Hardly a month goes by that I don’t find a new fadista to be captivated by; July is the turn of Claudia Aurora, a London / Bristol based artist who is a lovely exponent of fado novo. It’s a fascinating insight for me into the development of fado and the relationship fado has with my favourite band, Deolinda.
Aurora has a classic fadista voice, a husky and rich contralto. She also conforms to type, dressed heavily but sexily in red and black, swishing her shawl in the most dramatic of fashions. She is everything one could ever want in a beautiful, heart-rending fadista.
She showcases numbers mainly from her new album, “Silencio“, and every single song is sweetly listenable. The title track is gorgeous, a paean to quiet reflection in a world of invasive and pointless noise. “Cigana”, the track she ends with, is an absolute standout too, melding flamenco with fado in a hip-swaying tragedy of a gypsy Romeo and Juliet tale: it’s really beautiful.
I think I’m beginning to put two and two together with this fado business. Aurora is definitely new fado – I can hear the freshness of it in the influences and the melodies – but it is also recognisably of the tradition. Take “Mariquinha”, a lovely upbeat song about a young woman who is jilted at a dance but who has a whale of a time anyway: that, it seems to me, is of the fado tradition. Deolinda, on the other hand, sing of horny young women who go to the dance, strut their considerable stuff and elbow every other girl out of the way to get to the guy. While Aurora sings of lost young women waiting for their men to come home from the sea, Deolinda sing of Portugal’s insanely stupid pride in having the tallest flagpole in the world. Aurora sings of the past: Deolinda sing of the depredations of an austerity-choked Portugal in 2012.
This is what more traditional fado lacks, a sense of the irreverent, the contemporary. There’s nothing wrong with that, though, and I will still respond viscerally and emotionally to the beauty of it. And I’ll always welcome a new fadista into the fold of my favourite musical form. Aurora says she will be playing in Scotland in the new year: I’ll be sure to be there.
Sekou Kouyaté may be one of the handsomest men on the planet. Tall, elegant, he is outrageously charismatic, with a smile like a lighthouse. He also has the distinct advantage of playing the kora, that fantastically gorgeous, huge 21-string Malian harp-come-guitar that is… how can I say it… more than a little priapic. Women around the arena audibly swoon when he straps it on like… well… a strap on.
Joe Driscoll is, on the other hand, a scuzzy New York punk ass rapper. He can’t compete with Kouyaté’s gorgeousness, so he doesn’t bother trying, wearing a basketball shirt and jeans that have both seen better days. He is effortlessly charming, though, and is clearly in awe of Kouyaté’s virtuoso playing, given that he name checks him a dozen times at least. But these two guys – one speaking English with no French, the other French with no English – have forged something very special together through the music they’ve created, and it’s a little blast of genius.
Driscoll’s folk / hip hop melds perfectly with Kouyaté’s African melodies, and some of the numbers are as danceable as anything this weekend, particularly one written about Driscoll’s home town. “Passeport” is available on a free download from their site, and it’s great too. What is a master stroke is using the kora as lead guitar; Kouyaté is known as “the Jimi Hendrix of the kora” apparently, but given he’s working with three and a half times as many strings as the late great, when he blasts his solos through a fuzz pedal, it’s like having Hendrix and a couple of clones up there for good measure too.
Their album will be released in November (I didn’t have time to get an early issue at the festival tent) and it will be a must have. Great, great stuff from two guys whose multicultural bromance is producing some scintillating music.
I love Ane Brun; she’s one of those totally unique voices and characters and writers that make the world a much richer place. The riches she brings are sonic: wash upon wash of utterly beautiful ambience that soars as high as any music I’ve ever heard. I’ve already reviewed her fantastic King Tut’s gig from last November, and have gone on record about how her “It All Starts With One” LP was my highlight album purchase of 2011, especially the utterly transcendent “Undertow” which, judging by the reactions of some of the audience, wows yet again. It is, I think, one of the most sublimely beautiful songs ever recorded; it’s an essential for any sort of a fulfilled life.
I think that experience last year is why I am just a little disappointed. She’s one of those I came to see especially, and she is again wonderful – but the King Tut’s gig was monumental in its soundscape. Here, there are fairly considerable sound problems, to the extent that she spends most of her opening number, the title track, with a sound man half way up her shirt to fix her radio pack. I don’t think it’s ever fully solved, because the louche, sexual “Worship” and even the thumping “Do You Remember” sound just a little muddy and insipid. That isn’t her fault – it’s the fault of playing to a barn with a sound system that doesn’t quite cut the mustard – so I still love her, and would walk over hot coals to see her perform again.
In addition, it’s only an hour long, so much of her gorgeous earlier recordings like “Humming One Of Your Songs” or “Gillian” or “Sleeping by the Fyris River” have to be jettisoned: the only song not on the latest album is “Balloon Ranger”. However, she does a Taste the World session (it’s quite charmingly obvious fairly soon that she can’t cook, and luckily the Blue Peter Faerie has conjured up a “here’s one we did earlier” salted cod stew) and we get the chance to hear some of her more intimate numbers, including “The Puzzle” and “Du Gråter Så Store Tåra” (which, translated as “Tears are much heavier these days”, is quite lovely). She tells us a lot about her career and her development as a musician and comes across as a genuinely sweet, down to earth girl from a sleepy little Norwegian fishing village half way up her guitar.
And she’s a star, too. Yes, I love Ane Brun.
I turn up out of curiosity, this not having been on my must-see list. Dixit comes on stage and sheepishly tells us his band are going to play a song about finding yourself. I think, “Oh shit, get my chakras out of here”. Then he just blows the Siam tent away and I can’t stop smiling.
Neither can he or his band, and that’s what makes this such a joy. He is clearly astonished and delighted by his success, as deserved as it is. Think Cornershop, but really, really excellent, with a charismatic lead singer in possession of a full-throated, vibrant tenor and a winning personality and a cool band with a bass player, Guarav Vaz, who rivals Rex Horan in the coolly hairy sweepstakes. No wonder bands like Basement Jaxx and Bellowhead are falling over themselves to work with him.
Most of the set is taken from his latest album “Antaragni” (preview it here) and songs like “Mysore Se Aayi”, “Gudugudiya Sedi Nodo” and “Khidki” are great danceable licks. So too is the barnstorming “Well I’m in Mumbai, waiting for a miracle“, a song guaranteed to elicit contagious pogoing in any audience listening to it.
Then comes probably the sweetest thing I have ever seen at any gig, ever. Dixit calls for Dave in the audience, who has sent him an e-mail asking him to dedicate “No man will ever love you, like I do” to his girlfriend Jacqueline. And the man in front of me – literally, right in front of me – puts his hand up while his girlfriend covers her face in embarrassment.
Dixit reads the whole e-mail. Teenage sweethearts, they had drifted apart and hooked up again 40 years later after living on the fringes of the same social groupings. It’s like we’ve never been apart, Dave says.
Dixit himself says he always thought the song was a bit cheesy, but he’s glad it means so much to others; and, to be fair, it’s not exactly a classic song. However, in the middle of it, Dixit shouts to Dave, “You know what to do!” and I swear, right there six inches in front of me, Dave goes down on one knee and proposes, and Jacqueline, bless her, throws her hands in the air and accepts. Cue audience going nuts.
That moment alone was worth five stars, believe me. I wish them all the happiness in the world, and Raghu Dixit all the success he can handle for inspiring such a lovely moment.
Hugh Masakela, the venerable South African trumpeter I last saw back in November 2010, is the perfect act to start the festival proper. His years of political activism and his championing of the anti-apartheid movement while still supporting the development of South African musicians are unparalleled, save perhaps for Miriam Makeba. He’s a trumpeter of great skill and an impeccable groove, and vocally he’s as exciting as many singers half his age.
This is all slick and perfectly done, young guitarist Cameron Ward is a real star and Masakela is as genially twinkly as ever; much dancing does occur, even from yours truly. However, some of Masakela’s mugging becomes just a little tiresome second time around, and his patter – including the tale of his birth in Reading and being washed away down to Africa where he became black by rolling around in penguin shit – is just a little uncomfortable. I am as fond of irony as anyone, and it is not for me to say, I know that – Masakela has earned the right to take whatever language or mythology about the black man he cares to and can do whatever he likes with it, and to hell with any white liberal sensibilities I might have – but it made me squirm more now that I know it’s an established part of his routine when, in 2010, I thought it was simply cheeky ad libbing.
But, clearly, at the end of the day the man is a legend, a hero and a damned fine musician we should treasure.
The programme suggests that Kayrece Fotso will be a big hit this year, “walking away with our hearts”; whoever wrote that has obviously experienced her performances first hand, because that’s exactly what she does.
From Cameroon, Fotso is a young woman who sings of the big and the little issues, a protest singer of the most charming and intimate type. She has a magnificent voice, rich and resonant and capable of real soaring highs. Start with the brilliant “Mayolé“, a song about the deforestation of Cameroon; it’s a real spine-tingler.
On stage, she is, of course, absolutely beautiful (for some reason, I find her upper arms and shoulders particularly lovely – odd, I know) and her charm is boundless. She is more willing than most to give of herself: she talks about being deserted by her husband for her best friend Solange – everyone in the audience, bar none, thinks the guy must be nuts – and then sings the loveliest upbeat number about it, “Pac-ler Francaise”. Just watch the joy papering over the heartbreak of this performance.
She is obviously bound closely to her homeland and its beauties and its faults; “Lomdieu” is a cry against the forced marriages which blight young women in Cameroon. Her determination to effect change is evident in her story of how she came to learn the zanza, a tiny box of wood with graduated tongues of metal like a plucked xylophone. Traditionally a male-only preserve, the local teacher refused to take her on as a pupil. Her reaction was to turn up at his home every day for six months until he relented to get rid of her: she plays it expertly. Her multi-instrumentalism is terrific to see, including a hollow tray filled with gravel that she uses to create the sound of the sea absolutely perfectly. Knocks a rain stick into a cocked hat.
Later, I catch her at the Taste of the World stage, where artists cook traditional dishes from their country and sing some acoustic numbers. She is helped by her older sister Anna, and they are a hilarious “Sense and Sensibility” double act, Kayrece as the flighty younger sister, Anna as the voice of responsibility; there is much eye rolling at each other, but their love is blindingly obvious. Thankfully, her rebelliousness stretches as far as her family, and she defied their wishes to study biochemistry to become a doctor for a career in music. The running joke is that Anna is on hand to find Kayrece a suitable husband: I suspect she’ll have no problem with that.
She tells of reaction to her work in her country, of how “Mayolé” has been adopted as an environmental anthem, and of the young girl who wrote to her to tell her how “Lomdieu” gave her the inspiration to refuse her family’s attempts to marry her to a man she didn’t know. I suspect Kayrece Fotso is a name that will become very, very important in the changing face of Africa.
But the girl can’t stop singing though. Even as she is chopping ingredients, she shares two lullabies she wrote for her daughters, and she has to be dragged away from the microphone because she just wants to give us one more song. As we file out, there is much talk about her; one woman says to me, “I think everyone’s fallen in love with her today”. Given that I feel I’ve just spent a couple of blissful hours being sung to by one of the most charming, intelligent, lovely young women I’ve ever met, I absolutely concur.
Her album, “Kwegne”, is brilliant. It’s full of soul, such as the goosebump opener “So’a”, but she can rock it too: “Kuichoueu” is absolutely thundersome. A superb, uplifting experience.
I don’t usually go for guitar bands, especially ones led by shop window singers; however, Revere are really, really good. Stephen Ellis is a traditional pomp and swagger front man with a bit of the Guy Garveys or Rickey Wilsons about him; however, despite the fact that I have a natural antipathy to blokes of his ilk, he has a belter of a voice, and he leads a huge band that incorporates strings and horns and the kitchen sink perfectly.
In addition, the band give it their all in a performance that is so energetic it’s exhausting to watch: they just love the music they’re playing, and that’s fantastic to see. Songs have a huge scale, massive compositions that are ambitious and clever even if, on occasion, they take themselves a bit too seriously. Songs like The Escape Artist and Skin and We Won’t be here Tomorrow are huge singalong anthems that they just have great fun with. They live and breathe their music, and Jonathan Fletcher, a tall, gangly lead guitarist bursting with pent-up energy, is a real standout musician.
They can do delicate, though. Recently, they collaborated with Toumani Diabaté on “Love Will Tear Us Apart Again“, and although this is a song that is being covered to death, quite frankly, Revere’s is a mannered take of perfectly enunciated repression. Pretty cool, as is Ellis’ sea shanty, “What am I if I’m not even dust.”
A band I’d definitely see again, and an excellent way to end Day One.
Frank Yamma is a gravel voiced Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal who has the ability to move mountains to tears, quite frankly. The depth of his voice, the resonance he achieves, demonstrates exactly why the didgeridoo came into existence. With a face and demeanour that speaks of a hard life, both personally and culturally, he plonks himself down and proceeds to break hearts with consummate ease.
Accompanied by David Bridie, ex of not drowning, waving, Yamma is of a real troubadour tradition. His guitar riffs are instantly recognisable from a Western perspective; and yet, the stories he tells are culturally and linguistically from a whole other planet, a desert like Mars.
His new album has some astonishingly beautiful songs on it, especially, I think, “She Cried“. The lyrics are so simple and I have no idea what they mean, but I get the feeling this is a song about assisted suicide, about dementia: “Find me another way to die…” becomes “Find me another way to live…”, surely the most poignant statement of a mind that can only clutch at the moment.
But there are songs which are far, far more impactful. Even when he’s singing in his own lost, keening language, he is a one-man goosebump production line. Listen to “Nguta Waljilpa” without shivering: I dare you.
He almost finishes with a stormer: “Coolibah” is the most excoriating indictment of imperialism I think I’ve ever heard, dissecting as it does the horror of the white man’s alcohol on the whole aboriginal race through the story of one lost, wasted black man stumbling to a cirrhotic death in the gutter. It is mind-blowing.
Fittingly, the song is the perfect springboard for Yamma’s final number which is perhaps weaker but nevertheless a fitting anthem for his people, urging them to put aside the white man’s beer and wine to make more spears. I hope they get to use them.
Well, that was my first WOMAD festival, and a grand time I had too. Loved it. The crowd was relatively cultivated: I’d heard all about the T in the Park piss bombers the previous week. For some reason, the idea of being drenched in someone’s else’s urine kinda puts me off a bit; especially a stranger’s urine, but that’s another far stranger story…
Of course, the place was awash with some weird and wonderful New Age shit, with more Tchai and Reiki than you could throw a seven chakra crystal healing stick at. Just what the fuck is Gong Therapy anyway? One of my Facebook pals accused me of visiting a Thai massage parlour; chance would be a fine thing…
I’ve no idea why WOMAD has become so enmeshed with all this stuff. Of course, I am an almost total skeptic (though I may tell you about my NLP squirrel experience sometime) but am happy to leave folk to do and believe whatever turns them on – unless they want to damn me to eternal hellfire for not believing what they do, that is. However, just what relevance has this stuff to the dispossessed of the favelas, or the starving of East Africa, or the war ravaged of sub-Saharan Africa? None, I reckon. To me, it should be about those cultures, those people and their music, not the idiosyncracies of western folk with too much time on their hands.
I do like this festival thingy, jumping about from band to band like a real life skip button. I see and hear a lot, bit and pieces here and there. I arrive in enough time to catch The Soul Rebels from New Orleans, a big brass band sound that is funky and tight. They do a fantastic version of “Sweet Dreams“, and remind me a lot of a band I was really into years ago, the Rebirth Brass Band. Cool.
I catch most of The Wilderness of Manitoba, a Canadian band that eschew the tradition of a lead singer for close harmonies. The result reminds me a bit of Chatham County Line or Crooked Still: mannered, interesting, sweet Americana that kind of washes over me. Not really a visceral experience, but worth a listen to. Hollie Cook is young and sweet and wriggling out of her dress with sheer vivacity, but I’ve never been a ska or reggae fan, so it’s another that I bail early on.
I manage about three minutes of Maga Bo, a Brazilian / American DJ. The crowd is too young for me, and the bass is up so high I’m convinced my kidneys will explode. However, more than that, it’s just that a guy behind a laptop just doesn’t inspire me to get involved in the show, which is the problem I also have with The Portico Quartet. I have their latest album, and the track “Ruins” is a thing of real ambient beauty. But four guys who end up playing with their knobs onstage, so to speak, doesn’t really do it for me. Pretentious? Les?
The Correspondents, despite having a laptop knob twiddler called Chucks, are a different matter. I’m tired and only manage half of their show, but their über-camp glam-swing is so infectious it draws a massive crowd around the smallest stage on site, largely due to the Mael-like vocals and irrepressible whirlygig dancing of lead singer Mr Bruce. Infectious, danceable, watchable and I’d love to see more. Vadoinmessico are a multi-continental psychedelic folk band who I had on my list but who kind of disappoint, perhaps because I saw them after Raghu Dixit (more of him in a later post). They set up some interesting and energetic percussive rhythms which then dissipate during quiet and fairly understated vocals.
I catch a bit of Jimmy Cliff and Robert Plant. Yes, gods, I know, and what they do is slick and tight. However, quite frankly, it feels just a little tired and traditional to me. Khaled is interesting, but again, there’s a slickness about it that just knocks the edges off, and I like my edges a lot of the time.
I’ll do individual entries for the main acts I saw over the next few days. Many were good, some were great and a few were outstanding. So, yes, I’m off next year, all things willing…
A really good reading event at The Scottish Writers’ Centre in the CCA last night. Lots of Gaelic was on the bill; as I’ve said before, I don’t understand the language, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy listening to it. Perhaps it’s the musicality of the rhythms, but I think readers in Gaelic are generally much more proficient that readers in English, with beautiful changes of pace and tone and register. The Gaelic group run by Catriona Lexy Campbell – which seems to be thriving – has prepared work for this event on the theme of glass. Campbell herself reads a gorgeous poem which is just as effective in English. Other star performers are Maureen Macleod and, especially, Alison Lang, who reads a story about a grandfather with a love of Sherlock Holmes with real verve. Lovely too to see some Gaelic drama in progress.
But the readers in English are great too. Douglas Thompson, a novelist and prose writer, reads some poems themed on Glasgow weather just to prove he can write across genres; wish I could, I can’t write poetry to save myself. He’s witty and perceptive and gets tons of laughs.
It’s always a pleasure to hear J. David Simons, a writer I respect and a thoroughly nice bloke. His coming of age tale of typing lessons in 1919 Poland is really lovely, with pin sharp characterisation and beautiful detail, and it’s read with a gentle authority. Of course, the novel I’ve been wrestling with for six years is set in the same time and place, and it’s always disheartening to hear other people do it better than me. Such is life.
As for myself, I read an extract from “The Beauty that Brendan Sees”, a story which is due to be published in New York gay literary magazine “Chelsea Station” later this month. I decided to try it without the crutch of a script tonight; I find I rarely refer to a script anyway, and it gets in the way, so, given I only had time for a five minute extract which was heavily edited from the original anyway, I thought I’d just stand there and tell the story. Other than one moment when the neurons almost failed to connect, it all went pretty well, and I was surprised at how easy it was. My shocking American accent didn’t seem to be too off-putting either, and it’s always nice to be able to say things like “She has nipples like coins of strawberry mousse” in public and not be slapped.
So it seemed to go well. David Manderson – another great writer and good guy – reckons I should tour New York with it and become a gay icon. Mmm… we’ll see…