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.
In recent interviews arranged over a week, I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. L. Subramaniam (legendary violinist in Indian classical and Western styles), his son Ambi Subramaniam (also an accomplished violinist) and daughter Bindu Subramaniam (vocalist in Indian and soft rock styles).
Their annual performances at the Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival in Bangalore are a huge draw (see my earlier writeups from 2014 and 2012). They also teach Indian classical and Western music at SaPa (Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts).
Fusion: India and the world
Early cultural collaborations between India and the West included Uday Shankar (who also included dance). “India has two classical music systems – Hindustani and Carnatic,” says Dr. Subramaniam. He started collaboration with Western, African, Australian and East Asian musicians from the 1970s onwards.
“Interpretation of music from different cultures creates harmony and peace,” he said. “Music is an expression of emotion, and successful collaboration blends knowledge with respect,” he explained.
As one of his memorable collaborations, he cites ‘Sangeet Sangam,’ performed along with vocalist Pandit Jasraj. It consists of only the aalap section and features no percussion.
Dr. Subramaniam’s most recent project is Bharat Symphony, composed to celebrate 70 years of India’s Independence. It premiered at the Chicago World Music Festival, and was performed with the London Symphony Orchestra last month.
“The movements reflect four major periods of Indian heritage: the prehistoric Vedic period, Mughal period, British colonial era, and post-Independence period,” he explained. The performances also featured Kavita Krishnamurti Subramaniam (vocals), Dhulipala Srirama Murthy (mridangam), and Tanmoy Bose (tabla).
Dr. Subramaniam’s son Ambi and daughter Bindu were of course exposed to musical collaborations right from their childhood days; they recalled seeing musicians like Herbie Hancock in their living room. “Fusion is normal,” they joked.
They explained how jazz lends itself well to collaboration with Indian classical music, thanks to the commonality of improvisation and call-and-response interaction. All three musicians have collaborated with Western folk musicians as well, from Scandinavian countries like Norway.
Ambi has also collaborated with gypsy musicians on guitar, violin and cimbalon, fondly recalling some amazing spontaneous jam sessions while on tour in Europe. Vocalist Bindu cites as influences Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Al Jareau.
The group SubraMania, formed by Ambi and Bindu, released its first single and music video ‘Days in the Sun’ in 2015. The single is dedicated to the late great keyboardist George Duke, with whom they had earlier collaborated.
Technology and travel
Digital media have rapidly disrupted the music industry. “CD sales are not the benchmark for a band’s success anymore,” according to Ambi and Bindu. The Internet, however, is great for promoting music and coordinating activities around concerts.
Streaming video and audio have led to music consumption “on tap.” This applies to NetFlix as well as the Indian music app Twaang. For example, SubraMania’s debut album, ‘You Were There,’ is available on Twaang. All instructional audio content of SaPa is accessible for free on Twaang. SaPa’s initiatives reach over 12,000 students between 3-16 years old across South India.
The musicians travel around the world for recordings and collaborations. “I can compose music on the plane also,” says Bindu. “The drone sound of the engine is like a tanpura,” she jokes.
The future of music
The future of music is in education and collaboration, according to Ambi and Bindu, who both teach at the SaPa school. “It is important to build a good ecosystem which immerses young students in different musical traditions,” they urge.
The school gives scholarships to talented but needy students. Ambi and Bindu also urge music venues to give discounted tickets and passes for students. Musicians around the world have great respect for Indian music, all three musicians observe across generations.
While some classical musicians may look down on other forms of music, Ambi and Bindu urge listeners and performers not too be too judgemental about other genres, and appreciate how they connect to different kinds of audience. “Don’t get trapped in narrow-minded categories,” they advise.
“Chase good music and focus on outstanding performances – don’t just chase social media views,” Ambi and Bindu joke. Music represents a path of growth for musicians and for society, and it is truly blessed to become a musician, Ambi and Bindu sign off.
About the artists:
Dr. L. Subramaniam is a leading exponent of Indian classical and fusion violin, and has performed and recorded South Indian classical music as well as Western classical. His international collaborations have included Yehudi Menuhin, Stephane Grappelli, Stevie Wonder, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Herbie Hancock, Joe Sample, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Al Jarreau, Jean Luc Ponty, and Billy Cobham.
Ambi Subramaniam gave his first violin performance at the tender age of seven; he has played violin in Western and Indian styles along with Larry Coryell, Ernie Watts, Corky Siegel and Shankar Mahadevan. He has performed along with orchestras in France, South Africa and Austria.
Bindu Subramaniam wrote her first song at seven and has been performing since age twelve. She blends soft rock and jazz elements with traditional Indian music. Bindu has performed alongside artists like Al Jarreau, George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham, Hariharan, and Remo Fernandes.
Goa Gil is a San Francisco musician, DJ and party organiser now based in Goa. He is one of the founders of the Goa trance and psytrance movement in electronic dance music. His influences include the hippie movement, acid rock and early electronic music such as Kraftwerk.
His staple mix of outdoor electronic dance parties with Eastern mystical and spiritual overtones have become legend in the trance circles. Gil’s music attempts to “redefine the ancient tribal ritual for the 21st century”.
The 11 tracks of this album span over 70 minutes, and will put you right in the heart of the throbbing pulse of electronic trance.
This CD showcases New Age guru Prem Joshua’s versatile multi-instrumental skills. The lineup also includes Manish Vyas (vocals), Jo Shiro Shunyam (guitar), Rishi Viote (percussion) and Chintan Relenberg (bass).
A fine mid-tempo blend of Indian ragas and smooth jazz, the 10 tracks make for a nice mellow and positive mood. The tracks are largely instrumental, and we would recommend the opening track Raja’s Ride and the percussion piece Jungle.
After his fruitful collaboration with master Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy on the best selling album Flamenco Arabe, flamenco guitar virtuoso Rafa El Tachuela returns with a masterpiece of work, a collection of romantic and beautiful compositions in Flamenco Romantico.
The moods evoked on the 12 instrumental tracks range from harmony and longing to quarrels and beauty. Born in Berlin, Rafa El Tachuela began teaching himself flamenco guitar at the age of thirteen.
He has toured through Europe as a soloist. Our picks on this album include the upbeat Con Temperamento and the Arabic-tinged Juntos en la Inspiracion.
Grammy Award winner Ricky Kej recently organized and performed at The RoundGlass Samsara Festival in Bangalore, focused on environmental sustainability and nature conservation. He joins in this exclusive interview from his home in Bangalore.
As part of the multi-disciplinary festival, film screenings and art exhibitions were held at the Sublime Art Gallery and National Gallery of Modern Art, showcasing art about nature. A conference was held on environmental conservation, with speakers such as President Anote Tong of Kiribati, who highlighted the disastrous climate change effects in the Pacific islands.
The Samsara Concert featured other performers as well, such as Darlene Koldenhoven and Wouter Kellerman (Grammy Award winners), Lonnie Park (Grammy nominee), Hai Phuong (virtuoso on the Vietnamese zither, dan tranh), Venugopal (tabla maestro), Raveolution String Section, Suma Sudhindra (veena exponent) and B. Jayashree (theatre actor and singer).
Ricky has won a range of awards and distinctions such as the United Nations Global Humanitarian Artist Award, Producer of the Year at the South African Music Awards, Album of the Year at the Zone Music Awards (New Orleans), Centre for Conscious Creativity ‘FutureVision’ Award (Los Angeles), Mirchi Music Awards (India), as well as ‘Pride of Karnataka’ and ‘Youth Icon of India.’
His earlier albums include The Shanti Orchestra and Shanti Samsara, as well as the benefit album 2 Unite All with Peter Gabriel (aimed at humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza). The album Winds of Samsara won a Grammy in 2015; it was a collaboration with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman. Shanti Samsara was launched at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.
Tracks from Shanti Samsara were performed at the Bangalore festival, which was held at the government legislative centre Vidhana Soudha. In this interview, Ricky shares his visions and insights into the connections between music, artistic collaboration, nature, spirituality and global environmental consciousness.
How do you view the connection between music and nature?
There is a deep relationship between music and nature. Music began as the sounds of nature, and early instruments were derived from nature. Only later did academic, professional, mass market and electronic elements come in.
I strongly believe that all artists have an obligation to use their work to make this world a better place. The threat to our environment is progressively getting worse. Musicians play an important role in creating conversations about our world. It is important for musicians and artists today to be on the right side of history. Art can be used to celebrate bio-diversity, and also showcase ecological impacts.
What was it like to perform at the Vidhana Soundha?
It is one thing to play at concert venues and hotels, but another thing altogether to perform right where policymakers are. That is why our recent Bangalore concert was held at the Vidhana Soudha, so that government officials could be exposed to the important messages about conservation right at their workplace.
I have always dreamed of performing at this venue and have known it right from my childhood. We began planning this festival way back in December last year.
I performed twice at the United Nations General Assembly. My work has been encouraged by India’s prime minister, and I have performed for heads of state in the audience. Music and art can go beyond speeches and pamphlets, and evoke messages at a deeper level. Musicians have the gift of art and communication.
Who are some of the music influences in your life?
My influences include Pandit Ravi Shankar, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, AR Rahman, Wouter Kellerman, Hugh Masakela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and others.
How is technology transforming your work these days?
On the one hand, technology has helped with reducing costs of production of music. Digital technology has helped promote my music and the movement for conservation. The rapid growth of technology also means you have to keep learning on the job.
While consumers benefit from getting access to lots of music, they also need to work hard at filtering what’s out there and finding what appeals to them. Many consumers are just content with getting music ‘pushed’ at them. Discovery gives thrill but takes work. Curators play an important role here.
What do you when you take a holiday from your hectic music career?
I have not had a holiday in over 11 years! What would I do on a holiday – nothing? I can’t imagine that; music is my everything, and I am devoted to conservation. Even when I am not making music, I am listening to new music.
Even during my travels I have not done typical ‘touristy’ things. I go to New York city six times a year but have yet to see the Statue of Liberty!
What kinds of collaboration are needed to promote environmental awareness?
Everything is inter-connected. The Amazon jungles are the lungs of the world, generating 20% of our oxygen. Global warming is already affecting the Pacific Islands with rising water levels, many of those countries stand no chance unless drastic action is taken today.
Society needs more spiritual balance. There should be more commitment to conserve nature, beyond mere compliance with regulations. This begins with encouraging children to think positively about nature. Scientific advice is also needed here.
That is why the Samsara Festival has been multi-disciplinary. We need more inter-disciplinary dialogue – between legislators, scientists, filmmakers, artists, environmentalists, innovators, musicians, thought leaders, industry leaders, media, change-makers and youth.
What role can India play in the environmental movement?
India can play an important role in conservation. It is a country that can make the most impact, since it is still in growth stage and can choose a sustainable path of development. The West is realizing that centuries of mis-directed development have extracted a huge toll on the environment, we need to have more environmental consciousness across the world now.
There are 350 million people in India who are entering the economic development stages, as much as the whole US population. There has to be a focus on renewable energy. India is in the Top Three countries in terms of coal reserves, but getting energy by burning coal has severe consequences.
India has an old civilization, and rich biodiversity in terms of plant and animal life. We pray to trees and animals, our gods are the natural elements. We can either screw it all up – or preserve it and lead the world with our example. We have the power to do the right thing. India needs to take leadership in environmental consciousness and be at the forefront of nature conservation.
What is your message to musicians and our audience out there?
Do what you can do conserve nature and increase environmental consciousness within you and around you. Do whatever you can within your limitations, be realistic.
There is no need to shame or shock people to change their attitude and behavior towards the environment; people may shy away from gory images of dead animals. Instead, it can be done through inspiration, creativity and positive reinforcement.
Citing influences from the Caribbean, America, India, Africa and Middle East, this promises to be an all-round world music album by percussionist James Asher. Our picks include the tracks Tropical Zinge, Spice Souk, Zingawele, and Sunny Side Up. The 10 tracks on this album make for about 52 minutes of music, but some of the pieces are downright cheesy and sound more like elevator music.
The opening and closing tracks are good, but many of the rest in between leave a lot to be desired. Pity, because there is a rich range of instruments: Sandeep Raval on tablas, Kiran Thakrar: on keyboards, Thomas Blug on guitar and Ted Emmett trumpet.
Nikhil Patwardhan has released six albums of Indian classical music – and is also an electrical engineer. He shares his unusual story in this interview, covering his musical journey, inner spiritual calling, and message to the audience.
Nikhil has played across India and overseas, in the US, UK, Dubai, Japan, Kenya and Zambia. Born to Shri Kumar Shrimangalmurti Patwardhan and Srimathi Madhura Kumar Patwardhan, Nikhil started his musical journey at the tender age of four. His grandmother, Srimathi Sarojinidevi Patwardhan and his grandfather, Shri Shrimangalmurti Patwardhan were also deeply into Hindustani classical music.
Nikhil’s projects include the musical trio, ‘When Wood Sings,’ based on instruments such as sitar, flute and tabla. I caught two recent performances in Bangalore by Nikhil, along with tabla players Partho Banerjee (at Lahe Lahe) and Shailesh Shenoy (at Jus’ Trufs).
Tell us about your musical background, and how your family influenced your choice of music as a career.
Although sitar and Indian classical music have been in my family for three generations, I really took to the sitar after hearing a concert recording of Pandit Nikhil Banerjee. To this day, my grandmother Mrs. Sarojinidevi Patwardhan, my parents and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee remain as the leading influences in my musical career. Inspiration is everywhere: even a bird singing in the morning can provide great music fuel to the soul.
I have a master’s in electrical engineering from Clemson University in the US and have worked for 12 years in semiconductors. I have been playing sitar and Indian classical music for over 30 years now.
At the age of eight, I gave my first public performance at Balgandharva, Pune. I became a Balodyaan AIR artiste at the age of nine. At the age of twelve, I won the prestigious Centre for Cultural Resources and Training scholarship from the government of India.
At the age of fifteen, I started receiving training from Pandit Parthapratim Chatterjee, who is an exponent of the Maihar Gharana from Kolkata and a disciple of Pandit Nikhil Banerjee and Ustad Ali Akbar Khansahib.
I am balancing both worlds, the world of a techie and the world of a musician!
How does your composition process work – individually, or along with other musicians? Do you also compose while on the road?
It works through both ways – primarily through individual creation and then a lot of continuous listening and collaboration with other great musicians.
I very much compose on the road as well. In my day job, I have to drive for a couple of hours every day – so my car always turns into a music studio where I listen to and also record some compositions I think of.
Currently I am not into music full-time and doing both a day job and music. I feel that the day job and music complement each other extremely well.
What are the challenges you face as a musician and composer?
Like yoga, our music is intense, complete and with a lot of depth, as it has evolved through so many thousands of years. So it becomes difficult for the general public to understand and extract the goodness that this music has to offer. Hence, the challenge I face is to get more people interested in our oldest form of Indian classical music. However, over the years I am seeing a very positive comeback of people, especially the younger generation, wanting more of this pure and divine music.
What have been some audience reactions you get at your performances?
I feel I am really blessed to have some amazing and appreciative audiences across India and all over the globe. My biggest highlights have been when people from the audience have come up to me after the concert in tears, and told me that the music really went to their hearts and they did not want me to stop playing.
Do you also teach workshops for students/musicians?
Yes, I have several students. I have taught workshops both overseas and in India. I make it a point to give a short lecture demonstration before every concert so people can understand what they should listen to in this music.
How has the music industry changed over the years in terms of tech trends, and how has it affected you?
The virtual and real worlds have been swapped. We all live in the virtual world and the real world is only to meet our physical needs. I think this is an incredible evolution as this allows someone sitting with an online connection in the remotest corner of the world to listen to Indian classical music. Sound technology has also helped immensely in bringing out the finest and subtlest of the sounds of the sitar.
How would you describe your musical journey so far?
It has been a fantastic journey so far and every second of it has taught me to respect my music and reap the joy out of it. Juggling between two lives (techie and musician) definitely is very difficult to manage but music to me is the very oasis that powers my life. I think a music-centric life is very rich, and it not only gives happiness to you but also brings so many people together.
I think my albums show the degree of growth and maturity in my music over the years. I have slowly learned how to explore the depth of a raaga and the rhythm and not only the breadth. I think learning is a continuous process and all you have to see is if you as a whole are growing with respect to your own past.
Where do you see yourself 10 or 15 years from today? What are some ‘dream projects’ or visions you are working towards?
I see myself as a performer and a teacher in the next 15 years or so. In today’s life where everything is supposed to happen in the blink of an eye, Indian classical music can always bring peace and harmony to our mind and bodies and slow us down. One of my dream projects is to work on a music therapy album which I would consider my ‘magnum opus.’
What are your thoughts on the rise of ‘fusion’ music, and how to bring about ‘fusion without confusion?’
I think it is a great idea to blend different genres so that people who like both genres can enjoy both aspects of the music. Fusion is an excellent way to bring the musically uninitiated to start liking music.
However, it should not sound like ‘con’-fusion. A good musician always knows when and where to put the right notes in the listener’s ear, just like a good cook knows how to put the right ingredients in the right dish. However, I think if one stays true to oneself, only then will the real colour of his or her music come out, so trying to imitate without understanding the depth of the music will lead to a dilution of both genres of music.
What is your vision of what music can bring to our troubled world?
My vision is to use this music to bring peace all over the globe just as the yoga movement is trying to bring good health to all. All this turmoil for power is totally unnecessary and music can definitely pave the way to a peaceful, happy world.
What advice do you have for aspiring musicians out there?
Stay true to yourself. If you like rock, play and perform rock, if you like jazz, play and perform jazz. Feel each note, feel each vibration. Each one of us has a beautiful and unique way of expressing ourselves, if it comes straight from the heart. I also advise aspiring musicians to get a good education that will give a means of livelihood and also do music. This will prevent them from compromising with their music and stay true to their music.
As a Chinese proverb goes, ‘If you have two coins, with one coin buy food to eat and with the other coin buy a rose.’ The food will give you life and the rose will give you a purpose to live that life.
The annual Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysia) featured a special lineup of performances, workshops and cultural activities on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. The scenic Sarawak Cultural Village, located between Mount Santubong and the South China Sea, hosted the performances on two outdoor stages and one indoor theatre.
The 2017 lineup of 22 international and 5 local groups included Abavuki (South Africa), Achanak (UK/India), Ba Cissoko (Guinea), Belem (Belgium), Bitori (Cape Verde), Calan (Wales), Cimarron (Colombia), Dom Flemons (US), Hanggai (China), Huw Williams (Wales), Kelele (South Africa), O Tahiti E (Tahiti), Okra Playground (Finland), Pareaso (Korea), Radio Cos (Spain), Romengo (Hungary), Saing Waing Orchestra (Myanmar), Spiro (UK), Svara Samsara (Indonesia), Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe (Taiwan), The Chipolatas (UK/Australia), and The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band (Thailand).
The Malaysian lineup featured Ilu Leto, At Adau, Lan E Tuyang and Sekolah Seni Malaysia Sarawak from Sarawak, as well as Maliao Maliao Dance Troupe from Malacca.
Before the festival, some of the bands held preview concerts in local pubs and cafes, such as the Culture Club in downtown Kuching. Two bands – Romengo (Hungarian gypsy group) and O Tahiti E (percussion-dance troupe from Haiti) – gave the audience a tantalising taste of what was to come during their workshops and performances in the coming days.
In keeping with its usual tradition, the Sarawak Tourism Board also had a tree-planting ceremony the day before the festival. Members of the media and some performers together planted about 200 mangrove saplings at the Kuching Wetland National Park.
The stage was also being set for the festival workshops to follow, on yoga, meditation, tai-chi and martial arts. The festival had a crafts bazaar and food court as other highlights, along with stalls on aromatherapy and environmental recycling.
The morning media meet each day was followed by an afternoon of indoor performances and jam sessions. The indoor theatre performances on Day One kicked off with Pareaso (South Korea), followed by Huw Williams (Wales) and Lan E Tuyang (Malaysia).
The four youthful musicians of Pareaso featured traditional music from Ulsan, Korea, with instruments such as daegeum, geomongo, saenghwang, janggu, and gayageum. Huw Williams showcased clog dancing along with trademark Welsh wit and humour while playing along on guitar. Lan E Tuyang featured three sape masters of Sarawak from the Kayan and Kenyah communities: Mathew Ngau Jau, Salomon Gau and Jimpau Balan. They also showcased the nose flute, along with traditional dance moves.
Each afternoon ended with an outdoor drum circle facilitated by Malaysia’s 1Drum, followed by night-time performances on two adjacent stages set in the picturesque rainforest. Traditional ceremonies to bless the festival were conducted by local cultural groups and musicians.
The six-member all-women band Ilu Leto from Sarawak, Malaysia kicked off the outdoor performances on Day One. The group, anchored by Alena Murang, keeps alive the traditional music of the Iban, Kelabit and Kenyah tribes while also challenging other customs (the sape is usually not played by women).
Okra Playground from Finland then delivered a hypnotic set of electro-folk. They featured ancient instruments like the kantele and bowed lyre (jouhikko), along with solid grooves by bassist Sami Kujala – a perfect foundation for the three female vocalists (Päivi Hirvonen, Maija Kauhanen, Essi Muikku). Their debut album, Turmio was released in 2015.
The adrenaline picked up with gypsy music by Romengo from Hungary, who played a rousing set of danceable numbers along with ballads (I also caught their performance last year at the Forde Festival 2016 in Norway). Vocalist Mónika Lakatos has won a range of awards including the Parallel Cultures award; she was joined on stage by singer Veronika Harcsa for soaring duets. The group’s first album is titled Kétháné, and the talented lineup includes Mihály “Mazsi” Rostás (guitars), Misi Kovács (violin), János “Guszti” Lakatos (oral bass, tin can), and Tibor Tibi Balogh (percussion).
The next group was pure percussive explosion: Svara Samsara from Indonesia. The quintet is inspired by the work of legendary Indonesian drummer Innisisri, and showcased a range of traditional instruments in contemporary styles. The high-energy poly-rhythms and call-and-response segments drew loud applause from the audience. The group is based in the Rumah Kahanan art space, and features instruments such as talempong, sarunai, taganing, hadrah, kancil, and kendang drums. Their first album was released last year.
Bhangra with a touch of bass and drums was featured by the UK-based band Achanak, whose members are of Punjabi origin. The group has released seven albums and has toured extensively.
An absolutely outstanding band on Day One was Abavuki from Capetown, South Africa. The group’s name means ‘Wake up, early birds!’ in the Xhosa language. South African rhythms blended with kwaito, samba and jazz, and the multi-instrumentalists wowed the audience with their prowess on a wide range of percussion (especially Mkhokheli Masala, Thulani Mtyi and Thando Sishuba).
Founded in 2001, the band showed their years of experience and expertise with a superb set of high-energy afro-beat music and dance, blending everything from marimba to a brass section. Their albums include Decade and African Rhythms.
The indoor performances on Day Two were kicked off by the Sang Waing Orchestra from Myanmar, playing a set of Burmese folk music. The musicians from Yangon and Mandalay performed on a range of traditional instruments, including saung (Burmese harp), clappers, cymbals, gongs, short drums and oboe.
Grammy Award-winner Dom Flemons featured a set of American roots, ragtime, blues, folk, and spirituals. The singer-songwriter and slam poet’s most recent album is Prospect Hill; Dom is also the co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an African-American string band.
English folk band Spiro wrapped up the indoor performances. Violin, mandolin and electronic sounds mixed together with the lineup of Jane Harbour, Alex Vann (drums), Jon Hunt (guitar), and Jason Sparkes (accordion). Their albums include Pole Star, Lightbox and Kaleidophonica.
The talented young band At Adau from Kuching kicked off the outdoor performances, with an experimental blend of Sarawak sound with world music. They featured Borneo sounds of the sape and the perutong, along with congas and djembe. Their first album is titled Journey, with the lineup of Ezra Tekola (sape), Jackson Lian Ngau (zither, drums), Meldrick Bob Udos (cajon), Ju Hyun Lee (conga), Alfonso McKenzie (bass), Cerdic Riseng (guitar) and Luke Wrender David (sape, guitar).
The most beloved band of the festival took the stage next: O Tahiti E, a sizzling percussion and dance troupe from Tahiti, who had already wowed the audience through three afternoon workshop sessions. Founded in 1986 by choreographer Marguerite Lai, they showcased spectacular costumes and sensual dance moves. The youthful dancers roused up so much energy that the heavens opened up with thundershowers at the end of their set!
The rain would continue through the next performances, reducing the lawns to a mudbath, but the hardy festival-goers were well prepared. Spain’s Radio Cos entertained them with an energetic set of Galician music. The driving rhythms on pandeiro and tambourine kept the crowd on their feet, ably anchored by Xurxo Fernandes and Quique Peon. The musicians have been researching traditional music for over three decades, and the five-member band brought the pride alive for an audience half-way round the world.
The energy picked up several notches with the Inner Mongolia band Hanggai from China, with an unbelievable mix of traditional instruments and rock music. The folk-rock blend, anchored by throat singer Batubagen and vocalist Ilchi dressed in a full-length traditional coat, kept the audience engaged right through gusts of wind and rain. The band has also performed at Rosklide, Lowlands, Fuji Rock, Chicago World Music Festival, Sziget, and WOMAD.
An absolutely stellar set followed next, by Ba Cissoko and his band from Guinea. The son of the famous kora maestro M’Bady Kouyaté performed on guitar and kora, and sang in Malinke, Wolof, Pulaar and French. West African sound fused with salsa, funk and jazz, in a superb set by the five-member group. Their albums include Electric Griot Land, Djeli, Sabolan, Nimissa, and Séno.
Another amazing folk-rock band rounded up the performances of Day Two: the Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band. They played instruments and rural tunes from northeast Thailand, blended with high-energy drums and power bass. Chris Menist, Kammao Perdtanon, Maft Sai, Phusana Treeburut, Piyanart Jotikasthira and Sawai Kaewsombat played a hypnotic set showcasing the khaen (multi-reed mouth organ) and phin (string instrument).
In terms of musical highlights, most festival attendees would later agree that this was one of the best nights at any world music festival ever. The crowd stayed on their feet through the rain and thunder – and there would be more come on Day Three!
The indoor performances on Day Three kicked off with the Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe from Taiwan. They played the music of the Paiwan tribe from southern Taiwan. Anchored by Camake Valaule, they explained their culture and dances, and showcased instruments such as the twin-pipe nose flute.
Folk music from Belgium followed next, performed by Belem (Didier Laloy on accordion, Kathy Adam on classical cello). The indoor performances finished in fine style with the vocal harmonies of Africa, performed by Kelele from South Africa. Their members also form the band Abavuki, thus constituting an unusually creative combination and presentation of musical talent.
Their range of melodies and harmonies kept the audience spell-bound in a session of oral storytelling. Traditional instruments were also showcased, such as the mbira (finger piano), uhadi (bow instrument) and talking drum.
The outdoor performances were kicked off by the Maliao Maliao Dance Troupe from Malacca, Malaysia. They presented a blend of Portuguese and Malaysian dance.
Thunderous rains picked up again as the youthful performers of Sekolah Seni Malaysia next took to the stage. They have performed the folk dances of Sarawak at festivals across Asia and Europe, and won awards in Bulgaria, Romania and Spain.
Welsh band Calan showcased foot tapping tunes and step dancing, with the five member band reinterpreting lively as well as haunting songs. Their debut album is titled Bling, and the band has played at the Cambridge Festival, Celtic Connections, Shrewsbury Folk Festival and Whitby Folk Festival.
The most sensational band of the evening was Cimarrón from Colombia. They performed the festive dance music of joropo, with soaring melodies and catchy rhythms of the Orinoco river region combining Andalusian, indigenous South American, and African roots.
Anchored by harpist Carlos Rojas Hernandez and vocalist-dancer Ana Veydó Ordóñez, the set blended bandola, cuatro, bass, and high-energy percussion. The ‘competitive jams’ between the youthful percussionists were hilarious and drew loud applause. The group has released a number of award-winning albums, including one aptly titled Orinoco.
Indonesian percussion band Svara Samsara took to the stage again for another set, followed by the closing act: Bitori from Cape Verde, playing funana music. This raw yet infectious dance music form was banned during the Portuguese rule, but is alive and thriving now. Anchored by lead accordionist Bitori (Victor Tavares) who is now almost 80 years old, the group performed an upbeat set with Creole vocals and unique instruments such as the ferrinho (iron scraper).
The five-hour performances, accompanied by five hours of rain, culminated in an unforgettable grand finale with most of the bands from the three days of the festival coming together on stage to take their final bow. The festivities carried on with a jam at the musicians’ hotel bar, and I departed the next morning with a stack of the bands’ CDs gathered over the three days of the festival.
We already look forward to the next Rainforest World Music Festival in 2018, with its unbeatable combination of legendary bands, emerging artistes, jam sessions, interactive workshops, media meets – and a bit of occasional rain! After all, what’s a festival in the rainforest without some rain?
Fans of Deep Forest and Enigma would like this deep trance album. The influences are from around the world, and reflect sounds from Bulgaria to Australia. The 9 danceable tracks make for an interesting start to your party. Our pick is the fine track “Awake to Your Senses.”
All tracks are written and produced by Martin Scherl. The album is named after the Australian aboriginal word for ‘earth,’ and the holistic peace-loving message of the album fits in well with 21st century globalist thinking.
The Montreal International Jazz Festival, now in its 39th year, is regarded as the world’s largest jazz festival. The music line-up includes ambassadors of jazz and blues – as well as a generous dose of artistes in world music and fusion. See my writeup from the previous editions of MIJF (2016, 2015); fans of jazz and world music can check out my app ‘Oktav’ as well, a collection of witty quotes about music (available on Apple iTunes and Android).
The 2017 edition of MIJF featured artistes from Canada, USA, Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Yemen, Morocco, Algeria, Congo, Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Nigeria, Cameron, Guadeloupe and Switzerland. An estimated two million attendees flocked to the stages, spread over 10 days and two dozen venues. The long summer days of late June and early July made for perfect outdoor performances, along with ticketed indoor events.
Check out some of the highlights in this photo tour of MIJF 2017, and make sure you attend the 2018 edition!
Flavia Coelho from Brazil played for the first time at MIJF, and featured tracks from her third album, Sonho Real. Funk, forro, ragga, ska and dub fused together in a high-energy set at the indoor venue Club Soda.
Bixiga70 was another outstanding band from Brazil at MIJF. The Sao Paulo collective featured ten musicians with a combination of Afrobeat, Ethio-jazz and funk.
Gypsophilia played a joyous set of gypsy jazz blended with funk and Latin rhythms. Anchored by Adam Fines, the septet from Halifax kicked off a fine evening of music at the outdoor Club Jazz Casino stage.
Gypsy Sound System featured a broad range of gypsy music anchored by Swiss couple DJ Olga and Dr. Schnaps. The music blended Slavic salsa, electronica, and brass. The group drew loud applause for their energetic set and sheer musicianship.
The Django Festival Allstars paid tribute to the legendary gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. Featured artistes included Samson Schmitt, Ludovic Beier and Pierre Blanchard. Their indoor set at the Gesu venue transported gypsy swing into the 21st century.
Rosalía Refree is an outstanding vocalist from Barcelona, and was accompanied by Raül Refree on guitar for a soaring set of neo-flamenco. The youthful duo played tracks from their recent album, Los Angeles.
The Gipsy Kings, celebrated masters of flamenco, salsa, and pop fusion, have been on tour for over 25 years and show no signs of stopping. Their booming vocals and guitars had the audience on their feet clamoring for more, as the band played classic hits as well as new tracks from their album Savor Flamenco.
A-Wa was another astonishing band at MIJF, featuring three sisters from Israel: Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim. Their music featured Yemenite vocals, hip hop and electronica rhythms. Their hits include Habib Galbi (Love of My Heart).
Gabacho Maroc had an unusual lineup of eight French, Moroccan and Algerian musicians. The stage was filled with bendirs, drums, keyboards, darbukas, and jembes. The creative set fused gnawa, Afro, berber, trance, jazz and electronica, breaking new frontiers in world music and jazz.
Djmawi Africa brought a touch of Algeria to jazz, and the eight-member troupe blended gnawa, rai and reggae in their phenomenal one-hour outdoor set. The music crossed new domains of North African sound, particularly appreciated in an era of growing cross-border hostility.
Coyote Bill is a Montreal collective blending Afro-beat, jazz, funk and reggae. Their incendiary set was a perfect closing act in the indoor Metropolis venue, with hybrid beats and energetic horns.
Jazzamboka is a Montreal quintet powered by two Congolese percussionists. It brings to urban audiences the spirit of African village music (yamboka means village in Lingala, a Bantu language). Funk, rock, be-bop, soukous, and electronica brought the sounds of Central Africa to new frontiers in this outdoor set.
Afrikana Soul Sister were closing acts on two nights of MIJF 2017, with a high-powered set of electro-house. Artistes include Jean-François Lemieux on bass, Joanie Labelle and Fa Cissokho on percussion, and Djely Tapa on vocals. The quartet blended house with African musical roots, and played tracks from their latest album Mayébo.
Bokante played a spirited set of Caribbean and African music blended with jazz, thanks to the influences of Michael League (bassist-composer of Snarky Puppy) and vocalist Malika Tirolien. Malika is from Guadeloupe and is now based in Montreal. The high-energy performance drew loud applause for the percussion and vocal-bass duet with Malika and Michael.
Just Wôan is a bassist-vocalist from Cameroon, and delivered a set of jazz blended with Afro-groove. He was born in Yaunde and already has three albums to his credit. He sings in French, Bassa, Duala, and Ewondo or Creole.
Huu Bac Quintet featured a range of instruments from Vietnam and China such as dan bau (Vietnamese monocord), erhu (Chinese fiddle), and even the quena (Andean bamboo flute). Multi-instrumentalist Huu Bac did a great job of blending Asian sound with North American jazz.
Fwonte is a Haitian-born Montreal artist who blends tropical rhythms with electronica. Caribbean sounds were reinterpreted for the digital age in his one-hour set.
Ife is a collective from Puerto Rico playing ‘live electronic music’ without remixes and computers. Their indoor set celebrated Yoruba cult music and explored new frontiers in fusion.
The Villalobos Brothers featured three brothers originally from Mexico and currently based in the US. The violinists, singers, songwriters and arrangers were all over the stage in their high-energy set, and reinterpreted original folk compositions with jazz and classical music.
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion