Posts Tagged ‘john williams’

Live Review | Songlines Encounters Festival 2016, June 2-4

Posted on June 6th, 2016 in Live, Recent posts by .


Simon Broughton, Jo Frost and Alexandra Petropoulos report from the Songlines Encounters Festival 2016 at London’s Kings Place
(Photos by Alex Harvey-Brown, Simon Broughton and Miriam Abdulla)

Thursday, June 2

“I got this bone from my grandmother,” said Karoliina Kantelinen as the audience collapsed into laughter at the thought it might be her grandmother’s thigh bone. Then there was the amusement, for us, as she realised what she said had been misconstrued. The bone for playing the shaman drum was actually from a reindeer, handed on by Kantelinen’s fondly-remembered grandmother.


The story underlined the intensely personal nature of Värttinä’s music, founded over 30 years ago by Mari Kaasinen, still at the centre of the group. There were songs they’d written about their own experiences and songs they’d learnt from old singers they had met over the border in Viena Karelia, Russia, one of the heartlands of Finnish culture.

For Songlines Encounters, they did a superb set as just three vocalists without their regular backing band. It brought a great sense of women power. They accompanied themselves on kantele (the zither that is Finland’s national instrument), flutes and superb accordion playing from Susan Aho. But the highlights were the a capella numbers, which really emphasised the superb focus and versatility of these singers. Melodies, shrieks and percussive vocals create an astonishing range of textures and make this music that is distinctly local in origin work on an international stage. And Värttinä perform it with an infectious joy.

Simon Broughton

John Williams & Derek Gripper
Friday, June 3 

This was one of the most successful concerts we’ve held at Songlines Encounters. Not only because it sold out, but because it revealed two different musical personalities exploring, mainly, West African kora music played on classical guitar. Arranging kora music for guitar has been the passion of Derek Gripper for the past 15 years or so. Kings Place is perfect for a concert like this where you can concentrate on the intricacy of the playing and enjoy the warm, rich sound.

They opened with the two of them playing together, then Gripper doing a solo set, followed by Williams, and then joining together again at the end. The fundamental question is why listen to kora music arranged for guitar when you can easily listen to Toumani Diabaté, Bassekou Kouyaté or Seckou Keita playing the real thing? This concert clearly demonstrated why it’s worth doing. It becomes rich and beautiful concert music on the guitar with a totally different acoustic. Gripper brings a whole variety of textures to his playing, delicate harmonics, snapping  the strings, abruptly stopping them and knocking the neck of the instrument. These come from kora techniques, but never just imitate them.

John Williams took an accompanying role in the duo repertoire but showed the smooth and refined style that he’s famous for in the singing legato melody by Paraguayan composer Agostín Barrios in the first of his solo pieces. And followed with some dance-like Venezuelan repertoire.

Together they created a rich and intricate sound that is beautiful and absorbing. I think we all felt it was something very special.

Derek Gripper plays Thursday June 9 at Wyeside Arts Centre, Builth, Wells and Friday June 10 at Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan.

Simon Broughton


Vula Viel
Friday, June 3

After the serene intensity of Friday night’s first billing of Derek Gripper and John Williams’ guitar duets, the concert in Hall 2 proved to be a wonderful foil. Vula Viel are a London-based quintet, led by Bex Burch, a classically-trained percussionist. Burch became interested by the minimalism of Steve Reich and how Ghanaian music influenced him, so she went to Ghana and spent three years studying the Dagaare gyil (xylophone). Gyil music is mainly ceremonial, in particular it’s played at funerals. “Dagaare funerals aren’t about consolation: it’s an opportunity to confront difficult truths and explore your grief. The harshness of mourners’ judgements often sparks a renewal,” Burch told Songlines in June 2015.

Vula-Viel-©Miriam-AbdullaVula Viel means ‘Good is Good’ – and it’s the name Burch was given when she had finished her apprenticeship. The focal point of the band is the gyil, with the two drummers – Dave de Rose and Simon Roth – sat on opposite sides of the stage so that they could eyeball each other as they played with incredible precision. George Crowley swayed back and forth behind Burch on sax and Dan Nicholls looked unassuming yet has an integral part in creating the band’s hypnotic sound on synth and keys. I was initially stood at the back of the hall and was convinced that Burch had smuggled a trampoline onstage as she bounced up and down, left and right Zebedee-style, a completely compelling figure. I found myself drawn to the front to join in with the crowd who were dancing and soaking up the incredible energy emitting from the musicians. They played tracks from their debut album and also some new compositions, with Burch giving brief introductions and fascinating insights into Ghanaian life. One of the tunes translates as ‘You’re Sitting with Your Enemy, You’re Sitting With Your Drink,’ and Burch explained that it’s a common occurrence in Ghana to put poison in drinks, so you never accept a drink from someone without them drinking it first – so there was much amusement when just after this explanation, the stage manager came on with bottles of water for the band.

Vula Viel really embody what Songlines Encounters is all about – music deeply connected to a tradition, yet new, exciting and innovative at the same time. There’s no denying that they really are very good indeed.

Jo Frost

Roby Lakatos
Saturday, June 4

On Saturday afternoon, Kings Place was treated to a second performance by the sublime pairing of John Williams & Derek Gripper after a sold-out show the previous night. What followed later that evening was something completely different – flashy music from Hungarian violinist Roby Lakatos. 

Lakatos is a descendant of the legendary violinist János Bihari (1764-1827). Bihari’s playing, rooted in traditional dance music, became the sound of 19th-century Hungarian music. He would go on to inspire composers like Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms, so it seems perfect that Roby Lakatos straddles the line between classical and traditional performance, though for this show he focused mainly on his Gypsy repertoire.

The flamboyant violinist came out on stage dressed in bright red trousers, a long blue jacket and his signature halo of grey hair, and he was joined on stage by Jenő Lisztes (cimbalom), Kalman Cseki (piano) and Vilmos Csikos (bass). Lakatos paced himself, starting with an elegant opening over a shruti box drone that sounded as if it could have been improvised. But it wasn’t long before he launched into his trademark nimble fingerwork for an uptempo Gypsy swing piece, complete with slap bass from a giggling Csikos.


Throughout his set, Lakatos’ unbelievable playing was definitely on display. His fingers can certainly move faster than you expect is possible, and he showed off the most impressively fast double-fingered pizzicato playing I’ve ever seen. But the virtuosic playing didn’t belong to Lakatos alone: Lisztes’s cimbalom playing was out of this world, especially on his arrangement of ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’; Cseki’s playing on the piano was expertly jazzy or classical whenever the mood called for it, and Csikos put on an excellent show on the bass, and the fact that he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself – even throwing in a joke glissando in the middle of one of Lakatos’ solos – meant he was a joy to watch.

Unlike any other Songlines Encounters Festival performances to date, this was an evening of mind-blowing virtuosic technique from a quartet of musicians who are certainly not only at the top of their own game, but at the top of anyone else’s game too.

Alexandra Petropoulos


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John Williams at the Globe, June 5-21

Posted on May 6th, 2015 in Live, News, Recent posts by .

John Williams

Photography by Helena Miscioscia

Shakespeare’s Globe recently announced its music event schedule for the coming summer, which will feature a series of collaborative performances between guitarist John Williams and a selection of acclaimed musicians at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

On June 20 Williams will welcome baroque lutenist Roberto Barto and Palestinian Duo Sabil (who Williams collaborated with at Songlines Encounters Festival 2013), two distinct masters of their art. South African guitarist Derek Gripper (a Top of the World artist in #91) returns after last year’s incredibly successful performance and kora virtuoso Tunde Jegede will return once again to join Williams on June 21. Other collaborators include Ralph McTell, quintet Tir Eolas, Paraguayan guitarist Berta Rojas and Venezuelan harpist Carlos Orozco.

Book your tickets.

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John Williams series at The Globe with Derek Gripper

Posted on February 11th, 2014 in News, Recent posts by .


The South African guitarist, Derek Gripper, will perform on March 16 as part of a series of concerts at Shakespeare’s Globe curated by guitar virtuoso John Williams. 

Last year Gripper released his solo album One Night on Earth, which showcased his beautiful interpretations of West African kora repertoire, and he is quickly making a name for himself. So much so, that John Williams has secured him to perform as part of his four-evening concert series at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse within the Globe in March.

“Derek Gripper is amazing… I got his CD the day before submitting my final list for the Globe series and I changed it immediately to feature him,” Williams recently told Simon Broughton (read more in our current issue of Songlines, March 2014 #98).

Gripper will perform with kora player Tunde Jegede for a rare evening of the music of Mali. Don’t miss the opportunity to see Derek Gripper in the intimate setting of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – tickets are limited. You can book by visiting the Shakespeare’s Globe website.

Tunde Jegede & Derek Gripper
March 16, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe

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Songlines Encounters Festival 2013 line-up

Posted on February 6th, 2013 in News, Recent posts by .

In it’s third year, Songlines Encounters Festival promises to be a four-day aural tour around the globe. The festival will take place from June 5-8, at Kings Place in London. With collaboration at its heart, you can expect musical marriages between a trio of Balkan Bands; British classical guitarist John Williams and Palestinian band Duo Sabil, and between West African, Cuban and Bangladeshi jazz. Plus performances from some of our favourite emerging and established artists.


Wednesday June 5

Transkaukazja: Volosi & 33a / HOPA!: Paprika, She’Koyokh and Yurodny

The Leading Polish folk group Volosi meets Georgia’s 33a, led by the charismatic Niaz Diasamidze, recently seen in Songlines [#89] for his work with Lo’Jo. The two bands first played together in Tbilisi in 2011 and are now taking this Transcaucasian meeting on a European tour. HOPA! [pictured left] is a Balkan-flavoured triple bill. Three outstanding groups collaborate on this special Songlines Encounters event. Paprika, She’Koyokh and Yurodny are all specialists in various Balkan styles, giving this evening a fiery, yet seductive, flavour. Each group will play their own set and come together in an extravagant collaboration of over 20 musicians at the end.



Thursday June 6

Baladi Blues Ensemble / Sarah Savoy and the Francadians

Tonight we let the good times roll – in Cairo and Louisiana. Led by dynamic percussionist Guy Schalom, the Baladi Blues Ensemble features two veteran Egyptian musicians – Sheik Taha on quarter-tone accordion and Ahmed El Saidi on saxophone. Their gorgeous baladi music comes from the countryside – baladi means ‘rural’ or ‘local’ – but it became the traditional soundtrack of urban Cairo as people flocked to the city to work. Singer and guitarist Sarah Savoy [pictured left] comes from one of the great families of Cajun music who’ve been letting the good times roll in Louisiana for years. With her French band the Francadians, she performs repertoire from the early roots of Cajun and Zydeco music, the honky-tonk inspired Cajun songs of the 40s and 50s and her own original songs of today



Friday June 7

Malick Pathé Sow and Bao Sissoko / Duo Sabil with John Williams

Tonight we showcase plucked strings – from West Africa and the Middle East. Malick Pathé Sow and Bao Sissoko[pictured left], from Senegal, are true masters of Senegalese traditional music. Their Aduna album was one of the African music highlights of last year. Vocalist Sow started out in Baaba Maal’s band and plays the hoddu (desert lute), while Bao Sissoko is a virtuoso on the most sublime of West African instruments, the 21-string kora. Palestinian musicians, Ahmad Al Khatib and Youssef Hbeisch on oud (Arabic lute) and percussion are the spectacular Duo Sabil, two of the best musicians playing Arabic music today. John Williams is, of course, one of Britain’s best-loved classical guitarists. He’s always been interested in a wider repertoire and collaborated frequently with the Chilean band Inti Illimani and with fellow guitarist John Etheridge playing African music and jazz.


Saturday June 8

Lokkhi Terra / Alex Wilson’s Trio Mali Latino with Omar Puente

Tonight West Africa meets Cuba and Bangladesh. Lokkhi Terra are one of London’s best-kept secrets and probably the world’s best Afrobeat-Cuban-Bangladeshi group. The key figure behind it all is Kishon Khan. From a Bangladeshi background, he became fascinated with Cuban music and visited Cuba often to acquire his Latin piano skills. By pulling in players from London’s diverse musical tapestry, Khan has assembled a band with Bangladeshi vocalists, Cuban percussion, an Afrobeat drummer and a lot more besides. Another fine Latin jazz pianist, the British-born Alex Wilson, is behind the Trio Mali Latino [guitarist Ahmed Fofana pictured left]. This is the debut performance of the touring group drawn from his Mali Latino album, one of the stand-out records of 2010, which takes jazz and Latin rhythms back to their African roots while still sounding dynamic and modern. The grand finale to Songlines Encounters with three musicians and a multitude of instruments, plus special guest Omar Puente, from Cuba, on violin


See our festival line-up page for more details or visit the Kings Place website.

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