South American aficionado Russ Slater looks back at Tropical Pressure Festival, which took place at Mount Pleasent Eco Park in July
Sometimes it seems you have to go to the ends of the earth to find the good things in life. With Tropical Pressure I’m being slightly dramatic as it is only based in Cornwall, though it is still a long journey to get there.
Set high up in an ecological park overlooking Cornwall’s North Coast, it’s a festival full of bonhomie. Everyone’s smiling: the security, the organisers, the car park wardens, bar staff, everyone you meet on your arrival, and instantly you’re in the same boat too, wearing a smile as wide as you like. And smile you will until the festival is over.
Tropical Pressure is quite some way off the normal touring circuit, which makes the quality of their line-up even more impressive. Uniquely, the festival dedicates each day to a different region, with Friday being Latin America, Saturday focusing on Africa and Sunday skipping back across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, with each day having a number of clear highlights.
On Friday it was the double bill of Voodoo Love Orchestra followed by Sidestepper that ensured everyone started the weekend in their dancing shoes. The new look Sidestepper, who were playing their Real World-released Supernatural Love album, have switched electronic beats for percussion and with that turned their club-friendly sound into one seemingly tailor-made for festivals with a superb band playing dexterous Afro-Colombian rhythms and offering cliché-free positivity.
Saturday’s African set offered a real mix of fusions with Vula Viel’s marimba-led psychedelia and Dele Sosimi’s solid Afrobeat grooves leading the charge before Guy One – who relatively few people seemed to know – stunned everyone with an incredible closing set showcasing his astonishingly-emotive falsetto and mastery of the raw two-stringed kologo guitar. Purportedly a huge star in north Ghana, where the Frafra people think of him as the number one guy (hence the name), he was backed by the Berlin-based band The Polyversal Souls who were great companions with an obvious Ethiopian jazz fascination. Rousing and rhythmic it was a stirring way to end activities on Saturday’s main stage.
Labelled Caribbean day Sunday was mostly devoted to reggae, meaning you were never far away from a singer shouting ‘one love’, ‘positive vibrations’ or ‘feeling irie’ before drifting into an off-beat rhythm. The result was the least interesting day musically (despite Hollie Cook offering some salvation), though the constant throng of people dancing in the sun didn’t seem to mind too much.
Aside from the main bands the line-up also included a fine assortment of well-being, music and dance workshops, family games and DJ sets as well as Rambunctious Social Club’s tent of laid-back grooves and interactivity whenever you needed a change of pace. With just two main stages for live music and three tents/spaces for DJs it’s not the biggest festival you’ll ever go to, but it may well be the brightest.
With such an abundance of festivals these days Tropical Pressure showed that passion and creativity, rather than elaborate fanfare or over-ambition, should fuel a festival’s spirit. Through well-chosen bands, a gorgeous setting, great vegetarian and vegan food and an intimacy that means you instantly feel part of a community of like-minded souls, Tropical Pressure is a great example of how to run a world music festival. It’s also a sure-fire way to put a smile on your face.