All posts by Albert Reguant

Albert Reguant is a Catalan journalist, born in Barcelona. He is a member of the workshops of folk music and world music of the European Broadcasting Union (UER/EBU) as well as well as a member of the “World Music Charts Europe”. He has a radio show called Les Rutes del So at Ona Sants Montjuïc de Barcelona. Website: http://www.wmce.de

The Three New Bluegrass Divas Land for the First and Only Time in the Mediterranean

Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan
Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan

 

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.

 

Sara Watkins
Sara Watkins

 

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.

 

Sarah Jarosz
Sarah Jarosz

 

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.

 

Aoife O’Donovan
Aoife O’Donovan

 

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.

Discography:

Crossing Muddy Waters (single)

Be My Husband (single)

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Estusha’s EXIB Música Bilbao 2015 Concert Review

Estusha en EXIB 2015 - Foto realizada por Angel Romero
Estusha en EXIB 2015 – Foto realizada por Angel Romero

 

The concert by Mexican singer Estusha Grinberg, better known by her stage name Estusha was personally one of the best in the event, setting a very high standard. Her modern and at the same time simple proposal consist of creating hypnotic musical atmospheres through her voice, fusing it with ancestral indigenous Mexican songs and from other parts of the world, supported by traditional drums, and the rhythmic and ambient music made by computer.

In short, it was a risky proposal with a more contemporary and modern interpretation of her own tradition. A song of love for nature and humanity.

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Babel Med Music 2015 Review

Tcha Limberger Trio, one of the highlights of Babel Bed 2015
Tcha Limberger Trio, one of the highlights of Babel Med 2015

 

Babel Med Music – World Music forum (Forum des Musiques du Monde) took place March 26 through 28, 2015 in Marseilles, France. This is regarded as the second largest European world music congress after WOMEX.

Participation figures were similar to the previous edition in 2014, without experiencing significant variables. Organizers provided us the following figures: 2.000 registered professionals, and 160 booths in the fair area. As far as concert audiences, there was an important variation during the three concert nights. It was a total of 15.000 concertgoers (two thousand more that in 2014). Here, we were able to verify the atmosphere, especially with the sold out and somewhat suffocating concerts on Saturday night, where most artists were local or regional.

The Forum’s venue was the usual the Dock-du-Suds. This industrial warehouse converted to new use is located very close to the new port, in an area of modern buildings and new hotels, where we witnessed the great urban change taking place in this Marseilles neighborhood. This time, the demolition crews tore down our favorite restaurant called “Jupiter” so we weren’t able to taste its humble, well-cared for home cooking menu..

During this edition concerts took place on three stages, like last year. The largest one, “Salle des Sucres”, featured the large format acts. Inside the same building there was the “Cabaret” space, where we watched the most intimate and acoustic concerts, as well as the ethno electronic performances. The remaining venue called “Chapiteau” was located under a huge tent outside the building. ,

We counted a total of 13 conferences, presentations and panels As far as the 31 showcases, I’ll tell you about the ones that captivated me the most.

On Thursday, March 26, the great revelation of the Forum to me was the Tcha Limbgerger’s Kalotaszeg Trio, led by Belgian violinist Tcha Limbgerger, accompanied by veteran and efficient Romanian musicians, bassist Berki Victor and Toni Rudi on viola. Even though Limbgerger is blind, he’s a real devil playing the violin. He introduced to us his repertoire based essentially on the traditional music of Kalotaszeg, a small region in Transylvania, located in northwestern Rumania, with Magyar influences.

 

Azam Ali & Niyaz, another Babel Med 2015 high point
Azam Ali & Niyaz, another Babel Med 2015 high point

 

Another concert that attracted our attention was Azam Ali & Niyaz, since we’ve been following closely their career for years, listening to all the recordings they release (including Azam Ali’s, Loga Ramon Torkian’s or Niyaz trio). With some differences, all these musicians are separately, or grouped, under the brand, Niyaz, It is a project of musicians of Iranian origin who reside between the USA and Canada, and we never had a chance to see them in action. But thanks to this live performance through the Forum, we finally had the opportunity, and they did not disappoint us. It was consistent and identical to their recorded works. Their music can be described as a fusion of mystical Sufi music, atmospheric environments and rhythmic electronic music, adapting Persian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean sounds, with lyrics drawn from various poems of Persia, Palestine, Turkey and the Kurdistan, set to music and performed well and with sensuality by singer Azam Ali. In short, we left pleased after hearing their live music.

Also noteworthy was the concert given by the Egyptian duo formed by the great percussionist Tarek Abdallah, and Adel Shams el Din on Arabic lute (oud). In the same vein, we highlight the local “a capella” quintet Radio Babel Marseille, who presented to us its rich repertoire of traditional and original compositions.

Other showcases featured Senegalese singer Omar Pene, a living legend of the “mbalax” style, a very popular genre in Senegal and Gambia, but already well exploited and which we’ve heard before from the great Senegalese musicians. His performance did not go above average. It was followed in the same large “Salle des Sucres” stage of the by the versatile singer from Cape Verde, Mario Lucio, a musician, writer, painter, and currently the Minister of Culture of the archipelago. He made his presence accompanied by a brand new group, where Mario wore his most important songs.

The remaining concerts scheduled for that night, didn’t have much weight and moreover were preceded by excessive modernity. These included South Korea band, Jambinai, with its noisy and uncreative “post avant-garde rock,” and Portuguese act Batida, who provided something more appropriate for a “modern” disco club. The performance by Beninese female Trio Teriba was weak. The night ended with the presentation of the new Malian group, Songhoy Blues, whose “punk rock” style fused with “desert blues”, did not show us anything new.

 

Warsaw Village Band
Warsaw Village Band

 

Regarding the artistic activity on Friday 27, we highlight what we consider the best concert held in Babel Med 2015, offered by the Polish Warsaw Village Band performing together with Galician singer and multi-instrumentalist, Mercedes Peon (Spain). Being familiar with the beginning of their artistic careers and the musical and vocal characteristics of these two artists from very different cultures, we felt that this musical merger would have a powerful effect, and we were not wrong at all. The compact and spirited music of “alternative folk” (contemporary folk executed with energy and rebelliousness) has little in common with the melancholic American or Anglo “neo-folk” performed by the Warsaw Village Band, combined with the vibrant personal energy of Mercedes Peon, They created a powerful musical force onstage so attractive that it transferred as a hypnotic ray to the expectant public. The magical music we heard, banked between the rhythmic sounds of the two Polish voices and cellists, with the high pitched vocals and electronic beats of the Galician artist, perfectly supported by the rest of the Polish group unfolded. In short, a great concert of contemporary folk music. Still, we witnessed authentic musical hybridization, as well as the first fruits of these two great performers of current European “world music”. For many fellow journalists, especially French and Italians, who did not know the Galician artist, this will cause a big impact. To us she became the “Diva” of this Marseilles event.

 

Unni Lovlid
Unni Lovlid

 

Other fine concerts featured Norwegian singer Unni Lovlid, who despite the unexpected breakdown of her mini electronic equipment, which supplies her beautiful accompanying atmospheres, she showed outstanding professionalism and quality, offering an a capella concert, where her voice completely fascinated us. I do not want to forget my friends from Quebec, Le Vent du Nord, with their charming Quebec folk show, always cheerful and full of rhythm, caused by repetitive footwork as a percussion instrument.

Also great, Argentine virtuoso accordionist Chango Spasiuk, with a wide selection of “chamamé”, the curious traditional musical genre from rural regions between Argentina, Paraguay and southern Brazil.

There was also a splendid duo concert by New York multi-instrumentalist Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate of Guinea, considered the Jimi Hendrix of the “kora”. This couple played for us some of the songs from their latest award-winning CD, “Faya”. Lastly, I’d like to mention the multi-racial dance orchestra, Family Atlantica. Other artists with little to talk about included Spanish guitarist Chicuelo, French singer Françoise Atlan & L’Ensemble in Chordais playing songs of Sephardic Jews, and Lebanese pianist and singer, Bachar Mar-Khalife.

On Saturday, the program was rather dominated by local and regional artists, which brought a large audience turnout. The best concerts we witnessed were the project Saiko Nata, which in Mandinka language means New Vision. This is a Marseilles quartet, with a simple but innovative proposal, a fusion of classical pieces with African rhythms. The African foundation includes Senegalese kora (African harp) player Ousmane Kouyate and Fallou N’Diaye on percussion. Meanwhile, the classical foundation features first the presence of elegant pianist from Lyon, Agathe Di Piro, supported accurately by the bass grooves of Marseilles-based, Alain Rageot.

 

Moussu T e Lei Jovents
Moussu T e Lei Jovents

 

Another awaited concert we were looking forward to was that of Marseilles group Moussu T e Lei Jovents, a band we already knew. This time they delivered their anticipated new show inspired by songs from their land, Provence, and the so called called “operettas” that were sung in the thirties at Marseilles clubs, bars and the more eccentric theatres in the popular Old Port of Marseilles. In short, a cheerful and mischievous repertoire that delighted a totally devoted audience.

Average were the concerts by Portuguese fado singer, Gisela João; the Reunion Island female quintet Simangavole; and Moroccan musician Majid Bekkas & Afro-Oriental Jazz Trio. We were not captivated by the proposal of Israeli group Boom Pam, which was preceded by some good reviews. We found their performance sounded like “modern fairground” music.

There were other artists performing during the three nights, but our schedule did not allow for more, especially the DJ’s scheduled for very late hours.

The five awards that were handed out during BabelMed this year were: Babel Med Award to Senegalese singer Omar Pene and Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur to French program Equation Musique.

The “Adami” prize to Mar-Lebanese pianist Bachar Khalife. The French World Music Award to Belgian violinist’s Tcha Limberger’s Kalotaszeg Trio. The Transatlantic Bridge Prize went to the Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate (USA & Guinea) duo, and the Mundial Montreal award to Quebec act, Le Vent du Nord.

In summary, I give the programming at Babel Med this year a high score. I won’t stop saying that Babel Med is of the very few “world music” conferences where you can discover new artists, or you have the opportunity to see live those whom you only know from their recordings. This was clearly stated on the lines I wrote about the showcases. At this sense, it goes above WOMEX.

During the final press conference, the pair of artistic directors of the event, Mr. Bernard Aubert, and Mr. Sami Sadak, appeared to provide all kinds of information and summarized the good overall development provided by the Forum this year. The formula of balance between “quality and commerciality”, continues to operate under Babel Med Music’s ongoing budget parameter.

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Exib Music 2014 meeting point between the professionals and artists of Latin America and the European music industry

From left to right: Mary Hormaetxea, Communications Director of Exib; Chilean singer Paula Herrera; and Adriana Pedret, Director General of Exib
From left to right: Mary Hormaetxea, Communications Director of Exib; Chilean singer Paula Herrera; and Adriana Pedret, General Manager of Exib

 

From May 8 to 10 this year, Bilbao (Basque Country – Spain) hosted the first Exib Music event. Exib Music is a new European market created with the objective of being a meeting point for professionals and artists from Latin America who seek access to the European music industry, and vice versa.

The program of this first edition featured a hundred musicians in over twenty concerts (showcases), and several round tables, conferences, and a trade show. The site chosen by the organization to celebrate Exib Music was within the premises of “La Alhóndiga”, a former wine warehouse converted into an impressive commercial cultural and entertainment complex located in the center of the capital, designed by Frenchman Philippe Starck, inaugurated in May 2010.

Bilbao is the Basque Country’s largest city and is the capital of the province of Vizcaya, one of the most important and wealthy Spanish industrial areas. It has a population of about 349,350 inhabitants and is a city that in recent years has experienced a great aesthetic and urban change, with large architectural and landscape works, where its new symbol and pinnacle is the spectacular Guggenheim Museum.

The Exib MUSIC opening ceremony was held on May 7 in the afternoon at the Auditorium located on the ground floor of ” La Alhóndiga ” where a show created especially for this opening featured vocalist Silvia Iriondo from Argentina, the duo Oreka TX (Basque chalaparta players), Basque trio Kalankan, and contemporary Basque dance company Dantza Kukai. Since the program indicated that this show was “a meeting of cooperation between cultures”, they got it totally right, because the Iberoamerican-Basque conjunction was carried with elegance and sensitivity, with a vibrant and full rate of pure energy that knew how to transmit and enthuse the audience. Superb.

 

Oreka TX
Oreka TX

 

The overall majority of the main showcases were located on a makeshift stage in the great “hall” of “La Alhóndiga”, close to the main entrance. During these three days the free admission access invited the general public (over 6000, according to the organization) to a very direct approach, to contemplate the various performers who appeared at this venue. There were a few other showcases, nearly all small format, called Exib Music Off, which were distributed throughout different areas of the city.

We’ll go on to talk about what happened on the first day. The highlight on Thursday May 8 was the formidable concert performed by Colombian singer Marta Gomez, whose interpretive charm was able to convey her well-crafted songs, fusing them with tenderness and strength. Definitely the best concert I saw at this showcase. Other concerts worth mentioning include Argentine group Tonolec and Chilean singer Paula Herrera. Tonolec is a band that fuses electronic music with traditional songs, particularly the Toba songs from an indigenous culture in northern Argentina. Chilean singer Paula Herrera’s soft and appealing voice, offered her best repertory. Other concerts held that night included Venezuelan singer Betsayda Machado and Panamanian singer-songwriter Camilo Navarro, better known by his stage name Cienfue.

 

Marta Gomez
Marta Gomez

 

Of all the artistic activity on Friday, May 21, we’ll highlight the Portuguese singer-songwriter Sofia Ribeiro, whose clear and elegant voice told us the joys and sorrows in the different songs she performed. Another notable performer was Basque act Xarnege, a contemporary folk group with a repertoire of popular music of Gascony (southwest France) and the Basque Country, characterized by a vibrant performance. We cannot forget another highlight, the orchestral Cuban Sound Project, led by its charismatic leader, maestro Demetrio Muñiz. Other artists who we got see were Venezuelan singer Jose Alejandro Delgado, Argentine group Hierbacana, and Cuban singer Eme Alfonso.

 

 

 

As far as Saturday concerts, we were pleasantly surprised by the performance by Basque accordionist Xabi Aburruzaga specializing in “trikitixa” (accordion), an artist who was preceded by very good press, and whom we found fully convincing. Another artist that augurs a promising future is the young Canary Islander singer-songwriter from Tenerife, Marta Solis, who offered a concert with a bold and modern approach of songwriting, merging and manipulating her voice with a “harmonizer” or “loop station”, developing nice atmospheres. An interesting proposal that we believe is still in a period of evolution, with vast possibilities which she must investigate further. At the end of her performance I talked to Marta, and dared to describe her with the nickname “the Canary Islands’ Enya” because of her similarity in some parts of her song to the ethereal sound of Enya, the famous Irish singer.

 

 

Mexican group MonoBlanco offered an interesting concert because of its cultural contrast, as well as the Basque duo of “improvisers” Igor Elortza and Miren Amuriza. There were also discrete performances by Andalusian artist Amparo Sanchez and Aragonese singer Carmen Paris.

The conferences, workshops, presentations and panel discussions were very successful and followed with great interest. The high spot was the conference / meeting with professionals presented by Mr. Gabriel Abaroa (President of the Latin Grammys). Of all the roundtables we highlight the “Projection of Latin American Music in the European Agora”, coordinated by Berlin journalist Johannes Theurer (Head of the World Music Charts Europe and the “World Music” Workshop of the European Broadcasting Union – EBU.

 

Albert Reguant (WMCE member in Catalonia), Johannes Theurer (Radio Berlin, founder and head of WMCE), singer Marta Gomez, and Drago Vovk (WMCE member National Radio of Slovenia).
Albert Reguant (WMCE member in Catalonia), Johannes Theurer (Radio Berlin, founder and head of WMCE), singer Marta Gomez, and Drago Vovk (WMCE member National Radio of Slovenia).

 

Nor can we forget the nice gesture that the organizers had to invite all the delegates who wanted to visit the Guggenheim Museum with the opportunity to see a retrospective of the works of Japan’s Yoko Ono, and part of the great work by Brazilian artist, Ernesto Neto, among others exposed.

As a final balance of Exib MUSIC I’ll transcribe the statements of its General Manager, Adriana Pedret: “I’m proud to share the results of the first edition of Exib Music – Expo Iberoamericana Music, Bilbao 2014 and in line with our goals for the second edition in May 2015. Three intense days with the forum, live concerts, events and Off [performances] have brought together professionals from throughout the world around Latin American music, with the aim of adding options for dissemination, distribution and projection. Bilbao’s public was an active part of this musical celebration, which turned this professional platform into a true cultural celebration, laden with social meaning, diversity and with a special emphasis on identity. Now after this first 2014 edition, Exib Music begins its journey in the consolidation of an annual event that contributes qualitative interaction and cooperation between Latin America and the world, from Bilbao, and with music as a framework.”

Now for the founders of Exib Music, Adriana Pedret and María Hormaetxea, have the most difficult job. First, draw conclusions from this first edition to improve the next one. Second, publicize the event with more momentum, and finally take care of the original philosophy and continuity because from the beginning the idea was always good. They have going for them this first step, and above all, a nice, quiet city like Bilbao, worth discovering. Moving forward.

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Impressions of Babel Med Music 2014

Babel_Med_2014The tenth edition of Babel Med Music Forum – Forum des Musiques du Monde was held in the French city of Marseilles from March 20 to 22, 2014. It’s considered the second largest European Congress for world music, after WOMEX.

As a reminder, we need to recall that during the previous edition in 2013 the forum took place in the context of Marseilles as European Cultural Capital, a fact that led to very high levels in all its activities, while this year the figures have returned to similar numbers as in previous years, without suffering significant variants. The organizers gave us the following figures: 12,000 concert goers in the three nights of concerts. As far as registrations, 2,000 professionals registered and there were 160 stands (booths) in the trade fair.

The venue that hosted the Forum was, as in previous editions, the Dock-du-Suds. This industrial building converted to new uses is located near the new harbor, within an area of modern buildings and new hotels, where every time we attend we can see the great urban changes that are occurring in this Marseilles neighborhood.

This year, the concerts were hosted only in three stages. The largest of these, the “Salle des sucres” presented larger format groups. In the same building, the “Cabaret” space showcased the more acoustic and intimate concerts and well as the ethno-electronic performances. Meanwhile the third stage called “Chapiteau” , was located in a huge tent outside the building.

In the area of conferences, round tables and presentations we counted 20, some of them quite busy and followed with interest, due to the great concern about today’s music industry.

Of a total of 34 concerts scheduled, I’ll mentioned the ones that impressed me the most:

On Thursday March 20, the highlight for many of us journalists and programmers, probably the best showcase during this edition was undoubtedly Fargana Qasimova Ensemble, a quartet led by singer Fargana Qasimova, daughter of legendary musician Alim Qasimov, a leading cultural figure of Azerbaijan. The performance that lasted forty-five minutes straight without interruption was magical and hypnotic, highlighting above all Fargana’s performance.

 

Fargana Qasimova - Photo by Sebastian Schutyser - Aga Khan Foundation
Fargana Qasimova – Photo by Sebastian Schutyser – Aga Khan Foundation

 

Also noteworthy were the concerts performed by Sissy Zhou, and Mor Karbasi. Young Chinese instrumentalist Sissy Zhou, specializing in Chinese zither, showed us her elegant virtuosity with this ancient Asian oriental instrument, treating us to beautiful musical landscapes. The Israeli singer resident in Seville, Mor Karbasi, who came preceded by good press, is nicknamed “The modern Ladino diva” and did not disappoint. During her performance she offered a wide variety of songs from her extensive repertoire, wearing a transparent and clear voice.

 

Mor Karbasi
Mor Karbasi

 

Other concerts were held that night, but without any weight, by Lebanese musician Rabih Abou-Khalil, an Arabic lute master. Cape Verde singer Neuza, Tuareg/Algerian Imzad, and Finnish harmonica quartet Svang, among others.

The artistic activity on Friday, March 21 was arguably the weakest of the program. We highlight the performance of Malian group Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba. Other artists that we saw but who did not present anything new, was Italian songwriter Gianmaria Testa, the Dutch group Amsterdam Klezmer Band, Portuguese singer Lula Pena, Kurdish ensemble Nishtiman, and were disappointed by the commercial ethno-pop of Rita, an Iranian singer living in Israel. Of the three electro-ethno proposals, Arash Khalatbari from Reunion Island; Peruvian trio Dengue, Dengue, Dengue; and Breton artist Klismen, none of them offered anything creative, here we will rely on the phrase “much ado about nothing.”

 

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba

 

The picture changed during Saturday and the bar was raised for great concerts. Particularly the following artists: the acoustic act Duo Sabil and French string quartet Quator Béla, who showed us with sensitivity and quality, the poetic musical harmony that can exist between East and West. The spectacular staging of Kenyan female vocal quartet Gargar. We vibrated and danced with the good show by Ve Zou Via, played dynamically by two polyphonic groups, the Provencal / Occitan ensemble Lo Cor de la Plana and female quartet Assurd, from Naples. We liked Marseilles’ singer born in the Comoros Islands, Ahamada Smis, accompanied by two great instrumentalists, who performed his repertoire of protest and social songs.

 

Gargar - Photo by Christian Pizafy
Gargar – Photo by Christian Pizafy

 

At a somewhat lower level, Maya Kamaty from Reunion Island, her artistic proposal between French music and pop, was marred by an excessive electric accompaniment; and South American expats living in Barcelona Che Sudaka, with their mestizo / Latin rock entertained the party animal crowd.

The five awards were handed out during Babel Med this year were: Babel Med Award and Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region to Gianmaria Testa and Rabih Abou- Khalil.

“Adami” World Music Award to Krismenn. Mondomix Magazine Award to Krismenn. France World Music Award to Gargar, and the Orange Foundation Award to Mor Karbasi.

In short, we can give a remarkably high score to Babel Med’s programming this year. It is of the very few world music congresses, I would say almost unique, where you can discover new artists, or where you have the opportunity to see live those whom you only know from their recordings.

On the whole, we can say that the festival management trio, Chastanier-Sami-Aubert, know how to operate a compact event, with a development that allows them to open new perspectives, and stand firm in each edition of Babel Med Music.

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Temple Bar Tradfest 2014

TempleBar_Dublin2014A new edition of Temple Bar TradFest was held in Dublin (Ireland) from 22 to 26 January, 2014. Temple Bar TradFest is one of the most important and dynamic showcases for Celtic music. Since its beginning in 2005, this unique festival in Dublin has been growing and gaining a well-deserved international reputation, becoming a reference point and an encounter to enjoy the best ancient and contemporary traditional music of the countries with Celtic roots.

For neophytes, we’ll clarify that the “Temple Bar” is the name of a district in central Dublin, where most of the “pubs” and cultural activities are concentrated. Nights are spectacularly agitated by the large number of all types of people. If you want, you can discover it through its webcam:
earthcam.com/world/ireland/dublin/?cam=templebar.

This festival, lasting five days, was created and organized by The Temple Bar Company, exclusively designed to promote Irish music. In fact, anyone who has visited Ireland knows that it is common to see musical performances within different “pubs” scattered throughout the country. Furthermore, the fact of having this event in its capital Dublin, benefits this city considerably, since previously it didn’t have any similar event.

Altan
Altan

The program for this year had its relevance on Saturday the 25th, with a concert by the Irish band Altan in the magnificent Cathedral of Saint Patrick, where they commemorated the life and music of its founding member Frankie Kennedy, who died of cancer 20 years ago at the premature age of 38. Several friends of the group participated in this concert, such as the as the pairing of violinist Dermot Diamond and flutist Tara Diamond. Also vocalist Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill and her sister Triona Ní Dhomhnaill, a well-known singer and pianist who played in legendary groups such as Skara Brae, The Bothy Band, Touchstone, and the most famous Nightnoise. All these big names in the Irish scene shared the stage with American songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, one of the favorite singers of the late Frankie.

Altan’s concert was at all-time a very emotional moment. Band founder and vocalist Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, who was Frankie’s wife in his later years, was the host and presenter of this whole concert. Certainly at each moment with her vibrant words she provided an anecdote or story related to deceased bandmate. The highlights came at the end, where all the musicians and guest singers came on stage, beginning with an intimate and poetic M.C. Carpenter song, “The Moon and St. Christopher”, ending this lovely remembrance and tribute to the figure of Frankie Kennedy with a series of vivacious jigs that overjoyed all participants and got a standing ovation from the audience.

 

Bellowhead
Bellowhead

 

As for the other scheduled concerts, the one that undoubtedly attracted me was Bellowhead, an orchestral group of which I had very good references, especially from my British colleagues, plus the endorsement of the 2011 BBC award to best live band. The concert was held at The Button Factory club that was packed. Bellowhead surprised me and captivated me from beginning to end. This contemporary folk orchestra was created by singer and fiddler Jon Boden and accordionist John Spiers, and features a brass section of four, a drummer, a guitarist, two fiddlers, and an excellent cellist, Rachael McShane.

Their music is a fusion of different styles and influences from traditional British folk of different areas, traditional dances, minimalist music (Spiro, Michael Nyman), and the “shanty ” an old style of sailor work songs. All this combined plus its own personality raised by the group, resulting in a distinctive British sound, while creating an impressive show.

For more information about this festival go to http://www.templebartrad.com

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Babel Méd Music 2013 Sets High Bar

Mariem Hassan, the great Diva of Babel Med 2013 - Photo by Lucia Dominguez
Mariem Hassan, the great Diva of Babel Med 2013 – Photo by Lucia Dominguez
The 9th edition of Babel Méd Music – Forum des Musiques du Monde music conference took place March 21-23 in Marseilles (France), consolidating itself as the second largest world music congress in Europe, after WOMEX.

This year, the forum was set in the context of Marseilles as European cultural Capital for 2013. This led to an increase of 1000 additional concertgoers with over 16.000 spectators during the three nights of the event. The Babel Méd Music trade fair had over 164 booths (stalls), 1 more than last year. Registered participants were the same as in the past two years, with 2.500 registrations.

The venue for the Forum was the same as in previous occasions, the Dock-du-Suds. The industrial warehouse renovated for new uses is located near the new port, in an area of modern buildings and new hotels, where you can partially see the great urban renewal that this part of town is experiencing.

Quebecois group De Temps Antan, one of Babel Med's highlights
Quebecois group De Temps Antan, one of Babel Med’s highlights
During this edition, concerts took place in four stages. The largest of all was “Salle des Sucres”, which showcased the large format acts. In the same building, the “Cabaret” space was located next to the projection room, restaurant, bars and areas reserved for VIPs. This was the venue for acoustic and intimate concerts. The other two stages were situated under two large tents outside the building.

The conferences and round tables this year totaled 18 and registered the same expectation as the ones in previous years with the same quality and anticipation as far as content and the selection of its speakers. The most interesting included the presentation of NGO Freemuse, the Project of artistic exchange and cooperation between European regions, and the current troubles affecting Malian musicians caused by the war in their country.

Of all the acts that played Thursday, March 18, I’d ike to highlight the performance by Quebecois group De Temps Antan, because of their energy, great melodies and rhythms created with only three acoustic instruments. Also notable was the spectacular concert by The Alaev Famly from Tajikistan. Other artists who deserve attention were the disturbing Italian singer-songwriter Vinicio Capossela, the unique vocals of Guinean singer Sia Tolno and Spanish group Coetus, led by Eliseo Parra.

The artistic activity on March 19 was undoubtedly the best of the entire program. I’d like to mention four outstanding artists: the virtuosity of Turkish trio Taksim Trio; the sensibility of the duo formed by Senegalese kora master Ablaye Cissoko and German trumpeter Volker Goetze; the musical poetry of Iranian singer Mohammad Motamedi; and lastly, Saharawi singer Mariem Hassan. With her great personality she became the undisputed Diva of Babel 2013. Also worth mentioning is Hungarian quintet Söndörgö.

Of all the concerts that took place on Saturday, March 20, Albanian singer Elina Duni stood out. Her voice, accompanied by three refined Swiss musicians performed a fine concert fusing traditional Albanian music with the best of contemporary music. Another group that stood out was the multicultural collective from Marseilles called Cie Rassegna.

There were many other groups from various countries, primarily ethnic pop bands. This demonstrated the great balance carried out by the organizers between high quality selected showcases and festive music.

I only have compliments for this 9th edition of Babel Méd Music, especially because of its acoustic music side.

During the final press conference, executive director Mr. Bernard Aubert, artistic director Mr. Sami Sadak and the forum’s delegate general Ms. Florence Chastanier, spoke to the media with professional pride, summarizing the great development of the conference this year and its widespread approval.

I think that the high bar set this year by Babel Med will bring even more relevance in future years.

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Vibrant Italian Indie Rock and Folk Music at MEDIMEX 2012 in Italy

Faraualla, one the highlights of the showcase - Photo by Albert Reguant
Faraualla, one the highlights of the showcase – Photo by Albert Reguant
MEDIMEX (Mediterranean Music Expo) took place November 29 through December 2 of 2012 in Bari, Italy. It is fundamentally the only Italian music trade show dedicated to independent pop-rock and folk music. It includes concerts, conferences, showcases and a trade fair. MEDIMEX becomes a point of encounter for record labels, festivals, booking agencies, cultural institutions, and even musical instrument manufacturers.

The event is organized by the region of Puglia in Italy, a country that is going through a great cultural and artistic period, thanks in great part to the cultural sensibility demonstrated by its elected leaders in recent years.

This territory located in the south of the great Italian peninsula is also known as the “heel of Italy’s boot.” Bari is the region’s historic capital, with 320.000 inhabitants.

 Stefano Saletti, another highpoint
Stefano Saletti, another highpoint
The “Fiera de Levante”, a space located in the port area of the city, was the venue hosting the majority of the events. On Thursday evening, November 29th, the event had its opening ceremony at the grand Teatro Petruzzelli. It was none other than a tribute concert for the late singer-songwriter Domenico Modugno, a popular artist from the 1950s and 60s, a native of this region of Puglia, who died of a heart attack in 1994, at age 66.

With a full theater, and under the title “Meraviglioso Modugno”, the leading artists from the Italian music scene got on stage to perform Modugno’s most significant songs. The artists included Ginevra di Marco, the band Raiz & Radicanto, vocalist Dente, the group Negramaro, and singer Mama Marjas.

Of all the 23 concerts scheduled, I’ll list the highlights. To begin with, I was impressed with quality of the female “a capella” act called Faraualla that features four excellent vocalists from the Puglia region.

Another high point was Stefano Saletti & Piccola Banda Ikona, from the Lazio region, who performed outstanding songs from their popular album “Folkpolitik”.

Of all the international artists invited, Slovenian vocalist Magnifico stood out with his spectacular and provocative stage show. And also Moroccan Aziz Sahmaoui & University of Gnawa, with his hypnotic beats.

Lastly, in the pop-rock are, I was pleasantly surprised by the theatrical pop-rock of Roman band Management del Dolore Post – Operatorio, with the electrifying personality of its singer Luca Romagnoli.

I can’t leave out other memorable concerts. First, the effective Neapolitan saxophonist Enzo Avitabile & Bottari; the local urban music project Insintesi, who delighted us with their “ethno-dub salentino” together with three popular singers of which Anna Cinzia Villani stood out. Also the folk rock band Kalàscima, from Lecce; and the orchestral ensemble from the Bari area, Municipale Balcanica.

MEDIMEX is one of those congresses that leaves an imprint for various reasons. Possibly, it is an encounter that transmits the enthusiasm, pride and dynamism of all the people involved in planning the event the organization, starting with the President of the Region of Puglia, Mr. Nichi Vendola, a great example of management and passion for the cultural policy of his region and Italy in general. Now we can understand the thrust of this vibrant southern music that is present in specialized European radio and the most important world music festivals in the planet.

To summarize, if the creation of this music market in southern Italy has the purpose of activating the new Italian independent pop-rock and folk music, it is definitely achieving it.

More about MEDIMEX at pugliasounds.it/medimex/en/

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Review of the 15th Fira Mediterrània de Manresa

Evo
Evo, one of the highlights
The “Fira Mediterrània – Factoría d’Arrel” took place November 8-11 of 2012 in the Catalan city of Manresa. As its program indicates, this is a market that presents new artistic creations inspired by the Catalan tradition or the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

Before discussing the event, I think it’s worth providing some information about where this city is located.

Manresa is 60 Km from Barcelona, nearly in the geographical center of the historic community of Catalonia (Spain), and very close to the Montserrat mountain, a mountain that special significance to the Catalan people. The Benedictine Monastery of Montserrat is located there. You can still find on exhibit at the monastery the famous “Llibre Vermell (Red Book), which contains a valuable collection of songs and liturgical chants from the Middle Age.

Once that sets the background, we’ll continue writing about this music market.

In this market there are four disciplines exhibited; music, theater, circus and dance, with a total of 100 presentations. The main objective of this trade fair is to be a great showcase and a point of encounter for presenters and artists, to facilitate the booking of these showcases for the entire world.

The majority of the shows [programmed come from the various Catalan-speaking or Catalan dialect territories, although there are also acts that come from other parts of the Mediterranean Sea, such as Italia, Israel, Andalusia (Spain), Turkey, Corsica, Egypt, Occitania and Sardinia, or even from places that are in the Mediterranean such as the Basque Country, Poland, Belgium and Iraq.

EVO performance at the cathedral - Photo by Anna Brugués
EVO performance at the cathedral – Photo by Anna Brugués
This new edition introduced a new artistic director, David Ibáñez, a performing arts manager with a long career and well known in Catalonia for his artistic and music presenting activity in Girona. With his arrival, the Fira went back to an open and dynamic character, taking good care of its guests, specially the arts presenters and journalists, from Spain and abroad.

The Fira took place at the Museo de la Tecnica de Manresa (Manresa Technical Museum), a remodeled building from 1861 that used to house the water tanks from the city and its industry. It now serves a textile museum. In this space you could find side by side the booths, conferences, seminars, presentations, media center and registration.

The events took place in various parts of the city including the Kursaal Theater, the El Sielu club, the La Seu cathedral, and the Taverna tent, among others.

Of all the concerts that I attended, three stood out. The first was a Catalan/Valencian Medieval music project called Evo, led by Valencian multi-instrumentalist Efrén López, flutist Miriam Encinas Laffitte from Girona, Laia Puig Olives on woodwinds, and the surprising Valencian vocalist Iván López Sanz. This performance took place in a beautiful corner of the Manresa cathedral, which favored the atmosphere and good sound to enjoy the show. Evo’s performance was brilliant, playing their instruments with elegance and virtuosity, fitting everything in a living and current aesthetic.

In second place, the Girona-based band Els Berros De La Cort, presented its latest show called “Los Nostres Vices e Pecats” at the “El Sielu” club. Its concert was spectacular and effective, with a compelling sound of percussion, wind instruments, such as the tarota (folk oboe), dulzainas (double reed instruments), bagpipes and hurdy gurdies. International delegates were surprised and enthusiastic about the concert.

In third place, Valencian vocalist Mara Aranda with her group Solatge. She delighted us with pieces from her new album “Lo Testament”.

Other interesting performances included Gypsy singer Antonio “Sicus” Carbonell from Barcelona’s Gracia district, the show by the Cobla Catalana dels Sons Essencials together with the Esbart Joaquim Ruyra from Blanes, Aragonese band Maut, Castilian group Fetén Fetén, Madrid-based Zoobazar, local act Àniam, Corsican polyphony group Tempvs Fvgit, singer-songwriter Xavi Múrcia from Sabadell, and female a capella quartet De Calaix from the Ampurdan region.

Other well-known artists performed at the Fira, such as Israeli Singer Noa and Polish band Kroke.

My personal assessment of the Fira Mediterrània – Factoría d’Arrel, is that this new edition has gained good momentum and, taking into account the current times of crisis in the music sector, the Fira must maintain this level and, specially, expand the basic international routes, with more programmers as well as mass media professionals.

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WOMEX Thessaloniki 2012 Review

Entrance to WOMEX 2012 trade fair pavilion
Photo by Albert Reguant
From October 17th through October 21st, the annual world music gathering WOMEX (Worldwide Music Expo) took place in Thessaloniki (Greece). This itinerant international congress celebrated its 18th edition. After staying in Copenhagen during the last three years, we were able to enjoy once more another southern European region, warm and with a lot of history. Prior to Copenhagen, the event took place in Berlin, Brussels, Marseille, Stockholm, Rotterdam, Essen, Newcastle and Sevilla.

For a few years now, this grand congress has become the focal point of encounter for professionals in this genre: artists, managers, production companies, record labels, journalists, public agencies and institutions, festivals and publications.

In Thessaloniki we had the opportunity to see some of the most significant Greek artists and make contact with the best professionals from the Greek world music industry.

Greek star Savina Yannatou during the opening concert
Photo by Yannis Psathas
Thessaloniki, capital of central Macedonia, is located in the center of the Thermaic Gulf, in the Aegean Sea coast. If you include its metropolitan area, it has around 1.200.000 inhabitants. It is therefore, the second largest city in Greece and its main industrial center. In addition, and you can breathe this in its nightlife, it has one of the most important university centers in the country.

The location selected by the organizers to celebrate WOMEX was some of the pavilions of the extensive fairgrounds of Heliexpo, a great space located at one of the edges of the city.

The balance of participants in this 18th edition was similar to the previous event. According to organizers, the total number included 2200 delegates from 90 countries, with 245 booths.

There were 61 showcases with a total number of 350 artists from 50 different countries divided in 5 stages; 70 conference panelists in 20 different sessions; and 13 screenings in the WOMEX Film Market.

Despite the crisis in the industry, this new edition demonstrated the importance of the commercial side of the event that continues to be vital for professionals in this field. The artistic lineup was of medium quality and, in my opinion, inferior to previous editions. Some members of the selection jury (the so called 7 Samurais) were not up to standard for such a reputable event.

Mor Karbasi
Photo by Yannis Psathas
In the area of discussions, the majority of conferences were focused on technical and legal issues, as in previous years. The rest were somewhat mediocre. As far as presentations, highlights included the promotion of the music of Peru; the “Mediterranean Music Expo” to be held in Bari, capital of the Italian region of Puglia; and WOMEX 2014, which will take in Santiago de Compostela.

On Wednesday, October 17th in the evening, there was the traditional WOMEX opening concert, at the Megaron Musikis of Thessalonini, a grand concert hall with beautiful Byzantine artwork. At the beginning of the event, various local officials welcomed the delegates. Anna Pötzsch, WOMEX’s head of PR and communications closed this part of the event. Next came the inaugural concert, a tribute to legendary singer Roza Eskenazi (Istanbul 1897 – Athens 1980), also known as “the queen of rebetiko” (rebetiko, for those who don’t know, is a local Greek musical genre which is comparable, in a certain way, to Portuguese fado, Argentine tango or American blues).

On stage, the instrumentalists of the “My Sweet Canary Ensemble” (this is title of a popular song written by Roza Eskenazi), accompanied with great skill the four “divas” that represented the various cultures that lived in harmony in this Hellenic city. There was the Athenian singer Yota Nega, Turkish vocalist Mehtap Demir, young Israeli singer specialized in Sephardic music, Mor Karbasi, and world renowned Greek singer Savina Yannatou, an artist with deep roots in Thessaloniki. All of them shared songs individually or accompanied sometimes by Greek group Apsiles.

Undoubtedly, it was the most exciting WOMEX opening I can remember because of its cultural respect concept and epic musical romanticism, for the superb performances of the four singers, and for its message of peace ad harmony.

Eva Ayllon
Photo by Jacob Crawfurd
The highlight above all on Thursday, October 18th, was the concert by the contemporary folk ensemble from Bosnia – Herzegovina called Divanhana, led by the subtle vocals of its singer, Leila Catic. Another standout was the energy of Salento-based Italian band Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino; the violin and zither virtuosity of Serbian (of Hungarian ancestry) musician Félix Lajkó; Greek vocalist and oud player Martha Mavroidi with her trio, and the exoticism of Sami singer Niko Valkeapää. Ohers acts worth mentioning include Vieux Farka Touré & Idan Raichel, and Finn band Tsuumi Sound System.

Of all the artistic activity on Friday October 19th, I liked Turkish ensemble Café Aman Istanbul; new English singer-songwriter, Sam Lee; veteran Peruvian singer Eva Ayllon, and Salentine singer Antonio Castrignanò. Also notable was the performance by Greek artist Babis Papadopoulos.

DakhaBrakha
Photo by Yannis Psathas
High points on Saturday, October 20th include the outstanding Ukrainian quartet, DakhaBrakha, the best band I saw at WOMEX this year. Formed in 2004 at the Contemporary Art Center in Kiev, its music experiments with traditional melodies from its country, together with minimalist music and electronic rhythms, generating strong and persuasive music that is modern and absolutely hypnotic. A real surprise and discovery.

Other highlights include elegant Cape Verdian singer Nancy Vieira; the roots minimalism of Greek oud player Michalis Tzouganakis; the powerful Balkan rhythms of Serbian trumpeters Boban & Marko Markovic Orchestra; the new Turkish music of Gevende, and Brazilian act Graveola e o lixo polifónico. The only Spanish band selected to showcase was Lenacay, who had a very weak performance, with little creativity, full of musical clichés used by many other bands, using repeatedly the tired “Barcelona brand” perhaps with too much frivolity and opportunism. A show made for tourists and party dancers.

There were many more groups from various countries, primary ensembles that presented their respective showcases, with an extremely “light” sound, and repetitive dance rhythms, that could be found in any African, Latin American or Balkan country. In summary, with no musical personality.

Värttinä
Photo by Yannis Psathas
On Sunday morning we had the annual award ceremony. The WOMEX 2012 Artist Award went to Finnish band Värttinä. The institutional award was given to Russian journalist and cultural activist Alexander “Sasha” Cheparukhin. Finally, the award to best record company, which is given by “World Music Charts Europe”, was presented to Lusafrica (France).

At WOMEX in Thessaloniki we noticed that there weren’t enough Greek artists, although one understands that due to the deep crisis that the country is going through, they were not in the mood to invest in risky promotions. Nothing to comment about the organization, which was adequate. On the other hand, our pockets appreciated the economic difference as far as meals and hotels, compared with the previous WOMEX held in Denmark.

Now, we look forward to Cardiff, where the next WOMEX will be held. There, we will certainly enjoy Welsh good humor and its traditional music.

I would also like to congratulate our colleague, Greek journalist Giorgos Markakis, one the people involved in bringing WOMEX to his country.

Translated by World Music Central‘s Angel Romero

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