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Kishori Amonkar (1931-2017): India’s great classical vocalist

Posted on April 5th, 2017 in News, Recent posts by .

Kishori-Amonkar-blog

Kishori Amonkar © Avinash Pasricha

One of India’s greatest classical vocalists, Kishori Amonkar, died peacefully in her sleep on April 3 at home in Mumbai, aged 84. She was known for singing khayal and thumri, both forms of vocal music requiring considerable skills in improvisation.

Amonkar was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) and lost her father when she was aged just six years old. She learned to sing at an early age from her mother, Mogubai Kurdikar, also a well-respected classical singer. Taught according to the Jaipur gharana, she had a vocal
range of three octaves, but saw the finesse of singing in the emotion and micro-tonal details. Amonkar was someone who took her art very seriously and received two of the country’s highest civilian awards. She was more of a musicians’ musician, hugely respected in India, rather than an international star.

All the same, Jay Visva Deva of Sama Arts worked with her in London several times, notably for an all-night concert at the Royal Festival Hall and a Navras recording at the Kufa Gallery in 1998. “Her journey was a spiritual one in search of her inner soul,” says Visva Deva. “She had the capacity to exude the emotion laden beauty of her chosen raga unfolding note by note with words, expressions and phrases very well laid out, so you could simply absorb the music without really understanding it. She made sure the listener felt her music.” She last performed in London in 2007.

Her performance was unquestionably one of the highlights of the Bengal Classical Music Festival in Dhaka in 2014, where I saw her. Cradling her swaramandal zither, she looked slightly witchy and cast a spell that made time stand still. We were led by her voice along a weaving and beguiling path until two hours had suddenly vanished.

In Bhinna Shadja, a documentary about Amonkar by Amol Palekar and Sandhya Gokhale, tabla player Zakir Hussain says: “Her music is like a painting that embodies every detail of someone’s life. There is great happiness, great sadness, great anger, frustration, the desperation. It all comes concentrated in a little piece.”

She recorded many concerts for Navras and her double album Divya (2007) was particularly well reviewed in Songlines.

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Live Review | Globaltica, Poland July 20-23

Posted on July 26th, 2016 in Live, Recent posts by .

Globaltica-©Simon Broughton-Free
Six great things about Globaltica, World Cultures Festival, in Gdynia, Poland

1. The main site is just five minutes walk from a pristine beach on the Baltic Sea.

2. A weekend ticket costs around €10

Globaltica-©Simon Broughton-Free1

3. Over four days, in a relaxed and intimate setting you can get a taste of music from all over the world. This year the line-up included Balkan brass masters Fanfare Ciocarlia from Romania; Damily from Madagascar, playing infectious tsapiky dance music; the cheeky Monsieur Doumani trio from Cyprus; kora and talking drum maestro Diabel Cissokho (pictured right) from Senegal and the remarkable Rancho Aparte, with squealing clarinets, euphonium and powerful percussion from Colombia. Not forgetting Songlines’ favourites, the father, son and daughter trio from Poland, Kapela Maliszow. Traditional music that is vibrant and evolving, which is what Globaltica is about.

4. The celery and ginger drink from the Beetle Juice van (Sok z Zuka) is just divine.

Globaltica-©Simon Broughton-Free2

5. Turkish musician Tahir Palali (pictured right with singer Cigdem Aslan) describes Globaltica as a mini-WOMAD but nicer, because it’s more chilled out. It was a rare opportunity to see him and singer Cigdem Aslan sing spiritual songs from the Alevi tradition. “We Alevis don’t go to the mosque,’’ she says, “but we gather in places like this.’’  We’re in barn-like old stables, and the performance is intimate and intense. Palali’s plucked tembur, with just three strings, is delicate but profound. There’s a simplicity and intensity that takes you to a higher place. “The consciousness that created the universe is within you,’’ he says and his tembur with Aslan’s melismatic voice seems to bring that consciousness closer.

6. Gdynia is Europe’s best location for modernist architecture. The port city was built in little more than a decade from 1926 until World War II as Poland’s ‘window to the world’. In 1928 it handled just one per cent of Poland’s trade, but by 1937 it controlled 49%. The architecture of the city is still dominated by the clean, white, unornamented style of the pre-war period. Easy access from the UK with direct flights from London to Gdansk, just 45 minutes away.

Globaltica-©Simon Broughton-Free3

Globaltica was held on July 20-23 2016. For more information, visit www.globaltica.pl

 

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Live Review | Førde Traditional and World Music Festival, July 6-10

Posted on July 13th, 2016 in Recent posts by .

Førde-©Arve-Ullebø-Free2

With 300 artists from 30 countries, Førde is the biggest festival of folk and world music in Scandinavia. Simon Broughton was at the latest edition, which finished on Sunday, July 10 (Photos courtesy of Førde Festival)

Førde, a small town of 14,000 people in the west of Norway, is surrounded by mountains, waterfalls and fjords. So it’s a spectacular location for a festival and some of the Førde Festival’s concerts are in farmyards, wooden cottages and on mountain tops. As a broad theme, the festival took the idea of ‘Flight’, reflecting the unprecedented movement of refugees in the world, and that is something I will look at in the next issue of Songlines, out August 26. But, from Førde itself, here are some personal highlights of the 27th edition of the festival.

One of the most atmospheric locations is the Jølster Museum, a collection of traditional wooden houses, not far from Førde. The small rooms only fit 30 or 40 people, so the concerts were acoustic and intimate. At different locations between 11pm and 2am – when the summer night is more or less dark – you could find music from Norway, Finland, Spain, Tuva, Kenya and Malawi. I just dived in at random and struck lucky. In one of the smallest cottages a couple of old gents in trilbies were playing Hardanger fiddle and the guitar-like mandola. The room was packed and pretty dark, but I found a place on the floor and could make out the neat white beard of the fiddler and catch the light glinting on the mother-of-pearl on the fingerboard. The musicians’ smiles suggested they knew each other well.

Gunnar-Stubseid-&-Ale-Møller-©Forde-Free

I only discovered afterwards that this was one of the most-loved duos in Scandinavian folk music: Gunnar Stubseid, from Norway, on Hardanger fiddle and Ale Möller, from Sweden, on mandola (pictured right). They first met in 1986 and started playing in this novel combination. Stubseid comes from Setesdal region where the most rugged Hardanger fiddle music is found, but here the sound was softened by the plucked strings of the mandola. The acoustic of the wooden room was perfect for this music and the tapping of the two gents’ feet on the wooden floor was the ideal accompaniment. The cyclical, trance-like tunes draw you in and you hardly know whether five or 25 minutes have passed. You can imagine long evenings enjoying music like this a couple of centuries ago.

The contrast between the rustic simplicity of the Jølster houses and the main venue at the Førdehuset cultural centre is striking. Here the large hall has dramatic lighting, screens, graphics and a slick live video cut of the concerts. La-Bottine-Souriante-©Forde-FreeThe big crowd-pleasers were Sephardic singer Mor Karbasi, who brings drama and theatricality to her songs in Ladino, Moroccan Berber and Hebrew, and the magnificent French Canadian band La Bottine Souriante (pictured right), who have been active, with different line-ups, since 1976. They’re a force of nature with their trademark foot-percussion, fiddles, accordion and a powerful horn section.

In a get-up-and-have-a-Balkan-party way, the double-bill of Romanian and Hungarian Gypsy music from Mahala Rai Banda and Romengo was stunning. This was music that comes from very deep Romani roots – and tied perfectly into the migration theme of the festival. With the singing of Romengo’s petite but powerful Mónika Lakatos, it drove the audience into a dancing frenzy.

The Scandinavian band to look out for are Denmark’s Dreamers Circus – three young guys on fiddle, mandolin and accordion. There is charisma, talent and a powerful performance onstage.

The most memorable performance was the premiere of Arctic Ice Music, by the world’s only ‘ice musician,’ Terje Isungset. He literally plays trumpets, xylophone, chimes and drums made out of ice. But however extraordinary and beautiful that is, there are limitations to what ice can do. So here he was working with Sami and Inuit singers from the Arctic plus Tuvan throat singer Radik Tyulyush, which brought in an awesome sonic landscape, created in just three days.

Arctic-Ice-Music-©Forde-Free

To play his instruments, Isungset wore a furry hood, thick sweater and gloves. I don’t know whether he’s sponsored by a Norwegian sweater company, but he’s missing a trick if not. During the show, Isungset had an ice helper (his daughter) bring instruments on, unpack bars of ice so they were ready to be played and remove them before they melt. It was a logistical choreography. “The concert is about human beings relation to nature and how to live with it,” he said to me before the show. “The Inuits really know how to live in the ice and this generated the idea for the concert.”

Isungset’s contribution was largely percussive, with incredibly delicate sounds from tapping ice rods while stepping in crushed ice, to more melodic sounds from his ice xylophone. The latter is essentially like a balafon, but while the balafon evokes the dryness of the desert, Isungset’s iceophone sounds fluid.

The singers added layers of texture and melody. The Inuit singers brought the breathy, rhythmic sound of katajjaq; the Sami singers add more ethereal joiks; and Radik Tyulyush produces a deep pulsing growl. One of the Sami singers, Sara Marielle Gaup Beaska told me she was performing joiks about nature, animals, the wind and “one from Finland about the Russians colonising Sami land and your feelings knowing it will be destroyed.” The various layers, textures and otherworldly sounds seemed like listening to an aural equivalent of the Northern Lights. Glorious, beautiful, but elusive. It is something that deserves to be seen around the world because it’s not only inspirational music, but there’s a powerful message in there as well.

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Qawwali singer Amjad Sabri murdered in Karachi, June 22

Posted on June 23rd, 2016 in News, Recent posts by .

Amjad-Sabri-©Bartek-MurackiThe leading qawwali singer was shot dead yesterday in Karachi. Simon Broughton reports 

Leading qawwali singer Amjad Sabri was shot in his car by two armed motorcyclists in Karachi on June 22. He was 45 and one of the leading performers of qawwali music in Pakistan today. It’s a religious, devotional tradition with deep roots in Pakistan and India, but has become popular all over the world. The Pakistani Taliban, who consider Sufism to be idolatrous and even devotional music to be forbidden, have claimed responsibility.

Amjad Sabri was leader of the Sabri Brothers, founded by his father Ghulam Farid, although they claim a lineage going back 400 years to the time of Tansen. From the 70s, the Sabri Brothers started touring internationally and made many recordings. Amjad started touring with his father and uncles Maqbool, Kamal and Mehmood Sabri from the age of five.

Amjad Sabri had taken over at the helm of Sabris with two of his brothers. He gave some spectacular performances in Europe in recent years. His most recent recording was Ecstasy of the Soul (Transetnika, 2012).

In 2010, there were bombs in the shrines of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi and Daata Ganj Bakhsh in Lahore. But this is the first targeted killing of a high-profile Sufi musician and raises serious questions about such musicians’ safety in Pakistan.

 

 

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