Friday, 12 May 2017

Nawal - Aman

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 128, June 2017.

Warner Music (66 mins)

It’s not often that you hear music from the Comoros, and this reissue of singer and gambusi (oud-like lute) player Nawal’s second album is a treat and an opportunity not to be missed.

The album offers an insight into the historical international connections of the Indian Ocean islands – subtle influences can be heard from here and there: from Madagascar and East Africa to the Arabian peninsula and island neighbours such as La Réunion.

Originally released in 2007, Aman is Nawal’s dive into her Islamic, ‘Afro Sufi’ heritage, and Islamic themes are evident throughout, including the evocative zikr – rhythmic repetition of the name of Allah to induce trance – at the end of the piece ‘Kweli II’. It’s one of several stand-out tracks: the haunting a cappella ‘Dandzi’ stirs the soul, while on ‘Meditation’, Nawal’s guitar, mbira and bass create mystical clouds over a drone, giving an endearingly old-school world music vibe.

It’s a shame, then, that it ends in a somewhat clunky remix from the French DJ Click. With its synth sounds and four-to-the-floor beat, it really sticks out as the last track and harshes the vibe created over the rest of the album. Otherwise, this is a very worthwhile listen.

Khamira - Khamira

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 128, June 2017.

Recordiau Bopa (55 mins)

Khamira is a coming-together of Welsh folk and Hindustani classical styles through the unifying medium of jazz.

Seven musicians are involved: trumpet, piano, bass and drums making up the Welsh contingent, and guitar, sarangi and tabla, the Indian. All are well-versed in jazz; however, on this debut album, Khamira’s various styles peacefully co-exist, rather than fuse. There are portions of jazz followed by sections of Indian music, but they very rarely meld together in any significant way. ‘Dance of Nothingness’ is probably where the styles are most intertwined, and as such, it’s the best track of the bunch. The Welsh element is the most elusive: most of the pieces are based on Welsh folk tunes, but that can only be clearly heard in one track, ‘Y Gwydd’.

There are stand-out moments, to be sure. The duet between Suhail Yusuf Khan’s tender vocals and Tomos Williams’ Miles-style trumpet that is ‘Ffarwel i Gymru/Morey Nain’ is a delight, and there are individual moments of brilliance in the solos across the pieces.

This is a good album with some interesting ideas; a little more musical cohesion wouldn’t go amiss, though.

Jennifer W. Kyker - Oliver Mtukudzi: Living Tuku Music in Zimbabwe

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 128, June 2017.

Jennifer W. Kyker
Oliver Mtukudzi: Living Tuku Music in Zimbabwe
Indiana University Press (304 pages)

Oliver Mtukudzi – often known simply as ‘Tuku’ – is a living legend of Zimbabwean music, both within the country and out. His unique mix of traditional Shona styles, soul, jive and South African music consistently defies any other categorisation than simply ‘Tuku music’, and his lyrics have spoken to the hearts of several generations of listeners in Zimbabwe.

With this book, Kyker gives an account of Mtukudzi’s musical life, but to call it a biography would be misleading. While it does take a mostly chronological journey through Tuku’s story, it uses his life and music as a jumping-off point to talk about the role of music across various facets of Zimbabwean social life and history.

The major theme of Living Tuku Music in Zimbabwe is the Shona concept of hunhu – the idea of personal identity based on communality and constant renegotiation, or in Tuku’s words, “being a person among others”. Due to the depth and poetry of Tuku’s music and lyrics, his songs can be interpreted in a multitude of ways, often leading to different groups taking away different messages, even if they are the opposite to Tuku’s stated intent. As such, each chapter focuses on a specific topic (such as politics, HIV/AIDS, the Zimbabwean diaspora), which is then viewed through the dual lens of Mtukudzi’s songs and his audiences’ interpretations of them, demonstrating the hunhu inherent in his music.

As an essentially ethnomusicological text, the theoretical extrapolations and dense technical language may be off-putting for some readers, but there isn’t too much of this to render it completely opaque. Scattered throughout are plentiful lyrics, interviews, photographs and other assorted miscellanea, which provide nice breaks in the wall of words. This is a work that has been in the making for 13 years (including nine years of research), and Kyker has created a thoroughly fascinating book.

UK Festival Guide 2017

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 128, June 2017. Copy deadline 13 April 2017.

May 12-28
Norfolk and Norwich Festival

Various venues in Norfolk

Norfolk and Norwich Festival’s 245-year history makes it one of the most venerable arts events in the UK. This year’s musical line-up is made up of 27 concerts across the 17 days, including such luminaries as Afro-Colombian cantadora Totó la Momposina, Welsh harp and Senegalese kora duo Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita and a genre-breaking collaboration between Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson. The festival also features a full literature programme (check out Guyanese poet John Agard), as well as dance, literature, theatre, visual arts and physical performance.

May 19-29
Alchemy Festival

Southbank Centre, London

For ten days, the Southbank Centre plays host to the largest festival of South Asian culture outside of the region itself. Alchemy Festival lets you explore a wide range of subcontinental and British Asian art; many of the events are completely free. There’s comedy, film, art exhibitions, dance recitals and courses (both classical and popular), board games, lectures and discussions…and that’s not even mentioning the music! Concerts include Pakistani kafi singer Abida Parveen, a night of top hip-hop entitled ‘Beats Without Boundaries’ and an afternoon-long sitarathon. A focus this year is the life of Ravi Shankar, including a performance of his opera Sukanya.

May 25-28
Orkney Folk Festival

Various venues, Orkney, Scotland

For more than 30 years, Orkney has opened its doors to folk music from across the UK with this wonderful festival. Homegrown heroes the Chair and Lau’s Kris Drever join the bill in 2017, alongside acts such as Eddi Reader and Blazin’ Fiddles. The most vibrant aspect of the festival, though, is its sessions – what’s more inviting than an Orkney pub filled with folk music? The pubs of Stromness will be the home to all-hours playalongs: don’t be surprised to see some of the ‘official’ line-up taking part. Bring your instrument and jump in!

June 2-4
Wychwood Festival

Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire

All neatly contained within the Cheltenham Racecourse, what Wychwood lacks in size it makes up for in energy. The headliners are of the rockier variety, from the Buzzcocks to original punk-folkers the Levellers, while elsewhere on the card you can dance to Congolese soukous with Kanda Bongo Man, North Indian party music with the Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band and Celtic folk from Canada with the East Pointers. On top of the musical offerings are renowned comedy and children’s programmes (CBeebies’ Kate Ashworth has already been confirmed) plus film and literature sides to give everyone something to enjoy.

June 3
Field Day

Victoria Park, London

Slimmed down from a weekend to a one-day affair for 2017, this über-cool gathering will nevertheless bring an outstanding and heterogeneous mix of hip-hop, electronica and alternative rock to East London’s Victoria Park. The line-up is full of crowd-pullers such as Aphex Twin, Run the Jewels and Flying Lotus. The worldier side of the menu is no less on-point, with Nigerian juju pioneer King Sunny Ade, Syrian dabke king Omar Souleyman, Afrofuturist jazzers Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids and more.

June 17-18
Africa Oyé

Sefton Park, Liverpool

Africa Oyé’s 25th anniversary is marked with cultural events across Liverpool throughout 2017, but the highlight will of course be the festival itself. As the UK’s largest free African and Afro-diasporic music festival, #Oyé25 invites some of the best artists to grace its stage over the years to return for the birthday bonanza in Sefton Park. Among the line-up are previous Songlines cover stars Jupiter and Okwess International (DR Congo) and Mokoomba (Zimbabwe). The festival is also an excuse for Merseyside’s best African and Caribbean kitchens to come and sell their wares, so remember to bring an appetite!

June 21-25
Glastonbury Festival

Worthy Farm, Pilton, Somerset

It’s the Big One. The UK’s biggest arts festival has something for everyone, from druids to ravers to metalheads. World music fans are well-served with some of the biggest names on the scene across more than 80 stages – of the handful of artists announced so far, Songhoy Blues and Toots and the Maytals will whet your appetite. Keep your eyes and ears peeled around the site – there is always something special, unlikely or out-of-this-world happening. Enjoy it while you can: this year’s festival may be the last at the iconic Worthy Farm for a while, with no 2018 edition and talk of an alternative site for 2019.

June 29-July 16
Manchester International Festival

Various venues, Manchester

This biennial arts festival specialises in the one-off. Artists of every conceivable medium will descend on Manchester to create new and innovative works. On the musical side, this means an exciting programme featuring artists such as La Mambanegra, Chassol, Bokanté and Portico Quartet, but also Colin Stetson and New Order with visual artist Liam Gillick. There’s audio-visual spectacle with world premieres of multimedia pieces by Phil Collins (the Turner nominee, not the other one) and Underworld, plus exhibitions, films, improvisatory drama and more. Put on your art appreciation glasses and expect the unexpected.

July 14-16
Tropical Pressure

Mount Pleasant Eco Park, Cornwall

With a different sonic destination each day – Latin America on Friday, Africa on Saturday and the Caribbean on Sunday – this is a festival to take your senses on a tropical voyage. Situated in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and with and some of the country’s best vendors and chefs offering 100% vegetarian cuisine, Tropical Pressure is guaranteed to be a feast for the eyes and taste-buds just as much as the ears. At last year’s festival, our reviewer said ‘It’s a sure-fire way to put a smile on your face’ – 2017 promises just as much.

July 19-22

Stornoway, Outer Hebrides

HebCelt attribute their success to three things: the passionate community, the outstanding beauty (the site has views of the harbour and castle), and, of course, the music. The cream of Scottish folk will play in 2017, including Peatbog Faeries, Lau and the hot young things, inter-Gaelic ramblers Ímar. A show to look out for is the opening concert, which will explore the fiddle traditions of the Scottish islands with musicians from Lewis, Orkney and Shetland. As well as the main arena, the festival also has venues across Stornoway and the Isle of Lewis, so don’t forget to take a wander.

July 27-30
Cambridge Folk Festival

Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge

The Cambridge Folk Festival has long been known as more than just a stage for British folk music. Having been founded way back in 1965, the festival treats their 14,000-strong crowd to some of the best artists on the world and folk circuits every year. In 2017, this includes folk legends from both sides of the Atlantic in Shirley Collins and Loudon Wainwright III as well as an interesting headliner choice in Olivia Newton-John. One to look out for is Amythyst Kiah, who has a unique take on country blues.

July 27-30

Charlton Park, Wiltshire

This is the calendar highlight for world music lovers. It’s a big year twice over for WOMAD – 10 years since their move to Charlton Park and 35 years of the festival overall. You’d imagine they would pull out all the stops, but that’s business as usual for WOMAD. Here, world music megastars like Angolan semba singer Bonga and Senegalese heroes Orchestra Baobab play alongside the best artists you’ve never heard of from across the planet. Already confirmed are legendary South African choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Benjamin Zephaniah’s live dub-and-poetry project and the Khmer Rouge Survivors’ Cambodian roots from before the war. Other highlights are workshops for adults and children, poetry, food demonstrations and, of course, the Songlines signing tent!

August 10-13

Nr Winchester, Hampshire

BoomTown has grown a lot since it started in 2009. Now it is a veritable city with its own vivid internal mythology of explorers, revolutions and alien contact. An impressively huge line-up is stretched across twelve distinct districts, each with its own personality and multiple stages: you can go from watching Cypress Hill and Ziggy Marley in Trenchtown to Chris Wood and Mbongwana Star after a short stroll over to the Wild West. Other highlights are Palestinian electronauts 47SOUL and Afro Cuban-Iranian adventurers Ariwo.

August 24-27
Shambala Festival

Secret estate, Northamptonshire

Named after a mystical Tibetan kingdom and held in an idyllic secret location, Shambala helps to give you a glimpse of utopia for one summer weekend with their ethos of sustainability, independence and creativity. There’s a big bunch of stages, each with a speciality in anything from deep dance beats to puppeteering. Good music guaranteed, with artists such as Malian diva Oumou Sangaré, Persian-Arabic jazz architects L’Hijâz’Car, hip-hop team-up Chali 2na & Krafty Kuts and Eastern Europe-meets-Middle East boogie explosion The Turbans.

August 25-28
Shrewsbury Folk Festival

West Midlands Showground, Shropshire

Recently named What’s On’s ‘Best Midlands Music Festival’, Shrewsbury Folk Festival showcases the length and breadth of folk music from Britain and beyond. For the 2017 edition, they’re launching their ‘Room for All’ initiative, celebrating cultural diversity. The 18-month project kicks off at the festival with O’Hooley & Tidow performing alongside an ensemble of refugee musicians. Other acts include John Kirkpatrick, the Unthanks and a performance of the folk opera The Transports with guests The Young’uns, Faustus and Nancy Kerr. Folk dance from ceilidh to morris is also a large part of the Shrewbury vibe, so bring your dance-appropriate footware!

August 25-28
Towersey Festival

Thame Showground, Towersey, Oxfordshire

When it was founded back in 1965, Towersey Festival was a one-day village event to raise money for the Memorial Hall. Now, it is great excuse to spend a (hopefully sunny!) long August bank holiday weekend with some of the brightest stars of folk and beyond. Eliza Carthy & the Wayward Band, folk stalwarts Show of Hands and the Blockheads are cases-in-point for 2017. The festival also promises 36 hours of ceilidh and a spoken word and comedy programme including ‘The Adventures of Andy Kershaw’, light-hearted ruminations on a life-long musical journey from the intrepid journalist, radio DJ and once-upon-a-time Songlines columnist.

September 16-18
Darbar Festival

Various venues, London

The aim of the Darbar organisation is to promote and celebrate the classical arts of India (both North and South), and their flagship festival succeeds in this year on year. The Darbar Festival is expanding its footprint in 2017, with events hosted at the Barbican and Sadler’s Wells as well as its usual home of the Southbank Centre. Highlights include master khyal and thumri singer Kaushiki Chakraborty and kathak dance from Akram Khan. There’s also a crash course in Indian classical music by broadcaster Jameela Siddiqi.

September 15-17
The Good Life Experience

Hawarden Estate Farm, Flintshire, Wales

The brainchild of Songlines family member Cerys Matthews, the Good Life Experience is a down-to-earth weekend of culture and outdoorsiness in the picturesque shadow of the Hawarden Old Castle. With a line-up so varied as to include those such as Tuareg rockers Ezza and wildlife TV presenter Kate Humble, you never know quite what surprises are coming next. This is a place to get stuck in: try your hand at campfire cookery or homebrewing, and take part in crafts and activities from candle-making to axe throwing. Hands-off is not an option!

September 22-30
London African Music Festival

Various venues, London

Every September, stars from every corner of the African continent make their way to London to perform at this city-spanning event, and for its 15th edition, the London African Music Festival will enliven venues across the capital. It’s a little too early to start guessing about line-up just yet, but with last year’s event featuring turns from Sahrawi songstress Aziza Brahim, Guinean guitar master Sekouba Bambino, London’s own Afrobeat legend Dele Sosimi and a harp collaboration between Fang mvet player Sally Nyolo and Mandé kora player Djeli Moussa Diawara, this year’s offerings will no doubt be similarly exciting and wide-ranging.

October 19-21
Manchester Folk Festival

Various venues, Manchester

The very first edition of the Manchester Folk Festival will take place this year, and they’re starting off on a high, with headliners such as Bellowhead frontman Jon Boden, fusionistas the Afro Celt Sound System and Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell. But it’s not all about the big names: the festival runs concurrently with the English Folk Expo (previously in Bury), so expect to see the great and good of the folk industry hunting Manchester’s clubs for the next big thing in folk.

October 20-22
Musicport Festival

Whitby, Yorkshire

There aren’t many music festivals that are also a shop, but Musicport is one. With a musical instrument shop and concert programme as year-round activities, the jewel of Musicport is the October festival, held in Whitby’s Victorian seaside Pavilion. Early bookings for 2017 include headliners Afro Celt Sound System, gypsy violinist Tcha Limberger’s Hungarian project and kathakali dancers from South India. Extra-musical offerings come in the return of Bob’s Blundabus, the comedy club that also happens to be a double-decker bus.

January 18-February 4 2018
Celtic Connections

Various venues, Glasgow

At the end of January every year, Glasgow becomes home to more than 100,000 visitors feasting from Celtic Connections’ international buffet: more than 300 separate events of British and Celtic folk and world music of many different flavours. Just one of Celtic Connection’s notorious highlights are its musical collaborations – this year, all eyes were on the meeting of Evelyn Glennie and Trilok Gurtu. Although it’s a bit early to know details of next year’s festival, a partnership with Culture Ireland has already been revealed, so Hibernian connections are definitely on the cards. Look out for the programme announcements in autumn 2017.

Photo: WOMEX flags, by Smoobs. Used under licence CC BY 2.0.