Category Archives: Concert reviews

The Remarkable Nyckelharpa of Toledo

Ana Alcaide

Spanish vocalist, nyckelharpa player and composer Ana Alcaide performed at the RaInforest World Music Festival on Saturday, July 13 at the Theatre Stage.

Ana Alcaide

Ana’s music encapsulates Spanish traditional music, Sephardic traditions and global music influences. She and some of her colleagues live in Toledo, an ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage that used to be the capital of Spain before it moved to nearby Madrid.

Three cultures lived in Toledo during the Middle Age: Christians, Jews and Muslim Moors. Ana Alcaide draws from this deep historic well and delighted the audience in Sarawak with her captivating vocals and enthralling nyckelharpa, a remarkable Swedish instrument that has adapted well to Spanish traditions.

The band featured Spain-based musicians from Germany and the United States: Rainer Seiferth on guitar and Bill Cooley on darbuka, frame drum and psaltery; and Spanish musician Bruno Duque on clarinet and ney.

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The Captivating Sounds of Mauritius

Mauravann – Photo by Angel Romero

Mauravann, one of the finest roots music acts from Mauritius performed on July 14, 2019 at the Rainforest World Music Festival’s Theatre Stage. Mauritius is a multiethnic island nation located in the southwest Indian Ocean. Musical and cultural influences come from East Africa, Madagascar, India and other nearby regions.

The ensemble features the charming Linzi Backbotte, who engaged with the audience and provided a historical overview of Mauritius (including the role of slavery), its music and musical instruments, such as the ravanne and the maravann (a box rattle also known as rainmaker, made of reeds bound together). The other members are Emmanuel ‘Manu’ Desroches on guitar and vocals; Kurwin Castel on ravanne (frame drum), percussion and sound effects; and Samuel Dubois on ravanne and percussion.

Mauravann’s style is based on sega and its traditional instruments. Sega developed during the 17th century from the slaves captured from different parts of Africa and Madagascar who were taken to Mauritius. The music was an expression of their inconceivable sorrow due to their exile and displacement. Frequently played and danced around a bonfire, sega came alive through the traditional instruments.

Mauravann appeared on the concept album Small Island Big Song, released September 10, 2018.

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Glamorous recital from Canadian Singer and Harper Loreena McKennitt in San Sebastian

The “Lost Souls Tour”, an extensive tour of Europe, also ended up in Spain (Valencia, Murcia, Granada, Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, and finally in San Sebastian). And, after Thessaloniki, Athens, Izmir, Ankara, Istanbul, Abenberg, Munich, Berlin, Freiburg, Mainz, Florence, Milan, Udine, Macerata, Rome, Molfettá, Cervere and Lyon, Canada’s Loreena Mckennitt will have completed one of her more clamorous and also “glamorous” European tours. Elegance is not only in fashion shows, but also in some theatrical scenes, such as the Victoria Eugenia venue.

Loreena has nearly forty years of professional activity, and it seems as if time had not passed through her, especially her music. And the voice, that incredible voice, is, next to her inseparable Celtic harp, hallmark of one of the most personal and unmistakable artists of the broad contemporary musical spectrum.

She doesn’t know about labels or upstart commitments: she started, and continues to do so, from an unequivocal musical and literary tradition anchored in Ireland and Shakespeare in equal parts, but she has managed to expand her borders until she reaches the sensual East, the torrid Morocco, the canonical Hellenic civilizations, and has even set its sights on the Spanish mysticism of the literary Golden Age and has sung to the asceticism taken from San Juan de la Cruz, just to mention a few ports in which she has landed.

Loreena McKennitt – Photo by Richard Haughton

Her current tour, based on the themes of her latest published CD, “Lost Souls“, is protected and supported by the rocking chair of a phenomenal instrumental quintet: Brian Hughes (guitars, bouzouki), Caroline Lavelle (cello, recorder, vocals), Dudley Phillips (electric bass), Robert Brian (drums, percussion) and the sensational violinist Hugh Mash, true virtuoso, builder and vehicle of the loudness displayed by the ensemble.

Loreena, on the other hand, launched, more than ever, her arsenal of exhibits and possibilities: not only the well-known and already cited harp (less used than in the past), but also, the very “folkie” accordion, the gliding synthesizers and, the wonder, her latest “discovery”, the piano, not so much with classical connotations as close to jazz “pathos”. Thus, the creator of “Santiago” and “Bonny Portmore” has approached an increasingly globalizing and, in any case, always creative sound.

Cast aside this time, some sounds frequently used in other times not too far away: the medieval hurdy gurdy and those deeply rooted in Celtic culture, the “uileann pipes”. Particularly, I miss those telluric gadgets, always supplanted in modernity by the versatile keyboards. Yes, a shame.

But, despite that, the provision of Loreena McKennitt live always elevates you near the seventh heaven. Prodigy of diction, elegance, lyrical intensity, expressive emotion, the voice and music of the incomparable artist (because there is no other that does what she does, although outstanding and personal approaches have emerged: in some passages, the Gaelic Enya In others, the Guipuzcoan Olatz Zugasti) is one of the most rewarding experiences that the ear, so often punished, can perceive of the listener conducive to receiving flashes of beauty without a story.

The repertoire did not miss the opportunity to approach some of her “great hits.” “Lady of Shalott”, based on a poem by Lord Tennyson, with its more than ten minutes of brilliant poetic display, was, without a doubt, a high point in the recital. Her Arabic, turquoise and Mediterranean melodies also made an appropriate act of presence. Gaelic references and Marrakesh-ish were not lacking, nor was the (and above all) the captivating, almost dreamlike, always bucolic world of Irish legends and essences. W.B. Yeats did not walk very far, but now the singer is very determined to recreate her own literary world, with songs from her harvest.

Musically, the proposal balanced between the admirable, renovated “folk” of the 21st century, and winks to almost hard rock and jazz, not improvised but very measured instrumental moment. Above all and all, a sublime voice, between soprano and the sharp outbursts of a texture unattainable by other vocalists. Only Joan Baez would be up to it in this regard. Or Nina Simone.

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Mongolian and Persian Hybridization at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019

Sedaa – Photo by Angel Romero

Sedaa is a Germany-based quartet featuring three Mongolian musicians and one Iranian instrumentalist. Together they make a remarkable mix of Mongolian, Middle Eastern and global music influences. The ensemble performed on Sunday, July 14, 2019 at the Rainforest World Music Festivals’ Theatre Stage.

The four musicians delivered an exquisite set of pieces that included masterful instrumental performances along with mesmerizing throat singing.

Sedaa – Photo by Angel Romero

Sedaa’s discography Mongolian Meets Oriental (2009), Letter from Mongolia (2011), New Ways (2012) and East West (2018).

The lineup includes Naranbaatar Purevdorj on kargyraa (undertone singing), khuumii (overtone singing), ikh kuur (two-string double bass), and morin khuur (horse head fiddle); Nasanjargal Ganbold on throat singing, kargyraa, morin khuur, bishguur (Mongolian oboe) and dombra (two-string plucked instrument); Omid Bahadori on cajon, guitars, vocals, percussion, kargyraa, and frame drum; and Ganzorig Davaakhuu on yoochin (Mongolian hammered dulcimer).

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The Rarely Heard Himalayan Folk Music of Bhutan

Druk Folk Musician

It is uncommon to come across music from Bhutan at a world music festival, as the Himalayan nation was isolated for many years. The Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 presented Druk Folk Musician on July 13, 2019.

The concert featured three musicians who introduced the rarely heard singular folk sounds and musical instruments of Bhutan. The ensemble includes Sonam Dorji on drangyen (long lute with a curved neck); Ugyen Panday on vocals; and multi-instrumentalist Nvin Kharel.

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Wai Safeguards Maori traditions at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019

Wai at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019: Maaka Phat, Uta Te Whanga and Mina Ripia – Photo by Angel Romero

Maori family band Wai performed an emotional set of songs on Sunday, July 14, 2019 at the Rainforest World Music Festival. The band from Aotearoa (New Zealand) played at the Theatre Stage.

Although Wai is known for successfully combining electronics with traditional music, the performance at the Rainforest World Music Festival was acoustic, showcasing the vocal talents of Mina Ripia and Maaka Fiso accompanied by guitar and percussion.

Wai released a critically acclaimed album titled Ora in 2010.

Wai at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019: Maaka Fiso – Photo by Angel Romero

The core of Wai is Mina Ripia and Maaka Phat. Wai now includes their 11-year-old son Uta Te Whanga on percussion and vocals and new member Maaka Fiso, a truly gifted male vocalist whose style could be defined as Maori soul.

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Fiddles of the World Come Together

Mathias Duplessy and Aliocha Regnard – Photo by Angel Romero

French guitarist Mathias Duplessy put together a fascinating project called the Violins of the World. The current version of the ensemble was showcased at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo).

Guo Gan and Naraa Puredorj – Photo by Angel Romero

Duplessy and Violins of the World includes Duplessy on guitar, vocals and throat singing; Chinese erhu master Guo Gan; Mongolian horsehead fiddle virtuoso and throat singer Naraa Puredorj; and Frenchman Aliocha Regnard, who is a well-regarded nychelharpa player. 

The ensemble played as first set on July 13 at the Theater Stage in front of a packed audience. The show was outstanding, exhibiting admirable virtuosity, bringing together European classical influences from Spain and France along with Chinese, Mongolian and Nordic European traditions.

Duplessy and Violins of the World – Photo by Angel Romero

A second show took place on the final day, Sunday July 14, 2019 at the Tree Stage, in front of a much larger audience.

The ensemble has several recordings available, including Marco Polo (2010), Crazy Horse (2016), Feng (2016) and Ma Goola (2018).


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Cutting Edge Vietnamese Virtuosity and Fiery Gnawa Trance at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019

The air conditioned Theater Stage at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 presented Hà Nội Duo and Mehdi Nassouli on Day 1, Friday, July 12, 2019.

Hà Nội Duo – Photo by Angel Romero

Hà Nội Duo is a project featuring traditional Vietnamese singer and dan bau player Ngô Hồng Quang and renowned jazz guitarist Nguyên Lê’. The music performed at the Rainforest World Music Festival combined Vietnamese tradition with cutting edge technology. While Ngô Hồng Quang delivered passionate performances on vocals and mesmerizing tradition and high tech, electric guitar ambiance, beats, virtuoso performances.

Mehdi Nassouli’s Gnawa quintet provided a spellbinding show with Massouli on guimbri and four smiling acrobatic dancers and musicians on the karkabas (metal castanets). Band members included Abdesslam El Ouassif, Mohamed El Gasmi, Rachid Bobros and Driss Yamdah.

Mehdi Nassouli – Photo by Angel Romero
Mehdi Nassouli – Photo by Angel Romero

The headliners on Saturday, July 13th, are reggae artist Macka B, La Chiva Gantiva, and Estonian band Trad Attack.

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An Excellent Black Atlantic 2019 Festival

The second edition of the Black Atlantic series brought an excellent sampling of African and Afro-rooted music to Durham, North Carolina.

Kinobe, Derek Gripper and Jaja Bashengezi – Photo by Angel Romero

The first concert featured South African musician Derek Gripper, Congolese guitarist Jaja Bashengezi and Ugandan multi-instrumentalist Kinobe. Classically-trained Gripper has adapted the kora technique to the guitar. Kinobe played a fascinating Baganda harp called ndongo. This was a relaxed, virtuosic concert, focusing on the melodic side of African music. Derek Gripper has two albums related to his kora reinterpretations: One Night on Earth (2012) and Libraries on Fire (2016).

Fatoumata Diawara – Photo by Angel Romero

One of the highlights of the festival was Malian artist Fatoumata Diawara. I had seen her a few years ago when she was a rising artist. Years later, she has blossomed into one of the finest acts from West Africa and the world music scene in general. Her sold-out concert featured an explosive mix of modernized Malian traditional music, Afrobeat and Afro-rock. She speaks English very well and engaged the audience easily with her charisma and charm.

What surprised me (and the audience) the most is when she picked up her electric guitar several times and started soloing, ranging from Malian desert blues to Afro-rooted rock. Clearly spectacular. Fatoumata’s recent albums include Fatou and Fenfo.

Noura Mint Seymali – Photo by Angel Romero

The third concert in the series featured the captivating, trance-like Western Saharan sound of Mauritanian singer and ardine player Noura Mint Seymali along with her electric band. Her discography includes Tzenni (2014) and Arbina (2016).

Daymé Arocena – Photo by Angel Romero

Next was another highlight, spectacular Cuban singer Daymé Arocena. She also expressed herself in English very well, encouraged dancing and call and response interaction with the audience, and explained how Cuba is proud of its African and Spanish roots. Daymé bridges traditional Cuban, Afro-Cuban and American jazz. Her dazzling band featured world class Cuban instrumentalists, who obviously love jazz-rock fusion when they get opportunities to jam. Daymé’s highly recommended albums include Nueva Era (2015) and Cubafonía (2017).

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the Friday and Saturday concerts, although a colleague reported that the Dafnis Prieto Big Band concert was stunning. The show featured a 17-member big band performing Afro-Cuban jazz and ballads. This format appears in Dafnis Prieto’s album Back to the Sunset.

Kudos to Duke Performances for this highly successful series and special thanks to Eric Oberstein and King Kenney for their support.

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Anoushka Shankar Live, a Dazzling Experience

Anoushka Shankar

Last night, March 21, sitar phenomenon, composer and world music star Anoushka Shankar performed at Fletcher Hall in the Carolina Theater of Durham, North Carolina. Anoushka charmed the audience with a remarkable mix of Indian classical music ragas, contemporary world fusion material rooted in Indian traditions and cinematic music.

The concert started with two spectacular ragas that showcased Anoushka Shankar’s talent as a sitarist and her equally impressive ensemble. Later, she performed material from Traces of You, her remarkable collaboration with Nitin Sawhney. The concert ended with excerpts from her first film score, the soundtrack to a silent epic film called Shiraz from 1928. The music for Shiraz reflected the intrigue and passion that occurs during the film.

Throughout the concert there were abundant examples of virtuosity with enthralling call and response interactions between the sitar, tabla, mrindangam and bamboo flute.

The ensemble included Ojas Adhiya (India) on tabla, Pirashanna Thevarajah (UK) on mridangam, Ravichandra Kulur on flute (India), Danny Keane (UK) on cello and piano, and Kenji Ota (Japan) on tanpura. For this concert, Anoushka invited a young Durham woman to join the ensemble on bass tanpura.

Anoushka Shankar will be performing in Washington DC tomorrow, March 23 at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. She will later cross the Atlantic to perform in Dublin on Saturday, April 6 at The National Concert Hall; the Royal Festival Hall in London, United Kingdom on April 9; and she’ll fly back to the USA to perform at Campbell Hall in Santa Bárbara, California on April 17.

Special thanks to Eric Oberstein and King Kenney at Duke Performances for their support.

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