Photography by Haydn Wheeler
Jo Frost revels in some extra special encounters
The second night of Songlines Encounters Festival started with a screening of the excellent documentary film, Sisters, by Andrew Smith, about Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat from Iran. It shows them at home in Tehran, talking about the ancient Persian poems they sing and the censorship they face. It’s a beautiful, reflective insight into their lives.
Following this in Hall One was the Scottish fiddler Duncan Chisholm (featured in #106) who really conjured up the atmosphere and beauty of his home in the Highlands. Superbly accompanied by fellow Scot Matheu Watson on guitar and Jarlath Henderson on uilleann pipes and flute, Chisholm’s playing has a real grace and delicacy. His trio of albums, The Strathglass Trilogy are named after the glens of Affric, Farrar and Cannich where the Chisholm clan have lived for 700 years.
Following the trio in the second half, were the aforementioned sisters, Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat (featured in #107). They are normally accompanied by musicians, but on this occasion Mahsa played the setar (Iranian lute) and Marjan, the daf (hand-held drum). But most of the time, it was just the voices – strong, deeply intense and when they sing together, the harmonies are exquisite and enthralling in the way that only two siblings who have been singing together all their lives can be. “To sing a capella, you feel completely naked,” said Mahsa at one point, and it’s true, the sheer power and sentiment conveyed is remarkable.
One of the aims of Songlines Encounters Festival has been to try and encourage the artists – regardless of their origin and musical traditions – to perform together, to create a real musical encounter. Of course, these sorts of collaborations cannot be forced and have to happen naturally, albeit with a little help and suggestion from Songlines. So it was incredibly gratifying to see Chisholm, Henderson and Watson joining the sisters onstage for two songs, including ‘The Moon of our Beloved’s Face’ by Iran’s national poet, Hafez. “It was hard not to be mesmerised by their voices,” said Watson afterwards. But the subtle addition of the trio’s Gaelic melodies brought another beautiful and intricate layer to the songs and the soaring flute and violin a gorgeous lightness, perfectly appropriate for their final song, ‘Twinklings of Hope’.
After such an intense and emotive set, it came as a bit of shock to wander into Hall Two and find Afriquoi (featured in #108) were bringing the house down with their full-on, African party music. The band’s energy onstage is infectious and the fast and furious rhythms on an array of instruments, including the Congolese guitarist Fiston Lusambo and kora played by Gambian Jally Kebba Susso, brought the evening to a rousing and glowing end.