Posts Tagged ‘introducing’

Introducing… Lakou Mizik

Posted on March 24th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .

Lakou-Mizik-©Thomas-Freteur-Free2

Born in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, the Haitian band speak to Tom Pryor about making music to help their country recover

For one weekend in January, musicians from all over the world descend on New York City for a massive annual party. Anchored by the conference for the Association for Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), the city buzzes with showcases and mini-festivals, including Winter JazzFest, the Under the Radar festival, Prototype and more. For world music fans, the jewel in the crown is globalFEST — an annual, three-stage, one-night showcase featuring a dozen international artists — and the standout act at this year’s event was Haitian roots collective Lakou Mizik.

This multi-generational nine-piece ensemble made their NYC debut earlier that weekend at the venue Drom. At first glance they looked less than promising; all dreadlocks and matching dashikis, bongos and conch shells, like a cruise ship band gone to seed. But then the music kicked in and they damn near levitated the place. Lakou’s unique blend of Haitian roots traditions – insistent voodoo rhythms, rollicking raicine melodies, twobadou lyricism and blaring rara horns – was irresistible and for the next 40 minutes, the dance floor was filled with New Yorkers defrosting in their subtropical warmth. One night later Lakou did it all again, with a knockout globalFEST performance that ought to put them on the map permanently.

It’s been a long time coming. Lakou Mizik was born in 2010, in the wake of the earthquake that devastated much of Haiti in January of that year. Guitarist-singer Steeve Valcourt and singer Jonas Attis formed the nucleus of the band, with the input and support of American producer Zach Niles (who had previously worked with Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars). They wanted to make music that could help empower the Haitian people and speed the nation’s recovery, and recruited their own supergroup to do so.

Valcourt’s secret weapon was his father, Boulo Valcourt: a Haitian musical legend, best known for his group Caribbean Sextet. Thanks to years spent producing his father’s collaborations with musicians from all over the island, Steeve knew just where to find both young talent and seasoned veterans. Of the former, singer Jonas Attias brings a poet’s perspective to Lakou’s lyrics, while Nadine Remy’s big, church-trained voice sanctifies the music. Peterson ‘Ti Piti’ Joseph and James Carrier are the young men behind Lakou’s signature rara horns — the enormous metal coronets that are a staple of Haiti’s carnival celebrations. Sanba Zao – aka Louis Lesly Marcelin – is a master voodoo drummer and singer with 30 years of experience and an encyclopaedic knowledge of Haitian folk songs, while his son Woulele is a fierce percussionist in his own right. Bassist Lamarre Junior and accordionist Belony Beniste (longtime accompanist for singer Ti Coco) round out the group.

Lakou Mizik’s debut album, Wa Di Yo (on Cumbancha) captures the raucous spirit of their live show with swinging, guitar and accordion-driven tracks like ‘Anba Siklon’ and ‘Poze’, but adds more depth and texture with some slower, mid-tempo songs. ‘Pran Kwa Mwen’ and carnival favourite ‘Panama’am Tonbe’ showcase Remy’s gorgeous, clear voice, and let the musicians stretch out and breathe. The title-track, which translates as ‘We are Still Here’, is a clear-eyed statement of purpose, while ‘Bade Zile’ and ‘Parenn Legba’ draw from the voodoo repertoire and call down the loas (voodoo spirits) and the ancestors to bless the proceedings.

Album Lakou Mizik’s Wa Di Yo will be reviewed in the next issue (May, #117)

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Introducing… Jarlath Henderson

Posted on March 24th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .

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Jo Frost catches up with the Irish doctor and piper-turned-singer Jarlath Henderson as he launches his debut solo release

Seasoned folk fans might ask why the uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson needs introducing. After all, he first made his mark in 2003, becoming the youngest ever winner of the BBC’s Young Folk Awards (aged 17). So frankly he’s more like a veteran than a newcomer. However, he’s about to launch his debut solo album, Hearts Broken, Heads Turned – comprised entirely of traditional songs. “I wasn’t really wanting to rush it,” says Henderson, “it’s been over ten years since I got the Folk Award, so I was like, it’ll happen when it’s right.”

The Northern Irish musician has lived in Glasgow since 2010 and his new album involves some top-notch fellow Glaswegians – Hamish Napier, Innes Watson and Duncan Lyall, plus some sonic wizardry from adoptive Scot, Andrea Gobbi.

Known largely for his piping skills and collaborations with the Scottish piper Ross Ainslie, it comes as a surprise to hear Henderson’s highly distinctive singing voice. “I love singing but I never really sang that much at secondary school when I was playing the pipes – it was tough enough in an all-boys school to be a piper, it wasn’t exactly very cool!”

The group’s first live airing was at this year’s Celtic Connections festival in the Old Fruitmarket where Henderson and his band played the album in its entirety. The songs are largely drawn from Henderson’s Irish roots. “I guess they came from osmosis really. It’s a collection of songs that represent me musically in the last ten years… Songs I’ve literally grown up with,” he explains. And they’re a sombre lot too, with themes of darkness, despair and death predominating. “I make no exception for the sentiments of the songs, they’ve stood the test of time for over 400 years so far! These songs are closest to my heart. I think I’m just a bit of a dark soul. I guess I do a lot of light music in other bands, particularly with Ross [Ainslie]; we have a laugh. This is something different.”

This serious side to Henderson possibly results from his double life – when he’s not lugging his pipes and whistles around on tour, he’s scrubbing up and doing A&E shifts or locum work in a hospital. Juggling two completely contrasting careers as musician and doctor surely takes its toll? “I think too much of one thing would be bad for me – I like the balance,” says Henderson, explaining that the two do complement each other. “There’s a lot of time management issues, multi-tasking issues – communication skills is what it’s all about. I remember a really good lecture at uni, about ‘medicine is not a science, it’s an art.’ There are massive similarities in some respects.”

The album’s title, Hearts Broken, Heads Turned, is a quote from a book written by Dr William Osler, who died in the early 1900s. “It’s really kind of early mindfulness; Osler was basically saying live for today, don’t be walking around in bits about what happened yesterday and hoping what’s going to happen tomorrow.” This transpires to be the overriding message in the songs too – “things happen in life, we feel them and the same things have happened a hundred times before, so don’t dwell on it.” Henderson’s new singing venture may be unexpected but it’s certainly impressive and marks him out as an innovative musical talent.

DATE Jarlath Henderson and his band will play at The Old Queen’s Head, London on March 30 for the tenth anniversary of the Nest Collective
ALBUM Hearts Broken, Heads Turned will be reviewed next issue (May, #117)

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Introducing… Dubioza Kolektiv

Posted on February 24th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .

Dubioza Kolektiv-©Goran Lizdek-Free1

Garth Carthwright talks to the Bosnian band who have become a Balkan phenomenon and aren’t afraid to speak their minds

Bosnian band Dubioza Kolektiv are a Balkan phenomenon. Not just popular in former Yugoslavia, where they have packed 10,000-seat arenas, they also command a large following across much of eastern, northern and central Europe. Indeed, the only part of Europe where they remain largely unknown appears to be the UK. But this is changing; in 2015 they played at Glastonbury in June, and then debuted in London with two sold-out nights at The 100 Club in November.

Dubioza Kolektiv formed in 2003 when several friends in Zeneca and Sarajevo decided to pool their energies. Fusing all kinds of influences, the band embraced a punk DIY spirit and began playing anywhere and everywhere. They have released eight albums, all on their own label, Gramofon, and every one is available as a free download from the band’s website. They also manage themselves. To call the band ‘furiously independent’ is an understatement: they do everything on their own terms and refuse to compromise to commercial or political interests. I mention ‘political’ as Dubioza Kolektiv are more than simply outspoken; the band often lampoon politicians across former Yugoslavia (on stage and in song) as well as express their thoughts on international leaders and events. So much so that there have been attempts by certain politicians to ban them from performing in the towns where the elected member holds power.

Such attempts to censor the band only add fuel to their fire and make them more popular. And they certainly are popular: no other musical artist from Eastern Europe has come close to matching what Dubioza have achieved: their dynamic blend of rock, ska, electronica and folk music has captured a wide, youthful audience who respond to both their high-energy performances and the surge of idealism and anger that runs through their music. I met the band in Sarajevo in 2013 and was impressed by their intelligence, commitment and refusal to compromise. Their popularity has seen them deluged with offers from record labels but as Dubioza insist that all their recordings are available as free downloads, it suits the band to retain control over their music.

Former Yugoslavia always had a strong rock culture and placed a high value on satire, ensuring the band won over audiences disillusioned with nationalism and corruption. The band’s stand against the ethnic divisions that divide Bosnia and Herzegovina makes them a voice for those who believe in peace and unity. But rather than preach, Dubioza challenge stereotypes and ask their audiences not to worship them or any other prominent figures.

Singing in Bosnian, English and Spanish, the band have collaborated with the likes of dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah and Mush Khan from polemical British Pakistani band Fun-Da-Mental. Their 2013 album, Apsurdistan, is very powerful while their new album, Happy Machine, features Manu Chao, Macedonian trumpeter Dzambo Agusev, Punjabi singer BEE2 and Catalan ska-rumba band La Pegatina. Happy Machine is a brilliant fusion of radical ideas and sounds that sees Dubioza Kolektiv ready to extend their international audience.

ALBUM Happy Machine will be reviewed next issue (#116)

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Introducing… Imarhan

Posted on February 24th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .

Imarhan-©none-Free

The young Touareg band are striking out from under Tinariwen’s shadow and doing their own thing. Andy Morgan reports

Back in 2010, I stayed with Tinariwen’s bassist Eyadou Ag Leche at his home in Tamanrasset, southern Algeria. When I arrived a bunch of youths were rehearsing with their guitars in one of the bedrooms. As soon as we entered they stopped and left. They seemed shy but self-reliant and clearly on a mission. One of them, Iyad Ag Ibrahim, aka ‘Sadam’, was a cousin of Eyadou.

Now that band of reticent teenagers have become the rising stars of Touareg music. They call themselves Imarhan, which means ‘The Closest Ones’ in the Touareg language of Tamashek. It’s stronger than the word imidiwan, which often crops up in modern Tamashek lyrics and simply means ‘Friends’ or ‘Companions’. Your imarhan are your most intimate soul-buddies, bar none.

These particular imarhan first got together in 2006. They were childhood friends who grew up in Tamanrasset. “I’ve always lived there,” says Sadam. “Same neighbourhood [Sersouf], same school, always the same.” Considering the recent history of the Touareg, that’s significant. Sadam and his friends aren’t old ishumar rebels from the ‘home country’ in northern Mali, like Tinariwen. They’re a new generation, born ‘in exile’. Their music is different. So are their clothes, their ideas, their outlook, even the slang they use.

Journalists are already calling them ‘the sons of Tinariwen.’ “I don’t like the term that much,” Sadam tells me, “because I think that our own work, our research, have made us different. They’ve led us to more of a mix, something a bit more modern. We’ve still kept the Touareg touch of the ishumar, but we’re open to the world. We’ve searched for our own style.”

Looks alone offer a stark demarcation: Imarhan’s woollen beanies, combat trousers and stoner mini-dreads are a far cry from the traditional robes of Tinariwen. Sadam, who’s recently been touring with Tinariwen, standing in for the semi-retired Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, doesn’t mind those majestic traditional threads. He just feels a Touareg should be allowed to wear what he or she wants.

But Tinariwen were still the teachers. Sadam and his fellow band members – Tahar Ag Kaddor, Hicham Ag Boubas, Kada Ag Chanani, Hachim Ag Abdelkader and Habibalah Ag Azouz – cut their teeth on the first two Tinariwen albums, as well as the traditional sounds of the Touareg tindé (drum) and tazaghmat (flute) and desert sounds from further afield. “Ibrahim [Ag Alhabib] is like the father of all this music,” Sadam says. “He’s very important. So, yes, ‘the sons of Ibrahim’… why not!?”

But it’s Sadam’s uncle who’s had the most direct input into Imarhan’s sound. “Eyadou has guided me since I was small,” Sadam says. The Tinariwen bassist also produced Imarhan, their forthcoming debut. A Touareg musician producing other Touareg musicians! That’s a big leap forward, long overdue.

But what’s the message? “I think you have to look for every solution before taking up arms,” Sadam tells me. “The Touareg are often taking up arms, but I don’t think it brings the result that people hope for. Everybody must go to school, because there aren’t enough well-educated leaders among the Touareg.”

And an independent Touareg state? “Even if they give independence to the Touareg, there aren’t enough well-educated administrators to manage all that independence.”

DATES Imarhan will play London and Brighton on March 10 & 11

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