Friday, June 15, 2018

Salvation lets their wings unfold

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Nano Stern returned to Womadelaide (we loved him in 2012) - as passionate and moving as Billy Bragg. Told us our country should treat its immigration detainees better. Couldn't agree more.

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This woman in front of us was sketching Nano as he performed. I thought she was really good too.

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Le Vent Du Nord from Quebec played heaps of toe-tapping tunes and even brought out a hurdy-gurdy. I love this kind of music.

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Directly from my notes that night on Thundercat: "Way jazzy for me but good." OK then.

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I only saw part of Daymé Arocena's set but I thought she was a gem. Short, round and gorgeous.

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I posted some photos and wrote a bit about Gratte Ciel's 'Place des Anges' nightly show on instagram.

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On Friday evening we were taken by surprise when this show started after Anoushka Shankar's set finished on the main stage.

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It started with trapeze angels gently gliding way overhead, scattering a few feathers, all very pretty. Nice. A lot of looking up. But it progresses. The 'angels' chuck more and more feathers until eventually it's a very thorough bombing from both sky and from ground cannons full of feathers. So many feathers. It was beautiful but I really didn't love being surrounded by and dumped on by so many feathers. I admire birds but have an aversion to close contact.
    
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Plenty of people adored this show. But on social media there was also a fair bit of anger about the feathers, from vegans, from the asthmatic, and just from people who didn't like the mess. (The show was repeated each evening so by the end of the festival there was dusty dirty feathers everywhere.)

Womadelaide is a festival that has long been known for its commitment to sustainability - they had all food containers and cutlery biodegradable long before I came across that anywhere else - so they must have been satisfied that all those feathers being introduced into to the local environment would not be a problem. A bit surprising. The company behind the show provided information assuring people that the feathers are clean, hypoallergenic, and ethically sourced.

I don't have a firm opinion on it. It was beautiful, surprising, fun to photograph, gross, overwhelming - a lot of things. We watched the show a second time on the Monday night but stayed at the fringes out of the main feather dumping zone. But I have to admit there was a magic in being surprised by it the first time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

In throat, in palate, in tongue, in teeth, in lips

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So, day three of Womadelaide 11 March 2018. On Sunday we got ourselves organised and timed a visit to the Adelaide Zoo perfectly so we could not only see the pandas but also hear the keeper's daily talk. Highly recommended. I wrote more about this on Instagram.

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Hana and Jessie-Lee's Bad Habits - a country two-piece based in Adelaide and Melbourne, highly anticipated by locals in the know. They brought a collective of musicians and singers to make up a pretty full stage, majority women, and it was a kick-arse show. I wish I had gotten better photos and paid more attention to hats popping up in the front row - it was the hats (and boots) on stage that I really wanted to capture. Anyway I loved the song and bought the CD and even got it signed.

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I don't want to forget that I also stopped and listened to Jessie Lloyd's Mission Songs Project (I just took crap photos, unfortunately). This show highlighted songs written in the missions and settlements that Indigenous Australians were moved onto. The songs are mostly from the early to mid-20 century, sung in English (sadly by then the only language for many people), one of those interesting complicated bits of history that show there's always much more to it than the headlines. I think the idea was these songs had been overlooked as, I guess, inauthentic in terms of Aboriginal culture, but of course they are brimming with contemporary accounts of living through the dispossession and Stolen Generation(s) - and still completely relevant.

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On to one of my most anticipated acts for the weekend, Tinariwen. I think I first heard of this group of Tuareg musicians - former solders - when I got hold of the Festival in the Desert CD many years ago. I hope one day the organisers will be able to bring the festival back (the last one was 2012, after which security in Mali really became too unstable for it to continue.)

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I had actually seen Tinariwen at Womadelaide once before, in 2012. At that time they were missing two band members who were not able to leave Mali during the Tuareg rebellion.

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And Victoria Hanna. A fascinating combination of rebellion, intellectualism, mysticism and incredible singing and music. The program notes say interesting things - she comes from an ultra Orthodox family in Israel, a woman certainly not raised to sing on stages around the world. Apparently getting into singing helped with a stammer. But I didn't really need to know these things to be drawn in immediately by her stage presence and voice, and her ability to share with the audience her fascination with words, language, the Hebrew alphabet, Jewish prayers. It felt like she was building on her heritage in a really interesting way. And I loved the chemistry she had with the band as well.

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The Manganiyar Seduction was an incredible show. The Manganiyar are a folk musician caste from Rajasthan, India, and the music would have been enough, but the unusual staging and lighting really made this wonderful. The picture above is from the finale.  

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The show starts with the stage dark. Then the curtains on a single box open and the lights go on. The curtains covering each 'cell' only open as each musician or singer joins the piece, starting with just one stringed instrument player (I think this was kamaicha) and gradually building with more players and then singers and drummers joining in. Because each box is lit only when that person is playing, this lighting and staging combination echoes the intensity of the music and highlights the orchestration and all the different instruments. 

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(I have *lots* of photos of different configurations, but I'm sure you get the idea.)

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

The unknown are begging to be known

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Way back in March, the tenth of March 2018 to be precise... it was day two of Womadelaide!

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Due to a failed attempt to visit the pandas at the zoo (never fear, we succeeded the next day) we arrived bit early, and on impulse joined a group of Indigenous ladies from Ceduna to try basket weaving. Such a nice way to start the day. And now at least one of us has the basket-weaving bug.

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I always love an opportunity to see Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier. Turned out they had taken a family road trip to Adelaide and their three girls were singing with them! Adorable.

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I've already written about Elephant Sessions in my National Folk Festival post. I have a feeling they were a big hit wherever they went on their Australian tour. Their night time show later on attracted a big dancing crowd.

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Chico Trujillo is an enormously popular Chilean band.

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I was amused by their fairly consistent uniform: hawaiian shirt, adidas pants or shorts. (No other brands need apply.) Yeah, I always notice the clothing.

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Then Willy Zygier and the girls were back with YID! That exclamation mark is part of the name.

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Dustyesky - a choir of blokes from Mullumbimby who don't necessarily speak Russian but like to sing Russian songs together. There were some corny jokes in between but on the whole it was done with a lot of enthusiasm and love.

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My Bubba - Folk duo from Iceland and Sweden. I had come across them online before but still was surprised by how very spare the sound was. Very quirky.

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Violons Barbares - loved this show very much. They are from France and combine Bulgarian gadulka (reminded me a bit of the Polish suka) and Mongolian horse head fiddle. Oh and throat singing. These things, and the drumming, and the normal singing, all worked together really well. Skilful.

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

I hope they wake with a smile and say words like 'totes, awes, and dude'

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After missing the National Folk Festival last year (for a pretty fun reason), I decided to get myself a season pass at the earlybird price and really make the most of it.

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On Friday I went to a workshop with the Melbourne Scottish Fiddlers. (The picture above is from one of their shows later in the weekend.) I've been learning fiddle for about a year and a half and I was determined to challenge myself by participating in a workshop during the festival. This one would have been my first pick, but by the time I spotted it on the program, I had just arrived at the site and had only about an hour to spare. I thought about rushing home to get my fiddle but I decided to just listen this time.

I ended up participating (at least, as far as I could) in an old time tunes workshop on Saturday with Cat and Clint, and one on Sunday with WÖR teaching two of their rediscovered 18th century tunes. Altogether this was a pretty big milestone! The first time I've ever got the fiddle out in "public" and played with other people. (Aside from my teacher).

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I can read music (thanks Mum and Dad for all those years of piano lessons!) and am much more comfortable learning tunes from sheet music, but I can also learn by ear. Sometimes I record my teacher playing a new tune and gradually learn it from listening to the recording. Learning two or three completely new tunes in the space of an hour though is pretty fast for me. I'm sure trying - and failing quite a bit - was good for me.

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I didn't stay at the festival late on Friday but did also see Seanchas and old favourite, Steve Poltz, who never fails to make me laugh and cry, sometimes simultaneously.

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On Easter Saturday I spent all day and evening at the festival with one of my best gig buddies and we had a fantastic time.

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We checked in with the folk-singing diplomat, Fred Smith. His latest album is about America (hence the slide show) but he also did Afghanistan material from the Dust of Uruzgan album as well. I have seen a few of his shows now over the years and he's always thought provoking (with some funny too). I didn't get a good photo but Liz Frencham was playing in the band of course and sang some songs too.

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The Good Lovelies, from Canada, were indeed lovely in their music and harmonies and very accomplished musicians, doing a lot of switching instruments. The core band is a group of three women who have been together and touring internationally for many years.

I feel like I see many more women musicians, particularly groups with multiple women, at this festival than I seem to anywhere else. I wonder why that is? Sadly I wonder if it may be partly because the National Folk Festival (and probably other folk festivals) offers space and stages of various types for a very large number of acts right, down to blackboard sessions and buskers - folk festivals have that inclusive vibe, don't they?

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Of course there is still a severe gender disparity in "folk music," just like every other music scene, especially when it comes to more successful, international touring bands. When I see a group of four or five 30-ish blokes from Canada or Scotland playing exquisite folk music, of course I love it... but I can't help also thinking, how many of you have wives/significant others at home with the kids? Or are they touring with you rather than pursuing their own artistic/other dreams? No, I don't assume, and I don't think I know - I just wonder, because I have an idea how dominant the dominant paradigm is. So with all this in my mind it was nice to observe that at least one Good Lovely had her husband manning the merch table, with a small child on his shoulders. 

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WÖR was one of my favourite acts from the weekend. Their arrangements of tunes found in old Flemish manuscripts were great. Guitar, accordion, bagpipes, fiddle, baritone saxophone and occasionally soprano sax. There was something very appealing to me about these tunes. Hope the magic translates to the CD (we all know sometimes it doesn't) because it's on order.

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Two years ago K texted me from the National (I happened not to be there that evening) with a heads up about Bush Gothic. Go to YouTube he said. I did, I watched everything, and immediately fell very hard for their 'darker, stranger Australia folk.'  Most of the songs are from the convict era and early days of settlement but they also do an incredible, not-at-all-corny cover of John Williamson's (corny) 'True Blue.'

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So I've been listening to the albums for the past couple of years, and I have actually seen Jenny perform (at the first Stringmania concert), but this was the first time I had seen the group live. I loved them of course and went back for another set the following night. I was delighted when they played a lot of different songs, including a clever new version of Slim Dusty's Pub with No Beer.

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Back to Saturday night - we spent a while with Mick Thomas and the Roving Commission. I found out the huge Weddings Parties Anything hit 'Father's Day,' all these years later, still sounds over familiar and overexposed to me. The show was good, but as planned, we left to move next door to the Marquee for Steve Poltz - I was very happy to see him again and my buddy is a fan.

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Late Saturday night I caught the second half of Breabach's set. Wonderful Scottish tunes, multiple bagpipes, all right up my alley. They actually played Womadelaide a few years ago. I made sure I heard their full set on Sunday.

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On Sunday I also spent a bit of time at the instrument makers concert which is always interesting. Sometimes the makers themselves play but many instrument makers are not performers themselves. So often they just introduce the instruments and have other musicians showcase the instruments.

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Hat Fitz and Cara were intriguing. I meant to see them at Womadelaide, but missed out. Turned out to be not what I expected. The music was a bit more blues than is really my thing, but I loved the arrangements, Cara on drums (and washboard for one song) front and centre and she has an incredible voice. Bit of sassy couple humour in there too.

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I finished off Sunday night in the Trocadero, always a more genteel venue, with Fiona Ross and Ken Nicol. Fiona is a Scottish singer of the Scots language, now based in Australia; I've seen her before and like her stuff. During this show I cast off my knitted project, and cast on the next one, in the dark! (And it worked out fine).

By Monday I was pretty tired but determine to get the most out of this long weekend. I had great company, hanging out with my sister and her children for part of the day, and another excellent gig buddy for a lot of it. Early in the day I saw part of an Irish ensemble set called 'Companach - Music of Ireland in its place.' With a slide show of gorgeous Irish locations and other images relating to the tunes, the show moves through each of the 32 counties with a tune for each.

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Faith i Branko, another couple act, play mostly Roma music from Serbia, with, I think, Faith's own songs. They have an interesting back story - she was an accordionist from the UK, working for a circus and sent to Serbia to find a fiddler for the circus.

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Elephant Sessions was a big hit at Womadelaide and I enjoyed their set here too. Not exactly what I'm looking for in my Scottish music but definitely a party/dance band with some good tunes.

The farewell concert sometimes dragged a little but it was worth staying for a chance to hear some acts I had missed. I was especially keen to hear young Irish singer Susan O'Neill (known as SON) who has quite a Janis Joplin thing going on. And Ten Strings and a Goatskin, from Prince Edward Island, were a brilliant bonus. Gosh Eastern Canada must be swarming with incredible folk musicians!