Folk singer Paul Frederic Simon was born October 13, 1941 in Newark New Jersey. His music career started in Forest Hills High School when he and his friend Art Garfunkel began singing together as a duo occasionally performing at school dances. In 1964 Simon and Garfunkel got signed by Columbia Records. Their first LP, Wednesday Morning 3 AM was released in 1964.
The first album didn’t do very well so Simon moved to England where he released The Paul Simon Song Book in 1965. He returned to the United States to reunite with Garfunkel. They recorded several albums that had considerable commercial success, including Sounds of Silence (1965); Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966); Bookends (1968); The Graduate soundtrack (1968); and Bridge Over Troubled Water (1969).
Paul Simon’s early relationship with world music was clearly visible in Bridge Over Troubled Water which featured an Andean song called “El Condor Pasa.”
Simon and Garfunkel disbanded in 1971. Simon released a solo album titled Paul Simon in 1972. Subsequent albums included “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon” (1973) that contained the hit songs as “Something So Right”, “Kodachrome”, “American Tune” and “Loves Me Like A Rock.”
In 1975 Paul Simon released “Still Crazy After All These Years” featuring the hit single “5 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” The next albums were “Greatest Hits Etc.” (1977) and “One Trick Pony” (1980). The One Trick Pony recording, Simon’s first album with Warner Bros. Records was also paired with a major motion picture of the same name, with Simon in the starring role. The hits dried up by the time he released Hearts and Bones (1983).
Paul Simon’s commitment with the USA for Africa project led him to perform on the famine relief fundraising single ‘We Are the World.” The Africa connection continued in 1986 with the Grammy-winning “Graceland”, which featured South African vocal ensemble Ladysmith Black Mambazo. His fascination with rhythm continued in 1990 with “The Rhythm of the Saints” that included Brazilian sounds.
On May 9 2006, Warner Bros. Records released “Surprise,” Paul Simon’s first release since 2000, which was produced by Simon, and in collaboration with Brian Eno. Said Paul Simon: “Working with Brian Eno opens the door to a world of sonic possibilities; plus he’s just a great guy to hang with in the studio”, or for that matter in life. I had a really good time.” Surprise includes contributions from musicians including Steve Gadd, Herbie Hancock and Bill Frisell.
During his distinguished career, Paul Simon has been the recipient of many honors and awards including twelve Grammy Awards three of which (Bridge Over Troubled Water, Still Crazy After All These Years and Graceland) were albums of the year. In 2003 he was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his work as half of the duo Simon and Garfunkel.
He is an inductee of The Songwriters Hall of Fame and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame both as a member of Simon and Garfunkel and as a solo artist. He was a recipient of The Kennedy Center Honors in 2003.
Of Simon’s many concert appearances he is most fond of the two concerts in Central Park in New York (with his partner and childhood friend Art Garfunkel in 1981 and as a solo artist in 1991) and the series of shows he did at the invitation of Nelson Mandela in South Africa-the first American artist to perform in post-apartheid South Africa.
Paul Simon’s philanthropic work includes the co-founding of The Children’s Health Fund (CHF) with Dr. Irwin Redlener. The CHF donates and staffs mobile medical vans that bring health care to poor and indigent children in urban and rural locations around the United States. Simon has also raised millions of dollars for worthy causes as varied as AMFAR, The Nature Conservancy The Fund for Imprisoned Children In South Africa and Autism Speaks. In 1989 The United Negro College Fund honored him with its Frederick D. Patterson Award.
On May 23rd 2007, Simon was the recipient of the first annual Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Named in honor of George and Ira Gershwin, this newly created award recognizes the profound and positive effect of popular music on the world’s culture and will be given annually to a composer or performer whose lifetime contributions exemplify the standard of excellence associated with the Gershwins.
Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., with Simon & Garfunkel (Columbia Records, 1964)
The Paul Simon Songbook (CBS, 1965)
Sounds of Silence, with Simon & Garfunkel (Columbia Records, 1966)
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, with Simon & Garfunkel (Columbia Records, 1966)
Bookends, with Simon & Garfunkel (Columbia Records, 1968)
Bridge over Troubled Water, with Simon & Garfunkel (Columbia Records, 1970) Paul Simon (Columbia Records, 1972) There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (Columbia Records, 1973)
Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin’ (Columbia Records, 1974) Still Crazy After All These Years (Columbia Records, 1975) One-Trick Pony (Warner Bros. Records, 1980)
The Concert in Central Park, with Simon & Garfunkel (Warner Bros. Records, 1982)
Hearts and Bones (Warner Bros. Records, 1983) Graceland (Warner Bros. Records, 1986) The Rhythm of the Saints (Warner Bros. Records, 1990)
Paul Simon’s Concert in the Park (Warner Bros.Records, 1991)
Songs from The Capeman (Warner Bros. Records, 1997)
You’re the One (Warner Bros. Records, 2000)
Live from New York City, 1967, with Simon & Garfunkel (Columbia Records, 2002)
Old Friends: Live on Stage, with Simon & Garfunkel (Warner Bros. Records, 2004)
Live 1969, with Simon & Garfunkel (Columbia Records, 2008)
Surprise (Warner Bros. Records, 2006) So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music, 2011)
Live in New York City (Hear Music/Concord, 2012) Stranger to Stranger (Concord Records, 2016) Paul Simon – The Concert in Hyde Park (Sony Legacy, 2017)
Shivoham – The Quest is an impressive production by vocalist, composer and businesswoman Chandrika Tandon. The album is beautifully packaged and designed in a hard cover box that contains three discs and a booklet with song descriptions, photos and credits. Shivoham – The Quest is divided into three movements: Yearning, Searching and Connecting that reflects Chandrika Tandon’s musical and life journey.
Chandrika Tandon brings together two of the greatest musical traditions in the world: Indian classical music (Hindustani and Carnatic) and western classical music. The Indian influences dominate in some of the tracks, with Indian musical forms, Hindi lead vocals, percussion, bansuri flute, string instruments, mantras and other elements. Western classical appears in the form of classical and early music choirs and orchestras and lead vocals in English.
There is fusion as well, where Indian and western traditions are elegantly intertwined. Additionally, Chandrika Tandon incorporates other world traditions such as the Soweto Gospel Choir, flamenco and global percussion.
The list of musicians is extraordinary. In addition to Chandrika Tandon’s impeccable and mesmerizing vocals, Shivoham – The Quest includes the London Voices choir directed by Terry Edwards; Soul Chants Ensemble of New York; Soweto Gospel Choir; The King’s Singers; and soloists from Ajoy Chakrabarty School of Music of Kolkata.
Also featured is the London Metropolitan Orchestra, directed by Andy Brown and percussion ensembles from Kolkata and Mumbai in India.
The lists of solo instrumentalists includes a striking international cast of acclaimed musicians: Kenny Werner on piano; Martin Bejarano on piano; Sally Heath on piano; Romero Lubambo on guitar; Peter Calo on guitar; Pedro da Silva on Portuguese guitar; Jamey Haddad on percussion; Cyro Baptista on percussion; Thomas Kemp on violin; Gil Goldstein on accordion; Anthony Pike on clarinet; Pandit Ronu Majumdar on flute; Sandeep Mishra on sarangi; Pratik Shrivastava on sarod; Shubhayu Sen Majumdar on esraj.
Shivoham – The Quest is a masterfully-crafted production that seamlessly crosses various secular and sacred music traditions.
Vocalist Najma Akhtar, better known as Najma, was born in 1964 Chelmsford, England. Najma has Indian ancestry and holds a degree in chemical engineering.
Najma’s singing career began when she unexpectedly won first prize at an Asian song contest in 1984. She soon came to international attention with a track especially recorded for the first WOMAD/Real World compilation record.
The release of her first album Qareeb on Triple Earth Records in 1987 rapidly gave a cult status upon her with its adoption by Azzedine Alaia for her summer collection, a video directed by Jean Baptiste Mondino and inclusion in the soundtrack of Sammy & Rosie Get Laid, a Hanif Quereishi film. Qareeb attracted a lot of attention with its groundbreaking fusion of sounds of the Indian sub-continent and western pop. Najma quickly became an essential figure on the European world music scene.
A second release “Atish” in 1991 reached No. 4 in the Billboard World Music chart. The third album “Pukar” sold thousands of copies in Japan alone and was released on Miles Copeland’s label Mondo Melodia in the USA and South America. An album of popular Indian film songs titled “Forbidden Kiss” was also released in the USA in 1996 on the Shanachie label.
Najma has crossed musical boundaries and worked with artists that others only dream of. She has performed with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and has recorded for their MTV Unplugged and No Quarter albums. She also contributed to Jah Wobble’s “Take Me To God” album (from which the song ‘Raga’ was featured in Robert Altman’s film “Pret a Porter”) and has collaborated with Andy Summers (The Police), Carol Grimes and Martin Allcock (Fairport Convention).
Najma is also in heavy demand as an actress and composer. In 2002 she wrote composed and recorded 13 songs for a full-length feature film titled Bollywood Queen.
On March 11, 2003 Mondo Melodia/Ark 21 Records released Vivid, Najma’s 7th album. Throughout the album’s ten tracks her mesmerizing voice soars over Arabic rhythms, trance beats, Bollywood strings and synthesizers. Najma wrote the lyrics and melodies for Vivid and collaborated with composer Richard Grassby-Lewis. Richard is better known for his work in film and television however his cinematic roots are brought into play on the album bringing the listener through different scenes as each track plays. Searching for a description to their distinctive sound Najma and Richard chose ‘Indian Gothic.’
Qareeb (Triple Earth Records 1987) Atish (1991) Pukar (Calling You) (Mondo Melodia 1998)
Forbidden Kiss (Shanachie 1996)
Vivid (Mondo Melodia/Ark 21 2003)
Fariyaad: A plea to the creator (Choice Music, 2008) Rishte (World Village, 2009)
Giant Steps Music has announced the launch of its Music Action Lab 2.0 starting on September 25, 2017 that includes an exclusive calendar of events, workshops, and sessions. The Music Action Lab is a ground-breaking music residency uniting musicians from across the globe to create social influence music, and to develop the next generation of musical changemakers. More information can be found at www.giantstepsmusic.org
Following up on their 2016 release of Eternal, the San Francisco based Baraka Moon is back to inundate listeners with their particular brand of savage coolness on Wind Horse, available on October 6th on the Baraka Moon Music label. Immersing listeners into a deep sound pool fashioned out mystical Sufi trance, textured Indian ragas, meaty African rhythms and the tangy flavors of Australia’s Aboriginal centuries-old musical traditions, Wind Horse is a deluge of sound that is potent and highly satisfying. With copacetic grooves and delicious dance tracks, listeners just have to ride the easy waves of Wind Horse for an excellent ride.
Baraka Moon has pooled its talents with its members, vocalist and harmonium player Sukhawat Ali Khan (who just happens to be related to musical masters Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and Nazakat Ali Khan); percussionist and didgeridoo master Stephen Kent; drummer and percussionist Peter Warren; and guitarist, ukulele player and backing vocalist Anastasi Mavrides. Wind Horse also shows off the talents of guest musicians like Gurdeep Hira on tabla, Eda Maxym, Stella Karuna Kent and Sam Becker on backing vocals, Ben Issacs on jembe and percussion and Madusara Liyange and Swapan Gandhi on bansuri flute.
Wind Horse opens on the winds of the fabulous groove “Bismillah,” before moving onto the guitar slick and meaty rhythmic “Rasa Divine,” replete with some dishy backing vocals. Listeners shouldn’t miss out on the rich and rewarding “Narayane” with Mr. Khan’s vocals surrounded by guitar flourishes and mesmerizing rhythms. “Allah Hoo” is simply kickass good with didgeridoo against harmonium and Mr. Khan’s vocals.
“Sabir” is full of reggae flair, while “Mankuntu” is all quick paced richness. Equally delicious are the didgeridoo and speaking tongues flash of “Julay Julay” the raucous wild ride of title track “Wind Horse” and the lovely serene addition of bansuri flute on closing track “Alap.”
Baraka Moon’s Wind Horse is a magic carpet ride across Indian grasslands, Pakistani’s lazy river banks, African savannas and the rich, red earth packed landscapes of down under. And what a ride it is.
Love Is My Religion out on the Alif Records label, the latest offering by Turkish composer and multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek is stylishly dramatic and sleekly passionate and a worthy addition to Mr. Tekbilek’s impressive discography that includes the recordings The Sultans Middle Eastern Band Vol 1 and 2, Suleyman the Magnificent, Beyond the Sky, Whirling, Mystical Gardens, Alif, and Kelebek. Pulling at threads from the past and present, from the traditional and contemporary, Love Is My Religion cleverly weaves a spell that is both beguiling and deliciously exotic.
Opening with “Araf,” listeners delve deep into the warm riches of Mr. Tekbilek’s mastery of ney, oud, davul, bendir and darbuka, as well as the flavors offered up by accompanying artists Alex Alessandroni Jr. on piano, Bahadir Sener on kanun, Yossi Fine on acoustic bss and Chris Wabich on drums. If that weren’t enough to tempt listeners “Vivir” is utterly spectacular with the song’s composer and vocalist Yasmin Levy taking center stage with her heartbreaking vocals. Joined by Mr. Tekbilek on vocals and various instruments, keyboardist and guitarist Amotz Plessner and Hamid Saeidi on santour, “Vivir” shimmers.
Love Is My Religion adds icing to the cake with Ismet Siral’s “Barefoot Dervish” in all its piano, synthesizer, brass and woodwind goodness, as well as A. Ekber Cicek’s “Haydar” and the delicately delightful “Mara” composed by Amotz Plessner, Alex Alessandroni Jr. and Idan Raiche who also his own piano work to the recording, but the real outstanding performance on this track has to be Lili Haydn’s spectacular violin lines. Standout tracks like deeply exotic “Memories,” the jazzy slant found on “Steepe” and closing track “Adam, Love Is My Religion & Tende Canim,” composed by Mr. Tekbilek and using a traditional Sufi melody are sure to please any music fan.
The performances on Love Is My Religion aren’t just impeccable there’s hypnotic, graceful and fiercely good, so my only advice is to listen up, load up and disappearing into some delicious music.
The World Music Expo (WOMEX) program will be screening a set of world music-related film documentaries from around the globe to the delegates and public alike. Filmmakers will be available to present their new work and strengthen the ties of the global music film scene.
Julian Chalde & Andrés Mayo will present Charco – Songs from the Rio de la Plata, a discovery into the origins of rioplatense song; Maciek Bochniak, Mikolaj Pokromski and Francis Falceto will introduce Ethiopiques – Revolt of the Soul as a market screening before its upcoming world premiere; Vincent Moon & Priscilla Telmon are arranging a series of Hibridos short films, an experimental study of current day spiritual cults in Brazil; and Lisa Nordström & Pether Lindgren are showcasing Sonica Sequence an audio-visual film experience about connecting through the universal language of music rather than speech and are officially closing this year’s Film Program at WOMEX.
Other screenings include A story of Sahel Sounds, Ayny – My Second Eye, Sonido Mestizo – The Nu LatAm Sound Ecuador, and The Little Princes of Rajasthan.
World Culture Open and World Music Shanghai have joined forces with Cambodian Living Arts to bring world music performances to the public in China, South Korea, and for the very first time, Cambodia. From September 23 to November 11, a music carnival will unite all three countries in a series of world music festivals that are free and open to the public: World Music Shanghai in China, REPfest in Cambodia, and Better Together Concert in South Korea.
World Music Shanghai celebrates its 10th edition this year from September 23 to Oct 7, presenting world music experiences to audiences in Shanghai, Wuhan, Chongqing and Foshan cities through music sharing, creation, and beyond in public urban spaces.
With 24 acts and musicians from over 25 regions around the world, audiences will be able to enjoy a series of performances by eclectic artists such as Chinese pingtan singer and storyteller Gao Bowen, acoustic quartet DakhaBrakha from Ukraine, Somalian vocalist Sahra Halgan, Arabic music ensemble Tarabband from Sweden, and more. In addition to performances, the festival also offers experiential activities, where educational and family-oriented workshop that promise a fully immersive world music experience.
The festivities continue from October 27-29 in Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat and center for living heritage in Cambodia, in the form of REPfest; an international festival dedicated to World Music, drawing artists from around Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Japan for three days of performances, workshops and forums.
Developed and presented by local arts organization Cambodian Living Arts (CLA), with support from World Culture Open (WCO) and Mekong Cultural Hub (MCH), REPfest will focus on the Greater Mekong region’s “living heritage”; the art, culture, and everyday practices that shape people’s lives.
Artists of diverse styles and backgrounds from will gather to share their experiences and skills, and sow the seeds for future collaboration in the region. In addition to showcases and performances, there will also be workshops where artists can learn from each other and engage with the audience on a more personal level. The full lineup will be announced on September 27 and made available on Cambodian Living Arts’ website.
Song Seng, CLA’s Heritage Hub Manager, said “REPfest is a great chance to bring together artists and audiences from the Mekong region, so people can get to know each other, explore our shared heritage, and continue our stories together. Siem Reap’s temples, its status as the birthplace of Cambodian culture remind us of the thread between generations – our music, arts and culture came from generations past, and now it’s the role of artists today to build on this, create new work, and keep our culture alive and relevant for future generations.”
Besides China and Cambodia, audiences in Korea too will enjoy access to world music performances this fall. Inspired by the success of the Jeju World Music Oreum Festival in Jeju last October, World Culture Open is bringing another world music delight to Korea this year: Better Together Concert.
As part of World Culture Open 2017, a creative gathering of global changemakers, the Better Together Concert will be held on November 10-12 at the revitalized Old Tobacco Factory in the historic city of Cheongju.
Dedicated at large to the theme of empathy, Better Together Concert will present music and artistic performances that celebrate cultural diversity and togetherness. Artists that will be taking audiences into a creative wonderland together include prominent Rwandan singer-songwriter Jean Paul Samputu, Israeli acoustic band Gulaza specializing in Yemenite Women Songs, and the world-renowned U.S. vertical ballet troupe Bandaloop.
“It truly is an exciting collaboration. We have grown from two countries last year to three Asian nations today, and we look forward to having more countries and regions join in, and inspiring more international collaborations in the years to come,” says Kseniya Tsoy, from Connect&Collaborate at World Culture Open. “We hope the festivals will allow more and more people to connect with themselves and with one another, as music truly is humanity’s common language, connecting us beyond borders and spoken languages. Aesthetically beautiful and socially interactive, music is one of the most engaging and accessible ways to connect to our shared humanity, and such an amazing way to learn about new cultures.”
All three events are non-profit initiatives free and open to the public, and are committed to providing space for cultural exchange through music. The partners endeavor to grow this joint initiative into one of monumental influence in Asia, where the public can enjoy free and open access to world music performances and workshops, and audiences and musicians alike can discover new cultures in an engaging and enriching journey together.
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?
Everyone who loves music needs to make a pilgrimage to the UK’s phenomenal annual WOMAD – World of Music Arts and Dance Festival – founded in 1980 by Peter Gabriel, womad.co.uk. To take in a mammoth feast of the world’s greatest music with kindred souls while one with nature in the English countryside is unimaginable pleasure and fun. In its 35th year it’s a fantastic festival experience – with superlative marks for organization, production, and programming.
Charlton Park, the WOMAD site, is situated near Malmesbury in the midst of the lush, fertile farmlands of Wiltshire County where the daytime light moves swiftly from brooding shadows to brilliant sunlight. (Wiltshire is locus for Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Circle.) This year’s edition had rain showers and sprinkles with occasional patches of blue skies. There is no such thing as a raincheck in England. Wellington boots are de rigeur. As Simon Broughton, Songlines editor in chief remarked, “WOMAD people are resilient.” (Songlines Magazine had a huge, cheery tent spanning at least 20 meters across for artists’ cd autographs and magazine sales. It was also the best shelter from rain spells.)
We have nothing like it in the U.S. WOMAD 2017 took place at the end of` last month from Thursday July 27th to Sunday, the 30th. 100 artists from 50 countries. Huge performance tents loomed up over the park’s several acres. 35,000 fans including masses of children, all of whom camped out in thousands of tents. (There are also nearby charming cottages if pampering is your style.) It’s the British spirit of adventure that beckons locals and astounds internationals. As well as the immersion in fresh-air countryside culture. Yoga and Tai Chi classes were the mid morning rousers. Add children’s activities, international cooking classes, music and dance workshops, and scores of food booths with tastings from Goa to Tibet.
Programming, so keenly attuned to what’s out there on the music markets, included several of the great established acts in the world music realm: Orchestra Baobab, Oumou Sangare, Seu Jorge, Bonga, Roy Ayers with Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Toko Telo, and Savina Yannatou. Rapidly gaining international favor, Cuba’s Dayme Arocena, Estonia’s Trad.Attack, China’s Zhou Family Band, and Sudan’s Alsarah and the Nubatones all won over new fans.
However, my goal was to catch some artists rarely if ever seen in the U.S., whom I’d never seen before, and whose recordings I admire. Here are the standouts.
Based in Castilla-La Mancha (the land of Don Quixote), Vigüela, one of the greatest folk groups from the heart of Spain caught my ear last year with their splendid CD, “Temperamento” (ARC Music). There are wedding and harvest songs and songs to accompany daily chores – even sheep-shearing music on the recording. Viguela’s exuberant acoustic WOMAD concert seemed to make the earth sing in joyous, celebratory unison. The excitement in the crowds was infectious as everyone clapped along to the rhythms with shouts of “Olé!” I was certain how thrilled the spirit of the late BBC London’s radio presenter, musicologist, and writer, Charlie Gillett, must have been to welcome Vigüela to his dedicated BBC 3 WOMAD stage.
For over 3 decades, the group of 5 has managed to preserve their village songs with all the dedicated finesse and detail that could have been lost with time. The members played the 12-string bandurria mandolin, lute, rebec fiddle, guitar, friction drum, tambourines, and castanets with aplomb, flair, and camaraderie. They incorporated some of their recorded percussive ranch household utensils: spoon and pan, glass bottle, mortar, stones, cowbells, sieve, and sheep-shearing scissors. The air rang with Vigüela’s renditions of sprightly dance music – the fandango, malagueña, seguidilla, and jota. Strong, melismatic voices enraptured with fervent passion. Towards the end a couple swirled and whirled to a jota dance song. The group has injected ancient folk songs with rousingly fresh, dynamic, and revitalized new energies. Vigüela is triumphant assertion of life itself. They’re a classic.
The dense mangrove rainforest swamps on the Pacific coast of Colombia are home to most of the 5 million Afro-Colombians in the country. There, in the small Timbiqui village of 20,000, surrounded by river waters, artisanal mining, hand panning for gold flakes, is one of the main local industries. And the home origins of Nidia Gongora’s Grupo Canalón de Timbiquí. Canalón refers to the chute through which earth and gold bits are funneled. Women sift through and rinse the sediment pourings in river waters in search of gold. Born in that environment, Nidia Gongora and her early high school mates formed Grupo Canalón de Timbiquí in 2003.
Nidia Gongora now has two musical personae: her current CD “Curao,” is her first solo album. The recording is a dazzling electronically driven collaboration with British DJ and producer Quantic with an urban Latina feel. She is better known and recognized as the ringleader of the award-winning, folkloric Grupo Canalón de Timbiquí. Both styles are rooted in Colombia’s Afro-Amerindian currulao music.
Nidia’s onstage vocal accompaniment featured 3 other women dressed in sombreros and bright yellow and blue ruffled dresses. They led complex harmonies in call and response choral formation with backing polyrhythmic percussive textures by 4 men players on marimba, and hand and stick drums. Nidia herself carried and shook the women’s emblematic guasa shaker. The group performed their region’s syncopated, gently rolling Afro-Amerindian music, sung for generations by village women as they panned for gold, cooked, breastfed, washed clothes in the river, and praised patron saints. Clearly, the women in Timbiqui society carry the day, bringing musical upliftment and determination, lightheartedness and faith, to what is grueling, tedious work. Given the WOMAD showers this year, the Grupo Canalon’s repertoire, originating in Timbiqui’s environment of abundant rain and river waters, was a concert consonant and a cleansing festival blessing.
Utterly unorthodox musically, yet exceeding expectations of a powerful performance, Ifriqiyya Electrique delivered a thunderous concert based on modalities of Tunisian ritual trance possession. Their source lies in the Djerid Oasis region, where marginalized Africans worship the 13th century black Sufi saint, Sidi Marzuq. The saint was born in Timbuktu, displaced as a captive, and eventually freed due to his prodigious miracles. Every year over a few days in mid-summer, sacred psychic healing ceremonies known as “Banga” take place, dedicated to Sidi Marzuq. Spirits (ruwahine) are summoned. Mesmerized by the incessant beating rhythms amidst clouds of burning benzoin incense, Banga devotees become possessed and fall into convulsive trance. Ifriqiyya Electrique’s concert was a stylized musical enactment of the actual ritual. Their performance strikes a remarkable balance between the rational and irrational.
The group’s central force are 3 adherents of Sidi Marzuq from Tozeur (Tarek Sultan, Yahya Chouchen, Youssef Ghazala). At maximum volume, they played clattering qaraqab metal castanets and drum, measuring out the group’s sung, declamatory praises to Allah, the Prophet Mohammed, saints, and benevolent spirits. Serving as interpolated sonic vectors, the guitarist (Francois R. Cambuzat) and bass player (Gianna Greco) with added electronic effects amplified and elevated the Banga grooves with serious rock swagger.
Part of the performance impact lay in the screened footage of the live ritual filmed in Tozeur: the percussionists leading the saint’s followers, nodding and weaving, stumbling and falling in wild, ecstatic trance (although the truncated screen needed to have filled the stage as full backdrop). “Brilliantly conceived,” as Simon Broughton has noted, the performance in its visual and sound totality can make one feel part of the Banga ritual experience. Following the concert, the percussionists from Tozeur came offstage and as they continued to play their metal castanets, children surrounded them, stepping to their beats in fascination.
Rapture, sheer rapture, was my overwhelming reaction as I watched and listened to Parvathy Baul together with Somjit Dasgupta, who played one of India’s rarest string instruments, the sursringar. I remained captivated by them until their very last notes.
A Bengali Baul spiritual singer and a “sadhak” for more than 3 decades, Parvathy Baul has one of the most beautiful voices today on the Indian subcontinent. She’s a foremost female in the Baul male-dominated tradition. Her WOMAD repertoire was drawn from yogic Baul mysticism, tracing back 15 centuries and more. Over time, it has absorbed elements from Sufism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Vaishnavism, and Tantra.
With exquisite phrasing and a palette of nuanced melodic tonalities, Parvathy gave soulful cry to her intense emotions. By moments imploring, by others deeply solemn or merrily elated, she reached blissful completion with each song. She spun around as she sang, her long streaming dreadlocks splaying forth. High on mystical divine love, she imparted infinite peace, wresting herself free of earthly attachments. Her sense of coordination was impressive – simultaneously plucking her ektara and tapping her duggi drum strapped to her waist; ankle bells ringing, she’s a one-woman minstrel band.
Yet it was Somjit Dasgupta’s shimmering, meditative, sitar-like glissandos and bass-pitched sarod sonorities on his sursringar that added luminous dimensions to Parvathy’s presence. They haven’t recorded together, but they must. They are delirious enchantment.
Just as I was leaving to prepare for my flight back to New York, I noticed masses of Afro Celt Sound System fans, including droves of teenagers and young children cramming the Charlie Gillett stage grounds. Everyone was dancing in the passing rain shower. Steaming heat rose from the wet grass as those Wellington boots stomped away. Farther along on the festival grounds, thousands covered the field facing the main Open Air Stage. More dancing to classic reggae tunes by the inimitable Toots and the Maytals. In the distance, the festival’s illuminated ferris wheel was glowing like a giant silvery moon. The world was happy.
Don’t miss WOMAD next year, July 26-29, 2018. (You might get hooked.)
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion