The year is flying by furnishing us with a new set of musical memories, thrilling discoveries of unsigned talent on Glastonbury’s fringe stages, grooving to great dance bands from Africa at WOMAD or simply chilling with a beer and the Sunday papers on the Larmer Tee lawns. Just as you heave a sigh and mourn the end of the festival season, vex not…there’s one more festival that will give you the chance for a final fling, to lift your spirits before the nights start to draw in, in earnest. It’s also the perfect excuse to escape the city for the weekend and continue the very English and Victorian passion for a trip to the seaside by rail, for concerts, dancing , a paddle in the waves and of course the enjoyment of fish and chips, whilst strolling along the seafront promenade, weather permitting.
Musicport World Music Festival takes place every fourth weekend in October, in the East Yorkshire coastal town of Bridlington, birth place of aviatrix Amy Johnson, home to artist David and since 2009, Musicport’s new home. Occupying the newly refurbished Bridlington Spa complex, Musicport transforms the space into an indoor program of music, dance, workshops, a children’s festival offshoot and also world cinema courtesy of Scarborough film society.
Months of planning and hard work see creative visions materialize as food stalls and traders arrive early to set up their pitches, sound systems are given the traditional one two one two and Cloudbase, purveyors of fine music and vibes, are entrusted with creating a festival ambience. The Art Deco Ballroom featuring a glass domed ceiling and sprung wooden dancefloor, will become the main stage, the surroundings and balconies draped with fabric and more colors than the brightest sari.
Bunting and huge white fabric covered hoops covered in are hung in readiness for the Cloudbase visual protections. Names on contracts are becoming a reality as the artist reception and green room are set up in readiness for Musicport’s well renowned top notch artist hospitality. This bodes well for music lovers as Jim McLaughlin, the festival’s director believes in a strong correlation between brilliant performances and the provision of good food and hospitality.
Brimming with music from local and international artists let the musical adventure begin. Its all under one roof, “the indoor festival with the outdoor spirit” includes everything we love whilst leaving behind the choice chemical toilets, crowded tents with overpriced beer, long treks between stages, knee deep mud and rain we loathe.
To give you a flavor of the music you can expect, here’s the low down from last year’s festival…. but first take a deep breath. Here we go…… Those arriving early were treated to a special performance in the foyer from Newcastle based Soznak aided by dancing from the Urban Gypsies. Rafiki Jazz from Sheffield opened the main stage to be followed over the weekend by performances from Nitin Sawhney, The mighty Misty in Roots on their only UK date, a rare appearance from the recently reformed Congolese supergroup Les Quatre Etioles, John Peel favorites the Ukranians on their comeback tour, Leeds based Chumbawumba, polyphonic singing from Bulgaria’s Bisserov Sisters, Pacific Curls from the southern hemisphere, jazz inflections with the masterful Adriano Adewale Group, Sudanese Voodoo grooves with Rango, a colorful spiritual Sunday morning awakening with the Tashi Lhunpo monks, Eliza Carthy’s favorite singer in the world Julie Murphy with Fernhill, trancey afro blues from Songlines music award winners Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara.and the Pan African band the African Jazz All stars……. Whew, you can breathe out now..…. but that’s not all.
The South Sea Stage conveniently placed near the upstairs bar and café, is where you’ll make those musical discoveries, never to be repeated, unrehearsed pure impromptu moments that just blow you away. Names chalked up on a blackboard both programmed artists, booked months ahead and last minute hopefuls. Notable performances came from Karen Tweed now one of the most sought after accordionists in Europe, Dicky Deegan man and uillean pipes at one and The Hut People who’s debut the previous year created one of the festival’s surprise sensations.
Are you exhausted yet?….well, there’s more. As the name suggests its polar opposite, the North Sea stage has commanding views across the waves, next stop Norway. The perfect backdrop to wonder what music the Yorkshire coast’s most famous seafarer, Captain James Cook, may have encountered on his voyages.
If ever there was an award for the hardest working stage, this is probably the most deserving, accommodating over twenty acts plus workshops. The sound engineers have an ear for acoustic perfection but often with less than twenty minutes to mike up, sound check and turn the stage around. It was here that Robert Maseko and the Congo Beats gave a memorable late night acoustic performance and where Paula Darwish, introduced the audience to an eclectic fusion of Turkish, Kurdish, English and Arabic music with her Country and Eastern Band. Other treats included Fiona Katy Roberts harp playing and the upcoming Liverpudlian singer songwriter Delta Maid.
English festival audiences are notorious for wanting to sit down at concerts and the venue provides a number of sitting opportunities. Chairs and tables around the outer edges of the ballroom, raked seating in the upper tier but the piece de resistance, the pearl in the shell is the venue’s hidden gem. Not at all obvious from the plain exterior, the Spa has its own self contained, revamped two tier Edwardian theatre with state of the art sound and lighting but importantly, 950 soft red velvet covered seats. Festival weary could rest aching backs and tired legs whilst listening to the “saviour of English roots music” Jim Moray; Mamane Barke the last surviving master of the ancient African instrument the Biram or Carmen Souza who mixes traditional Cape Verdean melodies with twists of contemporary jazz.
And once those weary legs are rested you can dance into the small hours with festival residents Cloudbase or one of the guest dj’s who have in the recent past included: DJ Monkey Pilot of the Whirly Gig, The Outernationalists, Mad Professor and the Ariwa Posse, The Flying Chilli Beats and Banco De Gaia and when the festival straddles two time zones, there’s an extra hour of dancing on a Saturday night as the clocks go back and British summer time ends.
Now in its eleventh year, never in their wildest dreams could the originators of Musicport envisage the festival growing to what it is today. Talk to Robert Maseko and he soon recounts with fond affection that gig back in the late nineties that started it all. Jim and his wife Sue were running the Old Chapel in Robin Hood’s Bay as a café, bookshop and occasional venue where Lunasa and Wood, Wilson Carthy had provided previous concerts. It was the booking of Robert Maseko and his band that provided the turning point. After a sell out, Jim and Sue realized there was an audience for African music.
Revved up after the gig the trio returned to the McLaughlin home in Whitby where fuelled by positivity, they drank tea and talked until the dawn chorus. A decision was made and there would be a world music millennium celebration at Whitby’s Pavillion . With strong support from the community, there would be no going back and the cultural landscape would alter permanently. The Musicport festival was born with a line- up that included Robert Maseko and the Chaka Chaka Zouk, Labi Siffre, Susaar, Viva Flamenco, Charanga Del Norte, Imbizo, Banoffi and Manchester Adventist gospel choir amongst others.
Its slow organic growth and strong community links have ensured that the festival has retained the spirit of its humble beginnings. Festival goers warm to its friendly atmosphere, skilful programming and resistance to corporate interference. The fact that the festival now has considerable pulling power to attract the very best in international artists is just a bonus.
For Jim McLaughlin Musicport’s director, its about providing something for everyone, “it’s the joy of seeing how music connects people and if we provide the right environment we can slot other bits and pieces in and stretch the boundaries”. And like the waves that form its logo the festival has never stood still, creating support for a number of spin off concerts all year round at venues throughout Whitby as well as commissioning special collaborations for the festival.
This year’s festival takes place on 22nd- 24th October with headline acts to include Angelique Kidjo, Invisible System, Jah Wobble, Imagined Village, Alejandro Toledo and the Tombelinos, Richard Hawley and Norma Waterson.
This article formed the background to a piece commissioned by Songlines Magazine in the UK.
Songlines magazine announced the final nominees of the Songlines Music Awards 2010 and will be releasing a compilation album on 22nd March featuring all sixteen nominated artists. Read the full article for details of all the nominees plus a GondwanaSound competition.
Following on from the success of last year’s inaugural awards, Songlines magazine announced the final nominees in the 2010 Songlines Music Awards. The Songlines Music Awards recognize outstanding talent in world music and are voted by Songlines readers and the general public. There are four categories Best Artist, Best Group, Cross-Cultural Collaboration and Newcomer.
The final nominees are the top four in each category who received the most public votes. The jury will now go into a huddle and the winners of each category will be announced in the June issue (#88) of Songlines, on sale from April 30,2010. The sixteen final nominees are:
* Goran Bregovic (for the album Alkohol— Slijivovica & Champagne on Blue Wrasse)
* Bassekou Kouyate (for the album I Speak Fula with Ngoni ba on Out Here)
* Oumou Sangare (for the album Seya on World Circuit)
“The audience for world music is greater now than it’s ever been,” says Simon Broughton, editor-in-chief of Songlines, “and it’s reaching out in ever more diverse directions. The fact that we have Balkan maestro Goran Bregovic and Western China’s Mamer as nominees is indicative of that. But it’s still essential to have awards in which the leading names can be feted and the new and innovative names highlighted.”
GondwanaSound will be running a prize draw competition to win a Songlines Award nominees cd for those who can correctly predict the jury’s decision and name all four winners. Tune in live every Wednesday 11 am to midday on Sheffield Live! 93.2FM
Jill Turner contributes to Songlines Magazine, World Music Central and is on the fRoots critics albums of the year panel.
In a world where the news is constantly derived of tragic tales of war and devastating violence, it is a pleasant surprise to see artists from vastly different cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds working together to create truly beautiful and original pieces of music.
Idealistically, cross-cultural collaborations show that the people can work peacefully together to create something striking and harmoniously unique. It may be naive to think so, but music is an art form based on expression and emotion and surely it couldn’t seem more adequate than when two entirely different genres, traditions and societies are brought together to express a particular similar feeling of that time?
Nevertheless, this isn’t always as easy as it seems, Simon Broughton – Editor in Chief of Songlines Magazine makes a fair point, that the problem with most fusions is that they are in fact “extremely uninteresting, people somehow think that ethnic musicians plus beats will make something attractive.. That’s rubbish.” Broughton goes onto explain that “what makes it work is not the styles of music that are meeting, but the musicians themselves and how responsive they are to each other. It’s the fact that this is so difficult, yet so inspiring that made us devote an award to it.”
Yes, we may be reading too much into these collaborations and fusions; they will have, in some cases, only been created for the sake of making “nice sounding music” but I think we all want to believe that these partnerships are more than that. Apart from anything else, they bring people and audiences together and if this works well, then surely it’s been a success? Furthermore, it seems bittersweet that we regard cross-collaborations and musical fusions so highly, although some pairings aren’t going to work, it should be more of an everyday occurrence and less of a big deal.
The fact that it isn’t however, is perhaps what makes these collaborations just so special. Following this is a collection of the top ten best cross-cultural collaborations and fusion groups of all time. You may disagree with the order, with who is or isn’t in there but give it a read, give the artists a listen and let it help to make up your own mind.
1. The Imagined Village: The Imagined Village is a musical project created by Simon Emmerson, comprising of several artists of various cultures, ethnicities and faiths. Formed in 2007 to highlight the advantages of multiculturalism in the UK, The Imagined Village stands for bringing people together to create something truly diverse and spectacular. The first self-titled album, The Imagined Village, released in 2007 is a must have for any fan of World Music.
2. Transglobal Underground: Transglobal Underground is a London-based World Music fusion group. Created in 1990 and featuring members of many nationalities, they have released 7 albums to date, not including any of their remix albums. Many of their albums have also featured collaborations with other World Music artists; ‘Yes Boss Food Corner’ starred Zulu vocalist Thobekile Doreen Webster and the 2004 album ‘Impossible Broadcasting’ featured the Egyptian vocalist Hakim.
3. Afro Celt Sound System: Also formed by Grammy-nominated guitarist Simon Emmerson in 1992, Afro Celt Sound System is a wonderful exploration of Celtic music and African/World beats. Intrigued by the theory that nomadic Celts lived in Africa or India before moving to Europe, Emmerson brought members of Baaba Maal’s band together with Irish musicians to see what the outcome would be. Clearly, the experiment worked and since being signed to Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records label in 1996 they have sold over 1.2 million from their 5 albums.
4. Tinariwen and Tunng: You couldn’t get two more different bands if you tried; Tinariwen a desert blues band from the Sahara and Tunng an experimental folk band from the UK , broke all musical boundaries earlier this year to create a remarkable piece of collaborative music. Joined together for BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction show and resulting in a 10 date UK tour; both bands successfully demonstrated that language and cultural barriers weren’t enough to prevent a coalition of musical forces from making an awe-inspiring debut together. Make sure to check out ‘Tamatant Tilay’ on YouTube.
5. Najma Akhtar and Gary Lucas: When in July, the infamous songwriter and guitarist Gary Lucas collaborated with the inspiring and traditional ghazal style singer Najma Akhtar to create ‘Rishte’, we were taken aback. The result was a deeply sensual and compelling compilation of blues, jazz and raga. Make sure that you have a listen to ‘Special Rider Blues’ the 6th track on the album.
6. Salsa Celtica: As the name suggests, Salsa Celtica are an infused hybrid of traditional Scottish and Irish artists and talented jazz, salsa and world musicians from both the UK and Latin America.Creating their own infectious style of salsa and folk, Salsa Celtica have gone onto play hundreds of festivals including Glastonbury, WOMAD and Edinburgh Hogmanay Festival. Since 1995, they have released four albums, their 3rd album ‘El Agua De La Vida’ reached number 5 on the World Music Chart of Europe. They are the ultimate success story of a fusion band bringing together two completely different genres of music.
7. Damon Albarn & Friends ‘Mali Music’: Damon Albarn,a musical legend known for his part in Blur and Gorillaz has, for the last few years, taken an interest in World Music. Beginning in 2002 during a trip for Oxfam, Albarn recorded and released the album ‘Mali Music’ featuring the likes of Toumani Diabaté and Afel Bocoum. ‘Mali Music’ is a fantastic collaboration album highlighting the success of an African/English fusion and enforcing the talents of not only Albarn but of his Malian counterparts, particularly with the song ‘Sunset Coming On’.
8. Jah Wobble & the Chinese Dub Orchestra: The album, released in 2008, is a project created by legendary musician, songwriter and poet Jah Wobble and his wife – the Chinese born guzheng player Zi Lan Liao. The collaboration entitled ‘Chinese Dub’ consists of Wobble’s regular band plus Chinese vocalists Gu Yinji, Wang Jinqi and the Pogoda Chinese Youth Orchestra from Liverpool. The fusion of different genres of music have created a tremendous composition that is both rich in heritage and culture and wonderfully diverse.
9. Nitin Sawhney – ‘Beyond Skin’: The critically acclaimed composer and producer from Kent has won many awards for his contribution to World Music. With 7 albums to date, Sawhney has collaborated with several different World Music artists including Natacha Atlas and Anoushka Shankar and Ojos De Brujo. His greatest album so far is his 1999 breakthrough album ‘Beyond Skin’ exploring the issues behind Nuclear Weaponry and Identity as an Indian male in Britain. The album features the likes of Hussain Yoosuf, Sanchita Farruque and the nephews of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
10. Jayme Stone and Mansa Sissoko: When Jayme Stone decided to travel to Mali in 2007, he expected to gain an understanding of the banjos roots and history. What he actually came home with however, was an in-depth insight into African music and friendships that would ultimately lead to the release of Stone’s first folk-griot fusion album. His collaborations with the “walking encyclopaedia of Malian songs” Mansa Sissoko, a griot player from Bayela resulted in the 2007 ‘Africa to Appalachia’. The album also features guest appearances from Casey Driesson, the legendary ngoni master Bassekou Koyate and Katenen Dioubate. Simplistic in nature ‘Africa to Appalachia’ is a sublime understanding of two separate cultures where Stone became more “attuned to the communal aspect of making music”.
Marina Rossell – Gran Teatro del Liceu de Barcelona (World Village)
Honorable mentions to: Songs Around The World CD/DVD by Playing for Change (Concord Music Group/Starbucks) and Mario Adnet and Philippe Baden Powell – AfroSambaJazz: The Music of Baden Powell (Adventure Music). World Village came out as top label for The Whole Music Experience in 2009, followed by Adventure Music and ECM New Series.
Tom Orr (World Music Central)
My list (which is in no particular order) includes dub reggae by an artist who’s neither Jamaican nor Rasta, Afrobeat fused and not fused, blues and rock-tinged music of Saharan origin and other stuff that no words of mine can begin to adequately describe. I urge you to seek out, listen and enjoy.
Musicport Festival 2009 promises a wide range of international, national and regional artists celebrating 10 years of bringing the best in global music to the Yorkshire coast. This year’s eclectic line up mixes many artists who are new to the festival with some previous special guests. With the successful transition to its new venue at the recently refurbished Spa Complex in Bridlington undertaken last year this year Musicport 09 is set to be the biggest and best yet.
The 10th anniversary will be a celebration of the last ten years as well as pointer towards what the future holds in store for its loyal audience that has grown year on year. This year the festival is back in its traditional half term dates and takes place over the weekend of 23-25 October 2009. The line-up so far includes music, dance and spoken word traditions from countries as diverse as Tibet, New Zealand, Chile, India, Malawi, Jamaica, D R Congo, Sudan, Philippines, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Cape Verde, Bulgaria, Niger and Brazil as well as many excellent UK based artists.
The festival includes the multi-talented Nitin Sawhney (at the forefront of the Asian Underground movement), regular Radio 4 comedian/musician Mitch Benn, the classic roots reggae of Misty in Roots, the gentle Maori music of Pacific Curls, the lead singer of The Inspiral Carpets, the only living master of the traditional instrument of the fishermen of Lake Chad in Niger Mamane Barka, stunning Flamenco music & dance, the best African jazz ensemble, BBC Radio 3 World Music Award winners Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara.
Also featured are: top ambient DJ/producer Banco De Gaia, the haunting polyphonic singing of the Pirin mountains in Bulgaria by the Bisserov Sisters, the political folk harmonies of Chumbawamba, the amazing spectacle of Sufi music and whirling dervishes of Forever Haqqani, the award-winning English musician Jim Moray, dub poet Jean Binta Breeze. From Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalists (& Musicport regulars) The Urban Gypsies, the trance-inducing Sudanese acoustic dance music of Rango as well as a host of local musicians and performers
The festival has 4 stages all in one gloriously restored Art Deco venue overlooking Bridlington’s extensive South Beach sands. With workshops, spoken word events, film, children’s events, festival market , DJ room and food court the festival offers an all weather alternative to the outdoor summer festivals and is many peoples chance to recapture and rekindle that festival spirit (and paddle in the sea) before the nights get way too long.
Line-up (subject to contract):
Misty In Roots
Mad Professor Ariwa Possee
Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara
African Jazz All Stars
Banco De Gaia
Abdullah Chhadeh & Syriana
Pacific Curls (New Zealand)
Les Quatre Étoiles (Congo)
Jim Moray (England)
Jean Binta Breeze
Carmen Souza (Cape Verde)
The Hut People
Forever Haqqani (Sheikh Ahmad Dede & His Whirling Dervishes)
Mamane Barka (Niger)
Rango (Sudan /Egypt)
Bisserov Sisters (Bulgaria)
Tashi Lhunpo Monks (Tibet)
Jack Mapanje (Malawi)
La Romeria De Santa Fortuna (Chile)
Adriano Adewale Group (Brazil/UK)
Mother India – MI21 remix
Maalstroom & Jo Freya (UK/Netherlands
Guy Buttery & Nibs Van Der Spuy (solo & duo)
DJ Monkey Pilot
Ian Clayton & Boff Whalley
Flying Chilli Beats
LK Dance (Phillipines)
Karen Tweed & Reg Meuross
Country & Eastern Band
This year’s featured cause is Love Music Hate Racism.
Ticket Prices There are cut-price full weekend tickets £79.50 available until August (Then they go up to £89.50). Day & session tickets go on sale on 1st July. There is an official campsite (charged separately) and an abundance of B & B /self catering accommodation within easy walking distance of the venue
Musicport 2008 notches up a gear as they publish their list of forthcoming events in the run up to this October’s festival.
The first event on 17th May, was a runaway success with Belinda O’Hooley, who by all accounts turned in a stunning set supporting Jim Moray.
Acts confirmed so far, for the festival, which takes place at the Spa in Bridlington on October 17/18/19th include: Toumani Diabate, The Levellers, Rolf Harris, Ska Cubano, Etran Finatawa, Ivo Papasov, Billy Cobham and Asere, Reem Kelani , Moussu T et Lei Jovents, Warsaw Village Band, Bob Brozman, Carmen Souza, Lani Singers from West Papua, The Young Coppers, Zoe Rahman Project, Papa Noël & Adan Pedorosa, Martin Simpson, The Outernationalists with more in the pipeline.
Momentum, for the three day festival in October will continue to build with further events throughout the summer, which will include concerts from Martin Stephenson, Albert Nyathi & Imbongi and Chumbawamba at Whitby’s Coliseum. Music and ale trains will also be running every Friday evening from 18th July – 6th September where you can travel from Whitby to Middlesborough and back, accompanied by the best in local music talent and fine ales.
Now in its ninth year, Musicport is enjoying a reputation as the best indoor World Music festival in England if not the world, it has quickly outgrown its much loved home on the Whitby seafront. Whilst it is now known by its new trimmed back name Musicport, in preparation for the new festival venue at Bridlington Spa, the main administrative centre and the heart of the festival will still be in Whitby.
The Spa in Bridlington has been the beneficiary of a £19.4million makeover and offers some fine sea views and promises to be a great new home for the festival. To be the first to experience the new venue, make your way over to the official launch night party for Musicport World Music Festival on the 4th July where Leeds based South East Asian outfit Samay, will be supporting TransglobalUnderground. It will be a great night no doubt.
To keep up to date and for further details and ticket information for the main festival or any of the other events in the run up, go to the website: www.musicportfestival.com and register for news updates.
Most world music fans would easily recognize Mamak Khadem’s voice by her work with the popular Persian ensemble Axiom of Choice, but that would just be a sliver of this songstress’ career. Lending her exquisite voice to movie and television soundtracks like The Peacemaker, Traffic, The Profiler and Battlestar Galactica, participating in the Voices of Women Festival in Greece and the World Festival of Sacred Music in Los Angeles, as well as, appearing on Omar Faruk Tekbilek’s Alif and Jamshied Sharifi’s A Prayer for the Soul of Layla has certainly put Ms. Khadem firmly on the musical map. Now fans have a new reason to rejoice because Mamak Khadem has kicked off her solo career in a big way with Jostojoo Forever Seeking out on Banyan Tree Productions.
Assembling and arranging a repertoire of songs based on melodies found in Iran, Baluchistan, Armenia, Turkey, Greece and Kurdistan and shot through with Persian poetry, Ms. Khadem, along with producer extraordinaire Jamshied Sharifi and Omar Faruk Tekbilek, has created a smart, sophisticated CD with Jostojoo. Artfully crafted and expertly arranged, Jostojoo is simply an invitation something magical.
Opening track “Baz Amadam The Return” starts simply but blossoms into a full force of clarinet, oud, darbuka, viola, bass, djembe, gungon, bender, chaker, bells, bombo and some snappy hand claps against the full force of Ms. Khadem’s vocals. I have to admit a little greedy pleasure I get from tracks like percussion layered “Gelayeh Plaintive” or the achingly poignant Kurdish melody “Varan Rain” in that there is a fairytale like feel to them, where there are unexpected turns of vocal phrasing I didn’t expect or the subtle circle of accordion or clarinet that wend their way throughout the compositions.
Omar Faruk Tekbilek lends his rich voice to Ms. Khadem’s bewitching vocals on “Heydar,” a composition brimming over with the meaty sounds of ney, baglama, tam-tam, daf, cajon, darbuka, shaker and accordion. In addition to rich pieces like title track “Jostojoo,” “Lalah Lullaby for the Awakening” and “Avareh Homewrecke,d” there is the powerful “Lachrymosa” with Mamak Khadem on vocals and harmonium, Kourosh Moradi on tambur and vocals and Omar Faruk Tekbilek on vocals and ney that is deliciously evocative.
While centered around Mamak Khadem’s vocals, Jostojoo Forever Speaking also features some splendid musicians like Ole Mathisen on clarinet, Simone Haggiag on daf and cajon as well as a whole host of other instruments, Eyvind King on viola, Brahim Fribgane and Dimitris Mahlis on oud, Skuli Sverrisson on bass, Benjamin Wittman on darbuka and Hamid Saeidi on santur. There’s also Habib Mefia on dom dom and damman, Sofia Lambropoulou on kanum, Roubik Haroutunian on duduk, Layla Sakamoto Sharifi on violin, Marc Shulman on guitar and other fine musicians I simply don’t have room to mention.
Jostojoo is simply a triumph of a jumping off point for Ms. Khadem’s solo career.
Formerly lead vocalist of the popular Persian ensemble Axiom of Choice, Mamak Khadem is a classically trained singer who has studied her art in both Iran and the United States. Inspired by her travels throughout the Middle East, Khadem adapts Persian poetry to rearranged traditional melodies from various regions of Iran, Baluchistan, Armenia, Turkey, Greece, and Kurdistan.
Born in Iran, Khadem was part of the Children’s Choir for National Radio and Television, and immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager in 1976. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, her passion for singing and learning traditional Persian vocal styles grew, and she regularly traveled back to Iran to study with prominent vocalists and musicians. She also studied classical Indian singing at Ali Akbar Khan College of Music in northern California and Eastern European singing with the Los Angeles-based women’s choir Nevenka.
Mamak Khadem Ensemble will be performing Sunday, February 3 at Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center, which is located at 1317 San Pablo Ave. at Gilman Berkeley, CA 94702. Doors at 6:30 p.m.; Show at 7:00 p.m. $25. Khadem performs with her ensemble featuring Jamshied Sharifi on keyboard and accordion, Naser Musa on ud and vocals, Chris Wabich on percussion, Hamid Saiedi on santur (hammered dulcimer), and Ole Mathisen on clarinet and saxophone.
World Music Central’s Angel Romero interviewed Mamak Khadem in January 2008:
1) What circumstances led you to begin a solo career?
For a number of years now I have been traveling to Armenia, Turkey and Greece. I find their cultures and music particularly inspiring and have had a desire to explore the differences in these traditions from my Iranian background. Instead I ended up discovering how many things we all share – especially in music. I felt an urge to work with the traditional melodies I had encountered. As you know, with Axiom of Choice, we primarily were composing original music. With this project I wanted to start with existing melodies that had been haunting me – sparking my imagination and inspiring me to take on a very personal journey. This solo project “Jostojoo”, has given me an opportunity to widen my musical family and I am so thrilled to collaborate with the combination of players on this album from folk traditions, contemporary world music and from the jazz scene.
2) What characterizes your latest CD?
As I mentioned to you, I began with melodies from regional music of Iran, Armenia, Greece, and Turkey. I first thought about doing these beautiful songs in their original languages but I soon realized that I can express myself more openly and effectively in my native language, Farsi. So I married the work of some Persian master poets such as Rumi and Shamloo to the melodies. They are voices that I continue to turn to for inspiration. I also collaborated with some young Iranian contemporary poets based in Iran who wrote the lyrics for a few songs. Their work amazed me. Add to the mix my producer, Jamshied Sharifi who has an extensive knowledge of jazz, rock and folk music from many countries and I was able to innovate and feel free to meld the traditional with the new. I believe “Jostojoo” really captures the passion of these songs with an immediate and contemporary beauty.
3) Who participated in the recording of the album?
Jamshied Sharifi is a New York-based composer, producer, and keyboardist of Iranian descent. He is a fantastic arranger and I felt that he would really understand what I wanted to do with “Jostojoo” esthetically. I had worked with him previously on his first CD A Prayer for the Soul of Layla, on which I sing on three tracks. I was also impressed with his arrangements and production work on Yungchen Lhamo’s Ama CD. I really admire his musical skills, professionalism and the ease with which he works with musicians. His contribution is pivotal to “Jostojoo”. We worked together on the CD from its inception and it has been the most enjoyable recording process that I have been through. I give Jamshied credit for that.
Ole Mathisen is a superb soprano and tenor saxophonist and clarinetist, as well as an accomplished composer and arranger. In addition to performing on “Jostojoo”, he has become a member of our live ensemble. He was involved from the beginning of the recording, both improvising and playing written parts. His sound and concept were key for me in developing the tone of the record – listen to the way his clarinet improvisation sets the mood for “Varan”. Also notable is the transparent and almost mystical sound he gets from the tenor saxophone on “Lalaii,’ – it creates a beautiful bed for my vocals.
Benjamin Wittman and Simone Haggiag have played percussion on most of this album. There are examples of their playing throughout the record, but I’m really taken with the way they create a driving, grooving feel on the technically complicated 10/8 rhythm of “Baz Amadam”. In lesser hands this rhythm can be mechanical, or worse, but Ben and Simone make it natural and swinging. Ben’s cajon playing on “Heydar” and his darbuka solo on “Gelayeh” are also high points for me. We were also lucky to include the unique talents of Habib Meftah on dammam (percussion from south of Iran) and Pezhham Akhavas on tombak (Persian goblet drum) on the tracks “Gelayeh” and “Avareh.”
We were blessed with two wonderful (and very different) oud players on this recording: Brahim Fribgane and Dimitris Mahlis. Brahim plays a tasteful and understated solo on “Varan,” and handles with aplomb the difficult part on “Baz Amadam.” Dimitris is an old friend and like a brother to me. He combines the technical prowess (and reading ability!) of a schooled player with the unpredictability and passion of a “natural,” and his improvisations on “Avareh” and “Jostojoo” are just glorious.
Turkish multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek collaborated on “Heydar.” He was the one who actually first introduced me to the song. He sings on that track in Turkish while I sing in Farsi and he plays saz and darbuka.
And then there are some friends from Iran…. Hamid Saeidi on santur (hammered dulcimer) and Reza Abaee on gheychak (Persian bowed instrument) who gave their best. Hamid and Reza have been trained in Persian classical music but have a feeling for fusion and cross over music. I admire them tremendously for their fusion work because they do it intelligently and with understanding. Their crossover work is informed. They played an important role on “Gelayeh,” “Mandeh,” and “Avareh.”
The other musicians who lent their talents were Sofia Lambropoulou from Greece on kanun, Rubik Haroutunian from Armenia on duduk , and Kourosh Moradi of Kurdish descent from Iran on tanbur (long-necked lute from Iran) and voice. They all brought the essence of their respective cultures to the recording.
Skuli Sverrisson is for me unique in the world of electric bass players. His sensitivity and musicality create a sound that has the fullness of the electric with the delicacy of an acoustic instrument. His imprint on this particular recording is subtle, but gives added width and dimension to the songs he performs on. I love the way he locks with the percussion on “Baz Amadam,” and becomes part of the overall feel, without drawing attention to his instrument. It keeps the track organic.
Eyvind Kang is on viola. I treasure his expressive sound and inventive lines, and his wide-ranging awareness of music from many cultures. He has a particular passion for Persian music, and you can hear that ardor on the beautiful introduction and interlude he plays for “Lalaii.”
4) Your vocal style is stunning and not easy to replicate. What kind of vocal training did you have?
Well my training is in the Persian Classical repertoire called Radif. This music has been taught from master to apprentice for many generations. After years of traveling to Iran to study this music I realized that I didn’t want to be a pure traditional singer. I was an immigrant to the U.S. when I was a teenager and was exposed to many different cultures and music. I wanted to create my own style of music – accessible to everyone, but with an Iranian signature. It was a challenge. We were at the beginning of a revolution in music called World Music and such ideas were not appropriate to the classical music purists. We were breaking some new ground with this Persian Classical fusion that now has become an alternative style for many singers.
5) Which are your main primary musical influences?
I moved to the U.S. from Iran when I was a teenager so I came of age listening to American popular music and rock and roll. But I never ceased to long for a meaningful connection to my roots and culture. Passionate about Persian Classical music, I would travel to Iran regularly to study with singing masters Parisa, Sima Bina, Saleh-Azeimi and setar master Hossein Alizadeh. They of course are my primary influences along with my continued fascination with Bulgarian, Indian, Greek, Turkish and Kurdish music.
6) Your voice is used frequently in Hollywood movies. How easy is it to work for film scores? Are you currently working on more music for film or TV?
My first recording for films was in 1997 with a dear friend Jeff Rona. I had to sing for a television series called “Profiler”, looking at the scene and doing an improvisation over it. This was the first time I had ever experience music in a different context. Film work can be tedious and technically difficult but it is very exciting to see what an impact the score can have on a movie – how it really helps to tell the story. After a few minutes, I knew I wanted to do this as a part of my career. I’ve had a lot of fun working on movies like “Peacemaker” and “Traffic” and on different television series including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Battlestar Galactica”. Most recently I sang and recorded Mohammad Reza Darvishi’s score for a play written and directed by Bahram Beyzaii called Afra that is currently playing in Tehran.
7) Is Axiom of Choice over or will you reactivate it in the future?
Axiom of Choice is a way of thinking, living, and looking at things around me and can never be over! It is the space from which I experiment and learn. At this time there are no definite plans for another recording but I hope we can do another great album after we fulfill our respective needs to explore our own separate projects.
8) You participated as a guest in Jamshied Sharifi’s debut CD. Now he is a member of your band. What does he contribute to your music?
It has been a great experience working with Jamshied. He is an extremely talented musician who creates music that respects folk origins, but looks afield with contemporary orchestrations both simple and rich. I am so thrilled with his arrangements on “Jostojoo”. And, it is an absolute delight to share the stage with him on this tour.
9) Which are your favorite musical places in Los Angeles?
Los Angeles has such a dynamic music scene. The city itself is a giant melting pot of cultures and people. For a world music fan it is nirvana! LA’s got an amazing club scene for world music that is always changing and evolving. It is especially fun here in the summer with free concerts at the California Plaza, the Santa Monica Pier, and at the museums. Every night of the week you can hear any number of musical styles and traditions outdoors and under the stars. I often go to the Skirball and UCLA for their world music performances.
10) What other projects are you collaborating with?
I am starting to explore some ideas for my next album but truthfully, I am really focused on putting most of my time and effort into presenting the “Jostojoo” album and performing with this amazing ensemble of friends.
As complement to this interview, we reproduce Patricia Herlevi’s interview, made in 2002:
For many years I have harbored a growing interest in the healing qualities of music. I had read many articles about the healing properties of Mozart and Beethoven and I had read about music from the celestial spheres, but reading expert opinions is one thing and experiencing the healing effects of music even for something as simple as a cold is another story.
I sat in a crowded theatre at Meany Hall at the University of Washington campus fighting off chills and certainly not wanting to deal with a crowd, music enthusiasts or not. However, when the members of Axiom of Choice, a group that blends Persian classical music with Western influences hit the stage, I felt my fever abating somewhat as I absorbed the music that emanated from their ancient instruments. The group started the set with Mystic and Fools from their latest release, Unfolding then continued through a set of hypnotic drum beats and flowing, exotic melodies. The audience responded with clapping to the exotic beat on one song and appeared memorized by the performance in general.
I spoke with vocalist Mamak Khadem during the group’s intricate sound check. Duduk player-clarinetist Ruben Haratoonian’s musical gift eddied throughout the green room while Mamak and I discussed the musician’s role in achieving world peace and planetary harmony. While it’s comforting to know that some people have heard celestial music, many of us have experienced the healing effects of music from various cultures here on earth. And by the way, the next day when I awoke, my cold had left my body and music had replaced it.
If music can cure a cold, can it also bring peace to the planet? I believe that it can and so Mamak and I discussed the healing effects of music and the magic of cinema as a way of transcending the chaos of contemporary times.
Patty-Lynne Herlevi: Cranky Crow World Music is about promoting cultures and music from around the world in order to promote world peace so my first question is in regard to my site’s agenda, which is to promote peace. The question that I ask musicians, “do you believe that music can sooth the beast in us and create an environment of peace within the chaotic times we are facing?”
Mamak Khadem: I definitely think so. Just even amongst our selves and the nature of this band includes people from different cultures that have gotten together. And there is a lot of love and respect for one another as a person and a culture, also. I think that if people can communicate musically, I think that really opens up your soul and it opens you up to other people’s way of thinking. I mean for right now as Ruben plays his clarinet and just listening to it and I feel there is something in there that touches (me). And that just makes me a better human being to be honest with you.
PLH: I have noticed two types of musicians. I have noticed the more mature ones that have day jobs. You have a job teaching mathematics to high school students. And I have noticed that some musicians never grow up and they are stuck in a perpetual childhood. But in order to do music, you have to have a sense of child because it is about play. And it can only make you a better musician to reach that place of innocence.
MK: I have heard this from other people and it’s exactly what I feel when I am performing. When I am with the band singing there are moments that I am absolutely in the moment. I don’t even know what’s going on within myself. I am in a very tranquil, peaceful place and I think just for me to experience a few moments of that is a blessing. Other people live their whole life and they don’t ever experience one second of that. And that’s very unfortunate. There are so many distractions around us, especially in this country. You know there is hardly any time anyone can take for them selves so for us I think it’s a blessing to be able to really get present with life and in a place where everything is peaceful and nothing matters. Nothing really matters because you make that connection.
PLH: That’s exactly what I had in mind. I know little about Persian music, I was a film journalist and the thing that I do know is Iranian cinema. And what I discovered with the music on your CD and also Iranian cinema is that in Iranian cinema you have these images that are so strong and there is all this universal storytelling that you really don’t even need the dialogue to understand the story. And with the music you play it’s almost that you don’t need a translation of the lyrics because the moods are so strong. And you as a singer evoke different emotions so it becomes obvious and you can figure out which songs are heartbreakers and which ones are about joy.
MK: I am so happy to hear that because I have lived here for so many years and of course, Farsi is my first language, but every day I am using English to teach and to get by with life. And a lot of times there have been suggestions or thoughts of singing in English were made. But up until this point there hasn’t been a necessity to sing in English because absolutely what you’re saying is that a lot of our audiences are non-Persian. But they get the feeling and I think that is one thing because I could sing in the same language. And people could hear it and not even get the feeling of what’s going on or it could be in a totally different language but the feelings and emotions are there. And I think actually I much prefer to go that way because if I can bring that emotional thing that exist in every human being no matter if you’re American, Iranian or whatever because we all have that. We just have it in different places and we randomly pull it out.
Since you’re talking about film, I have to share with you the movie that I saw by Abbas Kiarostami, Where Is My Friend’s House (English title). It was made many years ago.
PLH: Wait a minute, I know the film. It’s the one where the little boy is searching for his friend’s house so he can return the friend’s homework to him (and adults basically ignore the boy as he tries to locate his friend).
MK: Yeah. It’s called khane-ye doust kodjast (Iranian title). And that’s the title of one of the songs we did on our last CD, Niya Yesh. That’s poetry from a late (Persian) contemporary poet, Sohrab Sepehri. I just wanted to let you know that when I saw that movie maybe ten years ago, I was sitting in the movie theatre and I was crying the whole time. I mean just absolutely crying. I am a teacher and I work with kids and you know there was a place in my heart that hadn’t been touched for years. And that movie just touched it. So I was just crying and people were looking at me like woman this is just a movie.
PLH: Yeah, but it was the director. He has that effect on most of us.
MK: It was the director and I think that it was the fact that the kids had no idea there were cameras so it was real. I mean I get to see kids with all their fears and anxieties. So just being there in the moment with that kid, he was so innocent. I just kept crying. So when I saw the poetry by the poet that was titled Khane-ye doust kodjast which was the same title. So when I singing that song I kept remembering all the pictures and it was unbelievable. So I think that we all have different kinds of feelings and emotions and music is one of the arts that can absolutely touch that. And when it touches that it doesn’t matter what language it is or where you are at or who you are. It touches it.
PLH: And of course, there is Persian music in Iranian films. And my first real exposure to world music was when I reviewed world cinema. I was raised as a musician so the first thing I notice with cinema is of course the music. I understand the language of music and I don’t care what country it comes from because it’s still going to affect me as a musician. So a lot of the times when I was watching films I became so absorbed in the music that I couldn’t keep pace with the story.
MK: I experience the same thing.
PLH: I read that you had studied Bulgarian and Indian music. What other types of music are you interested in and what type of music do you listen to on a daily basis?
MK: To be honest with you, some times nothing. Especially when we are recording and all I am listening to is our music just to see how we can enhance it or see what’s wrong with this or what’s wrong with that. And unfortunately sometimes that’s all I listen to because you have to go into the mode of listening to yourself. I love music from all over the world and there was a period of time when I was listening to Indian music a lot and there was a period of time when I was listening to Bulgarian music a lot. There are times when I get hooked on something, but usually I just love music all around the world. Flamenco and Spanish singing is wonderful.
PLH: As a vocalist are you first attracted to the vocals when you listen to music?
MK: Well, not really. I think the melody is the first thing that has to touch me, the melody overall. And then the instrumentation definitely a voice with this or that, the feeling of the song rather than the voice. Of course the voice is very important, but you know, I think melody is the first thing that hits me. You know if it really hits me good or not. I listen the voice critically, but when I listen to the song it’s overall. Do you know what I am saying? I really want to listen the whole song and get a feeling for that instead of listening and saying, ooh, did she sing this well or not? That just kills the whole thing.
PLH: Some times it’s the emotions that count and not the technique. Do you think that vocalist with training have a difficult time listening to other vocalists?
MK: I can see how the classical musicians and the traditional musicians of Iran (would affect that). I have friends who absolutely can not tolerate one off note. They are looking for perfection and perfection is more about technique and not emotion. They could be listening to something and say that’s perfect and I would think what is this? Back home we have these old guys, street musicians and that would totally touch my soul even though the guy had never been to school. And (I say to my friends) “you guys are listening to this and you think this is perfect?” It’s just a matter of training and in a way, I think it’s good not to get hooked into being trained all the time.
PLH: Axiom of Choice refers to artistic freedom within your group, but in the world many people are either afraid of losing their liberties or have already lost those liberties. What type of world do you envision for our future and again, do you believe that creativity will allow us to manifest a more harmonious world?
MK: I think that if any human being can actually get into their true self, definitely there is harmony. I have been to places at times where it was a poetry or Rumi class and I have been around people who have been around for a long time or are special people. When I am singing poetry that is ancient, you know that the poet was able to reach that level of self. Rumi achieved a sense of self so when you get familiar with it, there are times where I have actually been one with myself. Not very many times, but now I have a taste of that and I crave that. If we could all get to that, I think the world would be in harmony.
PLH: I just read that if you learn to love yourself, you won’t need to get love or anything from anyone else.
MK: That is absolutely true. I think those of in life who at least have been introduced things like that such as there is a self and there is a self love you are blessed. Even if you haven’t reached it you know that’s where we want to get. That gives our life a purpose and that gives us that we have something to move towards. I feel sorry for people who don’t have that and I feel that there are absolutely lost. But that is their thing and that’s their journey. That’s what they have to go through, but anyone who has been there can think that’s why we are living on this planet.
PLH: But some times I think we need something to trigger that response to spirit. Music is one way and poetry is another way.
MK: Music is definitely one way. Poetry and poets such as Rumi (can help us reach that place). The more I learn about Rumi the more I admire him because he was someone who actually lived it. When they talk about (self) you know that they were physically, spiritually and mentally there.
(This interview took place during the fall of 2002 before a concert).
World Music Central presents the best picks of 2007 selected by our editors at World Music Central, our sister Spanish-language site Músicas del Mundo and special guests from the world music professional community.
Not all picks are world music, but what else would you expect from a collective of open minded people used to breaking barriers.
We begin with our special guests this year:
Andrea Sbaragli (A Sound Foundation/Bras.It, Italy)
“This year I am listing the 10 most listened to CDs in my collection. I don’t really have favorites, but instead I experience moods and cravings for certain types of music or certain artists. The following CDs represent what I currently crave.”