Posts Tagged ‘duncan chisholm’

The 50 Greatest World Music Albums of the Last Five Years (Part 3)

Posted on August 23rd, 2015 in Features, Recent posts by .

Editor Jo Frost and editor-in-chief Simon Broughton choose their favourite albums from 2012…


Duncan Chisholm


(Copperfish Records)

It’s a rather special album that manages to stop you in your tracks and make you just sit and listen, especially when it’s played in the noisy environs that is Songlines HQ. But that’s what the opening track ‘An Ribhinn Donn’ of Scottish fiddler Duncan Chisholm’s latest release managed to do. The final part of his Strathglass Trilogy, it certainly lives up to the two previous offerings (Farrar & Canaich). Chisholm’s violin is intensely deep and rich, evoking misty glens and the rolling Highlands. He’s probably best known for being in Julie Fowlis’ band and Wolfstone, but on evidence of this, Chisholm will go far as a solo player. JF 



Caroline Herring


(Signature Sounds)

The Southern American folk singer was part of 2011’s Cecil Sharp Project which is where I first came across her. Listening to Camilla is akin to having a sociohistorical lesson about the American South – songs such as ‘Black Mountain Lullaby’ about the tragic death of a child caused by mountaintop removal, or ‘White Dress,’ about an African-American civil rights activist who rode on the segregated buses during the 60s. The one thing missing from this beautifully illustrated album (by English artist Alice Pattullo) is notes explaining the tales behind these songs, but you can read these online. Alternatively go and see Herring perform live and prepare to be captivated by her compelling performance. JF 




Cinéma el mundo

(World Village)

Incredible to think this collective of musicians, based in the south-west of France, have been going for 30 years and yet their latest release – their tenth – sounds as fresh and intriguing as ever. Every Lo’Jo album offers up an enticing assortment of musical influences and styles and this is no exception. It starts off with the gruff spoken words of Robert Wyatt and continues with the familiar vocals of the El Mourid sisters and the ever-present, deeply enigmatic poetry and singing of Denis Péan. This release will delight die-hard fans and newcomers alike. JF 





Rising Tide


The music of Zimbabwe tends to get overshadowed by the powerhouse that is West Africa and so the arrival of this debut release was much anticipated. Mokoomba are a young band from Victoria Falls, who won a Southern African music contest back in 2008. The album is an impressively polished affair, thanks in part to Manou Gallo from Zap Mama who produced it, but also due to the joyful, energetic playing by the band. But the most striking feature is lead singer Mathias Muzaza whose voice has a potency and rawness that defies his outwardly shy demeanour. After their recent hit live dates in the UK, plus a much coveted spot on BBC’s Later… with Jools Holland, the band look set for a bright future. JF 






Seeing the panpipes, log drums and massive bamboo thong-ophone on stage at WOMAD and hearing the storm of sound was a thrilling endorsement of Songlines’ championing this group. We get few chances to hear music from the Solomon Islands, so it’s great to find a band like Narasirato devoted to their local traditions, but able to impress at festivals like WOMAD and Glastonbury and make a compelling album like this. With lead singer Aloysius Mauhana and his formidable array of musicians behind him, the music is sometimes haunting, sometimes punchy, full of an ethereal breathiness and an earthy energy that has a distinctive island feel. Aside from the exuberance, there’s also a strong message about safeguarding the culture and natural environment. SB 



Punch Brothers

Who’s Feeling Young Now?


String groups don’t get much more exciting or dynamic than this. Individually, they’re all virtuoso musicians with their own successful solo careers (Chris Thile on vocals and mandolin, Gabe Witcher on violin, Noam Pikelny on banjo, Chris Eldridge on guitar and Paul Kowert on double bass), but collectively they sure pack a punch. From the frenzied, rock-like opening of ‘Movement and Location’ to the joyous instrumental cover of ‘Flippen’ by the Swedish band Väsen and their take on Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’, the playing by these young bluegrass experimentalist hotshots is superb. They’re setting a new benchmark when it comes to their live shows which are consistently thrilling and intense. JF 



Malick Pathé Sow & Bao Sissoko



These days, when the predominant trend is to mix everything together into a sort of soup, or what Lucy Durán calls KWOMUBA! (Komposite World Music Band Afrika), it’s refreshing to hear two master musicians exploring their own rich musical culture. Both from Senegalese griot families, Malick Pathé Sow and Bao Sissoko, now resident in Belgium, have produced a sublime album of acoustic roots music. Sow is the vocalist and plays guitar and hoddu (lute), the Senegalese version of the ngoni, while Sissoko plays kora. The contrasting textures of the dark, leathery hoddu and light silvery kora weave a magical spell, along with female vocalist Talike Gelle. This is a gem of traditional West African musicianship. SB 




Staff Benda Bilili

Bouger Le Monde!

(Crammed Discs)

The first disc by Kinshasa’s Staff Benda Bilili was a spectacular success, but was it partly down to their story – a band of largely disabled street musicians gaining worldwide recognition? The triumph over adversity back-story can hopefully be discounted for their second album and we can really listen to and enjoy the music. The splendid opener ‘Osali Mabe’ is danceable Congolese music at its best with fluid guitar playing and fabulous Congolese drumming from Montana – a new member of the band. The fact that it was recorded in the old Kinshasa Renapec studio gives it a warm bloom and endorses the amazing work that producer Vincent Kenis has done both for this band and Congolese music over the years. SB 



The Other Europeans


(Ethnomusic Records)

The Other Europeans bring together Jewish and Gypsy music and get their name from the fact that both groups have been marginalised – or worse – by the nations of Europe. But they also explore the way klezmer and Roma lautari musicians worked together in Bessarabia (now Moldova) before WWII. The project is led by American pianist and accordionist Alan Bern and includes Christian Dawid (clarinet), Matt Darriau (winds), Martin Bunea (violin), Petar Ralchev (accordion), Kalman Balogh (cimbalom) and Guy Schalom (drums). This live album features largely unknown repertoire, unlike so many klezmer discs which recycle the same tunes (read Bern’s fascinating notes online: Every time I listen to this, I’m impressed by the music and the exceptional instrumental playing. SB 



Various Artists

Songs For Desert Refugees

(Glitterhouse Records)

It’s been a tragic year for Mali – the coup in March, the MNLA annexation of Azawad in the north and the takeover by Islamists. Sharia law has been imposed, music banned and over 500,000 people have fled to refugee camps. This CD is in support of those desert refugees. But this is a lot more than a fund-raising compilation, it’s a brilliant collection of largely Touareg desert blues. It opens with an unreleased track by the Touareg rockers Tinariwen, made for their 2007 album Aman Iman. With its powerful oscillating bass, jangling guitars and soulful vocals, I have no idea why it went unreleased. But then there’s lots more by artists known and unknown, including Tamikrest, Terakaft, Tartit and guitarist Bombino. A superb collection to assist those suffering in the region and remind us of what’s at stake. SB

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Live Review | Songlines Encounters Festival, Kings Place, June 5

Posted on June 8th, 2015 in Live, Recent posts, Reviews by .

Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat_cHaydnWheeler

Photography by Haydn Wheeler

Read our review of Thursday (June 4) with Gisela João and Monsieur Doumani
Read our review of Saturday (June 6) with Shikor Bangladesh All Stars, Lokkhi Terra and She’Koyokh

Jo Frost revels in some extra special encounters

The second night of Songlines Encounters Festival started with a screening of the excellent documentary film, Sisters, by Andrew Smith, about Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat from Iran. It shows them at home in Tehran, talking about the ancient Persian poems  they sing and the censorship they face. It’s a beautiful, reflective insight into their lives.

Following this in Hall One was the Scottish fiddler Duncan Chisholm (featured in #106) who really conjured up the atmosphere and beauty of his home in the Highlands. Superbly accompanied by fellow Scot Matheu Watson on guitar and Jarlath Henderson on uilleann pipes and flute, Chisholm’s playing has a real grace and delicacy. His trio of albums, The Strathglass Trilogy are named after the glens of Affric, Farrar and Cannich where the Chisholm clan have lived for 700 years.

Following the trio in the second half, were the aforementioned sisters, Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat (featured in #107). They are normally accompanied by musicians, but on this occasion Mahsa played the setar (Iranian lute) and Marjan, the daf (hand-held drum). But most of the time, it was just the voices – strong, deeply intense and when they sing together, the harmonies are exquisite and enthralling in the way that only two siblings who have been singing together all their lives can be. “To sing a capella, you feel completely naked,” said Mahsa at one point, and it’s true, the sheer power and sentiment conveyed is remarkable.

One of the aims of Songlines Encounters Festival  has been to try and encourage the artists – regardless of their origin and musical traditions – to perform together, to create a real musical encounter. Of course, these sorts of collaborations cannot be forced and have to happen naturally, albeit with a little help and suggestion from Songlines. So it was incredibly gratifying to see Chisholm, Henderson and Watson joining the sisters onstage for two songs, including ‘The Moon of our Beloved’s Face’ by Iran’s national poet, Hafez. “It was hard not to be mesmerised by their voices,” said Watson afterwards. But the subtle addition of the trio’s Gaelic melodies brought another beautiful and intricate layer to the songs and the soaring flute and violin a gorgeous lightness, perfectly appropriate for their final song, ‘Twinklings of Hope’.

After such an intense and emotive set, it came as a bit of shock to wander into Hall Two and find Afriquoi (featured in #108) were bringing the house down with their full-on, African party music. The band’s energy onstage is infectious and the fast and furious rhythms on an array of instruments, including the Congolese guitarist Fiston Lusambo and kora played by Gambian Jally Kebba Susso, brought the evening to a rousing and glowing end.

Duncan Chisholm_cHaydnWheeler








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Feature | An Interview with Duncan Chisholm

Posted on May 28th, 2015 in Recent posts by .

Duncan Chisholm

Duncan Chisholm will be at this year’s Songlines Encounters Festival on June 5 along with Iranian sisters Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat

Scottish fiddle player and composer Duncan Chisholm speaks to Tim Woodall about the importance of his heritage and how the Highlands have inspired his music

Duncan Chisholm has had a momentous – and creatively prolific – few years. In the studio, the Scottish violinist had success with his highly personal Strathglass Trilogy of albums, inspired by and depicting the natural beauty of his clan home region near Inverness. This defining statement of musical and personal identity was followed by an epic, orchestral Celtic Connections gig and live album released at the end of 2013, arranged from the same material. The music is presented in yet another incarnation as part of a second live project this February, with Chisholm’s regular trio with Matheu Watson (guitar) and Jarlath Henderson (uilleann pipes and whistles) boosted by a string trio and piano for three dates. The Strathglass Trilogy, it seems, is the gift that keeps on giving. “It has been such a major part of my life for six years,” says Chisholm. “The live album gave the music the sort of cinematic widescreen sound I love so much, but here we are trying to give a flavour of what happened at Celtic Connections, but on a smaller scale.”

The tour is titled The Gathering, which, in its allusion to both Highland culture and a “group of like-minded musicians coming together,” is a neat tag for a project led by Chisholm. Few artists can have such deep, rich connections to the landscape and culture of their home. The Chisholm clan has origins dating back a millennium: “I feel very privileged to be in a position to express myself and my own feelings through my music, but also be part of a thousand years of culture, to be able to convey to people around the world not only who I am, but also where I come from and, to a great degree, the history of my people and my country.” It was this heritage that Chisholm celebrated with the Strathglass albums, for which he found inspiration from soundtracks. “I love the way film music manipulates our senses. Painting pictures through music lies at the heart of what I want to achieve as a musician. If I can move myself with what I’m doing, my hope is that it will follow on with the listener – that they will get a sense of the atmosphere of the scene I am trying to portray.”

This effect was achieved in part by the emotionally direct melodies delivered by Chisholm’s warm, focused fiddle playing. “When I am learning a tune, I imagine singing it,” he says. “The sense of breath needs to be there, as well as the frailties that I love – and the rich, confident tone – of the human voice.” Also important is the evocative, layered instrumental soundscape of Chisholm’s records, which give them a distinctive, timeless quality. This blend of old music and new ideas is important to Chisholm’s outlook for Scottish music.

He learned the fiddle in the 70s, when Scottish players were defined to a large extent by where they came from. “I still have a sound you would very much associate with the Highlands, but I’ve spent the whole of my professional life creating a sound that people would immediately associate with me.” He continues: “There is, I would say, two parallel paths in Scottish music. One maintains the tradition and keeps us all grounded. The other path is constantly changing with experimentation and collaboration, and that has taken our music to myriad new places in the past ten to 15 years, with musicians listening to music from places like India and America, and being influenced by it. This melting pot is incredibly good for not only the individuals involved, but for the country. We all feed from it.”

Like many artists, Chisholm straddles these traditional and experimental music worlds, which will be demonstrated during his February tour and also his gig as part of the Songlines Encounters Festival in June. As well as pieces with his regular trio, Chisholm will perform with Iranian vocalists and sisters Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat. He is looking forward to a spontaneous, onstage collaboration: “A lot of the timbres and the nuances of their music sound almost Gaelic,” he says. “Music has the ability to bring people really close, without anyone realising that you’re not conversing in the same language. It’s about picking up bits of melody and building on an idea that someone has given – finding something in your own tradition that fits the rhythm and chords of what’s being played.”


Among all these vibrant musical projects, there have been other important events in Chisholm’s life, both professionally and personally. Scotland has had a historic 12 months. Both the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the independence referendum brought international attention to Scotland and an unprecedented political and cultural debate about Scottish identity, something Chisholm has been doing with his music throughout his playing life. “People were incredibly inspired by what happened this year,” says Chisholm,  a supporter of an independent Scotland. “Glasgow benefitted hugely from the Commonwealth Games; it gave the world a view of how great a city Glasgow is.” He was not just a spectator at the Games either, performing in the opening ceremony as part of a group led by Scottish classical violinist Nicola Benedetti. “It was a wonderful experience – not like anything else I’ve done.”

More personally, later in 2014 Chisholm underwent life-saving surgery after being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel complaint. He was due to tour the US with Julie Fowlis, with whom he has performed for years, but became very ill and had to turn back. The experience has re-emphasised to Chisholm what music means to him. “I am very much recovered now, but for a while I didn’t play much music because of the illness. Picking up that fiddle again – after six weeks, the longest I’ve been without playing in my adult life – and just playing for the enjoyment of making music was the biggest boost I could have ever received. Looking back, at times I maybe took for granted what I did – not only making a living out of it, but just playing music. I can guarantee that I will never take it for granted again.”

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Line-up announced for Songlines Encounters Festival 2015, June 4-6

Posted on January 31st, 2015 in Live, News, Recent posts by .


Photography by Mário Pires

Celebrating its fifth year Songlines Encounters Festival features musicians from Portugal, Cyprus, Iran, the UK and Bangladesh.

Taking place from June 4-6 at London’s Kings Place, Songlines Encounters Festival will feature UK premieres, first-time collaborations and lots of supremely inspirational music. There will also be film screenings, talks and free foyer performances. The festival is co-curated by Songlines magazine and Ikon Arts Management.

We are also delighted to announce that for the first time Songlines Encounters will be going on tour throughout the country. Visit Ikon Arts to find out where we will be travelling to.


Thursday June 4, Hall 1, 8:00pm

Monsieur Doumani (on tour)
The trio Monsieur Doumani play Cypriot music – both their own and traditional – with humour and panache. This show launches their new album Sikoses.

Gisela João (on tour)
The new fado singer that Portugal is raving about. Her debut recording was an album of the year in Portugal. Expect traditional fado at its very best in this UK premiere.

Friday June 5, Hall 1, 7:30pm

Duncan Chisholm
With six solo albums behind him, Chisholm is one of Scotland’s great fiddlers (read more in the March #106 issue). Traditional and contemporary music from the Highland glens.

Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat (on tour)
These sisters are like no other singing duo you’ve heard. Their voices interweave so beautifully, you’d never guess they’re forbidden to sing publicly back home in Iran. They will also do a special Songlines Encounters collaboration with Duncan Chisholm.

Friday June 5, Hall 2, 9:30pm

One of Britain’s great electro-African dance bands with live vocals, kora, guitar and percussion with electronics drawing on house, dubstep and hip-hop.

Saturday June 6, Hall 1, 2:00pm

She’Koyokh: Kids Concert
Join Britain’s best klezmer band She’Koyokh for a participatory concert for children, introducing music from Eastern Europe with stories, singing and dancing!

Saturday June 6, Hall 1, 7:30PM

Shikor Bangladesh All Stars & Lokkhi Terra
The Shikor Bangladesh All Stars feature seven of the best traditional musicians from Bangladesh, including folk singer Baby Akhtar, dhol drummer Nazrul Islam and maestro of Baul music Rob Fakir. In part two of this concert, the All Stars join together with the Anglo-Bangladeshi group Lokkhi Terra. This UK premiere brings Songlines Encounters Festival a danceable finale as the roots of Bangladesh meet Latin dance rhythms and the urban jungle.


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