The threat of rain forced organizers to move the EXIB 2016 showcase stage from the Roman Temple of Évora (Templo de Diana) to Praça do Giraldo in downtown Evora. The first artist to appear on stage was Chilean singer-songwriter Nano Stern. Armed with just a guitar and his vocals, he put on a lively show. Nano is deeply influenced by the Nueva Canción Chilena, especially artists like Victor Jara and Inti Illimani.
Nano’s lyrics are charged with political and anti-establishment messages. Unlike other singer-songwriters in the past, he strums and plays some solos on his acoustic guitar wildly, looking more like a rocker than a folk singer. His one-man show was highly entertaining.
The next artist scheduled to perform was Ecuadorian singer Mariela Condo. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to make it due to the devastating earthquake in Ecuador. Mariela was replaced by Spanish vocalist, dancer and educator Mariola Membrives.
Membrives performed part of her “La Llorona” show. It’s a mix of flamenco, Latin American influences and jazz. She appeared before the live audience accompanied by bassist Masa Kamaguchi. While Membrives sang with a mixture of flamenco and jazz vocal techniques, Masa Kamaguchi performed serpentine jazz bass lines. It was an unexpected mix that felt like two simultaneous performances on stage, but it worked.
The third act, Duarte, brought the passion and charisma of fado to downtown Evora. Duarte started the show saying “Welcome to my square, welcome to our square. It’s good to be back home after so many travels.” Duarte is a native of Evora and has a fado and pop and rock background. He researched traditional Fado lyrics and music and has composed his own songs that form part of his repertoire. In 2006 the Amalia Rodrigues Foundation awarded him the Emerging Male Fado Singer prize.
The audience loved Duarte’s captivating performance. He was accompanied by two outstanding instrumentalists, Pedro Amendoeira on guitarra portuguesa (Portuguese guitar) and Rogério Ferreira on viola de fado (fado guitar).
Vocalist and percussionist Karyna Gomes brought the sounds of Guinea Bissau to EXIB 2016. Karyna grew up in Guinea Bissau and was a member of the iconic Super Mama Djombo. She currently lives in Portugal.
During her show, Karyna introduced the gourd water drum played only by women and despite having a drummer, Karyna delivered a set of laid back songs.
Karyna Gomes recently recorded her first solo album, titled “Mindjer“, produced by Paulo Borges. “Mindjer” is a tribute to the strength, determination and courage of the women of Guinea Bissau.
Karyna Gomes’ band included Jose Afonso on keyboards; Hugo Aly on bass; Nir Paris on drums; Ivan Gomes on guitar; and Ibrahima Galissa on kora.
Northern Basque band Kalakan put on a popular show, using drums, the alboka animal horn (hornpipe), the chalaparta percussion instrument and Basque traditional vocals. The trio sings in Basque and their dynamic show was well-liked by the audience.
Kalakan has a new album titled Elementuak that features instrumental and a cappella pieces, combining traditional sounds with newly composed material.
Band members include Thierry Biscary on vocals and percussion; Jamixel Bereau on vocals and percussion; and Xan Errotabehere on vocals, alboka, flute and percussion.
João Afonso was born in Maputo (Mozambique) on July 8, 1965, where he picked grew up listening to African urban music as well as traditional Portuguese music through his uncle, Portuguese singer Zeca Afonso.
In 1978, João moved to Portugal. In December 1994 he participated in the Maio maduro maio project along with José Mário Branco and Amélia Muge, presented in Lisbon and other cities abroad. The Maio Maduro Maio double CD was released in 1995.
João Afonso also participated in the “Janelas Verdes” and “Acoustic” albums by world music multi-instrumentalist and composer Júlio Pereira.
In 1996 João Afonso performed several concerts in Spain with singer-songwriter Luis Pastor, in which they sang each others’ songs as well as material by Zeca Afonso. They were occasionally joined by Pedro Guerra.
Missangas was João Afonso’s first solo album, released in May 1997 in Portugal; subsequently released in France through Verve / Polygram and Spain (Resistencia, 1998). In December 1997 he participated in the Voz e guitarra (voice and guitar) album and show produced by Expo 1998 in Lisbon.
In 1998 João Afonso participated in the collective production Novas vos trago with two songs from the historical songbook. That same year, he composed the music for the poem Paz de Santiago recorded by Spanish Singer-songwriter Luis Pastor in his album Por el mar de mi mano. And João also recorded the song Na machamba (from his album Missangas) with Canary Islander group Mestisay.
In 1999 he was a guest vocalist in the song Aquí em baixo (Azul) that appeared in the album by Spanish singer Uxía. Also, in 1999, João released his second solo album, Barco voador, that reflected his experiences traveling throughout different continents. Universal Music released the album in Spain. Zanzibar, his third solo recording, came in 2002.
The 2006 solo album Outra vida confirmed that João Afonso is one of the finest performers and songwriters of his generation in Portugal. In November 2006 João Afonso participated as a guest in the book/CD by Luis Pastor titled Nesta esquina do tempo (In this corner of time) with Jose Saramago poems set to music.
In 2014 he released “Sangue Bom” where he composed music for poems by Mia Couto and José Eduardo Agualusa.
On Saturday night, most of the bands were French to please the general public. The crowd around was younger on average than in the previous nights. Some just wanted to be there to get a buzz and jumped up and down on the faster songs, while talking throughout the quieter ones.
Trio Keynoad appeared on stage representing the Provence Alpes – Côte d’Azur region. The members of Trio Keynoad are Ameylia Saad Wu (voice and harp), Christian Kiane Fromentin (violin, saz) and Nicola Marinoni (percussion).
Ameylia is the daughter of Lebanese writer Michel Saad and a Chinese mother. The group’s lyrics are poems by Ameylia’s father set to music. She grew up on Reunion Island and quickly became interested in learning the Celtic harp and classical singing.
The song “Follow your star” featured a steady darbuka beat. We easily recognized the Eastern structure of the song containing intervals of three-quarter tones.
The remaining songs ‘Okinanoss “Sega islands” and “Night Wings” invited us to a journey in space and time. A mixture of neo-classical and world music.
The next performance I attended at the Chapiteau stage was Compagnie Lyakam ((India – France). Jessie Veeratherapillay performed Bharata Natyam, the dance of her Tamil ancestors. It’s a form of Indian classical dance expressing grace, purity, and sculptural poses.
The musicians on electric sitar, saxophone and percussion, together with vocal harmonies, delivered jazz and flamenco flavors.
Soadaj, from Reunion Island (France) brought a breath of fresh air at the Salle des Sucres. The musicians specialize in Maloya that is, along with the Sega, one of two major genres of Reunion.
Pan-African and European influences are mixed into their music reflecting the melting pot of the band.
On “Out ‘Po” the crystalline voice of the blonde singer Marie invaded the space, supported by the sound of the didgeridoo, plunging us into a shamanic trance. The voice of Laurence, the second singer in counterpoint, harmony or response fitted completely into the music of the band.
The musicians of Saodaj were full of beauty, talent and youth, with a solid background and life experience. They brought us authenticity and the enthusiastic reception of the public was fully justified.
Belgium-based duo Vardan Hovanissian (Armenia) & Emre Gültekin (Turkey) played at the Cabaret stage. Vardan Hovanissian plays duduk, an Armenian music instrument like a double reed oboe, while Emre Gültekin plays the saz, a long-necked lute.
Both musicians brought into life the coexistence of two cultures that existed under the Ottoman Empire until the tragic events of the early 20th century with the physical elimination of about 1.5 million Armenians.
Vardan Hovanissian and Emre Gültekin produced a duo album “Adana“, one hundred years after the beginning of the Armenian genocide.
The title song “Adana” is dedicated to Adana, a city which housed a large Armenian community in the late 19th century and was exterminated during the genocide. Emre’s voice expressed suffering.
“Daglar” (mountain in English) is a poem written by Emre’s father. Emre sang softly. The accompaniment by the darbuka and the saz created a sense of emptiness on mountain tops. Vardan and Emre were supported by two experienced musicians mastering the Turkish and Armenian music structures based on Eastern and Western scales.
The concert by Vardan Hovanissian & Emre Gültekin ended with a standing ovation of more than 1,500 persons.
The band 7SON@TO that performed at Salle des Sucres is the flagship of gwoKa, the musical style Guadeloupe of island. It is mainly played with drums of different sizes called ‘ka’, a family of percussion instruments.
On stage, a lead singer in the center, 3 singers (two women and one man) and four percussionists.
Durg the song “Péyi Dewo” a singer took over the lead vocals. Then other musicians, and part of the audience responded. “Ah Ta Mama Yayo” had growing harmonies. I recognized Central African words in the Creole songs. Indeed, gwoka was born during the period of slavery and was a means of escape and communication. The audience accompanied the songs and danced to the vibes of the Caribbean Isles.
I found that the representation was a bit too pedagogic, but 7SON@TO brought into light their traditions rooted in our time. Their concert enriched me with their culture.
I hope that the coverage of more than one third of the acts gives you an idea of the new discoveries and highlights. Babel Med Music is, without question, one of the important international events in world music. We were very lucky with music and Mediterranean sunshine.
On Friday night, March 18, the public showed up early to BabelMed and rushed in at the opening of the gates, eager to have a good time.
Born into a noble family and descendant of Mogho Naba Konkis Konkistenga the village of north-eastern Burkina Faso, Alif Naaba delivered us folk music at the Tent stage. The lyrics were in French and his native language Mooré, one of the two official regional languages of Burkina Faso. He revisited the musical traditions evoking the West African regions of today.
With the song “Manita” Alif Naaba explained that musicians do not have easy love relationships under pressure from the families. Who wants a man who cannot afford to buy a pair of shoes?
Alif Naaba is a singer with a clear griot (storyteller, poet, musician) voice like Baaba Maal orSalif Keita.
Autostrad, a self-produced band stating its independence showcased at the Salle des Sucres. The musicians from Jordan compose on western scales, but the lyrics are in Arabic dialect.
“Estann Schwai” was a nice pop song on a slow reggae beat that made me think of Chris Rea or 10CC. The super Zen melody ended with a saxophone solo.
“Habeetak Bel Turki” featured beautiful guitar solos with jazzy guitar riffs throughout the entire song.
The term “Arabic Mediterranean Street indie” suits the band.
Breabach emerged in 2005 from the Scottish folk scene to undertake an international career. The musicians entered the Tent stage in total darkness. We listened to a flute, then a voice…The lights turned on, the crowd went on shouting and whistling.
Spectators could not keep their feet on the ground and jumped on the tent floor. We were not in the Wild West, but the atmosphere propelled by the rhythm generated an infectious energy.
The band played “Proud to play a pipe”, a composition dating back to the 17th century claiming their Scottish identity. Megan showcased her vocal capacities during the last verses and choruses.
I discovered the best of Scottish musicians with an academic background and the passion to create. They were pleased to be in Marseilles, smiling and joking during the concert.
Ricardo Ribeiro is advertised as being the rising star of the Portuguese Fado. Most of the time, Ricardo Ribeiro kept his hands in his pockets at the Tent stage.
His mournful tunes expressing melancholy, resignation, frustration and fatefulness made me feel down. Some people in the crowd overwhelmed by the Portuguese saudade applied handkerchiefs to their eyes to wipe off the tears. It was a bit unrealistic watching people coming to a concert to cry.
French band Temenik Electric, including five musicians, appeared on the Salle des Sucres stage to (re) discover their Arabian Rock. The group mixes Western music, reggae, funk and North African roots. They sang in the Arabic dialect northwest of Oran, but sometimes make incursions into French or English.
On the song “Denia” the vocals were backed by an energetic rhythm section and a powerful bass line. The keyboardist added oscillating synthesizer sounds in clever arrangements. Meanwhile, the singer said “Salam aleikoum, we salute you“. ACDC is singing “For those about to rock (we salute you).”
Indeed, Temenik Electric can easily appear on a rock, alternative or world music stage.
During the last song “Ouesh Hada” (what happens? In Arabic), the atmosphere was Middle Eastern trance, whipping the crowd into euphoria.
Temenik Electric is a band aware of the events in the world, but not engaged, without political or philosophical claims. Their language is the universal one.
There is no wonder that Justin Adams (Tinawiren, Robert Plant guitarist) became interested producing their latest album “Inch’ Allah Baby” given the outstanding qualities of the band.
Three nights of music (17 March – 19 March 2016) at Babel Med Music, located in the Docks des Suds of Marseille with outdoor spring-like temperatures. What more could you expect? Would we discover a lot of new bands and creations?
I think that for budgetary reasons and cost effectiveness, the organizers try to get a fair balance between emerging talents for the professional participants and established ones for the general public. My review will feature fourteen acts out of more than thirty artists spread over three nights.
On Thursday night, I noticed a lot of professionals wearing a badge, who were attending the gigs. Canadian vocalist Alejandra Ribera started the concert series at the Tent stage. She was eye catching, wearing a long sleeveless black dress. Alejandra began the song “La Boca” in English, with a deep voice in a foggy universe, then switched over into another register, singing in Spanish with sometimes a piercing voice. Her Scottish roots took us into a melancholic mood as deep as a winter depression. Fortunately, the South American rhythms that followed made us jump with joy.
Also at the Tent stage, the project La Nuit d’Antigone (France – Germany – Turkey) presented the meeting of Mediterranean female musicians: Sylvie Paz on vocals, Perrine Mansuy on piano, Naïssam Jalal on flute, Diler Özer on percussion and DJ Ipek for sound design.
The lyrics were contemporary women’s poetry set to music. It was advertised that the performance was a history of women’s resistance. The singer read the lyrics in different languages on a page in front of her. It did not make it easy to get the message of feminine resistance through.
Baba Zula is a Turkish band from Istanbul, a metropolis located at the crossroads of the East and the West. The musicians grew up in the underground music scene and forged their own identity with traditional folklore, rock and heavy metal.
At the Salle des Sucres, Baba Zula plunged us into a psychedelic experience. We listened to the musical legacy of the Ottoman Empire that lasted from 1299 to 1923, and that ruled North Africa and the Middle East.
Baba Zula’s Murat Ertel on the electric saz wandered into the public. When she returned, singer Melike invited the audience to follow her during the song “Acis, Hopçe”. She swung, dressed in a green dress with veils floating between her arms and body.
Fuelled by the energy of the band, the young ladies in the audience started to shake their bodies. They were probably members of a fitness club teaching belly dance or Turkish tsifteteli.
David Bowie used to sing “We Could Be Heroes just for one day”. We were the queens and kings of the night with Baba Zula.
Djmawi Africa is an Algerian band formed in 2004. They practice a fusion of chaabi, reggae and Gnawa rituals with essentially a rock rhythm section. We felt the band has an international stage experience.
Djmawi Africa kicked off their performance at the Salle des Sucres with the song “Lala Aicha”. First, we could hear the violinist playing Middle Eastern accents. Then followed the guembri (a Gnawa bass lute) and the guitarist who played blistering solos and deep-rooted riffs.
African bands have a tendency to produce a festive atmosphere throughout the concert time, Djmawi Africa had a different approach. At times, slower compositions allowed us to enjoy the subtlety and diversity of their musicality, and then the band offered an energy-packed set.
Djmawi Africa love to explore the sounds and added the kora, djembe, the ngoni to their list of instruments.
Djmawi Africa, a progressive and eclectic Algerian band that pleasantly surprised us with its respect of Africanness and musical colors played on modern and ethnic instruments.
Auditorium at University of Sheffield Student Union
26 February 2016
Where were the blues born? Were its rough-hewn riffs formed from the mud of the Mississippi delta, or do its origins lie in Africa, along the river Niger? Musicological conundrums aside, it is the people of the Niger basin who have a greater need for the blues’ cathartic lament today. In the West African state of Mali In 2012, a separatist movement snowballed into a radical Islamist campaign that conquered two-thirds of the country. Music – which provides the heartbeat of Malian culture – was banned under an extreme interpretation of Sharia law.
The response of Mali’s musicians is documented in the film They Will Have to Kill Us First, which provides the evening’s first act, playing to a teeming auditorium within Sheffield University’s Student Union. The film sets up Malian band Songhoy Blues to tell the story live, inspiring the audience to a studious engagement with Malian musical culture that gives way to dancing in the aisles.
They Will Have to Kill Us First opens with Songhoy Blues on scooters, cruising through the capital Bamako like Malian Mods. They carry their guitars with them, as if ready to unleash drive-by grooves on the occupants of the red dirt pavements. The film offers a music-as-unifying-force narrative amidst an exploration of the country’s near total fracture. As a young band drawn from different parts of Mali, Songhoy Blues seem to offer the best hope of a modern Mali that transcends the disunity. By the end of the film the young quartet have been picked up by the Damon Albarn driven Africa Express project and wowed the European festival scene. They have shown no signs of stopping since, releasing their debut album Music in Exile last year to considerable acclaim.
Songhoy Blues’ meteoric rise and youthful swagger bears comparison to a band that has graced many of the Steel City’s stages, the Arctic Monkeys. Where Alex Turner took inspiration from police riot vans, Songhoy Blues had machine-gun toting Toyota pickups to contend with. The band’s matinee idol impression is reinforced by the boy-band bar stools they occupy for their acoustic set. Since this is a Talking Gig – which offers reflection as well as rock – the initial atmosphere suits the lecture theatre-like venue and student dominated audience. Journalist Andy Morgan takes on the role of professor, skilfully spinning tales of Mali’s spirit world and medieval empire, which enrich the audience’s understanding of the music.
If you have heard of one Malian musician it will surely be guitar giant Ali Farka Touré, who emerged like a Hendrix of the Sahara in the 1970s, his music both urgent and antique. The African continent is commonly represented as the body of a guitar, and the iconic instrument remains the king of Malian music.
There is a certain guitar timbre that unmistakably evokes West Africa, its bright sound still characteristic of the DIY twang of the proto-guitars assembled from petrol drums and brake cables on the streets of Timbuktu and Gao. Songhoy’s guitarist Garba Touré – whose father was a percussionist in Ali Farka Touré’s band – summons the timeless tone from his acoustic guitar. Garba’s rippling riffs enter into dialogue with charismatic vocalist Aliou Touré, punctuating his vocal lines with short solos delivered in stuttering style.
Unexpected breaks and tempo changes enliven a blues template that can feel formulaic in its strictest western form. The band perform album track ‘Al Hassidi Terei’, which begins with a ‘Stairway to Heaven’ like arpeggio before igniting, like one of those well-worn moped engines, into a raucous gallop of a groove.
For the last three numbers Songhoy Blues rock out, kicking away their stools and summoning the audience to their feet. Nat Dembélé’s percussion playing and Oumar Touré’s bass then come into their own, their grooves bouncing across bar-lines to conduct the crowd’s convulsions. Amidst the celebratory atmosphere we recall Mali’s trauma, summed up by Aliou’s vocals on ‘Desert Melodie’; “Once upon a time Mali was a land of unity, now they want to divide us”. If there is a force that will help bring the country back together, it is up there on stage, as Songhoy Blues rock Sheffield.
Some fusions between musical genres do not work, because they sound too forced. Other fusions fail because modern electronics drown out ancient instruments. But, the Mehmet Polat trio form a true union between Africa, Turkey and the Middle East. Nothing about their music sounds too pre-planned. It moves in cycles and is as hypnotic as Philip Glass’s minimalist works. The trio is of three virtuosos: Mehmet Polat from Turkey plays the oud, Sinan Arat also from Turkey plays the ney, an end-blown flute and a very ancient instrument, and Bao Sissoko from Senegal plays the kora, a 21 stringed instrument from West Africa that has as its base a carved out calabash. The trio performed in New York during the annual APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) conference in January, which is where I heard them.
It was an intimate evening of instrumental music at the Chhandayan Center for Indian classical music in Manhattan, where both the Mehmet Polat trio and Sahba Motallebi (an Iranian-American musician) shared the stage. The room held an audience of about forty, sitting barefoot and some on meditation cushions. The trio sat alongside each other in a half circle. They performed without overt showmanship; no one musician sought to stand out above the others. Their simple, yet powerful unity was refreshing and provocative.
Their music was slow, gentle, simple. The elongated notes of the ney breathed into the air while the oud and kora danced together alongside the melody. This music rewards patience in a listener. It is not for fast paced and restless individuals. It tells you to slow down, take deep breaths as you listen, and it will calm you down. Yet, the languorous feel of the music demands your attention. And then you were introduced to a traditional West African song that was playful and light. The whole evening the three instruments spoke to each other gracefully. The sound was enchanting: the music was meditative.
Mehmet and Sinan both come from families who are Alevi, a Sufi Community in Turkey. Mehmet grew up in the city of Urfa, in South Eastern Turkey. Before the concert, he told me: “Urfa has a big musical tradition with roots in ancient times.” There, he says, he was surrounded by the voices of his parents singing Sufi songs. The music moved him as he was growing up. And he says, “I knew at the age of ten that I wanted to become a musician. When I was about 13, I began exploring Anatolian folk music. There is a huge diversity of music in Turkey.”
DJL: So how did you learn about all of this music?
MP: By listening. At 17, I started with the oud lessons from oud masters in Istanbul.
DJL: But why oud, did you see or hear it being played?
MP: I was visiting a poet in Istanbul with my brother. And I was curious about an instrument on the wall. What’s this instrument? It looked so interesting. I grabbed it and I lost myself for a few minutes in it. And the deepness of the sound, it touched me so much that I decided to learn. But it is not only the instrument, it is the culture of the instrument that drew me to it. It has roots in the Ottoman Empire, in Iran, in all the Arabic countries, among others, so I got a chance to learn something of those influences. Afterwards, I became interested in Balkan, Flamenco and Indian music.
DJL: Indian classical music has a strong spiritual component, for example, we know that the great Pandit Ravi Shankar saw playing his instrument as a way of connecting to God. Do you relate to what he said?
MP: Yes, I do connect with that. Music for me is a kind of language. When I play music, my intention is to bring sincere feelings from my heart and share them with the universe.
DJL: But in the Indian classical tradition, musicians spend years learning, it is a real apprenticeship. So did you spend a long time learning?
MP: Yes, I studied Indian classical music officially for two years at school, but my study is still ongoing. I also like Western genres, also jazz, Latin, grooves. The musician has to be both a revolutionary and a master of his instrument to have enough ability to convey his emotions. And a musician has to have a broad vision and good taste. Without good taste there is no music.
DJL: This music has a very meditative quality, so are you approaching it from a meditative place as a musician?
MP: Yes, that’s why it sounds peaceful. Sometimes before the concert if I see that it is needed, I will say to the audience, ‘close your eyes, open your heart, let the music come to you and let us be one.’
DJL: How did you first hear the kora?
MP: I heard the kora live when I first came to Holland in 2007. In Turkey, there were African musicians, but on hearing the kora live I was moved, and thought about making something beautiful with it in the future. In 2013, after some musical ideas became clearer in my mind, I contacted my friend, the kora player Zoumana Diarra. (Diarra was the group’s first kora player and continues to play with them from time to time). I was interested in how Balkan rhythms in 7 or 15 beats to the bar would work with some African rhythms. It’s like teaching an Italian cook Chinese cooking. Bao Sissoko joined us from Senegal, and he has played with the band for the past three months. He’s risen to the challenge, and he’s dedicated to the music.
DJL: Bao comes from a very strong Griot musical tradition in Senegal, West Africa. So, you went to the kora second, and then to the ney as the third instrument, right? The ney is one of the oldest instruments still played today. It is a flute dating back four to five thousand years. It has a unique and ethereal sound.
MP: Yes, the time difference from the kora to the ney was one hour. (He laughs.) In Turkish, we say, ‘breathing out through the ney’. It has the sound of soul, the sound of spirit. The ney is almost like a human voice sometimes. Sinan is a very good musician, a great improviser, and a master of his instrument. He is a poet with a big vocabulary, and so he has an opportunity to speak out.
DJL: All three of you are gifted musicians, and you work together so strongly.
MP: For me, it is not only the meeting of three unique instruments, but also the making of deep connections, keeping the ancient and authentic traditions, and combining them in a contemporary way. This music is eighty percent improvised, and that makes it very exciting for me.
DJL: Something else I noticed is that the tone of the three instruments is aligned.
MP: When I compose the music, I try to use the full capacity of the instruments, and to keep them in harmony with each other. I ask the ney musician, for example, to play a lot of low notes.
DJL: These instruments are not combined with any modern instrument such as drums or electronic guitar. Is that deliberate?
MP: Yes, sometimes when I have played with other larger groups with drums and bass, or as a guest musician with orchestras, I didn’t like it. Because they do not hear or listen what I played or perhaps don’t care. They may have me there as a picture or as an image. I do not want that.
DJL: You added two extra bass strings to the oud, so you provide your own bass?
MP: Yes, I do that.
DJL: Would you like to come back here to the US for another tour?
MP: Yes, we are planning it for the mid-August and the mid-September. Our hope is to reach more people and to learn more about traditional American music.
DJL: And you are now working on a second album. Do you see a development from the first?
MP: The second album will be more about developing the music. I would like it to include a more spontaneous feeling, more of a sense of oneness as musicians, uniting our energies. In the end, music is not just for entertainment, it can connect us to a more sincere spiritual world.
The Ragam Tanam Pallavi was in full flow. Nodding my head contentedly, I happened to see the artiste’s parents sitting a little away from me. And it occurred to me that Tiruvalluvar might have been inspired by a similar sight to write his famous couplet about what makes a parent most happy: undisputed evidence of their offspring’s accomplishments. And Archana Murali did just that for her parents on 5th February at the Krishna temple in Muscat. A chance attendee would have found it difficult to believe that this was her first ever solo performance. He or she would have thought yet another star of Carnatic music had come visiting the city.
As the curtains went up, one could see a young, somewhat nervously smiling girl, barely in her teens. But all that was forgotten by the time she finished her opening varnam in Vasantha ragm and launched into Papanasam Sivan’s “ganapathiye” in karaharapriya.
The chittaswarams were crisp and brisk, setting the mood of the concert. “Palimpa” in aarabhi followed, followed by “Muruga” (Periyasami Tooran) in Saveri where she gave ample evidence of her ability to handle a tisranadai talam. She had the attention of the audience fully by now.
When she took up a partimadhyama melakarta Dharmavati for alapana next, I was impressed by her choice. The alapana was elaborate, yet free of any shades of Madhuvanti. Udupi S. Srijith who accompanied on the violin gave a masterful and melodious reply. She went on to sing the popular “bhajana seya rada O Ramuni” of Mysore Vasudevachar.
After a brisk “Maakelara” in Ravichandrika, Archana launched into her main piece of the day, “ Koluvamare” in Todi. In the alapana she revealed her understanding of the wide range offered by Todi. Perhaps because the stage was very warm due to the bright lights, she found her throat going dry when she explored the lower octaves.
The kriti was handled like an expert, and she gave generous opportunities to her senior colleague on the violin, like a seasoned expert! The Tani avartanam that followed, with Muscat’s own Nandagopal on the mridangam and Trivandrum Rajesh on the ghatam, was impeccable, and added glory to the concert, which, by now, had the audience totally engrossed.
Nandagopal, a mentor of sorts for young Archana, produced yet another brilliant exposition on the mridangam, reinforcing this reviewer’s opinion that he belongs in the prime time slots in Chennai’s major sabhas. Rajesh was very impressive with his laya suddham, on his incredibly melodious instrument. This Tani will be remembered for a long time by all those who witnessed it.
For a first timer, wrapping up the concert with a few tukkadas would have been more than acceptable. But Archana had no intensions of being a mere beginner. She went on to prove her mettle by singing a short “bantu reethi” in Hamsanadham which she cleverly chose to start at the anupallavi, and followed it up by a surprisingly elaborate RTP in Kapi.
In both the alapana and tanam, she and Srijith regaled the audience with phrases soaked in bhava. The pallavi itself was not remarkable in its phraseology, but Archana scored again in the ragamalika, exploring charukesi, Misra Sivaranjani and Kalyani to her credit. By now, the concert had gone on for about two and a half hours. Archana has a wonderful voice, and it held steady to the very end, which came after another thirty minutes or so of soulful singing: Papanasam Siva’s “nambi kettavar evarayya” in Hindolam, the popular Maand piece “Muralidhara”, and the Purandara Dasa kriti “ Innu day barade” in Kalyana Vasantham.
She wrapped up her concert with Lalgudi Jayaraman’s lilting thillana in Karnaranajni to a standing ovation by the much impressed, and very discerning Muscat audience.
To have the fortune of being born to parents who are both excellent musicians is one thing, but to have the commitment and application to score so well in her maiden concert, deserved the accolade she got.
Well done Archana! Here is another Middle Eastern Star ready to light up the Chennai sky in the annual seasons to come!
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!
Ever thought of moving in with your music teacher? To attain mastery of their instrument, devoted tabla students often live with their guru, undertaking a life-long apprenticeship. Insights into the traditions of Indian classical music were in abundance at ‘Shradhanjali’, a concert dedicated to late tabla master Pandit Sharda Sahai ji, which was staged at The Tabernacle in the Notting Hill area of West London.
Those with their ears open to the world will have come across the tabla. The Indian drum has lent an exotic flavour to western music of many modes, from jazz guitarist John McLaughlin’s path-breaking collaborations with Zakir Hussain in the 1970s, to art-pop queen Bjork’s genre blurring material with Talvin Singh in the 1990s. Tabla masters can conjure a galaxy of timbres from a simple two drum set-up; a finger-print tap to the smaller ‘dayan’ drum elicits a high whip-crack, whilst a palm pump to the deeper ‘bayan’ drum yields a resonant bass tone, like air bubbling to the surface of a deep pool.
This concert provides a chance to see the tabla in its natural habitat, as the centrepiece in a night of Indian classical music programmed by Kaashi Arts. The evening’s main event is a tabla solo performed by Pandit Sanju Sahai ji (known as Sanju ji) in tribute to his late father and guru Pandit Sharda Sahai ji (known as Pandit ji). Like his father, Sanju ji is a master of the Benares school of tabla, which is the youngest of six schools of tabla instruction, and the only Hindu tradition, with its origins lying in the mystical city of Benares (Varansai) in the early 19th century.
We begin with one of Pandit ji’s students, performing as part of a small group. From the first phrases of Mehboob Nadeem’s sitar, the ensemble follows the melody wherever it leads, without reliance on a defined groove. Upneet Singh Dhadyalla’s tabla strikes up a rhythmic dialogue with Bala Chandra ji’s mridangam, a larger double sided drum originating from southern India. This conversation develops into a telepathic series of complex rhythmic patterns that hint at the master-class to come.
Taking to the stage after the interval, Sanju ji proves a playful guide to the intense world of tabla. His exuberance is complemented by the sage accompaniment of Pandit Ramesh Mishra ji on the sarangi, an intricate bowed string instrument. As if in scholarly debate with himself, Sanju ji reels off ‘bols’ – rhythmical lyrics that set the framework for his improvisations – before launching into astounding time-bending embellishments; his fingers tapping the tabla like a virtuosic Morse code operator. This is a learned audience, who pick up on Sanju ji’s semaphore, joining him in the physical flourishes that bookend his poly-rhythmic passages. These collective gestures create a sense of shared experience, akin to a gospel church congregation who are stirred by references to hymns and sermons they are deeply familiar with.
Sanju ji celebrates the contemporary by performing a piece one of the Benares masters used to score a Bollywood chase scene; a blitz of tension-inducing tabla. Traditions are also respected in a rare performance of some of the original compositions that helped to inspire the Benares style. These pieces are drawn from the five hundred that were taught to Benares founder Pandit Ram Sahai ji by his guru’s wife, compositions so precious they had formed part of her dowry.
“We believe we can never be as good as our gurus“, explains Sanju ji. This deference for what came before is perhaps one of the most striking differences to western musical culture. The venue for the night’s event, The Tabernacle, was a regular haunt of punk hero Joe Strummer of The Clash during the 1970s and ‘80s. The ‘rip it up and start again’ philosophy of the Punk movement has a parallel in a western classical tendency to challenge and provoke the past, infamously demonstrated by the riots at the Paris premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The Indian classical tradition offers the polar opposite to this impulse for the creative destruction of what went before, and this division could paradoxically explain why both traditions have found so much to learn from each other.
For the uninitiated, the evening’s tabla master-class is a dazzling and at times disorientating experience. Recognisable rhythms float by – a shuffle here, a semi-swing groove there – but they prove unreliable anchors; soon reversed, embellished, or subdivided in Einstein-grade displays of metric modulation. Whilst adrift however, even the inexpert listener can sense deep currents of technique and tradition. It is up to us whether we choose to dive in, or simply to use the evening’s insights to enrich our engagement with the fusion of tabla tearaways like Talvin Singh and Trilok Gurtu. One senses that Pandit Sharda Sahai ji, whose guiding philosophy was one of education and enlightenment, would approve either way.
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