I can think of no place that welcomes the music of other countries with more enthusiasm than the UK. We have long had an unquenchable appetite for the music of other countries. A visit to any of the several UK summer music festivals will offer everything from timeless King Sunny Ade music (Nigeria) to Toots and the Maytals, Jamaica’s own godfather of soul and the Southern soul sister number one Candi Staton (USA) to acts from Romania and Ukraine. Keeping with this tradition and celebrating its fifth year, Songlines Encounters Festival brought an explosion of international talent across the globe to perform live to a packed audience at London’s stylish Kings Place spot.
It was faithfully a celebration of the richness of our blended heritage and culture with enchanting line-up of unique global acts designed to appeal to music audiences of all ages, enthusiasts and Johnny-come-latelies. It was a must hear and a must see for anyone interested in great live performance such as act number one, Scottish fiddler Duncan Chisholm in collaboration with Iranian vocalists Mahsa and Majan. Fado singer put side by side with Cypriot musicians. Anglo-Bangladeshi Latin beats playing with Bangladeshi virtuosi. Songlines blast proves an overwhelming and emotional experience for lovers of world music. It could only happen at the Songlines Encounters Festival.
Where politicians delve around for more sticky tapes and plasters to hold us together, to all intense and purposes, the creative industries is doing a better job uniting us through music. Arts should be a lot higher up the programme of any political party in this country. On the contrary what we have now is backed funding and that is thanks largely, to the lotto – participation in the arts has levelled a bit. Well, back to the fiesta: it opened with fiddler Duncan Chisholm, one of the demanding people on Scotland’s active folk scene with six solo critically celebrated albums behind him. Duncan’s performance was flawless. He performed traditional and contemporary music from the Highlands glens inspired by the Highland glens which are his family home.
The only reproach I have of Songlines Encounters is why give such a dynamic fiddler-performer thirty-five minutes on stage? Too brief of course. The ladies sitting beside me felt short change. Nevertheless, Songlines made-up for it and Duncan returned later in the evening for a special Songlines Encounters collaboration with Iranian vocalists Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat (sisters). Hallelujah! Next on the bill was Gisela João, new fado singer now making huge impressions in Portugal and currently touring the UK. She sings traditional fado music at its very best. You can hear the “saudade” in her voice - a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese nature. Saudade is the Portuguese word for a feeling, a longing for something or some event that just might not happen. Gisela’s songs are based on love poems that evoke a melancholy “saudade” that draws in the audience to feel her world and make it all seem real. Gisela’s acclaimed debut recording was an album of the year in Portugal. She is one to watch!
Another showstoppers of the festival were world legendary Iranian singers – Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat - sisters. Their sultry voices intertwine so beautifully in a biological yarn of sound which had the audience transfixed from start to finish. Also their social conscious lyrics is a celebration of Persian poetry of love, unkindness, revolution and freedom, and of lives lived on the fringes. Readers take note - the sisters are forbidden to perform publicly back home in Tehran, however. How about that? What is more the sisters’ special Songlines Encounters collaboration with fiddler Duncan Chisholm really packs a deceive punch. Alright, musical collaboration between the East and the West have been explored before, though never with such experimental zest, or by three people like Mahsa and Marjan and Duncan so lauded with charisma and talent. The instrumental arrangement that followed was like no other I have seen. At the conclusion the sparks between all three led to a five minutes standing ovation. Amazing indeed.
Now wait for this, for the first time Songlines Encounter did what they have never done - there was a night of very danceable live Afro-electronica from Afriquoi, one of UK’s electro-African dance bands with live vocals, kora, guitar and percussion. They were a bundle of energy. Although the show stated 25 minutes late, nonetheless, when it finally kicked off for real, it was not a disappointment. They gave an extraordinary powerful performance, singing funk, rock, ballads and Afrobeat, you name it they had it all. The audience – young and old and racially mixed – showed their appreciation by non-stop, clapping and dancing and crying for more and more.
From one show to the next I find myself saying, this is the best I have seen. Then I attend another and I find myself repeating myself, this is the best Songlines Encounters has put on. Speaking to some of the attendees they were impressed too. One said: “all acts was the best”. Another said: “absolutely brilliant. Songlines Festival nailed it”. Songlines Encounters Festival is co-curated by Songlines Magazine and Ikon Arts Management. Watch out for 2016 festival programme, due out end of June, 2015.
All images by © Haydn Wheeler