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Obituary: Dr G Yunupingu 1971-2017

Posted on August 2nd, 2017 in Recent posts by .

Dr. Yunupingu-©Adrian Cook

Photo by Adrian Cook

Australia’s most successful and unique Aboriginal voice, Dr G Yunupingu passed away on July 25 at the age of 46, after a long illness.

A Yolngu man of the Gumatj clan from Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island, off the Arnhem Land coast, the celebrated singer-guitarist was born blind. Fascinated by music as a child, he learned hymns with the local mission choir, and was provided first with a toy piano accordion and then an acoustic guitar, which the left-handed Yunupingu simply flipped over and played ‘upside down’ – a style he continued throughout his career.

Possessing a natural musical ability and a remarkable voice, in 1989 he was invited to join the seminal indigenous rock band Yothu Yindi, founded by his uncle, the late M Yunupingu. He toured widely with the popular band for three years, both within Australia and overseas, before family members concluded that the on-the-road lifestyle wasn’t good for him. Back on Elcho Island he joined the locally-based Saltwater Band with his friend Manuel Dhurrkay, recording three indigenous-reggae albums.

In 2007, producer-bassist Michael Hohnen suggested that Yunupingu record a solo acoustic album, and the resulting self-titled 2008 release became an international phenomenon, selling 500,000 copies and establishing Yunupingu as a major international artist.

Singing in Gumatj, Galpu, Djambarrpuyngu and English, the ethereal beauty of his transcendent voice captivated millions of listeners around the world. His subsequent albums Live in Darwin, Australia (2010), Rrakala (2011) and The Gospel Album (2015), further expanded his audience.

Yunupingu collaborated with many other well-known artists, performed for Barack Obama, and took part in the Queen’s star-studded 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Seth Jordan


For cultural reasons the full name and image of the late artist are respectfully not being published.




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Celebrating 20 years of Essaouira’s Gnawa & World Music Festival

Posted on July 26th, 2017 in Recent posts by .


Tim Cumming joins in the 20th anniversary celebrations in Essaouira 

Some ten hours after pulling an all-nighter at an off-festival lila (the all-night healing/trance ceremony of the Gnawa) at Zaouia Bilal in the depths of Essaouira’s medina, I was shuffling sans sleep through Casablanca’s international transit lounge wondering if this was what taking the drug spice felt like. I then heard the familiar bass sound of the gimbri, and spied a young man in Gnawa robes on a sleek sofa set outside a luxury goods concession, arranging his robes, fingering his strings and looking decidedly decorative in a setting far removed from Gnawa culture’s sources. Gnawa is almost a brand for Morocco now, and 20 years of Essaouira’s Gnawa & World Music Festival has helped make it so.

Earlier that night, from mid-evening to about 3am, I’d sat with Mokhtar Guinea’s band of Gnawa as they shuffled in and out of the back room behind the musicians and trancing audience crowding around them, three young women up on their feet and head-banging right in front of the musicians, sheets of white cloth draped over their heads as the spirits of the lila descend into them one by one in the form of specific songs with specific symbolic colours attached, accompanied by the scent of incense, hashish and mint tea.

In its 20th year the festival must accommodate both extremes – of cultural decoration, and of personal immersion and revelation. Both are quite real, and both play out across Essaouira’s stages, decorated with sponsor Renault’s advertising. The old rules forbidding cameras at the intimate, after-midnight performances at places such as Dar Loubane clearly do not apply to smartphones these days – will the spirits of the lila survive smart-screen culture, or will they fade to local colour, then fade out? I think not, because what underlies it is as hard and resilient as the music itself, a common currency, and everyone of all ages in Morocco seems to know and to sing the songs of the Gnawa.

TimCummingThe Riyad El Medina by Tim Cumming

For its 20th edition, the festival had its wings clipped – four days cut to three – and a paucity of prominent jazz headliners, Snarky Puppy’s Bill Laurance aside. Why a fairly obscure, self-aggrandising soul-blues singer named Lucky Peterson got three hours of main stage on the closing Saturday night is inexplicable. Luckily, Bahia artist Carlinhos Brown opened (with maalem Mohamed Kouyou) and closed the festival with two excellent sets, while Friday saw festival regular Titi Robin joined by rising Moroccan star Mehdi Nassouli and percussionist Luis Nascimento at the intimate Dar Louban with maalem Abdenbi El Gueddari, where the following night a young all-girl Gnawa group, Bnat Timbouktou, led by Asmaa Hamzaoui, was joined by one of the festival’s founders Loy Ehrlich. Female Gnawa are rare – for the moment – and Bnat Tombouktou were one of the gems of this 20th edition.

The next night, Nassouli and Nascimento joined Hindi Zahra’s band on the windswept Borj Bab Marrakech for an outstanding set featuring two drummers as the sun sank in the west behind the white rooftops and minarets of the medina. Ah, but how the wind blew. It was at its very worst for this edition. The beach stage, bedecked by the likes of Speed Caravan and Houssam Guinea, felt a little like being in a speeding hurricane. But the music never stopped. The wind blows, and the Gnawa play all night – it seems that here, the natural creative order doesn’t change, even as Gnawa becomes a brand for Morocco, a kind of symbol of its luxury goods.

Gnawa is reputed to have healing properties, and even this reviewer found it so – I flew in with a frozen shoulder, left loose-limbed, body healed and mind blown by rhythmic air and the raw pure Gnawa that takes you right down to the bottom and through a door into a dynamic world of rhythmic sound and raised spirits that can knock you out like a plank of wood. Those rhythms are a key that can unlock the mind and free the body. One of the great pleasures of this festival is watching the crowds, all 300,000 of this year’s visitors, and how they unleash themselves as the music takes hold. However far you have to come to experience it, it’s worth taking the trip.

To see more images of the Gnawa & World Music Festival by Tim Cumming, click here

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Live review | Montréal Jazz Festival

Posted on July 19th, 2017 in Recent posts by .

Photo by Michael Jackson

Martin Longley explores the abundance of global music on offer at the Montréal Jazz Festival

Like many jazz festivals, Montréal has ample room to present other musical forms, so it’s easy to experience a complete global music orientated schedule, if so desired. Most of these choices are available freely on the Canadian city’s multiple open-air stages, with abundant alternatives made possible via the sheer overload of what is famed as the world’s biggest jazz festival. The entire arts complex part of the city is completely overrun with indoor, ticketed gigs and freebie outdoor shows, creating a temporary community of thousands.

Feisty female singers were to the fore. Even in this three-day slice of the 11-day feast (July 2-4), it was possible to catch Betty Bonifassi, Buika (pictured above), A-WA and Flavia Coelho, all delivering tasty sets. The latter Rio singer/guitarist doesn’t sound massively Brazilian, spending most of her set spouting tongue-twisting ragga, dancehall and heavy dub numbers, with the occasional frothy French chanson dribbled into the cocktail. Coelho’s keyboardist and drummer helped to create a full and heavy reggae weight, the latter stepping forward during the encore to voice rugged and deep in the Prince Far I fashion. Coelho is a dynamo – singing, dancing, spouting Afro-Brazilian semi-acoustic guitar licks and transforming into a ragga gyrator, sometimes all in the space of a single number.

Buika played a ticketed show in the Place des Arts, subtly bathed in a deep crimson lightshow glow, which was presumably a deliberate aid to enhance the sultry atmosphere. Unfortunately, her audience were more inclined than most to bathe themselves in a cellphone glow, shooting and snapping incessantly, and working directly against the mood-flow. Regardless, this Spanish singer’s deep-toned power was sufficient to grasp and hold our attention, as she skirted away from her flamenco roots into more generalised song-forms. It was actually the more flamenco soaked
parts of Buika’s set which held the most power, where her band appeared to be most natural in their negotiations.

A-WA are a trio of Tel Aviv sisters with Yemenite roots, melding traditional vocal harmonies with quirky electro-pop, and progressing towards a psychedelic rock climax. Their open air set magnetised a varied crowd, many of whom appeared to be discovering these sounds for the first time. All were most emphatically converted.

The main outdoor TD stage is right next to the Place des Arts, and every night it features a pair of crowd-magnet sets, with the same act appearing at 9pm and 11pm. Brazilian combo Bixiga 70 have a samba funk core, but are just as likely to rove into Afrobeat or reggae territory, with three horns, two percussionists, drums, bass, keys and a pair of guitarists. They’re squarely directed at the festival circuit, but this makes them prone to an overload of crowd-goading tactics. One of the most appealing sequences was a percussion work-out, with djembe and cowbell, guitar and cheese-grater joining later, and the horns riffing back into the fray. Each band member gets a chance in the spotlight as the set progresses, with a particularly impressive trombone blast-off being a stand-out.

Adding to the Latin presence, Roberto Fonseca played with an added horn section, and the Peruvian ensemble Bareto started out on the smaller Hyundai outdoor stage with a slightly cheesy approach. Their tunes steadily toughened up, and their leading man drew the audience closer with some witty banter, so there was a markedly altered vibration by set’s end.

The Heineken stage (this is the fest’s beery overlord, so craft brews are not much in evidence) is the home for rootsy Americana, whether country, rockabilly, blues or rock’n’roll. The French/Québécois Youngstown trio inhabit most of those styles, but can mainly be described as countrybilly, with a high quavering singer operating on the punky Dolly Parton front. Local blues harmonica man Guy Bélanger also had a repeated midnight slot on this stage, inflating the crowd with bonus energy following their full days of music cramming.

On the actual jazz front, the ‘discovery’ of the festival was trumpeter Hichem Khalfa, residing locally, but born in France. His soloing has a pronounced Middle Eastern attack, with crisp, staccato phrases dodging around the reverberant electro-washes of his keyboardist, creating a highly effective sonic contrast. An Arabic modality scampers above tough fusion precision. The jazz purists could have their own hardcore experience by choosing different shows, and likewise with the frothy pop kids, but one of the pleasures of this Montréal festival is that the attendee
can plot completely alternative pathways through the dense number of potential entertainments.

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Seminar on ‘War Fear, Empathy and Music’ at SOAS, University of London

Posted on July 6th, 2017 in News, Recent posts by .


On July 22-23, a fascinating, two-day seminar entitled ‘War, Fear, Empathy and Music’ is set to take place at SOAS, University of London

The MA Music in Development course at SOAS has partnered with Musicians without Borders (MwB), an organisation pioneering the use of music for community-building, healing and reconciliation for groups suffering from the effects of conflict and war. Successful long-term projects have been implemented by the organisations in Kosovo, Palestine, Rwanda, Northern Ireland and many more locations, where musicians and talented young people are trained to work in struggling communities as workshop leaders.

Speakers include MwB founder and director Laura Hassler, who will address the title idea, outlining the core mission of the organisation and questioning how society can hold on to hope in discouraging times; music therapist Chris Nicholson, who will outline the therapeutic aims of the project, and researcher and MwB trainer Marion Haak-Schulenburg, who will discuss how music is applied to situations touched by conflict. Research on projects in Australia and Northern Ireland will also be presented, and the weekend will close with an experimental session on MwB’s community music leadership training.

Participants are also invited to take part in a four-day training course for musicians in practical uses of community music for peacebuilding and social change.

For more information and to register for the seminar, visit the SOAS website.  

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