Category Archives: Concert reviews

The Straight Skinny

Tuba Skinny – Photo by Sarrah Danziger

One of the many perks of residing in Huntington Beach, CA (yes, the Surf City famed in song and story) is the Tuesday night street fair that happens on the main drag, just shy of the pier where the mighty Pacific Ocean takes over the horizon.

Live music is always part of the festivities, often in the form of local buskers singing for their supper. It’s usually good listening, but until recently I never thought I’d make it a point to hurry down to Main Street on a Tuesday evening just for the music. That changed dramatically when an excited friend informed me that Tuba Skinny, perhaps the best traditional early jazz band out of New Orleans, would be capping a string of west coast shows with an appearance- live, direct and free -on the downtown Huntington Beach pavement. I’d been delighting in the group’s You Tube videos for some time, and the thought of seeing and hearing them in person had me, well, quite jazzed.

They didn’t disappoint. Tuba Skinny’s lineup was comprised of two resonator guitarists (one of whom doubled on banjo), a clarinetist, a trombonist, a cornet player, a washboard player, a singer who played bass drum when she wasn’t enchanting us with her vintage-sounding vocals and indeed, a sousaphone player.

Tuba Skinny

It was a perfect old-timey sound they captured, one that revels in being completely disconnected from the manufactured slop that characterizes much of today’s popular music. They didn’t even use microphones, instead relying on their skills as a perfectly attuned ensemble to balance the nuances of their punchy, swinging ragtime feel.

Tuba Skinny – Photo by May Photography

Each member got to solo and shine, and from the fluttery fun of the horns to the spot on chops of the rhythm section, they rendered their cover tunes and originals with infectious joy. Looking around at the sizable street crowd they attracted, I could see faces that appeared to be already devotees of this sort of music and thus entranced. Others, perhaps less familiar but curious, were subtly swaying and wearing expressions that seemed to be saying “hey, this stuff is goooood.” The band concluded their performance with a promise to return, and the audience was loudly in favor of their doing so.

There are 10 releases in Tuba Skinny’s discography, averaging one per year since their formation. I can attest to the excellence of two of them.

Tubba Skinny – Nigel’s Dream

Nigel’s Dream (2018) charms from the start with a Caribbean-meets-Crescent City cover of Nassau String Band’s “Belamina.” Originals like the title track and “Springtime Strut” swing as if they could have been in the ragtime canon for decades, and the covers, including a sumptuously bluesy take on Tommy Dorsey’s “Some Cold Rainy Day,” are stunning.

Tubba Skinny – Some Kind-a-Shake

2019’s Some Kind-a-Shake is considerably heavier on tunes not composed within the TS ranks and could serve as a primer on how early jazz should be done. Memphis Minnie’s “I’m Going Back Home” features a contrasting vocal tradeoff topping a jaunty arrangement in classic style, “Jubilee Stomp” reminds as to why Duke Ellington should have been granted higher royal rank, “Ballin’ the Jack” weaves brass, reeds and plucked strings into a perfect whole and the entire album testifies to the brilliance of Tuba Skinny and the timeless quality of the music they champion.  

The albums are available from tubaskinny.com/music

(Special thanks to Yolande Smith, Robin Rapuzzi and Teresa Orr.) 

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Jeonju International Sori Festival, a Fascinating Window into Korean Music and Beyond

The 2019 Jeonju International Sori Festival took place October 2-6 in Jeonju, a city located in southwestern South Korea. The festival is held in a exquisitely-designed, comfortable performing arts complex called Sori Arts Center of Jeoballuk-do that includes various indoor theaters and several outdoor stages.

The 2019 edition of the Jeonju International Sori Festival focused on wind instruments. Due to an approaching typhoon (that thankfully weakened), the outdoor events on October 2nd were cancelled. The official program started October 2nd with a grand gala at 7:30 p.m. at the elegant and restful Moak Hall with Wish on the Winds, featuring master Instrumentalists and singers from around the globe.

United Youth Wind orchestra of Jeollabuk-go at Jeonju Sori Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Jeonju Sori Festival

The show started with Mazurka on the Wind, a lively performance by the great Polish contemporary folk group Janusz Prusinowski Kompania, joined by wind instrumentalist Manu Sabate from Barcelona, Spain. Next came Sujeon Variations, another highlight, with the United Youth Wind orchestra of Jeollabuk-go. This was a magnificent group of 200 young school students playing a variation of Sujecheon (Korean court music) on wind and percussion instruments.

Sacred music was represented by the gorgeous vocals of Georgia’s Iberi Choir and the Buddhist ritual music of Jeonbuk Yeongsan Jakbeop Preservation Society, joined by organist Miyeon.

The Ethnic Innovation segment showcased two talented Taiwanese artists, suona master Tseng chien-yun and Chung Pei-yun. They were followed by The Songs of the Forest with bamboo flute virtuoso Won Janghyun and his students.

Karen Lugo, Korean traditional dancer Cho Sehoon and Dominika Suchecka – Photo courtesy of Jeonju Sori Festival

The opening show also included spectacular dance, represented by three diverse styles: flamenco from Spain performed by Spain-based Mexican dancer Karen Lugo, Korean traditional artist Cho Sehoon and belly-dancing by Dominika Suchecka.

Wind masters at opening ceremony – Photo courtesy of Jeonju Sori Festival

The show ended with a wind instrument extravaganza conducted by musician and composer Park Jechun, Commissioner of the Jeonju International Sori Festival. The show highlighted various instrumentalists and ended in a freeform improvisation. The lineup included Kang Taehwan on saxophone; Won Janghyeon on bamboo flute; piri master Choi Gyeongman; Tibetan flutist Nawang Kechog; Janusz Pruzinowski; Manu Sabaté; and Anders Harberg.

October 3

On Thursday, October 3rd, I got to see a pansori performance for the first time. Pansori is a captivating traditional Korean art form that brings together poetry, storytelling and music. The format includes one singer/narrator (male or female) and a drummer that keeps a steady beat and engages with the singer with encouragement calls.

Pansori includes only 5 stories and fans known them well. I attended the Sugungga performance, featuring two renowned masters. As you can imagine, now knowing Korean is a barrier to understanding the nuances of the story. However, the festival provided a guidebook in Korean and English that helped follow the story. Additionally, this performance showed the texts in Korean and English projected on several walls.

Lee Nancho, Pansori Five Batangs – Photo by Angel Romero
Pansori drummer, Pansori Five Batangs – Photo by Angel Romero

The Sarungga story is very fun to follow. This performance included two masters. Lee Nancho and Lim Hyeonbin.

Song Sunseop, Pansori Five Batangs – Photo courtesy of Jeonju Sori Festival
Lee Jaram, Pansori Five Batangs – Photo courtesy of Jeonju Sori Festival

Later in the day, the Jeokbyeokga pansori was performed by Song Sunseop and Lee Jaram. The other three pansoris took place October 5th and 6th, featuring JoTongdal, Yu Taepyeongyang, Kim Yeongja, Choi Hyeonju, Kim Myeongsin and Jeong Sanghee.

Kim Yulhee

The pansori tradition is carried forward by a new generation of performers. Five artists appeared in the Young Pansori Five Batangs set: Lee Sung-hyun, Kim Yulhee, Jeong Yunhyeong, Choi Jandi and Gwon Songhee.

Iberi Choir work at Jeonju Sori Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero
Tannemotion concert at Jeonju Sori Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero

There is a lot to see during the afternoon and evening. Some of the highlights on October 3, in addition to pansori, included a workshop/concert by the magnificent Georgian ensemble Iberi Choir; and Korean fusion group Tannemotion, winners of the 2013 KB Sori Award.

CBS Starlight concert – Photo courtesy of Jeonju Sori Festival

The most popular event that night by far in terms of audience was the Starlight K-pop ticketed show at the Open Air Theater. The performance included artists loved by all generations, including Korean rock stars BooHwal and pop singers Jeong Hunhee, Choi Seongsu, Hong Gyeongmin and Park Migyeong.

Janusz Prusinowski Kompania workshop at Jeonju Sori Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero

Later came an entertaining workshop by the Polish group Janusz Prusinowski Kompania followed by a concert by Polish act Masala Soundsystem, who delivered a mix of global sounds, electronics and ragga/rap.

Tamikrest at Jeonju Sori Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero
Tamikrest at Jeonju Sori Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero

One of the best evening concerts was the performance by Tuareg group Tamikrest, an enthralling southern Algeria-based desert blues band formed by Malian musicians and French band members

The final concert on October 3rd was by Tres Bonbon, a Korean Afropop band that fuses Asian melodies and African rhythms. The group includes Korean musicians Giwan Seong; Doyeon Kim; Haneul Kim; and Yunhee Choi; along with Amidou Balani Diabate from Burkina Faso.

October 4

October 4th started with several shows for children, included traditional Korean puppetry. There were also workshops by Swedish wind instrument virtuoso Anders Hagberg; Ensemble Selene, a band featuring members from Korea and Argentina; and various percussion workshops.

Jeong Yunhyeong at the Cypress Forest at Jeonju Sori Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero

In the afternoon there were more percussion workshops and the continuation of the Young Pansori Five Batangs series. This time the setting was the relaxed Cypress Forest stage in the woods. The audience enjoyed the show sitting on benches, lawn chairs and resting on hammocks. Young master Jeong Yunhyeong performed the Jeokbyeokga pansori.

Jeonjeup Nongak at Jeonju Sori Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero

In the late afternoon, there was a spectacular show of nongak, Korean rural folk music performed by the drummers, percussionists and acrobatic dancers of Jeonjeup Nongak. The integrated ensemble includes men and women playing various types of drums and gongs led by a loud horn.

Ogando, another winner of an earlier edition of the Sori Frontier contest, performed at 6:00 p.m. It is an all-female Korean fusion group.

An evening highlight was the first episode of the Sacred Music Series at Yeonji Hall. The concert featured the marvelous Georgian ensemble Iberi Choir and the Korean Jeonbuk Yeongsan Jakbeop Preservation Society. The Iberi Choir delivered a beautiful set of songs from Georgia’s ancient Christian tradition along with ballads, legendary tales and lullabies. The Jeonbuk Yeongsan Jakbeop Preservation Society performed a charismatic traditional Buddhist ceremony to guide the souls of the departed to heaven.

Asia Sori Project 2019 – Photo courtesy of Jeonju Sori Festival

Next came the Asia Sori Project 2019. It is an international artist residency program in Jeonju that brings together Asian musicians. The artists in 2019 included Sosorbaram Enkhtur (Mongolia) on morin khuur and khoomei; Enkhjin Oyuntsetseg (Mongolia) on bishguur; Duy Nguyen Quang (Vietnam) on dan nhi; Tho Nguyen (Vietnam) on dan tam thap luc; Vishwa Bharath (India) on urumi and parai; Zulfikar Rizki Ananda (Indonesia) on talempong and katindik; Eunyoung Jin on pansori(Korea); Jun-Young Noh (Korea) on percussion; Jihoon Kwon (Korea) on percussion. Jae-Hyo Chang: Music Director. Miyeon: Composer.

Song of Masters ‘Ways of Winds – Photo courtesy of Jeonju Sori Festival

The show Song of Masters ‘Ways of Winds’ took place at 8:00 pm in Moak Hall. The program included Kang Taehwan on saxophone; Kang Sungwon on songs; Anders Hagberg on flute; Lee Changseon on large bamboo flute; Nawang Khechog on Tibetan flute; Yeo Mido on improvised dance; and Tseng Chien-yun on suona, saenghwang, zither.

Next came another performance by Janusz Prusinowski Kompania accompanied by Manu Sabaté.

The last show featured Akdan Gwangchil, a group that performs a modernized version of the music of Hwanghae-do (the western provinces of North Korea) combined with electronics.

October 5

The program on October 5th started with Janusz Prusinowski Kompania’s workshop in the Cypress Forest followed by a children’s theater event.

Imperial Kikiristan at Jeonju Sori Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero

In the afternoon, French brass band Imperial Kikiristan entertained the public with a fun mix of Balkan and popular classics and humorous sketches targeting the audience, especially children.

The pansori series continued with Choi Jandi‘s Young Pansori Five Batangs Hyun Joo.

Gaak at The Sori Frontier contest – Photo by Angel Romero

The Sori Frontier contest took place at 3:00 p.m. This contest showcased three innovative young Korean acts that fuse Korean music and other elements. Read the news story about the contest here.

The excellent Sacred Music II series presented a set of western classical music works along with new works by Korean artists performed by renowned cellist Sung-won Yang & TIMF Ensemble. The second half introduced the Araetnyeok Suryukjae Preservation Society with a Buddhist ceremony from the Youngnam region that comforts the dead souls remaining on the land and in the water.

The Jeonbuk Nongak showcased the dazzling farmer’s folk music of Gochang Nongak.

Sanjo Night featured two wind instrument maestros, Choi Gyeongman on flute and Won Janghyeon on large bamboo flute at Moak Hall. They were joined by Yu Jisuk and Jang Munhee on vocals and Kim Gyuhyeong on drum.

The highly polished Modern Maori Quartet crooners presented a set of Maori classics. The group includes James Tito, Matariki Whatarau, Maaka Pohatu and Francis Kora.

Tamikrest at Jeonju Sori Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero

The enthralling Tuareg sounds of Tamikrest returned for an additional live performance in the evening.

Day 6

Sunday events started at 11:00 a.m. with a series of workshops by Jin Yun Kyong. Maori Quartet along with activities for children.

Brass band Imperial Kikiristan amused the outdoor audience one more and was followed by two pansori performances: Young Pansori Five Batangs with Gwon Songhee at the Cypress Forest and Pansori Five Batangs with Kim Myeongsin and Jeong Sanghee at Moak Hall.

Iri Nongak at Jeonju Sori Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero

Iri Nongak provided a dynamic show that included music and choreography.

Korean fusion band The Tune, winner of the 2014 Sori Award, delivered a great performance with a mix of traditional Korean sounds and musical instruments such as haegeum and drums combined with keyboards and vocals.

Next came Janusz Prusinowski Kompania with another set of beautiful contemporary Polish folk music.

Park Jechun (blue t-shirt) at the closing ceremony – Photo courtesy of Jeonju Sori Festival

The festival ended with the animated closing show called Rock and Sinawi, bringing together hard rock and sinawi (traditional Korean music). The stage featured a mix of traditional Korean and rock musicians, conducted by festival commissioner Park Jechun. Park is also drummer and he joined in on a second drum set for a few minutes, delivering one of the most spectacular moments of the show.

bibimbap

In terms of food, there are lots of options in the festival grounds and nearby, as well as in the hotels area, including the bibimbap (rice with sautéed and seasoned vegetable with chili sauce, available with or without meat), kimchi, bulgogi, various types of soups and noodles. The festival area also has several cafes where you can get some fod, coffee, tea and other beverages, and sweets.

Gyeonggijeon Shrine at Hanok Village in Jeonju – Photo by Angel Romero

While in Jeonju, a must see is Hanok Village. There, you will find traditional Korean buildings, gift stores, restaurants and temples.

You can get to Jeonju via high speed train or by bus, directly from the Seoul airport.

Special thanks to the staff at Jeonju Sori Festival, specially Joy, Han Ji-young, Park Je Chun and our interpreters Rachel and Rose Lee.

Recommended links:

Jeonju Sori Festival
Hanok Village
10 reasons to put Jeonju on your bucket list (Lonely Planet)

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The Nine Day Navaratri Sangeetothsavam 2019 by Ekata Muscat at Muscat

The Ekata Muscat Team

Ekata Muscat hosted a 9-day Navaratri Sangeetothsavam from September 29 to October 7, 2019 at Al Masaa Hall, Ruwi Muscat which was well organized and well attended by music lovers in large number on all the days. This is the second year of this organization celebrating Navaratri sangeethothsavam.

Artists and musicians from all over Muscat and from India (Chennai and Kerala) performed during these days.

The best feature of the music festival was that it was a success story of fait accompli (done deal) in the effort of Ekata Muscat to explore with young promising artists and not including even one of the top notch branded artist for adding value in the fare like say a Sangeeta Kalanidhi TV Shankaranarayanan or an Aruna Sairam.

The test of the pudding is in its eating and the success of the event was evident in the full house on all the days.

The venue Al Maasa Hall was full of divine vibration with chanting of Lalitha Sahasranamam by ladies from different places in Oman on all the nine day. This was chanted before the commencement of the music concerts. It was very spectacular to see all the ladies attired in colorful saris and dresses appropriate for the days of Navaratri/Dussehra and rendering very well.

The functions were presided over by the high dignitaries from various enterprises in Muscat. The first day was inaugurated by His Excellency Munu Mahawar, Ambassador of India to Oman on September 29, 2019 and the closing day was presided by luminary Shri PK Prakash, Cultural Counsellor, Indian Embassy, Oman.

The programs were scheduled for the evening from 6:30 pm onwards with lighting of lamp (Kutthuvilaku) by the chief guest along with the performing artists of the evening. This was adhered to with utmost reverence and decorum and this with the deep founded belief that Light symbolizes knowledge, and darkness, ignorance.

Day 1

The first day concert was by Konniyoor Suresh from Muscat who is a seasoned musician with rich background in the music field. He was accompanied by Sh. CS Syam on the violin and Sh. Killikurushi Mangalam PK Rammohan on mridangam and Delhi Sh. Srinivasan Raman on the kanjeera.

Konniyoor Suresh & ensemble

The concert began with an AtaTala varnam in Bhairavi- followed by traditional Ganesha stuthi in the raga Hamsadwani. Sh. Suresh is a versatile violinist along with being a vocalist also. He covered the concert paddathi and sang a Ragam Tanam in the raga Sankarabbharanam following by a kriti Devi Jagat Janani – 1st day Navaratri kriti by Maharaja Swathi Tirunal very appropriate for the day. He also rendered a syama sastry kriti in the raga Neelambari – Brovavamma Bangaru vamma which is very rarely heard kriti. He covered compositions by various composers which was well appreciated. Shri Syam gave good support on the violin which was subtle. The percussionists showed their expertise in tani avartanam with good coordination.

Day 2

The second day was again by a prominent musician Smt. Deepa Narayanan from Muscat. She commenced with a Daru Varnam in raga Khamas, a composition of Sh Muthaiah Bhagavatar which was very pleasing to listen to.

Daru varnam is the one with swara, jati and sahitya with usual pallavi, anupallavi and charanam. Her rendition of Purvikalyani had a clear ragalakshanas followed by Swathi Tirunal kriti Deva Deva Jagadeeswara which was pleasing.

The main piece of the concert was in the raga Kalyani- Needu charana Pankaja, a composition of Pallavi Gopala Iyer in Adi Tala. Then the Kamalaambikaya in Punnagavarali was very appropriate for the occasion and was very well rendered. The Sankarabarana Thillana is very rarely heard in the concerts now a days. It was nice to hear. Shri CS Syam gave able coordination on the Violin and Sh. Delhi Srinivasan Raman gave a very befitting percussion support.

Day 3

The third day concert by an artist from India Smt. Rethna Prabha. Every day, each concert was a class of its own and gave a different experience to the audience present there with various varnams, kritis, Thillana etc.

Mrs. Rethna Prabha

Rethna started with a Pada Varnam in the raga Shanmukhapriya composed by Dr. Balamurlikrishna followed by a brisk begada- Vallabha Nayakasya, a Dikshitar kriti. Yedayya gathi in Chalanattai was a pleasing kriti. Rethna has a rich voice which kept the audience spellbound. Rudrapriya kriti – Amba Paradevathe of Krishnasami Ayya followed by Navaratri kriti in Saveri was an excellent selection for the festival.

The Thillana composed by Mavelikara R. Balachandran kept the audience guessing. It was very well rendered. The accompanist on the violin Sh Konniyur Suresh gave an able support. He is a versatile violinist apart from being a vocalist also. On the percussion, Sh Mavelikara R. Balachandran on mridangam and Sh. Aluva R. Rajesh on ghatam gave a rich treat to the ear. Very good coordination and the tani avartanam was rendered with apt synchronization.

Day 4

The fourth day of the Sangeethothsavam featured a young celebrity from India, Sh. Tushar MurleeKrishna who is a playback singer apart from being a vocalist in Carnatic music. He has been doing several music shows and has won various prizes. The august audience present in the hall were excited and eagerly waiting for them to hear Thushar performing. He started the concert with Abhogi Varnam which filled the hall with music vibration. After rendering Vinayaka stuti in Shanmukhapriya and Banturiti in ragam Hamsanadam he elaborately sang raga Sankarabharanam followed by a Tyagaraja kriti Mariyada kadura which was an excellent rendition and exhibited his expertise in handling the presenting of raga alapana, swara prasthara and the clarity of sahithyam in the kriti.

Thushar Muralikrishna.

The able support of the accompanist both on violin by Sh. Vishnu Chandramohan, Maveliara R. Balachandran on mridangam and Sh. Aluva R. Rajjesh on ghatam was very well appreciated by the audience. A perfect coordination of rhythmic nuances. Sh. Vishnu Chandramohan, a seasoned artist from Tirupanthura Kerala, performed his part excellently in sync with the main artist Sh. Thushar. What a scintillating concert it was.

Day 5

The fifth day concert was by Kum. Sreelakshmi and Kum. Sreedevi accompanied by Sh. Aluva R. Rajesh on the mridangam and Sh. Vishnu Chandramohan on the violin. They commenced their performance with a brisk Hamsadwani varnam – Jalajakshi in Adi tala followed by a Nattai Kriti on lord Ganesha.

Kum. Sreelakshmi & Kum. Sreedevi

Their rendition of Mohanam kriti – Sada palaya had a good raga bhavam and esthetics. The main kriti was in the raga Kalyani –a composition of Pattnam Subramania Iyer was well presented. The accompanist gave an able support. The young girls have bright future with their rich voice and dedication in the field.

Day 6

On the sixth and seventh day Ekata Muscat gave exposure to the young talent of Muscat, Oman. Each and every artists exhibited their talents even though it was for a short duration. It was delighting to see the sincere commitment of the young and upcoming artist on the stage. A very hearty congratulations to the teacher/gurus who trained them in Carnatic music in this part of the world. A brief jugalbandi on veena, venu (Flute) was well appreciated by the audience. Though it was for a short period of 45 minutes, the artists had good coordination and kept the audience charmed.

In the evening of the sixth day there was a concert by Shri Saaju Raman, musician from Muscat. He started with a kriti on lord Ganesha in Mohana Kalyani followed by Sri Saraswathi in the raga Aarabhi. Then a Dikshitar kriti Kaaya roha in the raga Abheri. A rare rendered kriti which was handled very well. There was no repetition of any kriti of what we heard from the earlier concerts. A kriti in Shanmukhapriya- Parvathi Nayakane- Papanasam Sivan kriti was the main piece with raga, niraval and swara prasthara. Thani Avartanam by Palakad Gautam was very crisp and bright. Sh. Vishnu Chandramohan was in full support, as usual, and showing his talent very well.

Saaju K Raman

Day 7

The seventh day event was followed by a young and seasoned musician from South India, Chennai: Sh. Aditya Madhav, a disciple of Sangeetha Kala Nidhi Sh. Sanjay Subramaniam. His concert was very appropriate for the august audience present in the venue hall. As per the saying goes, he played to the gallery keeping them spellbound. Aditya started the concert with a Tyagaraja Kriti in Bahudari Raga followed by Nanda Gopala, a Dikshitar Kriti in the raga Yamuna Kalyani.

Raga Alapana in the raga Natabhairavi was an innovative and scholarly rendition and the kriti of Papanasam Sivan was very well presented with niraval and kalpana swaras. His presentation of Ragam Tanam Pallavi in the raga Hamsaanandi was very well enjoyed by the audience. The ragas chosen for ragamalika following the pallavi were pleasing to the ear.

The concert was crisp and audience were mesmerized by his voice modulation. The accompanist Sh. Vishnu Chandramohan on violin and Delhi. R. Srinivasan on mridangam gave an able support to the main artist. The concert concluded with a Thillana in raga Dhanashri of Swathi Tirunal.

Day 8

The eighth day program was a scintillating concert by the Muscat sisters Kum. Sruti and Kum. Sahana. Both the girls are now under the tutelage of Bombay Jayashree, a senior and well known musician from south. The concert commenced with the Navaraga mallika Varnam which was well rendered. The coordination between the two was well presented. Both have bright future to become a seasoned musician. Sh. Vishnu Chandramohan and Delhi R. Srinivasan on violin and mridangam respectively, gave good befitting support to the artist.

Day 9

The ninth day was the closing day ceremony of the music festival. The chief guest of the evening was Sh. P.K. Prakash, Cultural counselor from the Indian Embassy.

Ekata Muscat has been honoring musicians with high contribution to Carnatic music and awarding them with title. This year award was conferred to Dr. Saroja Raman who is a musician and continues her efforts to contribute to the Carnatic music field in various ways. It is a great honor for the persons who are conferred with the title.

Dr. Saroja Raman receives the citation and memeto

This day, the concert was by Shri Mathew Thomas, a senior musician from Muscat, Oman. He commenced with Thodi Varnam followed by a Ganesha Stuti in the raga Hamsadwani, a composition of Papanasam Sivan. Further, a kriti in the raga Ritigowla- Janani Ninnu vina of Subbaraya Sastri was well rendered by the artist. Kritis in the ragas Sarasangi, Sama and then Poorvikalyani was well justified and appreciated by the music lovers present there.

Mathew Thomas

The main piece of the concert was in the raga Sankarabharanam – Swara Raga Sudha of Tyagaraja which was an elaborate presentation followed with a brief and brisk Thani avartanam by Killikkurishi Mangalam PK Rammohan and Konniyur Suresh on mridangam and kanjeera. Sh. Vishnu Chandramohan gave a very good violin support.

Kudoes to the Ekata Muscat who sincerely made all efforts to bring out the sangeethothsavam in a grand manner.

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Sangjaru: Korean Gypsy Wins Sori Frontier Contest

The Sori Frontier with KB Bank contest took place October 5, 2019 during the annual Jeonju International Sori Festival at the Yeonji Madang stage. The contest has been running for 10 years and seeks to promote new Korean talent in the world music field. The winner of the final competition gets 18 million won. The winner this year was the trio Sangjaru: Korean Gypsy.

Gwon Hyochang – Photo by Angel Romero
Nam Seonghun – Photo by Angel Romero

Sangjaru: Korean Gypsy 이미지 intends to inject new creativity into ‘sangja (box)’, meaning tradition. The three artists combine traditional Korean music with Gypsy swing and improvisation. The band includes Jo Seongyun on guitar; Gwon Hyochang on janggu (drum); and Nam Seonghun on ajaeng (wide zither).

Sangjaru: Korean Gypsy – Photo by Angel Romero

Sangjaru: Korean Gypsy put on a visually fun and lively show. They changed costumes throughout the performance, switching from traditional Korean outfits to enormous white wigs.

Although I enjoyed Sangjaru: Korean Gypsy, my favorite act was Gaak Project 이미지. The group combines fascinating, finely-crafted traditional music from Jeollabuk-do province with subtle keyboards, processed guitars and electronics in an intimate setting.

Gaak Project – Photo by Angel Romero

Gaak Project performs music based on the traditions of Jeollabuk-do province. Band members include Park Hyeonyeong on vocals; ; Lee Dongjun on bamboo flute;  Seo Sujin on ajaeng; Kim Hansaem on percussion; and Park Dongseok on keyboards and guitar.

Gaak Project – Photo by Angel Romero
Gaak Project – Photo by Angel Romero

The last act was Hey String 이미지, a trio of three gayageum players who delivered a set of mesmerizing melodic and avant-garde musical pieces using gayaeums and water-filled glasses. Hey String includes Jihyo Kim on gayageum, glassharp, kalimba; Jihyeon Park on gayageum, glockenspiel, vocals; and Jihyeon Oh on gayageum, percussion, glokenspiel.

Jihyeon Oh , Hey String – Photo by Angel Romero
Jihyeon Park, Hey String – Photo by Angel Romero
Jihyo Kim, Hey String – Photo by Angel Romero

More about the Sori Festival

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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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