Posts Tagged ‘babel med’

Babel Med 2018 Cancelled

Posted on December 21st, 2017 in News, Recent posts by .


The annual world music and jazz expo in Marseille, Babel Med, has been forced to cancel its next and 14th edition, due to a 80% cut in funding from the Provence-Alps-Cote d’Azur region.

The shock announcement was made following the withdrawal of support from its principal partner – just three months before the event was due to take place (March 15-17 2018). Over the last 13 years Babel Med has seen over 180,000 spectators and 26,000 music industry professionals who gather at the event every year to discover new bands, network and do business.

This is huge blow not just to the cultural sector of the region – 30% of the artists programmed at Babel Med are local – but to the wider world music community. Besides the immediate loss of jobs, the cancellation will also have a big economic and cultural impact on the city and the global world music industry.

Zone Franche, France’s world music professional network organisation has launched a petition, please sign and show your support:

Tags: , .

Festival | Babel Med 2015 round-up

Posted on April 1st, 2015 in Live, News, Recent posts, Reviews by .


Photography by Jean de Pena

Babel Med in Marseille included 32 acts over three days at the Dock-des-Suds. Jo Frost and Simon Broughton report on some of the highlights and new discoveries.

Ecoute le Monde’ (Listen to the World) they write on the Babel Med posters and while it’s certainly not the whole world, there’s a good range of artists from as far afield as Norway, Korea, Canada and Colombia. Two of the bands that impressed on the big stage are bands we’ve already covered in Songlines: Songhoy Blues, four young guys from Bamako with their Malian rock’n’roll (#106), and Family Atlantica (featured in #95 and 100), our Newcomer award winners last year. The irrepressible Luzmira Zerpa led an energy-packed show. What’s impressive about Family Atlantica is the sure-handed way they slip in an instant from a catchy anthemic song to Afro-Venezuelan ritual with a rhythm section that really animates the crowd.

Françoise Atlan is a French-born Jewish Sephardic singer of North African heritage. She’s been performing for 25 years and I’ve seen her several times in special projects at the Fes Festival of Sacred Music, but her show at Babel Med was the first time I’ve seen a solo concert. She was performing with Thessaloniki-based group En Chordais with oud, violin, qanun and percussion. The repertoire, from her recent CD Aman! Sefard… (reviewed in #107), was that of the Sephardic communities who settled in the Ottoman Empire after expulsion from Spain in 1492. The music is in Turkish maqam scales, particularly noticeable in a song about someone who murdered a love rival and ended up in prison in Istanbul. It’s dark and pulls on the heart-strings. She ended with a much brighter number – ‘Seven Ways to Cook Aubergines’ – in which the recipes are outlined in mouthwatering detail, eliciting whoops of appreciation from the audience. You can hear the Spanish-based Ladino words, like ‘komida’ (dish) and the Turkish ones like ‘dolma’ (stuffed), illustrating how the music has drawn from its migrations. She ends by saying however you cook the aubergines, the important thing is to have some wine. I’ll drink to that (SB).


According to the Babel Med guide, only 29% of the 32 bands showcased were women – that is quite frankly a paltry-sounding ratio. But it was the women, including the aforementioned Luzmira from Family Atlantica and Portugal’s Gisela João (who was compared to “Amy Winehouse doing fado” by a Babel Med director) who really stood out for me. First to make an impression was Azam Ali, an Iranian singer who now lives in Canada, and her group Niyaz. They showcased tracks from their new album, The Fourth Light (reviewed in the next issue) – songs that Ali tells the crowd are a tribute to the eighth-century female Iraqi Sufi poet Rabia Al Basri. Ali is a striking figure onstage and fronts a band that includes qanun (zither) and a large type of kamancheh (spike fiddle), percussion, plus a guy on an Apple laptop who creates electronic effects that work surprisingly well with Ali’s vocals in Arabic, Kurdish and Farsi.

Trio Teriba are three female singers from Benin who entertained with some wonderful a capella singing and energetic calabash percussion and dancing. They didn’t provide much chat in between songs, but they did say they were singing out about violence against women. The top-notch harmonies and the engaging simplicity of their show would, I’m sure, be a sure-fire hit with UK festival-goers. Then onto another all-female group, this time Simangavole from La Réunion in the Indian Ocean. There’s a palpable edgy energy emitted from this five-piece, all dressed in white playing an impressive array of percussion. The music Simangavole perform is maloya, the rhythmic style of music that has its roots in La Réunion’s slave past. The fast, frenetic percussion and call-and-response vocals have a hypnotic effect and they offer a refreshing alternative to what tends to be a very male-dominated musical style. (JF)


After their excellent Top of the World album in #107, I was really delighted to be able to see the skilled duo of Egyptian oud player Tarek Abdallah and percussionist Adel Shams el Din. I’d have liked them to talk a little more than they did, but Abdallah’s lute playing is exquisitely refined – and the instrument looks beautiful too. It’s impressive how the melodic lines are punctuated and propelled by the incredibly precise playing of Shams el Din on the little riqq tambourine. Exquisite.
I was also delighted to talk to fado singer Gisela João who is coming to the UK for the first time for Songlines Encounters Festival in June. I’ll write up that interview in a blog nearer the time, but João is animated, a bit mischievous and throws out a lot of the fado conventions. You can see why she’s become the young fado star in Portugal. But most important, she’s got a gorgeous voice and held a packed hall from beginning to end. The big band that impressed were Herencia de Timbiqui, an 11-strong outfit from the Pacific coast of Colombia – basically guitars, percussion and the distinctive bounce of marimba. Like several Colombian bands, they’ve worked with producer Will Holland (aka Quantic) and deliver a well-honed punch. With two charismatic vocalists, William Angulo and Begner Vasquez, they’re one of the reasons Colombian music is really starting to make an impact. (SB)


The mistral wind was in full force during the three days of Babel Med, so it seemed fitting that Le Vent du Nord arrived like a breath of fresh air from Québec and quickly created a warm and cosy atmosphere in the normally draughty Chapiteau tent. The quartet are superb exponents of the richness of the Québécois musical tradition, but at the same time put their own, vibrant stamp on it. Fuelled by the rasping whirr of the hurdy-gurdy, the twang of the Jew’s harp, and underpinned by some fiery fiddle playing and foot-tapping, this is a band who really know how to entertain.


It made a refreshing change to see a musician from East Africa on the programme – Joel Sebunjo, a 28-year-old from Uganda. Sebunjo plays an electric kora – not an instrument native to Uganda, but one he learned while studying in Guinea Conakry. More representative of his homeland is the endongo, a type of lyre. The group might have lacked the professionalism and slickness of more seasoned performers but you certainly couldn’t fault their energy, enthusiasm and entertainment value, especially when the guitarist launched into a solo using his teeth.


Among the half-dozen local acts being showcased, it was Moussu T e lei Jovents that were the highlight for me. All donning stripey T-shirts and flat caps, this five-piece never fail to put a smile on your face and were clearly popular with the home crowd. Many of the local references in the lyrics, sung in a heavily accented Marseillais French are probably lost on most non-Francophones, but even a novice French speaker would surely recognize a  handful of them: les Calanques, le Pastis, la Bouillabaisse… Moussu T perfectly encapsulate Babel Med’s southern French vibe. (JF)

Visit the Babel Med website.



Tags: , .

Babel Med 2014, March 20-22, Docks des Suds, Marseille

Posted on March 26th, 2014 in Recent posts by .


Photography by Jean de Peña

Simon Broughton and Jo Frost recount some of their highlights from last weekend’s Babel Med in Marseille, France.

‘Ecoute le Monde’ it says on the posters for Babel Med in Marseille. And you certainly do get to listen to the world with 30 concerts over three days, although it’s a certain vision of the world. There seems to be a sort of default position that means the vast majority of acts are fusions of some sort. It’s partly that the French definition of musique du monde (world music) tends to emphasise cross-fertilisation, but also it’s the sort of thing that fuels festivals. Babel Med is a professional showcase for artists and bands, but it’s also a cheap (€15 a night) and hugely popular three nights of music for the people of Marseille. This year, the tenth edition, over 12,000 people attended over the three nights.


Here are some of our highs and lows:

Thursday March 20

Fargana Qasimova (pictured above) is the daughter of Azeri mugham star Alim Qasimov and she’s been singing together with him for years. I last saw them give an incredibly powerful performance together in Baku, his voice often higher than hers in an amazing mugham polyphony. But now she’s started doing shows on her own with a brilliant band of traditional instrumentalists – tar, kamancha, clarinet and percussion. Of course she’s totally grown up with the tradition and it shows. Her voice and style are glowing and intense, although there’s a serious piety rather than the hint of mischief her father has. This was one of the few traditional performances at Babel Med, which also made it very welcome. SB

The Finnish harmonica quartet Sväng are Songlines favourites and we had them at our Encounters Festival in 2010. The music is original but always drawing on Finnish traditions, or sometimes Balkan music. Eero Turkka, one of the quartet, has married a Bulgarian lady and now lives in Sofia. The standout piece in the concert was ‘Karja-La’, like Shangri-La, the title-track of their new album. It’s a musical depiction of Karelia, the heartland of Finnish identity – as a nostalgic past, a place of conflict, emigration and Russification. The recent events in Crimea illustrate the topicality of the music. What I like about Sväng is the depth of the music alongside the sense of fun. SB

Hotel Univers was one of my albums of 2013, yet it’s been a while since I’ve seen Jupiter and Okwess International (pictured below) play live. Despite being a slightly reduced-size touring outfit, the Congolese group still put on a storming live show. Lead singer Jupiter Bokondji, with his deep, gravelly voice and long scarecrow-like flailing arms, makes a very charismatic frontman, but he’s got strong support from some fabulous guitarists who double up as pretty impressive dancers too. This was the first showcase that got me dancing. JF


Friday March 21

The fiddle player from Brittany, Jacky Molard, is highly regarded in Breton music. Being only familiar with his collaborative album together with the Malian Foune Diarra trio (N’Diale) this was the first time I’d seen him perform live. Molard was joined by a trio of double bass (the first of two female double bass players on Friday night), accordion and saxophone and their music is complex, compelling and with driving rhythms – they reminded me a little of a Breton Lau. High praise indeed. JF

The party band of Friday evening, the Amsterdam Klezmer Band, always know how to get a crowd moving and the Marseillais audience seemed to really enjoy this raucous klezmer big band. They’ve got a new album out which we’ll be reviewing soon. JF

One of the most interesting fusions that makes real artistic (and dare one say political) sense, is the mixture of Kurdish musicians in a band called Nishtiman. With Sohrab Pournazeri, a charismatic kamancheh and tanbur player at its centre, the group features Kurdish musicians from Iran, Iraq and Turkey, plus a French percussionist and bass player. The set was in party mode in a very crowded tent, but the musicianship shone through, despite the sound being a bit of a mess. Alongside Pournazeri, there was brilliant daf (frame drum) playing from Hussein Rezaeenia, standing in for Iraqi Kurdish percussionist Hussein Zahawy. The newly-released CD from Accords Croisés also has some beautiful slow and intense pieces. SB

A more unlikely fusion embodied in one person is the Iranian-born Israeli singer Rita. Singing in Hebrew and Persian, she laid great stress on bringing these two fiercely opposed countries together with a good band, including another great kamancheh maestro, Mark Eliyahu. But the noble ambition can’t save a bland Eurovision-style vibrato fest. SB

Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni ba looked resplendent in their turquoise green robes but sadly the sound wasn’t so impressive, which momentarily seemed to be reflected in the group’s usually confident performance. But Bassekou wasn’t to be deterred and carried off his solo ngoni spots with aplomb and a winning smile. JF



Pasi Leino (Sväng)

Saturday March 22

I was looking forward to the Kenyan/Somali vocal harmonies of Gargar, but they reminded me of the Russian babushkas in Eurovision – dancing as if they were at a disco they didn’t want to be at and backed by the most mundane drums and keyboards. It was a warning of how tradition can be so easily debased. SB

Shutka Roma Rap, despite my aversion of baseball caps and cliché arm-waving stylings, gave a strong show, thanks, if you didn’t understand the Romani language, to a backing band with violin, sax and trumpet. SB

Saturday night’s line-up was the one I was least familiar with, so I had fewer expectations than the previous two nights. And yet this was the evening of my favourite discoveries – Duo Sabil, Palestinian oud and percussion duo, accompanied by a French string quartet, Quatuor Béla. Fabulous music if not a little bit studious in style (we call it the curse of the music stand). The listening experience was marred by the venue being rammed packed – it felt like trying to watch a chamber music concert on a London tube platform during rush hour. Definitely one to revisit under less frenetic circumstances and preferably in the comfort of a chair. Duo Sabil also performed at Songlines Encounters last year with guitarist John Williams. JF

Veteran roots reggae star Clinton Fearon, who had a Top of the World review in #92, attracted a huge crowd, gave ‘lots of love’ and brought out a pungent scent of weed like no one else. The songs and scent are well worth catching. SB

Next was Ve Zou Via (pictured below) – another cross-cultural project, this one a polyphonic one exploring the connections between Marseille and Naples. I’ve been a big fan of the five guys from Lo Còr de la Plana ever since witnessing them lead a ridiculously large conga line through the throng in the arboretum at WOMAD. This time they’re joined by Absurd, four women from Naples, plus Enza Pagliara, a singer from Salento. No idea whether they were singing in Occitan or Neopolitan, but they sounded fantastic. There were moments of intimate close-harmony singing but when they all joined in on frame drums, they whipped up the crowd into a state of wild enthusiasm. All the more impressive considering that the venue, akin to a circus Big Top, was several inches under water after a day’s worth of rain. Certainly didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the local crowd. JF

Another new name was Maya Kamaty who has won singing awards on her home island of La Réunion, and after this showcase I’m sure she’ll be gaining more international acclaim. Accompanied by a trio of musicians on percussion and guitars, she performed call-and-response Réunionnais creole singing, all while dancing and shaking the kayamb – a traditional percussion instrument of the island which looks like a large cane tray. Kamaty brought a real freshness and some much needed Indian Ocean warmth to the Docks. JF

Finally Che Sudaka – described in the programme as ‘mestizo Latino’ –  sounded like Manu Chao on speed. Of course, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in which case Chao should be feeling truly honoured by this group of Colombian and Argentinians, now resident in Barcelona. Simple, fun, festival party music. JF


Tags: , , , , , , , .