Thursday, 10 May 2018

Introducing The Turbans

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 138, June 2018.

The Turbans are many. Many members, many homelands, many instruments and many styles, all together as one. They are a band of stories: theirs started when two half-Iranian musicians, Oshan Mahoney and Darius Luke Thompson, met while cycling in Nepal. They started jamming and busking together as they travelled and found new musical friends as they made their way through the subcontinent, forming the foundations of The Turbans.

They accrete as they go. There are Turbans everywhere now: if the band’s seven-member nucleus goes to Thailand, or Mexico, or Australia, there are people who are ready to hop seamlessly into the line-up. No-one knows how many of them there are, but Oshan reckons there’s about 40 of the buggers. As band legend has it, “at any given time, there’s a member of the Turbans playing music somewhere in the world.”

They all have an interesting and unlikely story to tell. Maxim Shchedrovitzki was born in Belarus, raised in Israel and learnt the Turkish oud in India; Miroslav Morski is well-known as a pop singer in Bulgaria; bassist Freddie Stitz was in Razorlight. The list goes on. Unfortunately, their whole story is so epic that they’d need a feature film to explain fully. “We have our silly answer to ‘Where are you from,’” says Oshan, “we just say ‘Manywhere’. We throw it away really, because it’s a story, it takes time, and that’s a shame.

The music is just as international. Their sound is situated somewhere between Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Turkish folk melodies pop up in klezmer tunes and Bulgarian choirs sing to classical Arabic maqamat. It goes further too: there’s plenty of flavours hinting at everywhere from Albania to India. So how do they stop it from sounding like just a million different sounds? Says Maxim: “It is a million different sounds though!” Oh. “But oftentimes we find that this little part of an Indian raga is just like they play it in Morocco, it’s so similar. Then suddenly you have a composition which is Indo-Moroccan.” Oshan interjects, “so really, in the end it’s not that difficult, actually. Because it’s not actually different types of music, it’s just the same one that’s split into different time-zones.” Maxim jumps back in: "And what makes it sound like us is, I think, deep down we’re all rockers. We like to bang it!"

What’s surprising is that they’re not necessarily a party band. They can party (hard!) but their music has a subtlety that’s rare in other bands of similarly diverse influences. The crashing cymbals and oompahs will get you up and stomping about, but there is always intricacy there when you look for it and their quieter moments are extra special.

After years of performing across the globe, they’ve finally made a record. Their self-titled debut album has just been released, and of course there are many stories attached to its whenceabouts. They will regale you if you ask, but it’s really all there in the music. The Turbans are a band of stories. They come from manywhere but their music is definitely from here…wherever that happens to be today.

Photo: The Turbans live at the Islington Assembly Hall, by Ilka Schlockermann.

Etenesh Wassie & Mathieu Sourisseau - Yene Alem

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 138, June 2018.

Etenesh Wassie & Mathieu Sourisseau
Yene Alem
Buda Musique (43 mins)

The collaboration between Ethiopian singer Etenesh Wassie and French bass guitarist Mathieu Sourisseau has already yielded one album back in 2010 and now they’ve brought along cellist Julie Läderach (also French) to join them on their journey.

This is art music, and as such it benefits from concentrated listening. The interplay between voice, cello and bass creates an atmosphere that is stark yet intimate, and always intense. It’s serious stuff, but that’s not to say it’s inward-looking. The soundsculpture of Yene Alem is one that mixes classical and folk music of Europe with avant-garde rock and free jazz and always works in complete sympathy with the age-old qañat scales and melodies of Ethiopia’s azmari bards. The trio get funky when they need to, but they’re not afraid to unsettle your ears, either.

The size and make-up of the ensemble doesn’t really give too much scope for variation in texture - a range of electronic effects on Sourisseau’s acoustic bass notwithstanding – and by the end of the album you may want something a bit different. More contrasts would be welcome, I think, but that shouldn’t take away from the otherwise very nourishing music: this is food for the ears and the mind.

Gitkin - 5 Star Motel

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 138, June 2018.

5 Star Motel
Wonderwheel Recordings (42 mins)

It’s hard to find out anything about Gitkin. It appears that this is the almost-one-man-band’s debut record, and the press information doesn’t shed too much light besides its story: 5 Star Motel is a concept album of sorts, supposedly inspired by Gitkin’s mysterious US-travelling, bootleg-guitar-selling, possibly part-mythical uncle. If, like me, that brings you to expect an Americana fest full of lonely highways, you’re in for a surprise.

At the heart of it, 5 Star Motel is an instrumental album rooted in psychedelic surf rock, but its branches reach much further. The opening track starts with a guitar in the style of an Arabic qanun (zither) and, from there, influences abound from Greece, Turkey, Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria, Peru, Cuba, Jamaica and probably elsewhere. There’s lounge jazz, synth-pop and folk baroque in there, and, okay, there’s some Americana too.

When so many diverse flavours are crammed into one album, the results are usually incoherent and forced, but not here: Gitkin manages it with an uncommon subtlety. All those international melodies and rhythms fit into each other with ease, and all with a healthy drenching of reverb and echo straight out of the 1960s.

This is an unexpected delight – so listen without expectation!

UK Festival Guide 2018

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 138, June 2018. Copy deadline 16 April 2018.

May 4-7
Alchemy Festival

Southbank Centre, London

The Southbank Centre’s festival of South Asian arts and culture is booked around a central theme each year: this year, the focus is on home-grown talent. Art of all sorts is on display from prominent and up-and-coming British Asian creatives, with literature readings, comedy, classical and contemporary dance performances and workshops. Music comes from Talvin Singh performing his breakthrough album OK and India’s premier ska band the Ska Vengers. Shaanti, Birmingham’s ground-breaking Asian underground nightclub turned all-encompassing arts foundation, also hosts a day of free events charting the cutting edge of British Asian live and electronic music.

May 11-22
Norfolk and Norwich Festival
Various venues in Norfolk

Tracing its roots back to the 18th century, the Norfolk and Norwich Festival can count itself as one of the UK’s elder statesfestivals – but its line-up is as new and exciting as ever! There are 33 concerts of classical and contemporary music this year among all manner of performing arts. As well as orchestras, operas, cathedral choirs, new-generation jazz and gospel stars-in-waiting, the world music line-up is full of big hitters such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Talvin Singh as well as introspective Syrian qanun from Maya Youssef and a Karnatic twist on Bollywood bangers from Jyotsna Srikanth and the Bollywood Brass Band.

May 24-27
Orkney Folk Festival
Various venues, Orkney, Scotland

For four days, the islands of Orkney are filled with folk from Scotland and beyond for the Orkney Folk Festival. There are around 30 ticketed events in venues all over the islands, from artists such as Québecois Celtics Le Vent du Nord and ancient hypno-folk duo Kate Fletcher and Corwen Broch. But if you only go to the concerts, you’re doing it wrong! There’s a heavy emphasis on amateur music: with loads of sessions in the pubs for all to join – including the occasional member of folk royalty – as well as open stages, floor spots and sing-arounds, there’s plenty of opportunities for everyone to join the bill.

May 24-27
Knockengorroch World Ceilidh
Knockengorroch, Scotland

Held in a breathtaking valley in south-west Scotland, the Knockengorroch World Ceilidh has grown from a small folk gathering to an all-encompassing celebration of world music. The festival turns 20 this year, but its message has remained the same: party among the hills and bring music to the air, always as a way to pay respects to the natural wonder of our land. Expect highlights from globetrotting Jurassic 5 OG DJ Cut Chemist, Malian female supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique and the original line-up version of Transglobal Underground featuring Natacha Atlas.

June 1-2
Field Day
Brockwell Park, London

Field Day crosses the river for its first year in its new home of Brockwell Park in South London. The city’s local festival is well-known for its wide-ranging and high-quality mix of the hottest artists from the left of mainstream, and world music always gets a solid look in. This year sees Erykah Badu headlining with her only UK date this year, and artists from Princess Nokia to Nils Frahm billing alongside Oumou Sangaré and Hailu Mergia. A pioneering collaboration between Afrobeat legend Tony Allen and techno innovator Jeff Mills is not to be missed.

June 7-17
Festival of Voice
Various venues, Cardiff, Wales

After the Festival of Voice was held in 2016 to great success, they’ve decided to do it all over again in 2018! Organised by the famous Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, they’re acutely aware of their surroundings: the whole concept is a celebration of Wales’ history as a land of song and storytelling. The festival is consciously not restricted to any style, so there’s plenty of worldwide music, spoken word, talks and other mouth art. Highlights include punk goddess Patti Smith, Corsican polyphonists A Filetta and Songlines favourite Angélique Kidjo reinterpreting the Talking Heads’ classic album Remain in Light.

June 16-17
Africa Oyé
Sefton Park, Liverpool

A feast for the eyes, nose, taste buds and, of course, ears – and it’s free for everyone! Africa Oyé brings the best in African and Afro-diasporic music to Liverpool’s Sefton Park. It started as a local event in 1992, and although it’s now visited by more than 40,000 people from around the country (and world) every year, it still retains a unique community vibe. It doesn’t get more Scouse than Oyé! The 2018 line-up so far includes Gambian kora maestra Sona Jobarteh and Bissau-Guinean protest singer (and Joss Stone collaborator) Binhan as well as the ‘Bad Boys’ of reggae Inner Circle taking the traditional Sunday night Caribbean headline slot.

July 5-15
Liverpool Arab Arts Festival
Various venues, Liverpool

The Liverpool Arab Arts Festival brings a whole range of culture from all across the Arab world to the city. Presenting films, art exhibitions, theatre and literature as well as music and dance, the festival is held in venues around the city including a free-entry family day in the wonderful palm house in Sefton Park. The festival’s 2018 representatives of the musical arts stretch from Morocco’s Simo Lagnawi to TootArd of the Golan Heights, with Emel Mathlouthi (Tunisia) and recent Songlines cover stars 47SOUL (Palestine) along the way.

July 13-15
Tropical Pressure
Mount Pleasant Eco Park, Cornwall

How far do you reckon you can travel from Cornwall in a weekend? With the help of Tropical Pressure, you can head somewhere else every day – Latin America one day, Africa the next and the Caribbean on the Sunday to wrap things up. There’s 100% veggie culinary flavours go alongside the 100% danceable musical ones, and it’s all held in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Back in 2016, our reviewer called Tropical Pressure ‘a sure-fire way to put a smile on your face,’ and we’re not sure they’ve stopped smiling yet…

July 15
Folk By The Oak
Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

2018 will be the 11th year of Folk By The Oak, and it’s already an institution. It’s only a few miles out of the M25, but this ain’t London. Set in the grounds of Hatfield House, the festival is just a one-dayer (no camping required!) but they manage to pack in a whole bunch. Already confirmed for this year are the ‘Bard of Barking’ Mr Billy Bragg, the outstanding Celto-Senegalese harp-kora duo Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita and more. There’s not too many better places for a picnic!

July 18-21
Stornoway, Outer Hebrides

You’re out on the Isle of Lewis, in the grounds of the magnificent Lews Castle with views of Stornoway harbour below. What do you do? Have a festival of course! Luckily for us, that’s exactly what HebCelt thinks too, and they can be equally proud of their stunning location, loving community and top-quality music. As the name may suggest, the main focus is on Celtic folk, so there’s plenty of Scottish artists appearing as well as international connections from Yves Lambert and Vishtèn from Canada. Not that it’s all folk: headliners include Deacon Blue and the Fratellis.

July 19-22
Larmer Tree Festival
Larmer Tree Gardens, Wiltshire

It’s a triumphant return for the Larmer Tree Festival! After taking a year out last year, they are back with a bang and still within the wonderful peacock-strewn Larmer Tree Gardens – it’s surely a contender for the most beautiful festival site in the UK. Musical offerings include Malian rockers Songhoy Blues, English folk troubadour Chris Wood and gothic blues singer Amythyst Kiah, as well as many alt-folk and folk-alt discoveries and a special stage curated by tUnE-yArDs. The many comedy, spoken word and roving theatre performances are also a highlight.

July 20-22
Underneath the Stars Festival
Cinderhill Farm, Cawthorne near Barnsley

Underneath the Stars is a Kate Rusby album, isn’t it? Yes – and it’s also the festival organised by her own production company, held just down the road from her native Barnsley. 2018 means a new venue for the festival, although they’ve only moved to the other side of the village. Kate is at the top of the bill, of course, alongside Steve Earle, Lau and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Other interesting prospects are Estonian/Flemish quartet Estebel and nu-classical composer and violist John Metcalfe.

July 26-29
Charlton Park, Wiltshire

The grand matriarch of world music festivals continues to provide music, arts and dance of unparalleled quality and diversity. The line-up is far from complete yet, but it’s already bulging with exciting prospects, from world music legends Amadou and Mariam and Amparanoia to intriguing stars-in-waiting such as Palestinian/Syrian pianist Aeham Ahmed, Franco-Colombian math-rockers Pixvae and Malawian babatoni (giant one-stringed bass) player Gasper Nali. You can also learn your way around the world with artist workshops, cooking sessions and poetry for the adults and oodles of crafts, sciences demonstrations and the Sunday carnival for kids.

July 27-29
Lunar Festival
Umberslade Farm Park, Tanworth in Arden

Named after an 18th century brains trust/dinner club, you may guess there’s something a little different about the Lunar Festival. The festival is guided by seven main principles – listen, learn, move, create, taste, relax and laugh – you can do them all in abundance. To get your brain in gear there’s a load of talks and workshops to help you learn how to grow your own medicinal mushrooms, how to make baskets out of brambles and how to be a Shakespearean actor. Music includes UK jazztronauts the Heliocentrics and The Unthanks singing the songs of Molly Drake.

August 2-5
Cambridge Folk Festival
Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge

Folk has always been about more than just what is on our doorstep, and the Cambridge Folk Festival has known that since its beginnings in 1965. British folk is still very much on the menu (Eliza Carthy, Kate Rusby), but so are American folk traditions (John Prine, Rhiannon Giddens, Peggy Seeger) as well as combinations and confluences from around the world (Tuareg indie rockers Tamikrest, Scottish electro-punk folkies the Peatbog Faeries). Look out for special stages showcasing young musicians and guest curation from Giddens herself.

August 9-12
Nr Winchester, Hampshire

BoomTown is a world within our world. With an absolutely immense line-up that barely fits in on 25 main stages (with plenty other smaller ones to discover), it’s not an exaggeration to say that there’s something for everyone. Classic reggae? Jimmy Cliff is here. Irish folk? You want to see Lankum. Electro-acoustic sitar jazz? Check out Shama Rahman. Nu metal? Limp Bizkit got you covered. This year the tenth chapter of the BoomTown story will be written, an epic tale of discovery, alien contact and rogue AI – get swept up in the mythos and make your mark!

August 17-19
Glemham Hall, Woodbridge, Suffolk

When people talk about a festival, the atmosphere is often the thing that stands out – the FolkEast atmosphere is like English folk culture distilled. As well as well-known names in folkland (Show of Hands and Oysterband), there are young stars (Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar, Will Pound) and many stalwarts of the local Suffolk scene. Add to that ceilidhs, Morris teams, sessions, storytelling, real ale and stages in a natural amphitheatre and the local church, FolkEast is the place to reconnect with the roots of this land.

August 24-27
Shrewsbury Folk Festival
West Midlands Showground, Shropshire

Shrewsbury Folk Festival aims to explore the breadth of musical folk traditions. An exciting line-up includes Richard Thompson in his electric guise and Best Newcomer in the 2017 BBC Folk Awards Daoirí Farrell; there’s also specially-programmed dance bands to get your ceilidh on to, including Blowzabella celebrating their 40th year of drone-heavy folk. 2018 also provides the culmination of the ‘Room For All’ initiative that was launched last year, evident in an increasingly international line-up: highlights include pan-worldly collective Rafiki Jazz and a collaboration between two masters, Chinese dizi flute player Guo Yue and Japanese taiko drum extraordinaire Joji Hirota.

August 24-27
Towersey Festival
Thame Showground, Towersey, Oxfordshire

Starting life as a humble village folk gathering in 1965, Towersey Festival is still family-run to this day, but it’s now evolved into one of the biggest dates in the calendar. Folkies will rejoice in some top talent including The Rheingans Sisters and Martin Simpson, and excursions can be had with Soothsayers’ funky reggae party and The Brickwork Lizards’ Arabic-gypsy jazz-chamber hip-hop mix-ups. There’s many extramusical goings-on over the weekend too, with crafts, workshops and activities (don’t forget the roller disco!) for kids, teenagers and the otherwise young-at-heart. Remember to check out the Music Café, a new venue for 2018 that provides an informal space for jams with instruments or scones.

September 21-30
London African Music Festival
Various venues, London

There’s no fooling with this one – it’s a festival of African music in London. By the end of September, what better time to squeeze the last out of the summer rays than with some sunny music? The London African Music Festival brings some of the biggest names from across the continent (and closer to home) to venues across the capital. No line-up announcements as of yet, but last year saw sets from Sudanese retro-pop outfit Alsarah & the Nubatones, highlife pioneer Pat Thomas and star of Afro-Cuban jazz violin Omar Puente – expect similar quality for the 16th edition this year.

September 22-23, October 25-28, November 24-25
Darbar Festival
Various venues, London

Held across three weekends in three months and in three venerable arts institutions – the Southbank, the Barbican and Sadler’s Wells – this is a festival that just keeps on giving. The focus is on the wide range of classical music from around India; Darbar is a welcoming experience whether you’re a deep disciple of the styles or if you’ve never experienced Indian music before. Not all of the concerts have been announced yet, but there are some tantalising double-bills already on the cards. The highlight must surely be the concert by the ‘queen of Indian classical’ Parveen Sultana and one of the greatest living sitarists Shahid Parvez; fireworks should also be expected from the pan-Indian concert of sarodiya-to-the-stars Soumik Datta representing Hindustani tradition, and vocal duo the Malladi Brothers representing the Karnatic.

October 18-21
Manchester Folk Festival
Various venues, Manchester

After a storming first edition last year upon its move from Bury, the Manchester Folk Festival is already held in high regard and eagerly anticipated. The crowd-pullers are in good supply with Lindisfarne, Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita and Spiro all on the bill this year. But connected as the festival is with the English Folk Expo, the real draws are the lesser-known artists – worldwide members of the folk industry will be milling about all week looking for the perfect artist to make a star. Catch them here and you can say you knew them before they were famous!

October 19-21
Musicport Festival
Whitby, Yorkshire

It began as a one-off event in 2000, but it went so well, they decided to keep doing it for another 18 years! Musicport is an increasingly year-round affair (they’ve just concluded a new festival of Musicport on the Moors in May) but it all leads up to the festival in October. The earliest inklings of line-up include Malian bluesman Vieux Farka Touré, feel-good UK reggae singer Natty and Huddersfield folkies O’Hooley and Tidow. For the third time, some of the festival’s performing artists will go on a tour of the towns and villages of Yorkshire in the days after the festival proper, bringing the music to the community.

January 17-February 3 2019
Celtic Connections
Various venues, Glasgow

Always in hot contention for the earliest festival of the year, Celtic Connections is also one of the biggest and most well-renowned. The festival is made up of over 300 concerts every year, and while the spotlight may be on Celtic folk traditions, the line-up is anything but homogenous. There’s no word on artists for 2019 just yet (fair enough) but we know that it will be packed with the most exciting folk and roots musicians from every continent, and many ground-breaking and perhaps unexpected collaborations that are Celtic Connections’ forte.

Photos from top: Larmer Tree Festival 2016, by PhoebeReeksPhotography; BoomTown 2017; Knockengorroch World Ceilidh 2017, by Stevie Powers.