Friday, 10 May 2019

UK Festival Guide 2019

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 148, June 2019. Copy deadline 15 April 2019.

May 10-26
Norfolk & Norwich Festival

Various locations, Norfolk
248 and nowhere near out
As the Norfolk & Norwich Festival edges its way towards the quarter-millennium mark, you just know that it must be doing something right. As an all-around arts festival, you’re as likely to see book talks and circus performances as you are theatre shows and films, and music is of course a huge part of it. Songlines readers are most likely to get excited at the prospect of performances by artists such as Afriquoi and Liniker e os Caramelows, plus the recently reformed Las Maravillas de Mali and father-daughter duos Eliza and Martin Carthy, and Anandi and Debashish Bhattacharya.

May 23-26
Knockengorroch World Ceilidh

Knockengorroch, Dumfries and Galloway
You can’t Knock it
Every year, some of the world’s most accomplished musicians head to the hills of south-west Scotland for a righteous celebration of people, culture and the Knockengorroch’s beautiful surroundings. Joining the party this year are poet of the people Benjamin Zephaniah with reggae band The Revolutionary Minds, the spectacular Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers, Haitian voodoo blues priestess Moonlight Benjamin and Basque folk band Korrontzi. The theme for this year’s festival is ‘at the end of the rainbow’: open your mind and body to love, hope, diversity and unity, and maybe even a bit of magic…

May 23-26
Orkney Folk Festival

Various locations, Orkney
Islands of sound
There’s something thrilling about island-based festivals, and the Orkney Folk Festival is no exception, as Orkney becomes flooded with the best traditional music from Scotland and beyond. The line-up includes famed folkies such as Julie Fowlis and Cara Dillon, young stars-in-waiting such as Ryan Young & Jenn Butterworth and Lyra, and the occasionally unexpected artist such as the UK’s premier son Cubano group, Son Yambu. The festival is especially known for its many pub sessions, open mics and sing-a-rounds, for everyone to join in the folky fun.

May 24-26
Góbé Fest

Albert Square, Manchester
From Transylvania to Manchester, it’s time to party like a Hungarian
The UK is home to people of all nations, as well as many communities of minority cultures who take strong pride in expressing their traditions. One of these groups is the Székler – ethnic Hungarians from the region of Transylvania in Romania – and a festival celebrating their heritage, Góbé Fest, is fast becoming one of the most important in Manchester’s calendar. The festival focuses mostly on zene és tánc (that is, music and dance) of all sorts, from Székler folkloric group Maros Ensemble and zither innovator Krajcsó Bence to the Romanian Celtic punk band The Selfish Murphy and Balkan ska group Laszlo Baby.

June 22-23
Africa Oyé

Sefton Park, Liverpool, Merseyside
Africans and Scousers – the perfect mix
Returning for its 27th year, Africa Oyé is a true Liverpool institution. For two days in midsummer, the festival brings the best in music and food from all across Africa and the African-influenced Americas with a uniquely Scouse joie de vivre; it’s not summer without Africa Oyé. And even better: entrance is completely free, giving everything a real community atmosphere. At the time of writing, Oyé only has a handful of artists, but those names are already enough to get you dancing in anticipation, with groups such as BCUC (South Africa), Sofiane Saidi & Mazalda (Algeria) and Oshun (USA) on the bill.

June 26-30

Worthy Farm, Pilton, Somerset
It’s big, it’s back and it’s bonkers
To call Glastonbury ‘the big one’ is still somehow underselling it. This festival is huge and rightly known around the world as an international centre of amazing music of almost literally every genre – whatever your niche musical taste, there’s a good chance you will be able to enjoy it at Glastonbury. Although the festival’s world music line-up is a little under-represented in the first announcement (confirmed names include Fatoumata Diawara, BCUC and Sons of Kemet), you can be sure that there will be many, many more exciting names to come.

July 2-14
Flamenco Festival London

Sadler’s Wells, London
The flamenco passion warms up summer
Based in New York, Flamenco Festival has held editions in more than 100 cities around the world, and it has been an important part of London’s cultural scene for more than 15 years. The festival is focused on all things flamenco, from the traditional music and dance to explorations of the style with classical music, jazz and more. An especially intriguing prospect comes in the form of the Amir ElSaffar ensemble, who mix flamenco with Iraqi maqam. Previously held in February, the festival will heat up Sadler’s Wells in July for the first time in 2019.

July 12-14
Tropical Pressure

Mount Pleasant Eco Park, Porthtowan, Cornwall
Pressure never felt this good
Set on an idyllic farm in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, just a short walk from the beach, there may be no more relaxing location to dance your socks off than at Tropical Pressure. During the day, live music from across Africa, South America and the Caribbean gets you in the tropical mindset, before the late-night zones open for continued partying in UFO clubs, cocktail bars and silent discos, or perhaps for extended chill-out sessions around the campfire.

July 14
Folk by the Oak

Hatfield House, Hatfield, Hertfordshire
A grand day out
One day, two stages, and just a whole load of great music. Folk by the Oak is only 20-something miles out of London, but it might as well be on the other side of the world. Set in the grounds of Hatfield House, this festival has the vibe of a village fayre but with world-class musicians instead of dodgy amateur choirs. One of the highlights is sure to be the specially commissioned musical companion to the The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, featuring artists such as Karine Polwart, Julie Fowlis, Seckou Keita and Rachel Newton.

July 17-20
Stornoway, Isle of Lewis
Celtic folk celebration
HebCelt shines a light on all things Celtic, and its line-up is heavy with folk-slanted acts from the Hebrides, Scotland and further afield. The main bulk of the festival takes place in the stunning arena, looking down from Stornoway’s castle onto the harbour, but there are also programmes in venues across the town and the Isle. Don’t forget the late-night ceilidhs, pub sessions and club nights that take place throughout the festival to keep the Celtic vibes going on well into the next day.

July 18-21
Larmer Tree Festival

Larmer Tree Gardens, Wiltshire
Party with the peacocks and move with the macaws
Set among the lawns and woods of the Larmer Tree Gardens, with a Victorian-era stage and smatterings of peacocks and macaws, Larmer Tree Festival is as well-known for its beautiful location as its music. Together they add up to an extremely agreeable weekend! The music on offer is a mix of folk, jazz, reggae and pop as well as plenty of internationally-inclined artists such as Melt Yourself Down, KOKOROKO and recent Songlines cover star Blick Bassy.

July 25-28

Charlton Park, Malmesbury, Wiltshire
The grand dame of world music festivals does it again
The World of Music, Arts and Dance is still probably the best place to experience the highest square-footage of the world’s culture in just one weekend. As usual, WOMAD presents a wonderful mix of both superstars (Salif Keita, Orbital, Ziggy Marley) and the little known: from the ancient traditions of South Asian surti music from Ustad Saami and the yidaki (didgeridoo) player Larry Gurruwiwi to the cutting edge sounds of ‘new rave from Kinshasa’ with Bantou Mentale and Korean future folk from Kim So Ra. Don’t forget to delve into some of the many workshops, talks, spoken-word sessions and cooking demonstrations.

August 1-4
Cambridge Folk Festival

Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge
Dispatches from the wide field of folk
Nowadays, the concept of ‘folk’ is a very broad church – something we very much approve of – and the Cambridge Folk Festival is one of the institutions that led to that transformation. In their 50-plus years of festivalling, the Cambridge line-ups have expanded to include deep traditions and cutting-edge innovations from around the world, while never abandoning the British roots music at its core. Exciting prospects this year include ‘From Bamako to Birmingham,’ a special collaboration between Amadou & Mariam and the Blind Boys of Alabama where Afropop meets gospel.

August 2-4
Underneath the Stars

Cinderhill Farm, Cawthorne, South Yorkshire
Celestial music – there’s all sorts of stars here
For a festival run by Kate Rusby’s production company and just a stone’s throw from her hometown of Barnsley, it’s no surprise that Underneath the Stars has a focus on folk. Artists such as The Unthanks, Billy Bragg and Talisk are all near the top end of the bill, and names such as Le Vent du Nord from Québec and K.O.G. and the Zongo Brigade bring an international flavour to proceedings. With spectacular art installations around the site, artisan food and several indulgent glamping options, this festival is a feast for all the senses.

August 16-18

Glemham Hall, Suffolk
Full of eastern promise
Of their currently-announced 2019 line-up, FolkEast say ‘so far, so good.’ A bit of an understatement, that: the bill is headed by Richard Thomson, Cara Dillon, Sharon Shannon and Karine Polwart and carries on in that fashion all the way down – there’s folk royalty and up-and-coming talents for days (three, to be exact). FolkEast has the air of a fête to it, so as well as just music, expect many local contributions from Morris dancing to food stalls to real ale breweries.

August 22-25

Secret location, Northamptonshire
The best kept secret that everyone knows about
The location of Shambala remains a mystery, but the legendary tales of the wonderful festival frivolity to be had within its bounds are no secret. The festival’s motto is ‘Adventures in Utopia,’ and that should give you a bit of a clue as to its vibe: everyone working together to create a little corner of perfection, just for one weekend. A truly global line-up sees appearances from Hindustani slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya, Nigerien-Belgian essouf rock trio Kel Assouf and international London klezmorim Don Kipper, with many more to be announced.

August 23-26
Shrewsbury Folk Festival

West Midlands Showground, Shropshire
Sensational Salopian celebration
As well as presenting some of the best in folk music from across our own Atlantic archipelago and from further seas the world over, the Shrewsbury Folk Festival are also keen to make a real impact on the local music ecosystem with projects such as Room for All and All Together Now, promoting new and international music schemes across Shropshire. Add in a specially-programmed ‘youth festival’ called Refolkus, which introduces the younger set to the wonders of folk art, dance, music and crafts, this is a festival with eyes on the future as well as the present.

August 23-26
Towersey Festival

Thame Showground, Oxfordshire
Folk for all the family
A regular fixture of the August bank holiday, the Towersey Festival is four days of family-focused folk fun. Among the musical offerings are the Fisherman’s Friends, gracing the stage fresh from their cinema-based notoriety, and a special all-star tribute to the festival’s ever-present performer and patron Roy Bailey, who passed away in November 2018, featuring Tom Robinson, Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting and John Kirkpatrick. Arrive on the Thursday and take part in the Early Arrivals Ball… a grand name for a grand ceilidh.

September 6-30
London African Music Festival

Various venues, London
30 years of Joyful Noise
The 17th edition of the London African Music Festival coincides with the 30th year of the festival’s producers, Joyful Noise, and so the celebrations are suitably large and loud. Artists from every corner of the African continent and its diaspora will descend on jazz clubs, churches and arts venues around London throughout September, with big names such as Benjamin Zephaniah, Kel Assouf and Fofoulah appearing alongside groups making their UK debut, including Abdul and the Gang from Morocco and Chicas de la Habana from Cuba.

October 10-13
Darbar Festival

Barbican Centre, London
Majestic mehfils for all times of day
Darbar Festival is the UK’s premier celebration of Indian classical arts. Held this year between the Barbican Theatre and Guildhall’s Milton Court, Darbar hosts scintillating double-bills of legendary Indian artists, such as sitarist Budhaditya Mukherjee with father and son santoor players Shivkumar and Rahul Sharma, and tabla trio Tabla Grooves with Hindustani violinist Kala Ramnath. There’s also the opportunity to enjoy relaxing morning ragas sung in dhrupad style in their natural context – at 10am; it’s sure to be a wonderful experience for those that make it.

October 16-20
Manchester Folk Festival

Various venues, Manchester
From next-big-things to the best in the biz
Running alongside the English Folk Expo, the Manchester Folk Festival is a great opportunity to watch showcase performances from some of the most hotly-tipped young and emerging artists on the English folk scene alongside already shining stars such as Kate Rusby, Rowan Rheingans and the Unthanks. For the first time, the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards will be hosted as part of the festival, in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, so if there’s one place to get your finger on the pulse of the folk scene today, it’s here.

October 18-20
Musicport Festival

Whitby, North Yorkshire
Celebrating 20 years!
The Musicport team hosts events in and around Whitby all year, but the festival is the main event, held in the Whitby Pavilion, a cosy theatre that dates back to the 19th century. Over past 20 years, Musicport has brought the great and the good of world music to the Pavilion, and the glimpse of line-up that we have for 2019 so far looks set to continue that tradition with international stars abound: sevdah singer Amira Medunjanin, UK reggae legends Misty in Roots, electro-Celtipunks Peatbog Faeries and Saharawi hero Aziza Brahim will surely be among the highlights this year.

November 16-28
London International Arts Festival

Various venues, London
Karnatic music with a global perspective
The London International Arts Festival is the brainchild of UK-based Karnatic violinist Jyotsna Srikanth, and it started with the aim of promoting South Indian music within the UK. Over the past seven years, however, its remit has broadened: Karnatic music is still high on the agenda, but it has grown to include art music from cultures around the world. Community projects take to the stage alongside verifiable stars of South Asian music and fusion; collaborations are never too far away.

January 16-Feb 2 2020
Celtic Connections

Various venues, Glasgow
Entering a new decade of international music
Ringing in the new decade, Celtic Connections will start the year (as it does every year) with the best of trad, folk, jazz, world, Americana and more. If that sounds like a lot, it is: there are more than 300 concerts over 18 days in venues all across Glasgow. It feels as though the 2019 edition has only just come to a close, and so there are no specific details about 2020 yet, but you can be sure that the ever-expansive programme will have something for everyone, especially with Celtic Connections’ trademark boundary-breaking collaborations that can’t be heard anywhere else. Keep an eye out at the late-night Festival Club, the home of spontaneous and unexpected jams from some of the festival’s biggest names.

Photos from top: Knockengorroch World Ceilidh; WOMAD; Tropical Pressure.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Cultural Appropriation Row Ignites the IMAs

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 148, June 2019.

A collective of Inuit womxn musicians are boycotting the Indigenous Music Awards (IMAs) in a protest against cultural appropriation. The IMAs, which are run as part of the Manito Ahbee festival in Winnipeg, Canada, aim to honour the best in music from First Nations, Inuit and Métis musicians in Canada. Awards are presented in 19 categories covering a range of musical styles from pop to electronic to gospel and more traditional styles of hand-drum and pow wow music, alongside awards focused on music videos, producers and radio programmes.

However, controversy arose when Cikwes, a Nehiyaw Cree performer, was nominated in the category of Best Folk Album for her album ISKO. On the album, Cikwes uses a technique of throat-singing that imitates an Inuit style. The Arnaqquasaaq Collective, which includes Inuit artists Tanya Tagaq, PIQSIQ and Kelly Fraser, argue that such an imitation of a tradition with deeply-held and sacred meanings for Inuits is cultural appropriation, and reached out privately to both Cikwes and the IMAs requesting a withdrawal of the nomination. When withdrawal was refused, members of the Arnaqquasaaq Collective publicly announced a boycott, withdrawing their own nominations from the awards and refusing to submit to any further awards until Inuit people and artists are properly represented on the IMAs’ board of governors and a policy on cultural appropriation is adopted.

As a response to the boycott, Manito Ahbee released a statement, saying ‘We don’t presume to agree or disagree on this matter at this time, as it requires great reflection, ceremony and discussions on how we move forward in a good way, to ensure that we as Indigenous people uphold our teachings, and do not provide a platform for negativity and separation. We have been taught that our gifts from the Creator should be honoured and that we do not ‘own’ what is gifted to us, but that it is our responsibility to share those gifts.’ The festival’s director, Lisa Meeches has also been quoted as saying she did not believe that cultural appropriation between Indigenous people was possible.

Tagaq responded to the statement with a lengthy Twitter thread, saying ‘Do you know that Inuit have our own ceremonies and religion? Or did you assume that the creator origin could be applied to anyone kind of brown? Acknowledging these differences in culture isn’t an act of division, it’s a sign of respect. If we respect each other’s cultures and EDUCATE each other, the rest of the country may follow suit. Artists choosing to omit their own artwork and presence at an awards show in peaceful protest to show displeasure at bureaucratic procedure is NOT negative or inflammatory.

Later on, she followed up: ‘Regardless of any outcome to this nuanced conflict, I am resting assured that we have conducted ourselves with dignity and patience. Our voices HAVE been heard by the right people.

Photo: Tanya Tagaq, by Rebecca Wood

Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali - Barbican Centre, London

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 148, June 2019.

Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali
Barbican Centre, London
30th March 2019

When the great qawwal Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan died in 1997, it fell upon his nephews to continue his legacy. Since then, Rizwan and Muazzam Mujahid Ali Khan have secured their status among the most highly respected qawwali musicians on the international scene. That reputation was on show at their recent concert in London. The event was sold out far in advance and the musicians’ reception was incredible. The crowd was raucous, cheering each song as it was announced with wild enthusiasm.

The massed voices of the ten-man qawwali party is one of the world’s most powerful musical spectacles, and it was again tonight. Soaring and roaring above the chorus were the solos of Rizwan and Muazzam themselves, who amazed with feats of breath, tongue and vocal control. There’s no getting away from the fact that this was undoubtedly a concert instead of a traditional mehfil-e-sama. Because the party were on stage, they were very much separated from the audience, leading to a slightly sterile atmosphere at times. No-one in the crowd was transported to spiritual ecstasy or got up to present offerings to the party. It reflected musically, too, with aspects of the arrangements and performance obviously Bollywoodified to some degree.

Nevertheless, the group’s experience allows them to give the audience just what they want, and the crowd duly responded. The concert’s two-and-a-half hours passed in what felt like 30 minutes. It wasn’t the most solemn or devotional occasion, but it was certainly a great night of wonderful music.

Photo: Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali, by Stuart Bruce

Pulo NDJ - Desert to Douala

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 148, June 2019.

Pulo NDJ
Desert to Douala
Wonderwheel Recordings (36 mins)

Pulo NDJ is a project that broadcasts from the musical midpoint between N’Djamena, Chad, and New York, USA. DJs Nickodemus and djbuosis met with musicians in the Chadian capital and recorded many hours of music with their portable studio before remixing it all together with house and electronica, with the full blessings of the musicians.

Desert to Douala perfectly reflects the nature of the project’s two cities; there are all sorts of music thrown into Pulo NDJ’s pot. There are traditional instruments like the garaya (calabash lute) and balafon (xylophone), but also retro keyboards and electric guitars, and then the programmed drums, deep basses and massive synths from the producers. It’s especially exciting when the Chadian sounds merge seamlessly with the electronics, such as on ‘Mbaoundaye’, where the buzz of the balafon blends with the synth bass, traditional drums are sampled into dance beats and ululating singers caress the lot of it.

The music of Chad is rarely heard outside of the country itself, so it’s great that this project is giving it wider attention. With the amount of recordings that were surely made, it’s strange that the album is so short. Hopefully it’s just the beginning of Pulo NDJ’s journey.

Terry Allen & The Panhandle Mystery Band - Pedal Steal + Four Corners

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 148, June 2019.

Terry Allen & The Panhandle Mystery Band
Pedal Steal + Four Corners
Paradise of Bachelors (3 CDs, 145 mins)

Now here’s a fascinating one. Terry Allen is an artist of many forms: a conceptual artist, painter, writer, playwright and (most prolifically) a country musician. This release is a collection of five performance pieces recorded between 1985 and 1993. The works are each based around spoken word performed over musical beds and frequently interspersed with songs. Allen’s stories revolve around the lives of people at the fringes of society, usually within his native Texas; laced together with the music, they create extremely riveting and evocative set-pieces.

The first piece is ‘Pedal Steal’. Originally written as a soundtrack to a dance performance, it tells the tragic tale of ne'er-do-well pedal steel player Billy the Boy. The narrative is punctuated and accompanied by a mixture of country music, Navajo songs, Tex-Mex conjuntos and jazz as well as abstract soundscapes and found sounds.

The ‘four corners’ of the album’s title are four radio plays, each following a different set of outlaws, peasants and down-and-outs. They are as charming, wistful and bittersweet as ‘Pedal Steel’ with the exception of one. ‘Torso Hell’ is as evocative as the rest, but completely unpleasant, a dark, disturbing and ultra-violent critique on war narratives in Hollywood. Good art maybe but that doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable – a shame compared to the rest of the set.

Rob - Rob

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 148, June 2019.

Mr Bongo (37 mins)

The opening track of this album starts with a chant of ‘Funky, funky, funky Rob! Funky, funky, funky Rob, yeah!’ and I’ll tell you what – they’re not wrong.

This album was the 1977 debut by the monosyllabically mononymic Rob, freshly back in his hometown of Accra, Ghana, after honing his skills in Benin as part of the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou. Originally enjoying only a small number of pressings, Rob passed into record collectors’ legend; it was reissued once by Analogue Africa in 2011 in limited numbers, and now Mr Bongo is finally giving it a full-scale international release.

With Rob on organs, synths and vocals and backed by the wah-wah guitars, interlocking percussion and blasting horns of the Mag-2 band (and as those opening lyrics tell you), funk is the main ingredient here. A lot of the music is very much in the James Brown mould, but highlife plays an important role too, and the traditional rhythms of the drums root the sound unmistakably within West Africa.

There’s a range of moods across the album, and although it feels as if the musicians are more comfortable playing for the disco than the lounge, each track is as cool as the next.