. It’s not that people don’t like it, simply the problem is, firstly, the total disinformation and general knowledge about this style, where most of the public and media call it “country music.” Secondly, because there is no tour circuit or because the many “world music” festivals existing in this area, do not consider it world music and therefore do not include it in its programming, although there are tiny and strange exceptions.
It is a grave error to think, for example, that the folk or bluegrass of the North American region (USA and Canada) should not be considered world music, that world music is only exclusive to artists from Africa, Asia, Latin America, or from some parts of Europe. For me personally, all roots music, regardless of where it comes from, ancestral or contemporary, is “world music”.
Of the few fans of this genre in the Eurozone, it should be noted that we are earnest, firm, unconditional and diehard fans of this gene that comes from North America. We can only wait for the opportunity of a concert by an artist to appear, as a miracle out of the sky, in a theater, bar or festival in the southern part of Europe.
So in order to get a deeper knowledge of everything we have previously written about “bluegrass” in this area of the Mediterranean, we contacted two leading experts in the subject, Maria Ricart and Heribert Ródenas from Barcelona; they both are members of the EBMA Association (European Bluegrass Music Association).
The first question we asked them, is: What are the main reasons for the very few “bluegrass” concerts made in the European Mediterranean area?
The traditional “pure” bluegrass is aimed at a very specific audience and is relatively limited to certain areas and specific audiences in the USA; they make a living from the many festivals and live concerts. In Europe, this kind of bluegrass has arrived occasionally, but the most popular is progressive bluegrass or Newgrass which is open to a wider audience, incorporating elements of jazz and rock that make it more attractive and can reach a younger audience, always within a frame of acoustic music.
In Europe we find some festivals with a somewhat high profile in France, Holland, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland among others and especially in the Czech Republic, where there are a large number of bluegrass fans and musicians.
Not so in the Mediterranean area, although there are a few followers. It is likely to happen because this is an area rich in musical folklore and also the Latin “language” family has a different musicality. It also doesn’t help much that bluegrass is sometimes confused with commercial country music. Bluegrass has more Celtic and African roots, versus Roman roots.
How could we solve this?
Basically, like most things, investing money. You would need to have concert presenters take more risks, booking American groups that often make small format European tours. The way things are now, it is difficult to be profitable and this leaves the task to sponsors, but is definitely the way to experience this fantastic live music. Current European festivals who book leading American artists help find new audiences. Bluegras/Newgrass music is very participative, in the sense that around the festival, there are instrumental and vocal workshops, “jams” for all levels, and luthier exhibitions. This educates and makes it better known. A bluegrass festival is a big party for all ages.
What specific work does your EBMA association do?
Report the events made in the US and specifically in Europe, promoting European artists, serving as a network, publishing a magazine about different issues: new CDs, articles, comments, festivals programmers and concerts. It works as a permanent link with the American organization International Bluegrass Music Association ((IBMA). Supports new festival sites to expand the network.
Finally. What is your opinion about this concert with the “three divas” of the new bluegrass?
We liked it; we would classify it as a concert of sophisticated acoustic music, exquisite and smooth, without being spectacular. It was not actually a bluegrass concert; there was just one piece that could be described as such. Yes we enjoyed the way the vocal harmonies worked and were able to convey the personality of each performer. The three have high profiles in their usual bands. In this concert they performed songs they like to do when they step out of this context. The vocal lead role is shared, each with her unique register. Instrumentally, there is no doubt about the great work by Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz. In short, it is a tour of three friends who deeply enjoy music and take to the stage to show what they like to do. The audience enjoyed it, most of us were part of the “guild”, knowledgeable of this type of music and we took advantage of this time to attend the concert in our country instead of having to travel to listen to the music we love.
With these specific and particular answers, we said goodbye to Maria and Herbert. Notwithstanding, our personal opinion about this concert is that we would have liked more instrumentals and vocal pieces to fill the atmosphere with the peculiar “bluegrass” (new or nearly pure) rhythm as the repertoire performed only featured one bluegrass piece, while the rest were nice, soft melodies and ballads.
I’d like to add that I was glad to speak with Sara Watkins, because as I told her, I had the privilege of being in a showcase of first timers Nickel Creek (then still with bassist Scott Thile), organized by their record label at the time, Sugar Hill Records which presented the band’s first CD on this label. This happened in a hotel concert hall where the Folk Alliance congress took place in Cleveland (Ohio), in 2000, and where I also had the opportunity to chat and meet another of the great performers on the same label, John Cowan, who was in the same venue, supporting the quartet.
Finally, from here, I encourage the Blues & Rhythms Festival in Badalona, to continue delighting us by bringing North-American “bluegrass” artists like what happened in April 2004, with the unforgettable concert given by Chris Hillman, Herb Pedersen & Al Perkins.
In short, let’s try to have more musicians of this peculiar genre land in these beautiful and sunny European areas, our “Mare Nostrum” Mediterranean Sea.
Saturday, May 9th, was the final day of the Iberoamerican music expo EXIB Música 2015. The morning sessions were focused on the development of two networking organizations, RICMU (Latin American Network of Musical Communicators) and RedIGM (Latin American Network of Music Managers).
Elena Pérez from Turismo Bilbao gave us a tour of the Casco Viejo (Old Quarter).
Elena gave us a historical overview of Bilbao, starting with its medieval origins. Diego López de Haro founded the Villa de Bilbao on June 15, 1300. The new village became the main port for all trade for the kingdom of Castile.
In the afternoon, there was screening of the documentary Alentejo Alentejo that focuses on Portugal’s increasingly popular cante alentejano and its rural a cappella polyphonic choirs.
The showcases started at 6:00 at the Alhóndiga Bilbao Azkuna Center’s atrium stage. The first artist was Brazilian singer Laura Lopes, from Belo Horizonte. She performs Brazilian Popular Music (MPB). Web site: www.lauralopes.art.br
Next was Argentina-based Cuban singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Yusa, who combines Afro-Cuban music with funk, rock and pop. This was a solo performance, but Yusa made it really entertaining with her tantalizing vocals and her skilled rhythm guitar/electric bass accompaniment. Yusa has released Yusa (2002), Breathe (2004), Haiku (2008). After moving to Argentina, Yusa released the live album Vivo (2010) and the studio recording Libro de cabecera en tardes de café (2012). An album titled Dosenuno combines songs from Yusa’s first two albums, Yusa and Breathe. More at yusamusic.blogspot.com
One of the highlights of the day was Basque band Bidaia. They hail from the French side of the Basque country and feature legendary musician Mixel Ducau. He was a member of pioneering progressive rock band Errobi and more recently Oreka TX.
Bidaia features Ducau on guitar and alboka, American hurdy-gurdy (zanfona) player Caroline Phillips and a rhythm section. They mix Basque traditional music with global sounds. The group’s most recent album is Agur Shiva.
The final showcase at Alhóndiga Bilbao was the spectacular Venezuelan act led by vocalist Francisco Pacheco. This large ensemble featuring 5 vocalists and virtuoso musicians delivered a fabulous selection of modern Afro-Venezuelan music. Francisco Pacheco was the founder of Un Solo Pueblo, an iconic Venezuelan traditional folk music group.
After the concerts at Alhóndiga Bilbao, two of my colleagues and I headed to the Viandas de Salamanca deli store at Calle Ercilla 4 and feasted on delicious Iberian ham sandwiches in fresh crusty bread. This place specializes in various Iberian pork deli meats such as ham, chorizos, salchichon, lomo and farinato. Viandas de Salamanca is specially during Athletic Club de Bilbao football (soccer) club’s home games. This small chain has a second store in Bilbao in the Old Quarter. They also have stores in Salamanca, Pamplona and downtown Madrid.
The final concert featured celebrated Argentine-American rock musician Kevin Johansen along with the Nada and Liniers at Café Antzokia.
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