For the dramatic closing concert of this year’s Songlines Encounters Festival, London’s King Place welcomed a veteran player and one up-and-coming star.
First on Saturday night’s line-up was Iranian kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor together with Ali Bahrami Fard on bass santur (pictured above). This was special performance for Songlines Encounters not only because Kalhor was the first male performer on the female-dominated festival line-up, but because as a magazine Songlines has watched him grow from his brilliant debut (Scattering Stars Like Dust, reviewed in issue #1) into the solid veteran player he is today. For an hour Kalhor and Fard held the audience in rapt attention as their music rushed over us in waves. Moments of delicate beauty were chased by frantic surges of urgency. Kalhor’s agitated pizzicato gave way to whispered lines from his shah kaman (a bass kamancheh), all of which was supported by the sensitivity of Fard’s playing. Both musicians’ virtuosity was clearly evident in how effortlessly they blended the material they had previously recorded for I Will Not Stand Alone. Though the majority of the music was improvised – in issue #100 Kalhor told Simon Broughton the music is never the same twice – there was never a moment of hesitation and every note between the two was precisely placed. A truly sublime performance that left you reeling.
Feeling like you needed time to digest what you just experienced, this was going to be a tough act to follow no matter the talent – Turkish Kurdish vocalist Çiğdem Aslan (pictured above) had her work cut out for her. Aslan’s music was a more light-hearted affair, transporting the audience to Asia Minor in early 20th-century. Performing tracks from her acclaimed solo debut, Mortissa (meaning, ‘strong independent woman’), Aslan and her band performed Greek rebetika, smyrneika and Turkish songs of the café amans. As Aslan is an Alevi Kurd (who like the Iranians are Shia), she sang a beautiful Alevi song with guest musician Tahir Palali on Kurdish tanbur, with percussionist Vasilis Sarikis adding a few accents on the frame drum. It was only a shame that Aslan’s band seemed to lack her enthusiasm – especially the particularly talented Sarikis, who seemed almost apologetic in his playing.
All in all, it was a great ending to another year at Songlines Encounters Festival. Looking forward to next year’s festival already!