Photography by Haydn Wheeler
The Shikor Bangladesh All Stars and Lokkhi Terra brought the fifth Songlines Encounters Festival to a lively finale
The fifth Songlines Encounters Festival was hugely enjoyable; from the cheeky songs of the Cypriot trio Monsieur Doumani to the captivating singing of Iranian sisters Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat, the festival was chock-full of outstanding music. However, the third and final day offered something a bit different – music that rarely makes it outside of its own country’s borders and a joyous big band fusion.
The evening started with Shikor Bangladesh All Stars performing their UK premiere. With some impressive manes to go around – from Rob Fakir’s bushy beard to the dhol player’s luscious locks – the Bangladeshi band brought the traditional sounds of their home country to Kings Place.
Labik Kamal Gaurob – who played the distinctive khomok, a combination of a percussion and string instrument – introduced the band members one by one throughout the set. There was Rob Fakir on the four-stringed dotara, Nazrul Islam on the dhol and his brother Mobarak on mandira (finger cymbals), Jalal Ahmed on the bansuri (flute) and Anup Kumar Mandal (aka Bappi) on tabla. The singing was shared between the lived-in, husky voice of Rob Fakir and the more velvety tones of Gaurob. Gaurob also introduced each song, trying to explain the significance of the poetry, though he admitted that the concepts were hard to translate. It was an excellent set of traditional music seldom heard outside of Bangladesh.
For the second half of the show, Shikor were due to join London-based collective Lokkhi Terra for a special collaboration. But first, Kishon Khan, Lokkhi Terra’s pianist and frontman, wanted to “show off the band” before Shikor came back onstage. After two tracks by Lokkhi Terra, Shikor’s flute player, Ahmed, and dhol player, Nazrul, came back onstage to join in.
It was easy for an audience member to sceptically raise a brow at the thought of combining Shikor’s traditional Baul music with Lokkhi Terra’s feisty Cuban-Bangladeshi mix; Kishon even joked with the audience, “you might be wondering how this will work.” But, and perhaps this is a testament to the outstanding calibre of the evening’s musicians, what followed was a match made in heaven.
With Ahmed and Nazrul back onstage, they played an excellent percussion-driven track in an unusual 13-time, which showed off some jazzy flute and excellent drumming, particularly on dhol. Next, Fakir, Gaurob, and Mobarak returned to stage for a bluesy number – a poem by the Baul saint Lalon Fakir that lent itself splendidly to a bluesy mood. That in turn was followed by another Lalon song, this time jazzier. It was astounding how jazzy the odd little khomok could sound!
There was a little bit of everything throughout the set (even a touch of reggae), but both bands held together the pieces of their multi-layered fusion with a deftness that only top-notch musicians can manage. And in true Lokkhi Terra fashion, audience members were up in the aisles by the end – the comfy seats in Kings Place were no match for these grooves.
All in all, it was an outstanding conclusion to the Songlines Encounters Festival, which leaves us counting down the days until 2016’s festival.