Chinese fusion, bossa groove and Gypsy jazz delight fans at Borneo Jazz Festival

Day Two of the four-day Borneo Jazz Festival in Malaysia was a delightful tour of the blending of jazz and world music. Four bands, with Australian jazz DJ Kate Welshman spinning tracks during the intervals, spanned a wide spectrum of Chinese, Brasilian and European gypsy jazz.

Hong Kong’s young Ng Cheuk-yin is a sheng wizard, taking this five thousand year old “mouth organ” well into the 21st century. A tight jazz rhythm section of bass, drums, and piano backed Cheuk-yin and his fellow musicians on two other Chinese instruments: Jason Lau on the zheng and Cass Lam on sanxian. The overall texture was definitely jazz, but the Chinese instruments opened up new sonic spaces. The group has released two albums (Kon-Fusion and Open Door) and tours China as well.

The next act featured bossa nova and sambas by Cunha e Piper, with Fernanda Cunha on vocals and Ray Piper on guitar. The group has released a 12-track CD called Sabor do Rio. But their performance at this festival would perhaps have been much better in an intimate indoor setting.

Grammy award winning bluesman John Hammond followed with a superb acoustic set, switching effortlessly between two guitars and harmonica. He has collaborated with the Who’s Who of blues: Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Mike Bloomfield, JJ Cale, Tom Waits, and John Lee Hooker. Regarded as the “quintessential acoustic blues troubadour,” he poured his heart and soul into his set which also served to educate a whole new generation of music fans about the rich and colourful history of blues. Rousing audience applause brought him back for an encore.

The superb tropical night ended in magnificent high-energy style with acoustic gypsy music by France’s Les Doigts de L’Homme. They dedicated some of their songs to the gypsy community which has faced harsh persecution in Europe, especially during the dark Nazi years. The high-energy up-tempo music blended swing and jazz with gypsy melodies and rhythms. The performers on three acoustic guitars and bass were flawless in their coordination and handovers, and the track “National Identity” even featured the oud by Kikteff Olivier. He shared a tight bond with his fellow musicians Alcocer Yannick, Blum Tanguy and Convert Benoit. Their energy, humour and fondness for their music shone through, and DJ Kate kept the crowd on their feet long after the band left the stage.

We look forward to Day Three already, with groups from Japan and Holland! Follow the Twitter hashtag #BorneoJazz for live updates!

Author: Madanmohan Rao

Madanmohan Rao is an author and media consultant from Bangalore, and global correspondent for world music and jazz for World Music Central and Jazzuality. He has written over 15 books on media, management and culture, and is research director for YourStory Media. Madan was formerly World Music Editor at Rave magazine and RJ at WorldSpace, and can be followed on Twitter at @MadanRao.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

twelve + 6 =