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Staff Benda Bilili

A personal diary from Kinshasa, by two men who work closely with the band as they record their latest album.


NASA – Music for Aliens

The American space agency’s musical launch. Simon Broughton examines the contents of the Voyager interstellar record.


Darbar Festival

A look at the London-based festival that is set to showcase some of the sublime, rare ragas that are often overlooked.


Krar Collective

Tim Cumming chats to the trio who have emerged from the Éthiopiques generation.




Nino Biton

The Arab-Andalusian oud player making his debut on the world stage.

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7 Welcome 9 Top of the World CD 10 M  y World: Peter Sellars 12 N  ews 15 Obituary: Chavela Vargas 17 News: The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative 18 Grooves: Circle of Sound, Bella Hardy & Sedryk 21 World Music Chart 21 Cerys Matthews 23 G  lobe Rocker: The Unthanks 24 Letters & Reader Profile 25 S onglines Music Travel


53 21


Cerys Matthews in Ireland

46 Beginner’s Guide to The Klezmatics 48 Festival Profile: Jeonju International Festival, Korea 50 S ounding Out Tel Aviv 53 P  ostcard from Jakarta 55 S ubscribe +GET A FREE CD 91 G  ig Guide & Radio Listings 96 You Should Have Been There... 98 Backpage from Nigeria



23 Win Unthanks album 38 Win Krar Collective album 84 Win Richard Thompson DVD 87 Win Woody at 100 box set




84 DVDs


The Americas

88 World




Australasia & Pacific





79 77 Asia

Middle East


Songlines 5





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“...a welcome moment of selfdeprecating humour in the over-long closing show”

y any measure, it’s been an extraordinary summer in London, even for someone like me, not noted for my sporting prowess or interest. To most people’s surprise, the Olympics didn’t bring the chaos that was feared, but a tangible sense of camaraderie and fun. The events I went to had an extraordinary feeling of international goodwill that exceeded all expectations. The opening ceremony presented an idiosyncratic view of British history and the closing ceremony was a celebration of British music. Eric Idle singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ was a welcome moment of self-deprecating humour in the over-long closing show. The song from The Life of Brian had Scottish bagpipers and bhangra drummers playing along – as well as international competitors whistling the hook. A memorable moment of Olympic craziness. Inside the Copper Box, the Olympic handball venue, I was amused by the MC – or whatever you call a sports-venue commentator – who spoke to the audience like a presenter on one of the more marginal stages at Glastonbury. The Copper Box clearly couldn’t compete with the Stadium or the Pyramid Stage, but made out that the atmosphere was special and visitors voted it the most fun. How many visitors were in a position to compare all the venues I wonder? As it happened, the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics coincided with the first night of the WOMAD Festival. The latter broke its UK box-office record – 37,000 tickets sold – which meant the WOMAD audience was almost half that of the Olympic stadium. While the stadium was getting the Industrial Revolution and Mr Bean playing 'Chariots of Fire', the Siam Tent was getting The Manganiyar Seduction – extravagantly turbaned Rajasthani singers and musicians packaged up into illuminated boxes. This brothel-meets-Bollywood show of traditional Rajasthani folk music has proved a spectacular hit all over the world. The musical story of the last week or so has been Pussy Riot’s conviction and two-year jail sentence for singing around 40 seconds of ‘Punk Prayer’ in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral. An orthodox chant is transformed into a thrashing anti-Putin song attacking his authoritarianism and anti-gay legislation: ‘The ghost of freedom is in heaven/Gay pride sent to Siberia in chains.’ Their trial became a freedom of speech cause célèbre, drawing messages of support from fellow musicians including Björk, Peter Gabriel and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Their conviction was met by a new Pussy Riot song predicting the president’s downfall, ‘Putin Lights up the Fires.’ Pussy Riot in Russia and R.U.T.A. in Poland – whose music I much prefer – show the continuing power of punk in Eastern Europe. R.U.T.A.’s new release, Na Vschod (To the East), draws on lyrics and musicians from Ukraine and Belarus. Putin’s misguided response to the protest has been to make Pussy Riot international celebrities and demonstrate that punk still has a purpose and a voice today.

ON THE SONGLINES STEREO ALEX The classic tropical tracks on Sofrito: International Soundclash

NAT Andy Palacio's Wátina. The best guitar licks in the business

courtesy of PAUL Bellowhead's Broadside. All will be revealed next issue!

JO Lau's forthcoming album Race the Loser

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On your free CD – the editor’s selection of the top ten albums reviewed in this issue


Staff Benda Bilili ‘Libala Ya Mungwa’

From Bouger Le Monde! on Crammed From Kinshasa zoo to the studio for this second album of warm and lilting Congolese rumba – essential autumn listening. See p60



Lo’Jo ‘Deux Bâtons’

From Cinéma el Mundo on World Village Fusion pros remain as original as ever – expansive harmonies, throaty vocals and a luxurious widescreen sound. See p70


Le Vent du Nord ‘Toujours Amants’

From Tromper Le Temps on Borealis Records An inspired and infectious whirl of traditional and contemporary tunes mark a decade together for the Québécois quartet. See p66



From Roll On, Roll On on Hornbeam A celebration of centuries-old songs from seasoned US folk veteran with a crack team of musicians. See p65

Smart, yet sincere. Sensitive, yet powerful. A beautiful, melodically sweet, instrumentally rich and bittersweet album. See p71

Tom Paley’s OldKarine Polwart Time Moonshine ‘King of Birds’ Revue ‘Roll On, Roll On’ From Traces on Hegri Music





6 †



8 1




From the album Greekadelia on Riverboat Records Fresh takes on traditional folk with textured sounds of provincial Greece. See p74

From Tientalaw on Sterns Music Sparkling guitar playing from a recently departed griot, together with the next generation of impressive Malian talent. See p58

An outstanding compilation from Thailand’s 70s golden era, stand-up fiddle soloist. See p77

Kristi Stassinopoulou & Stathis Kalyviotis ‘Anamesa Nissirou’

Zani Diabaté & Les Héritiers ‘Mali Yafa’

Thonghuad Faited ‘Eua Aree See Sor’

From The North East Thai Violin of Thonghuad Faited on EM Records


Caroline Herring ‘Black Mountain Lullaby’


From Camilla on Signature Sounds Lyrically beautiful, all-original songs laced with powerful imagery mixing history with magic on this potential folk classic. See p63

From The Tel Aviv Session on Cumbancha Organically grown out of jam sessions, this soulful offering from the Touré-Raichel dream-duo is a delight that exudes optimism. See p83

New to Songlines? Subscribe now and get a

The TouréRaichel Collective ‘Touré’

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We’re giving away a choice of Zani Diabaté & Les Héritiers, The Touré-Raichel Collective or Lo’Jo’s new albums (to new subscribers only). See the flyer inside your covermount CD for details, visit or call +44 (0)20 7371 2777.

Songlines 9




My World sleeve.indd SLTOTWCD-87-

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Signat e Sounds Kristi Stassinopoulou & Stathis Kalyviotis ‘Anamesa Nissirou’ (5:15) Camilla on to6Signatur From the albumHerring, under exclusive licence 7 Zani Diabaté & Les Héritiers ‘Mali Yafa’ (5:13)

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d Faite Thai Violin The North East From the album on EM Records Faited Records Thonghuad Courtesy of EM

8 Thonghua



ghani’ (4:01)

The critically acclaimed, and sometimes controversial, contemporary theatre and opera director talks passionately about his musical tastes


on Smithsonian Sakhi ‘Kata 11 Homayun The Art of the Afghan Rubabof Smithsonian Folkways gs. Courtesy the album From P

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& © 2012 iotis Stathis Kalyv inopoulou & 6 Kristi Stass Nissirou’ (5:15)on Riverboat Records ‘Anamesa Greekadelia Music Network


cha. Courtesy of

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From the album Courtesy of Strut


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d’ (4:25) ké ‘Motherlan on Strut 13 Mulatu AstatMulatu Steps Ahead

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8 Thonghuad Faited ‘Eua Aree See Sor’ (3:23) (4:07) 9 Caroline Herring ‘Black Mountain Lullaby’ (4:14) ctive ‘Touré’ ancha -Raichel Colle Cumb 10 The Touré-Raichel Collective ‘Touré’ (4:07) 10 The Touré The Tel Aviv Session on cha the album


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okh' (2:06) nya Mezhidov ‘Daim ce – Music of Chech

Songs of Defian ds From the albumCaucasus on Topic Recor Records and the North Courtesy of Topic Records.

PLUS 5 tracks chosen by Peter Sellars (3:09) 11 Homayun Sakhi ‘Kataghani’ (4:01) é ‘Tounka’ 15 Rokia TraorTchamantché on Nonesuch to Nonesuc12h Records Waldemar Bastos ‘Sofrimento’ (4:06) licence From the album l Music France, under exclusive 13 Mulatu Astatké ‘Motherland’ (4:25) P & © 2008 Universa 14 Sahab Mezhidov ‘Daimokh’ (2:06) h Courtesy of Nonesuc 15 Rokia Traoré ‘Tounka’ (3:09)


& © 2007 Topic

Total disc time


& © 2012 EM Records. info@songline ing Ltd. Email: Songlines Publish by Jo Frost. P & © 2012 ced re Logistics Ltd. This compilation led and sequen STWCD63 egan. Compi pressing by Softwa their music. er Paul Geogh of Imprint. CD ing by Good Executive produc ers for the use Doggett. Master sers and publish Design by Jenni paid the compo of this CD have The producers


Exclusively with the October 2012 issue of Songlines. STWCD63. This compilation P & © 2012 Songlines Publishing Ltd , www.songline



07/08/2012 12:18

Also on your CD: five tracks chosen by Peter Sellars FROM


Homayun Sakhi ‘Kataghani’




From the album The Art of the Afghan Rubab on Smithsonian Folkways “Homayun Sakhi is simply the reigning virtuoso of the rubab. There is nobody remotely near him, in terms of the way he gets from one note to another – the rhythms are just way out there.”


Waldemar Bastos ‘Sofrimento’

From the album Pretaluz on Luaka Bop “Bastos’ music has across the years taken on an anthemic power and this record (which, thank God, we know because of David Byrne) has gone into the annals of one of the truly timeless classics.”


Mulatu Astatké ‘Motherland’

From the album Mulatu Steps Ahead on Strut “There are many albums from Mulatu, with the earliest being radical and imaginative, but what is thrilling is... the permanently open, energised field of musical appetite.”


Sahab Mezhidov ‘Daimokh’

From the album Songs of Defiance – Music of Chechnya and the North Caucasus on Topic “The music now has defiance built in with such force and ferocity as people have lost everything, and everyone, over and over again. It is music that is absolutely unbending in its determination not to be silenced.”


Rokia Traoré ‘Tounka’

From the album Tchamantché on Nonesuch “This album has a Western rock band, mingled with African instruments and shows Rokia taking enormous pleasure in the range of possibilities; creating a music that is specifically African, but not Afro-centric.” 10 Songlines


ith his most recent artistic collaborations being richly diverse (Toni Morrison’s Desdemona with Rokia Traoré, a Lorca opera from the perspective of the Americas in Madrid, Tristan und Isolde in Helsinki…), it can comes as no surprise that Peter Sellars’ zest for culture draws its net joyously around all music – and music that thrives in times of adversity. As he says, “A lot of my life has been spent collaborating with extraordinary musicians from places in the world where history is truly being made and where the odd news story is not adequate to convey the weight and depth and scope of what people are living with and through. I think that in my work it is extremely important for me that people are able to speak from their own perspective, with their own knowledge and with their own understanding, and not simply be mediated through another voice. “For me, Homayun Sakhi is one of the most exhilarating musicians alive because his life journey has actually reflected the transformation of a traditional music. Practitioners of traditional music say that such music it is never frozen, always in motion and always responsive. What is thrilling about Homayun is that when he went into exile from his native Afghanistan, first to Peshawar and then to Freemont, California (known as Little Kabul), he was young enough that his music does not reflect nostalgia. Homayun’s energy went into creating the “world that will be” and by listening to all kinds of jazz, rock music, world music, he is in the process of re-imaging what Afghan music is. While his country is in a state of siege (and while the US is spending $121 billion a year to ‘pacify’ it), Homayun is creating the future, in music. “Waldemar Bastos is again somebody whose life in exile is a cultural voyage, moving from Angola to Brazil to North

America; he is a living proof that all our destinies are linked, not separate. One of the most beautiful things is to feel this depth of African soul in his voice and this super-haunted melancholy for the people who have vanished in massacre after massacre. That part of his exile which sent him to Brazil made him, in a way, the first well-known African musician to be influenced by Brazilian bossa nova and beyond. I think that an African artist is carrying that Brazilian strategy and those Portuguese connections with him across the Atlantic – they are all there in his voice, in his body, in the lilt of his music – is unbelievably profound. “The presence of the who’s who of American black musical royalty in that amazing Hilton in downtown Addis at the same time as the incredible power of Bob Marley reinvesting Ethiopia with Jah fever, calling forward a tradition that needed to be invented (and creating reggae music), made Addis a kind of turning point in the Western hemisphere for black music – and, of course, that energy and power was not lost on musicians in Addis. Mulatu Astatké became, at a young age, one of the great stars of Ethiopian music and like Duke Ellington, Mulatu had – and still has – this incredible star power and presence. He has this permanent built-in exploratory part of his character that was fearless

“These are the stories that need to be told and these are the people who need to tell them; their integrity is exemplified by their music” October 2012

and avant-garde from day one. That idea that Africa is cosmopolitan is completely epitomised in this amazing musician: the dynamic structures and space of pure invention are all profound indications of a democratic sensibility. And in the absence of actual democracy these people are creating musical democracy. “With the multiple coups in Mali and a certain social contract of civility that is deeply ruptured there, it is more important than ever that voices like Rokia Traoré’s prevail. She is a star but not a diva and does not really use her star power in a public way except quietly to help people out, to shift the balance of certain situations, with a voice of such calm, balanced, penetrating insight. Repeatedly, she is producing a music which we don’t even think of as African, and frequently working without percussion. Her work that was until recently coming out of Bamako has been with traditional African instruments but re-imagined: the ngoni and the kora from the Mande tradition but with her guitar and with harmonies coming, from among other things, 1950s black music in America: it is truly becoming more Afrospecific and at the same time, from a deep place, creating a global sound. Her music proceeds not by convincing anyone of anything, not by haranguing anybody, but by acts of love and beauty that actually are more powerful than the acts of violence surrounding us every day. “With the Songs of Defiance: Music of Chechnya and the North Caucasus, the power of traditional music has gone to an exponential place: with a society under a siege so relentless, so implacable and so without mercy, the Chechens are undergoing their third genocide in three generations (if we start with Stalin’s attempt to exterminate them). Here is music which is unquenchable, defiant and joyous, but which strangely has the space of mercy and this fantastic dance energy with the incredible vigour and intensity of social life.

This record is just a phenomenal testimony to the vanquished and the unvanquished, and this incredible resistance.” What thrills Sellars today is that, “In theatre and music and in film – particularly now in this digital age where the apparatus of film making and recording are not just about high-end investments in expensive, delicate technology which cannot withstand a desert but where the means of production are increasingly on the laptops of indigenous people such as Chechens or

the Inuit – we have access to those voices and those voices have access to the rest of the world. These are the stories that need to be told and these are the people who need to tell them; their integrity is exemplified by their music (so that is already listing them above politicians).” PODCAST Hear an additional track from Peter Sellars’ playlist, an excerpt from Wasifuddin Dagar’s ‘Dhrupad in Chautaal’, on this issue’s podcast Songlines 11


‘To the makers of music – all worlds, all times’ Along with a picture of Earth from space, these were the words inscribed on the Voyager interstellar record launched into space 35 years ago. Simon Broughton examines its contents I M AG E S H U B B L E A N D N A S A


Anoushka lives in London, with her film director husband and baby son. She found out she was pregnant during the recording of the album 32 Songlines


October 2012







n August 20 and September 5 1977 two spacecraft were launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to the stars. Attached to the outside of Voyagers 1 and 2 is a gold record of music, sounds and pictures from the planet Earth. The hope is that one day they may be discovered and listened to by alien civilisations from other planets in other solar systems. Travelling at 15km per second, the craft are now leaving our solar system, having had close encounters with Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. So perhaps this is a good moment to look at exactly what music we are sending out there? ‘Music… was at least a creditable attempt to convey human emotions,’ wrote the astronomer and space scientist Carl Sagan (19341996), executive director of the record, in his book Murmurs of Earth published in 1978. But what music to send? Sagan quotes biologist Lewis Thomas who said: “I would send the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach. But that would be boasting.” There was a discussion about which classical music to send and whether it should be several


Songlines 33






Lemez Lovas doffs his hat to the group who, over a quarter of a century, have changed the face of klezmer music “...we found a way to circumnavigate the unbreakable connection between Yiddish music and kitsch or shtick”


Clockwise from top, the Klezmatics (in 2006): Matt Darriau, Paul Morrissett, Lorin Sklamberg, David Licht, Frank London and Lisa Gutkin


he history of Jewish music from the Bible to the 21st century basically goes like this: first King David plucked his lyre; Saadia Gaon added some theory; then Mahler and theatre maestro Avram Goldfaden came up with some tunes; Irving Berlin and Flanagan and Allen wrote some songs; Willy Bergman, Serge Gainsbourg and Zohar Argov added some grooves and finally one band put it all together – the Klezmatics. If you think this is just a colourful

46 Songlines

in suburban attics, and even the wedding and bar mitzvah – those crucibles of Jewish cultural life – had long been taken over by the two King Michaels, Bolton and Jackson. It wasn’t that klezmer, or Jewish music in general wasn’t cool – it just wasn’t, full stop. The Klezmatics changed all that. But when they burst onto the New York scene in the mid-80s, they weren’t the first to dig into the crates at second-hand record stores and realise that there was a substantial musical heritage there that deserved another listen. That honour went to Berkeley’s The Klezmorim, clarinettist Andy Statman and Brave Old World’s inspirational singer and fiddler Michael Alpert. But the Klezmatics were the first to do it on their own terms. They were irreverent, adventurous and most importantly of all, eschewed rehashing those old recordings for a punkier approach, charged with the energy of the music they themselves had grown up with – jazz, funk, improv and black music. “We didn’t really set any goals at the outset,” says trumpeter and arranger Frank London, “but we found a way to circumnavigate what had been a seemingly unbreakable connection between Yiddish music and kitsch or shtick. We were part of a community and generation that put Yiddish music culture back in the contemporary cultural discourse.” If the Klezmatics had just played the most swinging, exaggeration, cast your musical minds back to 1986, the year that the Klezmatics got together. Popular Jewish music was... well, Jerry Bock’s kitsch soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof and some old-timers in the Catskill Mountains scraping out a living at the few kosher hotels that remained from their mid-century ‘Borscht Belt’ boom years. The glory years of Yiddish music, when Benzion Witler, Sophie Tucker and Max Bacon spat out hymns of grandeur and self-abasement to thousands, had long been left to gather dust

October 2012


hard-edged grooving versions of old-time Yiddish music, then that would have been good enough. But what marked them out head and shoulders above their contemporaries was a social and political consciousness that led them to produce music that was not just kick-ass, but engaged, activist and ballsy: casting them firmly as agitators in the tradition of Sophie Tucker, Lenny Bruce and the Yiddish political poets of the early 20th century. Their 1988 debut album for the hipster Piranha label in Berlin, Shvaygn = Toyt (Silence = Death), was, London recalls, “both an homage to the slogan of ACT UP [an organisation committed to ending the AIDS crisis], and an acknowledgement that if one is silent in the face of injustice then one is siding with the oppressor. It was also a literal statement about the Yiddish language: if no one speaks or sings in it, it will be dead.” But it wasn’t until their next two albums, 1991’s Rhythm + Jews and 1994’s Jews with Horns that their trademark sound – experimentation with jazz, Arabic, polyrhythms, rock drumming – came into its own. Their songs in Yiddish, sung by Lorin Sklamberg, showed deep research and respect for tradition, but only as a starting point for something else: ‘Honikzaft’ (Honeyjuice), recasting King Solomon’s Song of Songs as a homoerotic love poem. “From early on,” says Sklamberg, “even before we made a conscious effort to make the music our own, we decided that if we sang songs, they would be ones we believed in, which, since I’m the singer, meant that we would be forgoing chestnuts of the Yiddish theatre repertoire. Not that that material isn’t great, but, for one thing, other people do it better, and for another, a lot of it plays on the nostalgia for days gone by of the audiences it was by and large written for.”

Both Jews with Horns and 1997’s Possessed showed that the Klezmatics had truly got something that other bands didn’t. Klezmer may be instrumental music, but Jewish culture values text more than anything. It was this depth of understanding – visible in settings of Yiddish poets, collaborations with playwrights like Tony Kushner and acerbic Yiddishist Michael Wex – that made the Klezmatics stand head and shoulders above the competition. Other bands studied the same old recordings, and practised the same licks, but no one else really got the underbelly of tension and change that they did. Fast forward 15 years, and the Klezmatics have established themselves not just as a great Jewish music band, but a great American band. What has kept them fresh and still relevant is their continuing desire to explore: records with gospel singers, an Israeli folk legend and even Woody Guthrie, whose songs provided the raw material that finally won them a Grammy with Wonder Wheel. Klezmer music has changed unrecognisably since the Klezmatics started doing their thing, and while today young European bands might look just as much to great storytellers like Odessa-born Alec Kopyt of the Amsterdam Klezmer Band, alongside our own folk traditions, it was the Klezmatics who still remain as the number one reference point. They didn’t show us what to do, but they showed us we can do whatever we want, lighting the flame for countless generations of future experimentation. And for that Jewish music is truly grateful. DATES The Klezmatics play at the Union Chapel in London on October 21, with special guest Sophie Solomon PODCAST Hear a track from Rhythm + Jews on this issue’s podcast

Rhythm + Jews (Piranha, 1991) Jews With Horns (Piranha, 1994) Possessed (Piranha, 1997) The three albums on the German Piranha label that defined what klezmer could sound like – provocative, funky, experimental and above all, great dance music.

The Well (Xenophile, 1996) A collaboration with Israeli folk singer Chava Alberstein that pointed the way towards a more thoughtful, poetic, introspective sound. Wonder Wheel (JMG Records, 2006) Their Grammywinning album of songs by Woody Guthrie, the great troubadour and voice of American social consciousness. Reviewed in #65.


Live at Town Hall (Fréa Records 2011) Excellent live album featuring music from their whole career. A Top of the World review in #83.


Brother Moses Smote The Water (Piranha, 2004) Klezmer meets gospel, a great idea, but for once, a collaboration that didn’t really come off.


SHE’KOYOKH Busker’s Ballroom (ARC Music, 2011) The UK’s finest klezmer band. Although more rootsy than the ‘matics, they blow up a storm on stage. A Top of the World review in #75.

Songlines 47





JEONJU INT’L SORI FESTIVAL SOUTH KORE A Jeonju is the place to hear traditional Korean pansori – that’s what makes it one of Songlines’ Top 25 festivals. But it offers a lot more besides WORDS SI MON BROUGH TON PIC T U R E S S OR I F E ST I VA L & SI MON BROUGH TON

Tapsa temple, a spectacular day trip from Jeonju


rriving at Seoul’s Incheon airport, visitors are greeted with luscious images of South Korea – misty mountains, spring blossoms, magnificent temples, even music performances. Korea’s landscape is indeed spectacular with a rugged mountainous spine running down its centre. But like anywhere, it takes time to discover Korea’s treasures. Jeolla province, in the south-western part of the peninsula, is one of them. It’s considered a heartland of traditional food,

48 Songlines

music and natural beauty. Jeolla is to Korea what Andalucía is to Spain – the home of pansori as Andalucía is the home of flamenco. Like all cities in countries with rapid economic development, Jeonju, the capital of North Jeolla province (Jeollabuk-do), looks a mess when you arrive on the bus. Home to 650,000 people, it’s a jumbled mass of shabby apartments and shiny high-rise offices with a rash of signs and hoardings. But hidden at its centre is the historic Hanok Village with several streets of old

houses next to a 15th century Joseon period royal shrine. Part of the International Sori Festival takes place here in atmospheric locations and the rest in the new Sori Arts Centre on the edge of the city. “What we want to do here is focus on vocal styles,” explains Park Kolleen, a singer of Korean and American parentage, and the festival’s co-director. “Pansori is at the heart of it, but then around that you have all these other vocal styles and then music from all around the world. Our aim is to make a festival where people who are interested in great voices from around the world think that Jeonju is the place to be.” The festival has been going ten years, but it’s only recently that it started to reach out to international audiences. Last year, alongside the Korean artists, there was the excellent flamenco band of Diego Guerrero, bluegrass outfit The Earth Stringband from the US, and traditional Rajasthani musicians and dancers from India. This year El Gran Combo from Puerto Rico are coming. But for me, it’s the Korean music that is the most interesting. Every day at the crossroads in the centre of the Hanok Village a stage is erected where people can hear local bands for free. It brings the festival into the heart of the city and creates a buzz. The area around is full of tea-houses, restaurants and galleries. Korean food is delicious, full of flavours. Bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables) is the local speciality, including mountain ferns and intriguing side dishes, while the local beer bars have interesting snacks like silkworm larvae which aren’t as nasty as they sound. One of the initiatives of the festival is the Sori Frontier competition – a contest for ‘world music’ groups. Inevitably there’s a confusion about how you define the term, but eight groups performed in a spectacular setting in front of an old Confucian shrine. They ranged from a rock band with piano and Korean percussion to rather delicate groups of traditional instruments. The X Factor has clearly had its influence on the often damning public critiques from the judges straight after the performances. Last year’s winners Bulsaechul have an official slot this year. It’s the rich rhythmic traditions of Korean music that appeal to outsiders and fuse best with other styles. That’s why the percussive samul nori type of farmers’ music, with its drums, gongs and hats with October 2012

The opening performance of the 2011 festival was a theatrical display of various aspects of Korean music in the Sori Arts Centre Below: Korean drums on sale in the Hanok Village

Jeolla is to Korea what Andalucía is to Spain – the home of pansori as Andalucía is the home of flamenco swirling ribbons, has proved so popular at festivals. There was an excellent samul nori-meets-jazz concert with a saxophone playing over intricate percussion from gongs and janggu drum. The janggu (or changgo) is Korea’s equivalent of the Indian tabla – the basic percussion instrument used in both popular and classical music. It’s an hourglass drum, with a differently pitched skin at each end struck with a hard and light stick, often with virtuoso technique. Traditional music in its classical form can be an acquired taste, but it’s worth acquiring – particularly for the extraordinary range of zithers that Korea has: – the gayageum, plucked with the fingers, is delicate and expressive; the geomungo, hit with a stick, is more muscular and interesting; while the ajaeng is bowed with a stick, harsh and scratchy to listen to, but intensely satisfying. Korean instrumental music is usually heard in what’s called sanjo – in which the soloist is accompanied by a janggu drummer, a bit like an Indian instrumentalist with a tabla player.

The sanjo performances in Jeonju are held in a great location in the Hanok Village. On a platform in the courtyard of a 19th century wooden house called the Hakindang, the musicians perform with the audience in the open air. It’s the perfect place to hear this music – like the traditional recordings done on the Akdang label. It’s inside the Hakindang that the traditional pansori performances take place. I’ve written about this in detail (see #85), but an art form that I once considered unbearable became hugely enjoyable here. Pansori is an accomplished art in which a singer narrates a story and also acts the characters involved, accompanied by a drummer. The key ingredients are a good performer (of course), an on-screen translation so you can understand every word, an intimate performing environment and the vocal responses of a knowledgeable audience. I can’t imagine a better place to hear and appreciate pansori, and this year they are doing all five traditional stories with translations for the first time.

“We had Quincy Jones here and we presented the whole array of Korean music,” explains Park Kolleen, “and he completely focused on pansori. ‘Oh my God, that is amazing’ he said about the pansori singer. ‘She is all about soul, she is singing from her inside’.” Pansori was my lasting memory of the Sori Festival, but there was a grand finale in the Arts Centre with pepped-up pansori and dancing girls which attracted a huge crowd. And it all ended with a great samul nori wig-out in the open air with ribbons flying. DATES The next edition of the Jeonju International Sori Festival is September 13-17,

Songlines 49

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#86 Aug/Sept 2012

WOMAD at 30, Sam Lee, Anda Union, Abigail Washburn at Windsor Castle... Top of the World #86 CD feat Chris Blackwell’s playlist+ Louisiana Legends CD

#85 July 2012

Music from Louisiana, BT River of Music, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Korean pansori... Top of the World #85 CD feat Roger Lloyd Pack’s playlist




#84 June 2012

#83 April/May 2012

Amadou & Mariam, Global Festival Guide, Songlines Music Awards 2012 winners... Top of the World #84 CD feat Simon Russell Beale’s playlist + Back2Black CD

Seth Lakeman, Youssou N’Dour, Narasirato, Juan de Marcos, Madagascar All Stars... Top of the World #83 CD feat Huey Morgan’s playlist + Sounds of South Asia CD



#82 March 2012

Music & Social Change; Rodrigo & Gabriela; Martyn Bennett; Carolina Chocolate Drops... Top of the World #82 CD feat Mike Harding’s playlist + Brazil New Series CD

Songlines 55

Songlines Magazine Sample Edition #87  

View sample pages from the current edition of Songlines (Oct 2012 #87). The magazine is available on subscription in print and digital. More...