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Esma Redzepova (1943-2016)

Posted on December 12th, 2016 in News by .


The undisputed ‘Queen of the Gypsies’ has died at the age of 73

Esma Redzepova led an extraordinary life as an icon for the Roma people and her home country of Macedonia. As a teenager, in the summer of 1957, she won a talent contest where Stevo Teodosievski, a noted accordionist and composer, heard her and was so impressed he asked her to join his ensemble. She went on to record hundreds of songs and gave over 8,000 concerts. 

As well as being a prolific musician, Redzepova was an activist, helping Roma people flee ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and campaigning for women. Her humanitarian efforts won her many awards, including two Nobel Peace Prize nominations.

While age slowed her down the last few years, she was determined to continue singing until the end, as she once told Garth Carthwright: “I have had a rich life, and feel very fortunate. it makes me sad when I see suffering in the world. But music is a force for good and I will keep singing as long as I can.”

Read a full obituary in the next issue, March 2017 (#125) on sale January 27.

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Live Review | ÌFÉ at London’s Rich Mix, September 23

Posted on October 13th, 2016 in Live, Recent posts, Reviews by .


Words by Liam Izod, photo by Mariángel Gonzales

On the strength of the release of just two music videos, Puerto Rican group ÌFÉ were able to command a packed crowd for their UK debut at London’s Rich Mix in Shoreditch. An impressive feat given that producer/percussionist Otura Mun’s group are hardly your typical commercial proposition. ÌFÉ offer an experimental vision of organic electronic music, alloyed with Yoruban theology, the religion in which Mun is a babalao (priest).

Dressed in matching robe-like white shirts and kufi hats, and all sporting large headphones, ÌFÉ’s four percussionists looked like they had come direct from a silent disco at a theological conference. The somewhat shambolic impression carried through to the music. Clave rhythms ricocheted across the stage, triggering murky electro blips and plonks, by means of sensors rigged to the percussion. One woodblock –gaffer taped and trailing a cable – had the appearance of an improvised explosive, but ÌFÉ’s grooves were far from incendiary.

The group’s vocals were a highlight though, with every member singing in powerful chorus. It felt devotional at times, and clearly resonated with many in the audience, whether they understand the lyrics or not. Singer Kathy Cepeda cut a particularly charismatic figure, growling into the mic and exhorting the audience to dance.

While not revolutionary, ÌFÉ’s UK live debut had a raucous raw energy. As the group develop, there may be more than just the Shoreditch-istas at Rich Mix who will want to join Otura Mun’s groove infused guerilla movement.

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Live Review | Masfat Festival, London, September 1 2016

Posted on September 2nd, 2016 in Live, Recent posts by .

Nadah El Shazly ©Robin Nowacki

Photo of Nadah El Shazly by Robin Nowacki

Russell Higham checks out the music on offer at the first night of Masafat, the Middle Eastern music, film and arts festival at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London

While the Middle East can unfortunately sometimes seem condemned to an endless downward spiral of violence and political instability, the depressing cycle of chaos and suffering hasn’t shut off the pipeline of new and innovative talent that continues to enthusiastically emerge from this troubled region.

Thursday night saw the opening of the festival Masafat at the ICA in The Mall, central London. Running for four nights there before moving on to Cairo, this two-part international festival of live music, films and discussions features a diverse range of acts from across the Middle East and North Africa. Palestinian hip-hop and Arab electronica are in the line-up of this celebration of the region’s underground and avant-garde music and arts scene, which is designed to cultivate and promote artistic and cultural exchange between the Arab world and the UK.

Nadah El Shazly, an enigmatic 26-year-old singer, songwriter and producer from Cairo kicked off the London leg with her haunting vocals combined with moody, oriental electronica. She used distorted loops of her sensual yet powerful voice to create an ambient sound, which is reminiscent of the classic singers of late 19th and early 20th century Egypt like Oum Kalthoum that she draws inspiration from. She has previously fronted a punk band and also served time performing jazz standards in the lounges of Cairo’s five-star tourist hotels but it seems that she has found her niche with an atmospheric mix of edgy keyboard work and her plaintiff singing that carries an almost other-worldly charm to it. At times throughout her performance she seemed icily aloof, detached almost from the audience who did not even seem to register with her as being present, and then, without warning, she completely bore her soul to them with gut-wrenching wails of innermost emotion. It was not always what could be called melodic in a Western sense, but it is electrifying and it touched raw nerves.

After the interval came Oren Ambarchi, Will Guthrie and Sam Shalabi (whom El Shazly has collaborated with in the past). What followed was an almost psychedelic fusion of Australian-born drummer Guthrie’s frantic percussion overlayed with Eno-esque electronic effects and minimalist guitar from fellow-Ozzie Ambarchi. Their set had a slight touch of the prog rock about it and, with the exception of Shalabi’s mellow oud playing and Ambarchi’s Iraqi-Jewish parentage, it was at times difficult to identify the connection with the Middle Eastern theme of the festival. That said, nothing detracted from the audience’s enjoyment of the performance, which rounded off day one of the London leg of the festival.

Anybody planning a holiday in Egypt later this month who wants to experience what is new and vibrant in the cultural environment of the wider region, or who simply wants to get a heads-up on what is bubbling under the surface in world music, would be well advised to check out the rest of Masafat when it moves to Cairo on September 20.

For more information, visit

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Blick Bassy on tour

Posted on August 31st, 2016 in Live by .

BlickBassy©Denis Rouvre

Blick Bassy will bring his transcendent Cameroonian song to the UK

The Cameroonian singer and his band were a recent hit at this year’s WOMAD, delighting the BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage crowd with their unusual and intriguing combination of trombone, cello and banjo, accentuated by Bassy’s soulful and incredibly wide-ranging vocals. Bassy’s latest album, Akö, was reviewed in #109, and described as ‘an elegant, minimalist delight… by a singular artist who defies categorisation.’ Bassy is also branching out into the literary world having just released his first novel, Le Moabi Cinéma (on Gallimard) and you can catch him on a welcome return to the UK next month. 


September 8Mount Pleasant Eco Park, St Austell
September 9LeftBank, Bristol 
September 11Kings Place, London
September 13Yellow Arch Studios, Sheffield
September 14Komedia, Brighton
September 15West End Centre, Aldershot 


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