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English folk’s most raucous big band divulge some secrets and guilty pleasures.


Mali crisis

A report on the dire effect the situation in Mali is having on its musicians.


Geomungo Factory

An in-depth look at the sound world of this groundbreaking Korean quartet.

44 Lau

Three of the busiest men in folk chat to Jo Frost prior to the launch of their new album.



The Argentinian who has created his unique tango bizarro style talks to Chris Moss about Piazzolla, politics and nationalism.


Africa Express “Magical, unforgettable, blessed” – three words that sum up the Africa Express rail trip for roving reporter Andy Morgan.


50 32

Songlines 3


Songlines 5

77 Cinema

96 World 95 Books 12 Win Adjaye book & CD 24 W  in Mama Rosin album 31 Win Bellowhead goodies 95 W  in Mike Scott book 97 Win Les Enfants du Paradis DVD


Africa The Americas





Middle East

91 89 Asia




NOV/DEC12 D’León 64 Festival Profile: Sufi Sutra, Kolkata 67 P  ostcard from the Dominican Republic 69 Subscribe +GET A FREE CD 99 G  ig Guide 104 You Should Have Been There... 106 Backpage from Sarajevo

60 Sounding Out Thessaloniki 62 Beginners Guide to Oscar

REGULARS SLTOTWCD-88-sleeve2.indd 1

CD 88 10 tracks from this issue’s 10 best new albums, plus 5 bonus tracks. Exclusively with the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Songlines 1 Bellowhead ‘The Wife of Usher’s Well’ (3:41) From the album Broadside on Navigator Records P

& © 2012 Navigator Records. Courtesy of Navigator Records

2 Värttinä ‘Tuuterin Tyttäret’ (3.33)

From the album Utu on Rockadillo Records P

& © 2012 Zen Master Records Oy/Rockadillo Records. Courtesy of Rockadillo Records

3 The Souljazz Orchestra ‘Bibinay’ (6:23) From the album Solidarity on Strut P

& © 2012 Strut. Courtesy of Strut

4 Rumi Ensemble & Salar Aghili ‘Roz o Shab’ (5:36) From the album In the Footprints of Rumi on Talik P

& © 2011 Talik. Courtesy of Talik

5 Geomungo Factory ‘Geomungo & Tango’ (3.39) From the album Metamorphosis on Dada Media P

& © 2010 Dada Media. Courtesy of Blue Sky Music

6 Lucas Santtana ‘Jogos Madrugais’ (4:37)

From the album The God Who Devastates Also Cures on Mais Um Discos P

& © 2012 Mais Um Discos. Courtesy of Mais Um Discos

7 Félix Lajkó ‘A Madárnak’ (4:41)

From the album Makovecz Turné on Fonó P

& © 2011 Fonó Budai Zeneház – Fono Music Hall. Courtesy of Fonó

8 Lau ‘Torsa’ (7:02)

From the album Race the Loser on Reveal Records

P & © 2012 Lau Scotland Ltd, under exclusive licence to Reveal Records. Courtesy of Reveal Records

9 Sotho Sounds ‘Mobopong’ (3:43)

From the album Junk Funk on Riverboat Records P

& © 2012 World Music Network. Courtesy of World Music Network

10 Juanchín y sus Pleneros del Palmar with Tasso Peña ‘Maldito Vicio’ (2:46)

From the album, ¡Saoco! The Bomba and Plena Explosion in Puerto Rico 1954-1966 on Vampisoul P

& © 2012 Distrolux. Courtesy of Vampisoul

PLUS 5 tracks chosen by Peter & David Adjaye 11 Yaaba Funk ‘Nyash – E Go Bite U’ (Olatunde

Remix)’ (excerpt, 3:54)

From the album Omanfoa – DJD Remixes on Here and Now Recordings P

& © 2010 Yaaba Funk. Courtesy of Here and Now Recordings

12 FOKN Bois ‘Gimme Pinch’ (4:47)

From the album FOKN With Ewe on FOKN Bois P

& © FOKN Bois 2012. Courtesy of Africa Unsigned

13 Amira Kheir ‘Mashena’ (4:22)

From the album View from Somewhere on Contro Cultura Music P

& © 2011 Contro Cultura Music. Courtesy of Sterns

14 Randolph Matthews ‘Indigenous Man' (4:15) From the EP I Love on Randolph Matthews Music P

& © 2007 Randolph Matthews Music. Courtesy of Randolph Matthews Music

15 Wunmi ‘Keep it Rockin'’ (excerpt, 4:59) From the album A.L.A. on Documented P

& © 2007 Documented/Urban Development. Courtesy of Documented/Urban Development

Total disc time 68.33

STWCD64 This compilation P & © 2012 Songlines Publishing Ltd. Email:, Executive producer Paul Geoghegan. Compiled and sequenced by Sophie Marie Atkinson with assistance from Birikiti Pegram and Jim Hickson. Design by Jenni Doggett. Mastering by Good Imprint. CD pressing by Software Logistics Ltd. The producers of this CD have paid the composers and publishers for the use of their music.




19/09/2012 09:25

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WOMEX 14 V  ärttinä & WOMEX Award 15 News 19 Home Grown: Muntu Valdo 21 G  rooves: Deeyah, Mark Coles and Fay Hield 22 Letters & Reader Profile 23 Cerys Matthews 24 G  lobe Rocker: Mama Rosin 27 S onglines Music Travel



7 Welcome 9 Top of the World CD 10 M  y World: the Adjaye brothers 13 BONUS CD Wales Welcomes



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Editor-in-chief Simon Broughton Publisher Paul Geoghegan Editor Jo Frost Assistant Editor Sophie Marie Atkinson Art Director Jenni Doggett Advertisement Manager James Anderson-Hanney Subscriptions Manager and Social Media Co-ordinator Alexandra Petropoulos Podcast Producer Nasim Masoud Reviews Editor Matthew Milton News Editor Nathaniel Handy Listings Tatiana Rucinska World Cinema Editor Ed Stocker Production Consultant Dermot Jones Financial Controller Iwona Perucka Commercial Consultant Chris Walsh Editorial Director Lyn Hughes Contributing Editors Jane Cornwell, Mark Ellingham, Sue Steward & Nigel Williamson Assisted this issue by Birikiti Pegram, Jim Hickson, Rebbecca Neofitos (interns) and Alex Harvey-Brown (design) Cover Paul Heartfield

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“Mali is a country probably more famous for its music than anything else”

’m a glass half-full man rather than half empty, but I can’t help being depressed by events concerning the music scene in 2012. I’m not talking about declining CD sales or problems in the music industry, but world events. The human suffering from the conflict in Syria has been brutal, with over 30,000 estimated fatalities so far. And at the end of September, the Aleppo souk – a UNESCO World Heritage site – one of the oldest and most glorious market places of the Middle East – went up in flames. Not only was it an Aladdin’s cave of food, perfumes and spices, but it was a treasure house of Sufi music. Several years ago, under the expert guidance of long-term resident Julien Weiss, I went to different gatherings hidden away in various corners of the souk – some with whirling, some with chanting, some with ecstatic singing. It is one of the most powerful musical memories of my life. With his Al-Kindi Ensemble, Weiss pays homage to the city’s Sufi tradition in his excellent Aleppian Sufi Trance recording (Le Chant du Monde, 2003). Aleppo is home to a wonderfully heterodox range of Sufi sects, to say nothing of the Syriac and Armenian Christian communities. This rare pluralism in the Middle East is likely to be at risk whatever happens next in Syria. Mali is a country probably more famous for its music than anything else. In March this year, a coup was followed by the proclamation of the independent territory of Azawad in the north of the country by the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad). This has been a long-held ambition by many Touareg, but was taken over by the Islamist group Ansar Dine. The region is now under sharia law and the playing of music is banned and women are supposed to be veiled, whereas amongst the Touareg it is the men who traditionally cover their faces, not the women. The UNHCR estimate there are over 450,000 refugees. See p32 for our report on the response of some of Mali’s leading musicians to the crisis. Although Tinariwen, the band who’ve effectively headlined the Touareg cause, haven’t made a collective comment on the events. It seems there’s a range of opinion in the group, although their leader Ibrahim Ag Alhabib has stayed at home and hasn’t been with them on tour. We’re told he should be back with them for the Songlines Music Awards winners’ concert at the Barbican on November 23, see p17 for more details. What’s impressive are the ambitious plans for a roaming Festival in the Desert next year (at which Tinariwen were essentially the house band), while its regular home in Timbuktu is silenced. The Festival will visit several locations, but the main event takes place in a new location in neighbouring Burkina Faso. They deserve every success. Finally, I’m delighted we’ve got a sampler of Welsh music this issue, compiled by our columnist Cerys Matthews – also a distinguished musician and DJ. As those in the world music business head to WOMEX, the world music expo, in Thessaloniki, Greece, it’s a chance to highlight next year’s gathering in Cardiff. I’ll drink to that. Despite what I said at the beginning, I actually prefer a glass totally full.

PS If you’re already thinking about Christmas, check out our gift subscription offer on p74


ALEX The classic tropical tracks on Sofrito: International Soundclash

There are some exciting changes happening at Songlines HQ. Sophie Marie Atkinson (on the right), is leaving after two and a half years as assistant editor and is being replaced by Alexandra Petropoulos (left). Former intern Edward Craggs is taking over as subscriptions manager and social media co-ordinator. Best of luck to all of them.

SONGLINES DIGITAL Songlines B&W stereo Super high-quality downloads curated by Real World Studios

SONGLINES DIGITAL Look out for this symbol throughout the issue to see which free tracks are available for subscribers. For a free trial see Songlines 7



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


Bellowhead ‘The Wife of Usher’s Well’ From Broadside on Navigator Records The folk big band are back with a blend of stunning vocal harmonies, brass and plenty of theatrics. See p80


Värttinä ‘Tuuterin Tyttäret’

From Utu on Rockadillo Records A long-awaited, colourful and fiesty offering from the captivating singers that pays homage to Finnish myths and heritage. See p86



The Souljazz Orchestra ‘Bibinay’


From Solidarity on Strut A compelling combination of Caribbean, Brazilian and West African influences that is unashamedly raw. See p93

From Footprints of Rumi on Talik A wonderful mix of both ensemble and solo works, Persian and Western harmonies. See p91


Rumi Ensemble & Salar Aghili ‘Roz o Shab’

Geomungo Factory ‘Geomungo & Tango’

From Metamorphosis on Dada Media A thrilling showcase of Korea’s six-stringed zither which manages to be both traditional yet exciting and experimental. See p89

2 1






6 9

Lucas Santtana ‘Jogos Madrugais’

From the album The God Who Devastates Also Cures on Mais Um Discos Visionary combination of samba, reggae and electro influences melded with addictive melodies. See p75


Félix Lajkó ‘A Madárnak’

From Makovecz Turné on Fonó Live recordings from a virtuosic Hungarian violin player that combine both folk and classical influences. It’s as intense as it is inspiring. See p81


Lau ‘Torsa’

From Race the Loser on Reveal Records

The award-winning group who have perfected their use of instrumental and electronic talents, capable of rousing any audience. See p83


Sotho Sounds ‘Mobopong’

From Junk Funk on Riverboat Records Using instruments fashioned from recycled objects, the Lesotho group have produced an innovative and rhythmical album that flies in the face of convention. See p73

New to Songlines? Subscribe now and get a


Juanchín y sus Pleneros del Palmar with Tasso Peña ‘Maldito Vicio’ From ¡Saoco! The Bomba and Plena Explosion in Puerto Rico 1954-1966 on Vampisoul Big and playful sounds from the Caribbean island. See 79

album for free!

We’re giving away a choice of Lucas Santtana, Lau or Värttinä’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 PETER AND DAVID ADJAYE Sophie Marie Atkinson chats to the Adjaye brothers about the journeys their careers have taken them on, and how music has played an important part


t is, I believe, a first for Songlines. We’ve had My Worlds from a father and daughter combo (Michael and Emily Eavis, #53) and husband and wife (Robert and Alfie Wyatt, #45), but never, to my knowledge, siblings. Brothers David and Peter Adjaye are both hugely successful in their respective careers. David’s accomplishments are myriad: the internationally acclaimed architect was awarded an OBE in 2007; he has designed houses for Ewan McGregor and Alexander McQueen; and in April 2009 was selected to design the National Museum of African American History and Culture, due to open in 2015 in Washington. He describes the iconic building, whose design features a crown motif from a Yoruba sculpture, as “a space for discovery… It’s finally recognising the contribution of the African-American community to the definition of America. The building takes its cues from that incredible history. Seeing American history through the lens of the African-American community is really going to surprise people.” Peter, meanwhile, ventured into the world of music. A member of jazz bands since the 80s (he plays guitars and keyboards), he continues to produce, teach, as well as host nights featuring contemporary African artists at London’s Rich Mix. And if this wasn’t enough, last year saw the release of a mammoth undertaking for the pair of them. David’s book Adjaye, Africa, Architecture is a seven-volume edition, compiled over a ten-year period, of buildings and sites broken down to represent cities according to the terrain in which they are situated: the Maghreb, Desert, The Sahel, Savannah and Grassland, Mountain and Highveld, and Forest. Peter, »

Also on your CD: five tracks chosen by Peter and David






From Omanfoa – DJD Remixes on Here and Now Recordings “A track that points to the dance floor but retains a organic percussive element.”

From FOKN Wit Ewe on FOKN Bois Peter actually produced this track for FOKN Bois who he describes as “really unique artists that aren’t replicated anywhere else.”

Yaaba Funk ‘Nyash – E Go Bite U’ (Olatunde Remix)

19/09/2012 09:25

1O 88

FOKN Bois ‘Gimme Pinch’

STWCD64 This compilation P & © 2012 Songlines Publishing Ltd. Email:, Executive producer Paul Geoghegan. Compiled and sequenced by Sophie Marie Atkinson with assistance from Birikiti Pegram and Jim Hickson. Design by Jenni Doggett. Mastering by Good Imprint. CD pressing by Software Logistics Ltd. The producers of this CD have paid the composers and publishers for the use of their music. Total disc time 68.33 P & © 2012 Lau Scotland Ltd, under exclusive licence to Reveal Records. Courtesy of Reveal Records

From the album Race the Loser on Reveal Records

8 Lau ‘Torsa’ (7:02) P

& © 2011 Fonó Budai Zeneház – Fono Music Hall. Courtesy of Fonó

From the album Makovecz Turné on Fonó

7 Félix Lajkó ‘A Madárnak’ (4:41) P

& © 2012 Mais Um Discos. Courtesy of Mais Um Discos


10 Songlines

October 2012

& © 2007 Documented/Urban Development. Courtesy of Documented/Urban Development

From the album A.L.A. on Documented

15 Wunmi ‘Keep it Rockin'’ (excerpt, 4:59) P

& © 2007 Randolph Matthews Music. Courtesy of Randolph Matthews Music

From the EP I Love on Randolph Matthews Music

14 Randolph Matthews ‘Indigenous Man' (4:15) P

& © 2011 Contro Cultura Music. Courtesy of Sterns

From the album View from Somewhere on Contro Cultura Music



Amira Kheir ‘Mashena’

From View From Somewhere on Contro Cultura Music Peter came close to picking one of the two English tracks from the London-based Sudanese singer, but opted for ‘Mashena’ instead.


Randolph Matthews ‘Indigenous Man’ From the EP I Love on Randolph Matthews Music “He’s incredibly talented, like a Bobby McFerrin of British Music,” Peter says of the Afro-Caribbean singer-songwriter and vocal percussionist.


Wunmi ‘Keep it Rockin’’

From ALA on Wunmigirl Music Peter says that ALA is, “one of my favourite contemporary African albums.” He first heard her singing Fela’s ‘Zombie’ and couldn’t believe how much she sounded like a female version of him. Songlines 11


My World meanwhile, curated the African Metropolitan Music compilation (reviewed #85), which aims to explore some of the styles of African music across these geographical zones. “It was a very important return journey for me,” David explains. “I wanted to explore the importance of geography rather than political boundaries to the DNA of African cities. When I decided to create the book, I asked Peter to be involved as I thought it would establish an interesting dialogue between sound, visuals and narrative.” I was somewhat surprised to learn that this was not their first time working together; Peter, in fact, has his own label, Music for Architects, and works with David to produce sound installations for his buildings, including the Nobel Peace Prize Institute in Oslo. For the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize, David was asked to redesign the whole building, and worked with various artists, including Chris Ofili, on different sections. “We worked to create an indoor interactive space of 18 speakers and 100 pods representing all the winners of the prize with interactive text and sounds depending on how many people were in the space,” Peter explains. “Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win a Nobel Prize in 2004, told us that the music reminded her of the natural sounds she found by the stream in her village. It was incredible.” The brothers were born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents (their father was a diplomat) and before they were nine and 13 (David is the eldest, and there is a third brother, a stem cell researcher no less!), they had lived in Egypt, Yemen and Lebanon. How did this unusual upbringing help shape them? David tells me: “Unlike people who may have had an education or upbringing in one or two places, we were forced from a very early age to negotiate a wide variety of ethnicities, religions, and cultural constructions. A sensitivity to this is at the heart of my work and also informs my musical tastes. “Like all of my early cultural references, the music that I was exposed to from a young age was an eclectic mix. My memories are of a diverse range of sounds from West African highlife music, Andy Williams and Bob Marley to Shirley Bassey.” When chatting to Peter, he reels off roughly the same artists, but adding the names of Ghanaian highlife guitarists ET Mensah and K Frimpong. And Fela, of course. Peter was the only musical one of the lot, “the ears of the family,” he tells me, although they grew up surrounded by their mother’s singing. And so it is Peter that I chat to about the tracks they selected for the playlist, many of which were surprising, but all of which showed off a wide-ranging and contemporary taste. “Randolph Matthews is an Afro-Caribbean artist based in London who I first saw live four or five years ago. He was playing guitar and doing vocal percussion, literally throwing his voice and creating sound effects, doing weird things with his throat, tapping his chest, playing the cajon between his legs. I found out later he was a percussionist first, and then he became a singer-songwriter. “What he does with his voice reminds me of people like Miriam Makeba, who does all those tics and clicks and stuff with her mouth while she’s singing. It’s very South African – their materials are quite scarce, a lot of South Africa is quite

arid, so the voice is actually one of the biggest instruments. But Randolph comes from London and was born to Caribbean parents, which as far as I’m concerned is a diaspora, so I think he’s influenced by African sounds without realising it. “I first heard Wunmi singing a track called ‘Tribute to Fela Kuti’ where she sampled music from ‘Zombie’, and I couldn’t believe how much she sounded like a female version of him. I tracked down her album, called ALA – African Living Abroad. To this day I would say that it’s some of the most progressive contemporary African music I’ve ever heard. “The remix of the Yaaba Funk track is by a guy called Richard Olatunde Baker, who is the percussionist for Wunmi as well. He is an amazing, phenomenal talking drum player. He plays with Tony Allen, and Amadou & Mariam... His remix of this track is so percussive, a nice mix that points to the dance floor but still retains that organic percussive element, without being too computerised. It gives a bit more edge to Yaaba Funk who are a really fantastic contemporary London African band with an immense live presence. “FOKN Bois have an alternative conscious style of African music that isn’t being tapped into too much, but that’s perhaps quite close to K’naan. They are Wanlov the Kubolor and M3NSA and I consider to them to be the Mos Def and Talib Kweli of African music. They are really unique artists that aren’t replicated anywhere else. “The album is very un-PC. It’s talking about AIDS, homelessness, Muslim girls. It’s trying to be provocative, to talk about the things that we don’t talk about in Africa, about being gay, and being a bit different. “Amira is a very interesting vocalist. I met her through Sterns, actually, about a year ago, when they put out her album, View From Somewhere. I nearly picked one of the tracks that she sings in English – only two on the album I think. When you first hear it, you wouldn’t know they were African tracks, you would think they were just acoustic, really folky, lovely songs. “I think one of the things that makes African music more international is the pidgin style, the ability to speak in English; it’s what Fela did, it’s what Miriam Makeba did and Hugh Masekela of course, and it opened up the music to more international audiences and allowed other people to access it. And look at what these amazing people managed to achieve with their music; the awareness that they raised with regards to the anti-apartheid movement, the statements that they made. Politics and music really do go hand in hand, particularly in Africa; from the days of Fela Kuti through the statements being made by musicians in Mali today.”

“I think one of the things that makes African music more international is the pidgin style”

12 Songlines



We have one copy of Adjaye, Africa, Architecture and African Metropolitan Music to give away. Just answer the following question: At which Londonbased venue does Peter host contemporary African music nights? See p7 for Songlines competition rules and address details. Closing date Dec 14 2012

ONLINE, PODCAST Hear another track from David and Peter’s playlist on this issue’s podcast October 2012



Wales, like a little island found drifting in the Irish Sea, has enjoyed the power of word, rhythm and melody for generations. You’ll find art forms centuries old with the earliest Welsh language poems dating back to the sixth century. I’ve dug up a treasure chest of sonic gems, unlocked it so that you can have a peek inside. From the pibgorn to the crwth, from the beating stick and poetry, to the familiar harp and choir, I hope you fall a little in love. Hwyl am y tro (have a fun time). Cerys Matthews 1 FERNHILL ‘WASOD’ I had to start with this – Julie Murphy’s vocals, startling and crystal. Robert Plant and Danny Thompson are both huge fans. Fernhill consistently come up trumps with some great arranging, note placement and musicianship.

Cate has been compared with Nico, Bobbie Gentry and Syd Barrett and has an incredibly haunting vocal style. She’s a modern artist still very informed by her traditional Welsh roots, though she chooses to mostly work in a more driving and electric style.

‘Folk singer for the Gentle Good, writer of songs in English and Cymraeg, distracted naturalist’ is how Gareth describes himself on Twitter. Last year he travelled to China and wrote an album based on the life of the famous poet Li Bai.

For me, this is how the spirit of old Wales sounds in a modern musician, passed down through the years as if it were spring water purified by the rock through which it flows. Euros’ voice stands free and bare and beautiful.

5 CERYS MATTHEWS ‘MYFANWY’ That’s me, and so I want to leave you smiling, wondering and curious about this odd, plaintive but passionate, harmony-soaked land of song of ours. I’ve collected songs from all over the world since I was nine and this one is surely one of the best (unrequited) love songs in that large and motley collection.


Rugby, male voice choirs, miners, daffodils, hymns, leeks, and harps... all great Welsh clichés. Whether in pubs, sports terraces, Eisteddfods or weddings, it won’t take much for groups of Welsh to burst forth into song.

The godfather of Welsh folk has been a collector, editor, historian and performer for the past 70 years. Meredydd, along with his wife Phyllis, have done wonders to safeguard the Welsh folk tradition.





Llio, now in her 70s, plays the triple harp – a harp with three rows with the one in the middle playing the chromatic notes. Her charismatic and intuitive playing is astonishing.





8 MEIC STEVENS ‘DIC PENDERYN’ Meic Stevens is a truly legendary figure in Wales. In the 70s he was compared to Bob Dylan. In my Wales he can rule as king. This song is about a coal miner, Dic Penderyn, arrested for stabbing a soldier during the Merthyr Rising of June 1831.

9 CASS MEURIG ‘SBONC BOGEL’ The crwth, a strange and ancient Welsh droning string instrument, has some similarities to the modern-day violin. Cass Meurig does a sterling job of making its crazy set up of six strings, flat bridge, leather strap and fingerboard sing.


Twm, who has always had the maverick touch of someone like Shane McGowan, brings this ancient poem to life. Written by Dafydd Llwyd ap Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (c1400-1490), it’s thought to be calling for St David’s aid in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

12 CALAN ‘SWANSEA HOSEPIPE’ These youngsters from all corners of Wales have a great attitude to the old tunes bringing tons of energy and irreverence to their high-tempo playing. They see themselves as young ambassadors for the old Welsh reels, blending accordion, fiddle, guitar, Welsh pipes, harp and clog tapping.

13 SIAN JAMES ‘EI DI’R DERYN DU’ This song was collected in the Carmarthenshire area in the 1940s. It tells of love letters being sent by blackbirds. Sian has captured something good in this version where she accompanies herself on the harp.

14 GWYNETH GLYN ‘Y FORFORWYN’ This is a lover’s lament, whose imagery is derived from a game Gwyneth’s mother used to play with her as a child, in which they were both mermaids washed up on the shore, inventing romantic names for one another. Its romance, yearning and lyricism is very typically Welsh.

15 CATRIN FINCH ‘BETH YW’R HAF I MI’ I love the dreamlike quality of this, as the melody drifts in and out over an insistent piano motif. The protagonist laments the loss of their lover and with this loss, is no longer able to enjoy any of the world’s pleasures, bringing us to the end of this particular Welsh dream.

44 Songlines

November/December 2012



The future’s looking bright for the trio, with a new album and their own mini festival WORDS JO FROST P H OTO G R A P H S A L A N M C C R E D I E

Songlines 45






The salsa giant makes a much anticipated and rare appearance in the UK this autumn. John Armstrong looks back at his impressive career to date P H OTO J U L I O E TC H A R T

62 Songlines

November/December 2012


urope’s Latin music lovers, weaned After the seventh and last Dimensión Latina LP for the TH-Rodven label, in 1976, he on Buena Vista Social Club and the Fania dynasty, may be surprised to produced five more exceptional albums, on the Color label, as La Critica De Oscar D’León. His learn that the artist widely regarded performances with La Critica cemented his by his peers as the greatest sonero growing reputation not only as a sonero but also since legendary Cuban superstar Beny Moré happens to be a former cabbie from Venezuela. as an elegant bolerista and a gutsy merenguero. Confusingly, he continued until 1992 with The apocrypha of the genre has it that Antímano-born Oscar Emilio León Somoza, a TH-Rodven, thenceforth billed variously as Oscar D’León Y Su Salsa Mayor, Oscar D’León mechanic and part-time taxi driver in 70s Y Su Orquesta or just plain Oscar D’León, Caracas would maximise his tips by singing the recording an impressive 24 more albums. latest tunes to his customers. With the cash thus generated, he purchased an Ampeg baby By this time, he was recognised throughout bass, a cheap piano and a set of tumbadora the competitive and critical world of Latin drums, the initial capital investment for his first music as a world leader, signing a deal with the professional band, La Dimensión Latina. New York entrepreneur Ralph Mercado’s If you were a fan of live Latin concerts in the RMM Records and spending the rest of that mid-70s, you could hardly imagine a better decade with RMM who, despite making place than Caracas. North America’s enemies with controversial business practices, burgeoning salsa industry, always eager for fresh nevertheless exposed their artists – including audiences, would often tour their latest Oscar – to the sort of mainstream attention sensations in Venezuela, stars such as Celia that would pave the way for the international Cruz and Rubén Blades, playing there on such a Latin explosion of the 90s and its crossover to regular basis as to have established fan clubs the ‘world music’ market. hungry for the latest offerings from New York Since 2000 Oscar D’León has taken his and Puerto Rico. 19-piece orchestra to the far But it wasn’t just the Oscar D’León is one corners of the globe and visiting US talent that made to sell-out audiences. of the few acts that played Caracas so interesting and He’s one of the few acts that appeals equally to the appeals equally to the ‘dancefull of potential for budding musicians and music-lovers dance-class crowd as class crowd’ as to the ‘serious’ alike. Venezuela was among salsa aficionados, combining to the serious salsa the first of the South as he does an abundance of American countries to start dance-floor classics and aficionados dismantling the Cuban trade showmanship with a embargo, the result being an influx of Cuban transparent love, respect and knowledge for bands and soneros who couldn’t play anywhere the music’s history that has become else in the world outside Castro’s state. synonymous with his name. At the same time Venezuela was playing an He first visited the UK one rainy Saturday integral part in enlarging and preserving night in 1988 at the then-crumbling Hackney international Afro-Latin dance music. Salsa, Empire, booked independently by the guaguancó, merengue and cumbia were in the pioneering Peter Ind’s Bass Clef Jazz Club, and good hands of Sexteto Juventud, Nelson Y Sus playing to a sold-out mixture of Latin Estrellas and a host of other salsa dura bands, American students and bemused but delighted whilst Grupo Mango, Guaco and El Trabuco Latin jazz fans. Because of unforeseen Venezolano were exploring the far reaches of circumstances the next booking, in Paris, was jazz-Latin-folklore-funk fusions. not until the following Tuesday, so the full And in the case of Oscar Emilio, at least, none orchestra, with time on their hands, played an of this was falling on deaf ears. La Dimensión unscheduled concert on the Monday night at Latina, consisting of some of Venezuela’s the tiny Bass Clef itself, in Hoxton Square, to strongest salseros of the time such as trombonist about 40 or 50 lucky customers. There César ‘El Gordo’ Monge and percussionist Elio appeared to be more people on the stage than Pacheco, recorded their first LP in 1973. The on the dance floor but Oscar, ever the next-but-one release, in 1975, contained arguably gentleman, literally brought the show to the Oscar’s best-loved theme, ‘Lloraras’ – written customers with a long-lead microphone, and re-recorded many times since by Oscar dancing with almost every woman in the himself and by countless international Latin audience during the course of the set. bands in many styles. But the real strength of this Oscar D’León still has that unique ability to aggregation was Oscar’s exceptional skills of make a 3,000-seater feel like a hot little salsa vocal improvisation (he would reputedly make club. Miss him at your peril. up whole songs from scratch as the band played a couple of circular soneos) and his brilliance as a DATES Oscar D’León and his big band play at bass player, spinning his stylish, white plastic the Roundhouse on November 3. See Gig Guide Ampeg whilst dancing around it. for details


Dimension Latina 75 (TH-Rodven, 1975) This has the original version of ‘Lloraras’ (You Will Cry), one of the most covered salsa classics of recent times. It’s one of those rare dance tunes that bears repeated listening for the melody alone. De Venezuela Para El Mundo/La Salsa Soy Yo (TH-Rodven, 1987) A great set of songs and his first serious calling-card to the wider world. The three-trombone, threetrumpet soundwall cuts it up over eight tracks with no filler. Auténtico (TH-Rodven, 1991) With his sonero skills in full bloom, this includes another classic almost as essential as ‘Llororas’ – ‘Detalles’ – as well as a tribute-medley to Beny Moré. El Sonero Del Mundo (RMM, 1996) A Grammynominated collection of grace and soulfulness. A landmark album in Latin music that really brought the sedate Cuban son montuno bang up-to-date.


Pretty much all the US and Venezuelagenerated ‘Best Ofs,’ with their confusing tracklisting, poor remastering and cheeky habit of inveigling you into buying the same track three or four times over!



Irrepetible (2010) Santa Rosa is a wonderful Puerto Rican sonero who has notched up more Billboard Latin Top 40 No 1 albums than any other artist. This album deservedly won the Grammy for Best Salsa Album of the Year in 2010, and combines melody and danceability over a collection of mostly new compositions including cameo appearances from Rubén Blades and merengue veteran Johnny Ventura.

Songlines 63


64 Songlines


November/December 2012



SUFI SUTRA KOLKATA, INDIA It’s not just Sufi musicians who come together at this annual Kolkatan festival, but traditional musicians from around the world WORDS & PIC T U R E S SI MON BROUGH TON

Swarna Chitrakar singing her scroll of the life of Tagore


or a British visitor, Kolkata sometimes seems like home in a distorting mirror. There are Victorian churches, one of them the spitting image of St Martin in the Fields. And right in the centre of the city is the vast Victoria Memorial, a monument to Queen Victoria, completed in 1921 and dubbed ‘the Taj of the Raj’. Whatever one’s sensitivities about the British Raj, it’s a spectacular building. And it’s in beautiful gardens of Mohor Kunja next to the Victoria Memorial that the three-day Sufi Sutra festival takes place. The title suggests it’s a festival of Sufi music – and several of the groups fit that bill – but programmer Amitava Bhattacharya also brings in traditional groups from around the world. It’s a free event and attracts over 30,000 people each night. “It’s got to be free because we want to attract all classes,” insists Bhattacharya. “Many people can’t afford 500 rupees (£5) for a concert so it’s better not to charge at all.” This evangelising approach translates into his onstage presentation as he proclaims “Sufi Sutra – Music for peace and music for all!”

For the festival the Mohor Kunja gardens are decorated with coloured lights creating an enchanting environment. It’s impossible for everybody to see the stage so there are screens dotted round the park where those on the outside can see something of what’s happening. Last year the ‘teams’, as they like to call them, included Marouane Skali, a fine Sufi singer from Morocco with his ensemble; the ten-strong El Kawmeya troupe from Egypt; the Orient West Choir, a rather pretentious project from Denmark bringing together Jewish, Christian and Islamic ingredients in their music and poetry; and the Azerbaijan Ensemble for Ancient Instruments, a fascinating group singing old Azeri poetry, much of it religious, accompanied by recreations of instruments pictured in ancient miniature paintings. They’re dressed in Hollywood costumes that could only come from a former-Soviet state, but the music is beautiful. Another highlight are Songlines’ favourites Söndörgő – not Sufi musicians, but great artists playing the decidedly secular music of the Serbs and Croat communities in Hungary (see #77). There are inevitably spectacular national performers from India: a Kashmiri Sufi group, the Nizamuddin Qawwals from Delhi and, the real highlight, local Bauls and Fakirs from West Bengal. Sufi Sutra is organised by Banglanatak dot com who’ve done amazing work to transform the lives of local musicians and build up a network of village performers (see #86). Sufi Sutra is one of the main national showcases for these Baul and Fakir musicians with their extraordinary spiritual songs, one of the glories of Bengal. “I consider myself also a Fakir,” says sarod player Amjad Ali Khan, the celebrity guest opening the festival. There’s a ripple of laughter because Amjad is a superstar trailed by snapping photographers while Fakirs are usually considered little more than beggars. Of course Sufi Sutra is about overturning those stereotypes. “We are fortunate to have so many genres of music in our country and it doesn’t matter

whether it’s classical or folk,” Amjad continues. “Classical music requires a lot of discipline, but I try to learn folk tunes from different parts of the country because it is like a natural music. I wish this festival every success.” Kolkata evenings in February are quite balmy, great for listening to music. But the days are extremely hot. During the afternoons there are workshops and gatherings of musicians in the shade of trees in the gardens and crafts people showing off their creations. West Bengal produces fantastic embroidery, but one of my favourite things was hearing a singer and painter, Swarna Chitrakar, sing her way through one of her paintings (pictured left). These are naively painted narrative scrolls, in this case showing scenes from the life of Rabindranath Tagore. The writer, who lived in Kolkata, is a hugely revered figure in West Bengal. The goddess Durga, who’s celebrated in a huge festival in Kolkata, is another popular subject in Chitrakar paintings. One afternoon I sit on mats under a tree with a group of Nirgun singers from Bihar, a neighbouring state in the north-west. The singers are followers of Kabir, a hugely influential poet, philosopher and social reformer of the 15th century. His verses have an earthy character and they sing them accompanied by harmonium and drum. ‘If wealth is lost, nothing is lost. If health is lost, something is lost. But if character is lost, everything is lost’. It’s like a sort of folk qawwali as the lead singer sings from a collection of Kabir’s poetry and his companions respond. Kabir himself was illiterate and his verses survived in the oral tradition, although these guys now seem to be relying on the written word. During the afternoon there are workshops on a little stage in the gardens. These work best when they aren’t just performances, although it’s good to get a more intimate view of the musicians. The best is a spontaneous meeting of Söndörgő with the Baul musicians. Within a few moments people are dancing in circles on the grass, the Baul singer Subadhra holding her ektara aloft and Hungarian singer Katya Tompos adding ecstatic vocals. By the end the Moroccans are doing Sufi dancing as well. A man comes up to me and says breathlessly, “I am 60 years old and this is a lifetime experience for me – everyone’s coming together with love.” It actually a very good description of the Sufi Sutra experience. DATES The next Sufi Sutra festival takes place February 1-3 2013 ONLINE PODCAST Hear music from the Bengali Fakirs, Swarna Chitrakar and the Nirgun singers on this issue’s podcast Songlines 65

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Say Africa An album of ringing guitar and a smooth voice from the South African singer. Reviewed in #85

Spirit Rising: Live from Guest Street The singer from Benin invites guests for her first live album. Reviewed in #85

Recanto Costa teams up with Caetano Veloso for a contemporary take on Brazilian music. Reviewed in #85

Essencia Melancholic melodies and folk tinged fado from the reformed Portuguese group. Reviewed in #86

A Retrospective A compilation of the 12-piece miniorchestra’s greatest hits over 17 years. Reviewed in #81

Walk With Me The remaining members stay true to the skank-driven formula of the 60s. Reviewed in #86

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‘Csipd’ from Rough Guide to the Music of Hungary on World Music Network. See review on p87

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#87 October 2012

#86 Aug/Sept 2012

#85 July 2012

#84 June 2012

#83 April/May 2012

Staff Benda Bilili, NASA – Music for Aliens, Darbar Festival, Krar Collective, Nino Biton, The Klezmatics... Top of the World #87 CD feat Peter Sellars’ playlist

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

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

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

Songlines 69

Songlines Magazine Sample Edition #88  

View sample pages from the current edition of Songlines (Nov/Dec 2012 #88). The magazine is available on subscription in print and digital....

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