Words by Simon Broughton (editor-in-chief)
Photography by Hayden Wheeler
The exciting realisation from the first two days of Songlines Encounters has been that interesting, adventurous programming attracts top musicians, and with no prior warning we found Nigel Kennedy in the audience on our opening night and Robert Plant the following night. Both were knocked out by what they heard.
Day 1 (Wednesday, June 5) kicked off with Transkaukazja – a great Polish-meets-Georgian project brought to us by the Polish Cultural Institute in London. It sounded great on paper and was a revelation on stage. The Polish ingredient was Vołosi, a string quintet so tight that it was like one instrument played by five people, and the Georgian ingredient was members of 33a, led by the charismatic Niaz Diasamidze who growled his lyrics in Georgian, Russian and French. Both bands were in the UK for the first time. Lyrical, exciting and adventurous music – and I really enjoyed learning more about the work The Other Space Foundation are doing with music in the Caucasus. Something I hope we can explore more in Songlines.
Next it was a great Balkan party with three bands – Paprika, She’Koyokh and Yurodny (over from Dublin) playing different styles of music and getting together for a fabulous grand finale (pictured above). At the heart of Paprika is the superb fiddler Bogdan Vacarescu, vocalist Cigdem Aslan is part of a tremendous female trio fronting She’koyokh and sax player and arranger Nick Roth brings a jazzy sound to Yurodny. The number of notes per second record won’t be beaten anywhere else in the festival.
It turns out Nigel Kennedy is friends with Cora Venus Lunny, the brilliant violinist with Yurodny, and he kindly invited all the musicians home for an aftershow party. The grand finale continued and got more uproarious in his front room – with Nigel joining in on ‘Ajde Jano’ in which the melody was tossed around between four fabulous violinists. Around 2:30am Nigel stopped as he was topping up glasses with vodka and said “Listen, these mother-fuckers just love to play. Not like the classical guys who just go home to bed.” It was one of the greatest jam sessions I’ve been to.
Day 2 (Thurday, June 6) saw the Baladi Blues Ensemble entice Robert Plant with his son and daughter down to Kings Place. Guy Shalom did a fabulous job introducing people to the soulful street sound of Cairo’s baladi music – with Egyptian masters Ahmed Khalifa on sax, Gamal el Kordi on quarter-tone accordion and lovely vocals from Abdul Salam Kheir. Hopefully more and more people are going to discover this beautiful music.
Sarah Savoy was dressed in a bright red dress and hair tied back, looking much like Judy Garland, for her Cajun music set with the Francadians. But her brilliant stage banter – about beer, women throwing their knickers at Belton Richard and other great characters of Cajun music wasn’t Dorothy’s territory. Thankfully there was some sly dancing going on, adding to the atmosphere, and Sarah played so hard she broke a guitar string. She told me afterwards that she had sent a message to her mate Steve Riley (one of the best-known Cajun musicians) about Robert Plant being in the audience. “Go on Sarah, rip it up” he responded.
Songlines Encounters – endorsed by the top musicians!