Words by Simon Broughton (Editor-in-Chief, Songlines)
Day 3 (Friday, June 7) The idea of Songlines Encounters is to present artists from around the world that we think deserve wider exposure. The sold-out concert on Day 3 featured artists who’d had Top of the World albums in 2012. One of my picks of the year was Aduna by Malick Pathé Sow & Bao Sissoko, from Senegal. Sow sings and plays hoddu (an instrument similar to the ngoni lute) and guitar, while Sissoko is a terrific kora player. The musicians had an elegance, sophistication and warmth on stage and their music, with female vocalist Talike Gellé and Cheik Mbacké Gueye on calabash percussion was full of subtle textures. A class act that returns for the London African Music Festival in September.
Another standout album from last year was that of Palestinian oud and percussion duo Ahmad Al Khatib & Youssef Hbeisch, also known as Duo Sabil. Khatib is one of the best oud players I’ve heard, getting a fantastic range of colours from his instrument, while Hbeisch entices a universe of sounds from his kit, somehow making a big frame drum sound like a wailing wind instrument. Thrillingly, they were joined in this Encounters performance by classical guitarist John Williams, who began with a solo set of Spanish classics by Albéniz and Tárrega, colourfully evoking Moorish Spain. In Tárrega’s ‘Recuerdos de la Alhambra’, Williams’ tremolo guitar sang out in an extraordinary lyrical legato. With this Andalusian atmosphere, the connections between the classical guitar and the oud could not have been made more clearly.
Before they began their collaboration, Hbeisch enthused: “You cannot imagine how thrilled we are to be on stage here with John Williams!” But it was clearly a relationship of mutual respect and Williams told me how equally impressed he was by their music – which he discovered through Songlines. In their final piece there was a gorgeous oud solo, though I do wish John Williams had been given his moment to shine as well.
Day 4 (Saturday, June 8) featured two contrasting bands, but both with Latin piano at their heart. Audience member Sarah, a welcome regular at these events, was dancing enthusiastically from the beginning down the front. First on were Lokkhi Terra, led by Bangladeshi-born Kishon Khan on the ivories sporting a Che Guevara beret, adding to the Cuban vibe. Their exuberant big-band, with Cuban, Bangladeshi, British and Indian musicians, makes the Bengali/Cuban connection sound extremely natural. “We have exactly the same cockroaches” said Khan in his pre-concert chat.
Then pianist Alex Wilson led his Trio Mali Latino onstage. With Edwin Sanz (from Venezuela) on percussion and Ahmed Fofana (from Mali) on a glorious range of instruments including donsongoni and balafon, the trio were aided by special guest Omar Puente, who contributed some stylish Cuban violin. And thankfully, there was time for a grand finale which brought everyone to their feet and featured a welcome stage invasion of West African dancing.