Posts Tagged ‘tim cumming’

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

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

Gnawa-blog

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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Top of the World: Bella Hardy – Battleplan

Posted on May 19th, 2013 in Recent posts, Reviews by .

Words by Tim Cumming

Troops assembled; Bella comes out fighting

Hardy’s fifth album was recorded with her touring band The Midnight Watch: Blazin’ Fiddles guitarist Anna Massie; Braebach bassist James Lindsay; and keyboardist/accordionist Angus Leyton of The Halton Quartet. It features new versions of traditional material, often retitled and augmented with verses displaying Hardy’s assured songwriter’s touch, alongside a handful of self-penned tunes. These include the wonderful ‘Three Pieces of My Heart’ – a tune that would fit perfectly into country singer Willie Nelson’s repertoire of broken-hearted love songs. The original material on this album has the depth, strength and melodies to stand tall alongside her take on Phoebe Smith’s ‘Yellow Handkerchief’ or ‘The Outlandish Knight’ and ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsies’ (here titled ‘The Seventh Girl’ and ‘Good Man’s Wife’ respectively).

Acoustic guitar and piano predominate; the village-hall upright piano sound on the closing shanty of ‘One More Day’ is haunting and ethereal over a spare guitar backing. There’s plenty of space in the arrangements that allows the voice to lead with a clarity and tenderness of feeling. There are touches of the 70s West Coast singer-songwriter tradition of Laurel Canyon – perhaps in the predominance of piano arrangements – and Bella Hardy has a natural ability to fashion catchy pop hooks in the forge of big, doom-laden folk songs.

TRACK TO TRY: Yellow Handkerchief

(On Noe Records)

Click here to buy the album on Amazon

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Top of the World: Alasdair Roberts & Friends – A Wonder Working Stone

Posted on April 22nd, 2013 in Recent posts, Reviews by .

Words by Tim Cumming

Roberts rocks out 

Roberts’ previous album, Too Long in This Condition, focused on the ancient, traditional wing of the folk repertoire, and proved to be one of his strongest. A Wonder Working Stone tops it with original songs steeped in history, mythology, the phantasmagorical, the cosmological, the universal and the personal. The music is complex, detailed and brilliantly performed by the album’s cast of 14 musicians, including Olivia Chaney, electric guitarist Ben Reynolds, fiddler Rafe Fitzpatrick and flautist Tom Crossley. 

The opening ‘The Merry Wake’ stop-starts through a wealth of time signatures, set against Roberts’ powerful, imagistic lyrics processing myriad allusions to ritual, history, conflict and folklore. The guitar-led ‘The Year of the Burning’ draws on the highland clearances for its poetry of anger and defiance. ‘Fusion of Horizons’ has a cracking opening couplet – ‘Love is a fusion of horizons / It stupefies us more than it wisens’ – set against a strong, swampy guitar line and catchy pop chorus, featuring Chaney on accompanying vocals. Throughout the album, the big, brilliant songs keep coming: the cosmological ‘The Wheels of the World’, with its giddy closing vocal round; the hypnagogic ‘The End of Breeding’, set upon a Lammas Eve; and the mythological tale of incest that is ‘Brother Seed’, drawing on the ballad Sir Orfeo and relics of the Orpheus myth found in the Norm traditions of Orkey and the Shetlands. 

The invention and freshness of the music matches the power and breadth of Roberts’ singular lyricism. While his voice is sharp to some ears, it carries its cargo like a fast-running water, sometimes pooling into stiller, darker depths, and delivering what is a tour de force with absolute belief and conviction.

TRACK TO TRY: The Merry Wake 

(On Drag City Inc)

Click here to buy the album on Amazon

Click here to download the album on iTunes

 

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Top of the World: Anäis Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer – Child Ballads

Posted on February 24th, 2013 in Recent posts, Reviews by .

Words by Tim Cumming

Ancient English folklore as heard by American ears

There’s power in the cross-traffic of Americans interpreting British traditional music. And vice versa. Bob Dylan’s big early songs took a lot from the old ballads collected by Francis Child – and Mitchell and Hamer’s gorgeous setting of seven big Child ballads is superlative. Recorded live in a Nashville studio with a few friends – fiddler Brittany Haas from Crooked Still and accordionist Tim Lauer augment their close vocal harmonies and acoustic guitar work – it’s an album that removes all the tarnish from the magic mirror of these great songs. Their voices illuminate the songs and make them vivid and fresh, though their arrangements draw strongly on the wonderful recordings by Martin Carthy from Crown of Horn and others. These are songs of love, murder, politics, magic, witchcraft, sex and faery lore.

And while the likes of ‘Tam Lin’ and ‘Geordie’ may well be extremely familiar to lovers of traditional music, these versions give them a dramatic clarity; their exotic weirdness is captured in glorious aural colours. It’s fascinating to hear how close they cleave to the storytelling imperative of the ballads. Often, contemporary British artists tackle the same repertoire with a desire to innovate and surprise rather then tell. Here, the tight, emotive harmonies and spare settings bring these stories and characters to living, breathing life. ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ rises and falls with each line, while the opening ‘Willy of Winsbury’ is sung with unadorned directness.

TRACK TO TRY: Willie of Winsbury

Click here to buy the album on Amazon

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