Posts Tagged ‘songlines encounters festival’


Posted on May 25th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .


Jo Frost speaks to Al MacSween and Giuliano Modarelli, the driving force behind the London collective who are on an upward trajectory

Good things come to those that wait. That seems to be the case for the collective known as Kefaya and their long-awaited debut. The group’s name means ‘Enough’ in Arabic and, after months of anticipation, their album launch is the not-to-be missed gig in November.

Songlines readers got their first introduction to the band back in April when ‘Indignados’ opened the Yorkshire Festival CD (#117). Indeed, there is a Yorkshire link as the founders of the group, Italian guitarist Giuliano Modarelli and keyboard player Al MacSween, met studying jazz in Leeds.

They recorded Radio International over three years, featuring musicians from India, Palestine, Spain, Italy and the UK. The two other key players in the band are drummer Joost Hendrickx and bassist Domenico Angarano.

The album is modestly presented in a cardboard wallet and depicts a fist smashing through a globe, brandishing an antenna – underlining the concept of an international radio station with no borders. It starts with crackly radio interference and samples of a clipped English broadcasting voice, then kicks into the pulsating, heavy bass lines of ‘Indignados’. “We decided to dedicate the track to the spirit of protest and political resistance,” the pair say, paying tribute to the “inspiring anti-austerity movement that had been developing in Spain, known as the ‘15M Movement’ or ‘Indignados’ (the Indignant).” It’s a big, bold number with yearning flamenco vocals of Chico Pere, samples of the left-wing Spanish activist and writer, Pablo Iglesias, speaking on Spanish radio and Éthiopiques-inspired horns. It’s been getting a tonne of radio play – and no wonder, it’s a killer track.

Clearly socially and politically motivated, there are big themes of immigration, freedom of movement and struggle addressed on the album. “There’s a market for this kind of music,” asserts MacSween, “what with Bernie Sanders and Podemos [Spanish political party], all these social movements happening.”

Beyond the heavy-duty stuff, both MacSween and Modarelli are consummate musicians who voraciously absorb styles and techniques. “We try and choose to play styles of music that we’ve actually had experience working within,” says MacSween. “We don’t really want to approach it unless we feel we have the basics,” continues Modarelli. “We try to compose around things that we have an interest in studying.”

This approach means they collaborate a lot: MacSween has recently been working with Cuban violinist Omar Puente and Modarelli has been touring with the choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. They’ve also been working with Sarathy Korwar on his album Day to Day (a Top of the World in #121).

Their live shows feature an eclectic mix of guest vocalists, including the Afghan singer Elaha Soroor, who was a contestant on Afghan Star in 2009 (Afghanistan’s equivalent of Pop Idol). Other frequent guests include vocalist Deepa Nair Rasiya, Cormac Byrne on bodhrán and Gurdain Rayatt on tabla. “These collaborations, they open lots of doors for us,” says Modarelli. “It’s great,” agrees MacSween, “It’s the ethos of what we like to do, keep this feeling that it’s a collective.”

Kefaya have only done a handful of choice gigs this year, but they’ve certainly made an impression, with the FT proclaiming them as: ‘One of the hottest acts on this summer’s festival circuit,’ after their Larmer Tree appearance. “We’re just dying to get out there and gig!” says MacSween, a sentiment their rapidly-expanding fan base will undoubtedly echo.


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Sam Lee interview: “It’s wonderful taking folk music slap bang into Piccadilly”

Posted on May 25th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .


(photo by Alex Harvey-Brown)

This interview is an extract from the June 2017 (#128) issue of Songlines. To read the full interview order a copy of the edition at:

As Sam Lee brings his Norwegian-British sound-jam Vindauga to this year’s Songlines Encounters Festival and pushes folk onto the big screen in Guy Ritchie’s new film, Nathaniel Handy steps into the headspace of folk music’s polymath.

Sam Lee is a song collector. More than that, he favours full-immersion baptism in the Gypsy and Traveller folk singing communities from which he has gleaned an oral repository. Yet he is not only a conserver of song, but also a conservationist more broadly. “Before folk music, I worked in nature studies doing a lot of wilderness training. It’s my first passion,” he tells me. And should the son and heir of Madonna and Guy Ritchie one day become a famous survival expert, we may well have Sam Lee to thank for it.

He brought his bushcraft to the Ritchie household in Wiltshire when he was invited to discuss a new film project with the director. “Guy likes folk music,” reveals Lee. “He was making a film set in the first century and he wanted folk music. He wanted that sense of authenticity.” The film in question is the blockbuster King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, a sprawling epic of English braveheartedness set for release on May 19.


“I’m using the same principles as conservationists of rewilding certain areas of land into being musical places”


“I went down to his house in Wiltshire and he took me on a tour round the grounds,” Lee remembers. “I taught him and his son a few things about the outdoors and he was like, ‘Geezer, how come there’s this Jewish kid who knows all about folk music and the outdoors?’ He just couldn’t get his head around it. But he said, ‘Right, we’ll get you in the film’.”

Lee visited the Warner Bros Studios in Leavesden where he saw the sheer scale of a film that was also shot on location in Snowdonia, the Forest of Dean, Windsor Great Park and the Isle of Skye’s distinctive Quiraing region. “It’s enormous,” says Lee. “Castles. Cave systems. What they’ve built is phenomenal.”

It’s not the usual setting for English folk music, which is what makes Ritchie’s punt so brave. “He just put me in a studio with some scenes and said, ‘Sing’,” Lee explains. “I actually went for Scottish Traveller ballads, because they’re my favourites, but also because they have that sense of drama. A little bit of the song ‘The Wild, Wild Berry’ came to me.” It was to become the soundtrack to a trailer that has gone viral. “They said they’d never had a reaction to a song on a trailer like it,” says Lee. “I was immediately bombarded by people asking, ‘Dude, what sort of music is this? Where can I find it?’ It’s unbelievable what’s happened to it.”

These are certainly strange environs for folk music. The trailer reveals classic Hollywood treatment, with a fantastical monster and CGI galore. It is English myth remade for the action movie age. Such big screen treatment of British folk song might make some uneasy, but Lee believes it’s high time it got the exposure. “The art of cinema is about trying to create an experience,” he says. “Folk music is a brilliant way to transport a viewer, which is why you get bagpipes all the time; they’re a great way of getting a sense of drama, ancientness and ensuing battle. It’s amazing that British folk hasn’t been utilised more in the way that American folk music has been in so much American cinema.”



PODCAST Listen to Sam Lee talk about Vindauga on the Kings Place podcast:

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Interview: Bollywood Brass Band and Jyotsna Srikanth

Posted on May 19th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .

Bollywood Brass Band and Jyotsna Srikanth

Simon Broughton talks to the Bollywood Brass Band and Jyotsna Srikanth about their collaborative project

“No, violin and brass aren’t regular partners,” laughs Indian violinist Jyotsna Srikanth. “They’re more like enemies in fact!” But they seem to have got round the animosity as trumpet, sax and trombone step forward to throw out punchy solos, answered by warm, pungent phrases from her violin. The musicians are all dressed in long, colourful robes trimmed with gold – to say nothing of the dramatic film projections behind them. This is Srikanth, the Bollywood Brass Band and their new show and album, Carnatic Connection in action.

“The combination in itself is something exotic,” admits Srikanth, who back in India played on many soundtracks. “This is something unique, which is what attracted me.”

Alongside the railways and lumbering bureaucracy, one of the lesser-known legacies of the British in India is the vibrant brass band tradition. In northern Indian towns, it’s very common to run into a baraat (wedding procession) – the groom on a white horse, preceded by a dozen musicians playing trumpets, clarinets, saxophones, tubas and a couple of side drums. The music is loud, raucous and a lot of fun.

“I’d never heard of Indian brass before,” admits Kay Charlton, trumpeter and arranger with the Bollywood Brass Band. Her first encounter with Indian brass took place 25 years ago – at an international festival of street bands in London organised by Cultural Cooperation. At that festival in 1992 was the Shyam Brass Band from Jabalpur, reputed to be one of the best in India.

“It was one of those coincidences that changes your life,” says New Zealand-born Mark Allan, who now manages Bollywood Brass Band. Both he and Charlton played in a street band called Crocodile Style and it was suggested they do some gigs with Shyam. “We learned some tunes off their cassette,” says Allan, “and we did several performances together while they were in the UK.” This was when they discovered their instruments were actually tuned a semitone apart – the sort of thing you have to take in your stride when you do collaborations like this.

The main repertoire for Indian brass bands comes from Bollywood films – both classics everyone knows, and the current hits. So they called themselves the Bollywood Brass Band (BBB) and brought in Johnny Kalsi from the Dhol Foundation. “Indian brass bands don’t use the dhol but it gave us that British bhangra kind of feel,” explains Charlton. “Johnny Kalsi played on our first album in 1999 and our other dhol players – currently Jas Daffu – have all come through the Dhol Foundation.”

“Bollywood music was virtually the first ‘world music’,” Allan explains. “Indian soundtracks were trawling the world for interesting sounds and were influenced by Latin music, qawwali, rock’n’roll and funk. ‘Oye, Oye’, one of the tunes we learned from Shyam, was an Indian version of a Gloria Estefan number.”

The Bollywood Brass Band started playing Diwali parties, then found themselves doing British Asian weddings and finally concerts. They’ve now gigged all over Europe, just released their fourth album and, perhaps the best accolade, have been invited to play for around a dozen weddings in India. It began in 2008, when they were invited to Indian Fashion Week in Delhi for the show of designer Manish Arora. He’s famous for his bright colours, so one can understand the appeal of a Bollywood Brass Band soundtrack. It was there they were picked up by a wedding agent and the work started coming in – including Indian weddings in Oman and Sun City, South Africa.

It should be said that weddings are seasonal in India – generally October to December – so it means that wedding musicians, bandwallahs, are not really professionals. They also do agricultural work and much more besides. So Indian bands with the musicianship and skilled arrangers of BBB are very rare indeed. That is why wealthy Indian families are prepared to fly out and accommodate a dozen musicians who know their stuff all the way from the UK to re-boot the baraat.

BBB and Jyotsna Srikanth met a couple of years ago when they were both playing at the Bradford and Belfast Melas. They both thought it would be fun to work together and Srikanth, as a professional evangelist for Karnatic music, suggested they try music from South Indian films. They had already arranged several songs by AR Rahman, currently India’s most popular film composer, who won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire. “I stopped listening to Bollywood songs because they all sound the same,” says Srikanth. “The music to South Indian films is definitely, I can say, more quality.”

The most romantic track is AR Rahman’s ‘Kehna Ni Kya’, where Srikanth adds lovely slides, portamentos and decorations to what is presumably the vocal line. The album opens with a piece from South India’s second most famous composer, Ilaiyaraaja, who recently scored his 1,000th film! This highlights the marching band side of the group with powerful drumming and the growling bass of Jeff Miller’s wrap-around sousaphone.

What’s impressive about the live performance is the matching of the violin with ten brass instruments. “In the first rehearsal, those horns, those trombones were so loud,” says Srikanth. “And if you just crank up the volume you just get more distortion. So I have to use technology here. I use a processor to be able to equalise the violin as well as raising the gain and adding effects – compression, reverb and delay.”

Srikanth clearly takes many of the vocal lines on the violin, although Charlton explains how they often used soprano sax to reflect the high Bollywood vocals of singers like Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar. Now the women singers use a lower register like Western vocalists. Most of the songs tend to be shortened in BBB’s arrangements, because without the lyrics they don’t sustain. And as Srikanth says, “there’s no point in copying the song, otherwise you might as well just play the original. It’s better to do something creative.”

One of the most beautiful tracks on the album, ‘Deva Deva Kalayami’, begins with a sultry violin solo, swooping and sliding among the tendrils of reverb with sighs and trills. When it gets going, it’s in a scale that gives the brass lines a rather Balkan character. This isn’t a film tune at all, but by Tyagaraja (1767-1847), one of the great Karnatic Trinity of composers. Here Srikanth and Charlton trade violin and trumpet riffs making Tyagaraja sound like something by Goran Bregović. But this is Karnatic music – improvised and innovative.

Even more innovative are new compositions Charlton and Sarha Moore, the BBB arrangers, have done for two scenes from Chandralekha – an extraordinary 1948 Tamil film that was the most expensive made in India at the time. It was directed and produced by SS Vasan and includes incredible Cecil B DeMille-type scenes with thousands of actors and unbelievable sets. The opening scene includes female trumpeters and 400 dancers on drums in the courtyard of an extravagant palace. As the palace is overrun by soldiers bursting out of the drums, it leads into Errol Flynn-style sword-fight sequences with remarkably few casualties other than decapitated flowers. The music gives it all a sword-sharp edge.

At the back of the hall is Mark Allan. He used to play baritone sax in the band, but has graduated to masterminding the film projections. These transform the performance from a concert into a spectacular show. He’s plugged into the original soundtrack and his VJ software allows him to speed up and slow down the film to keep it in sync with the band. It’s very sophisticated technology. The videos include a Gypsy-like circle dance around a fire (‘Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu)’, dancing on boats in what looks like the Keralan backwaters (‘Jiya Jale’) and riding the roof of a train (‘Aa Ante Amalapuram’). During this last song, Allan hands me his earpieces and I see the band have become quite out of sync with the song. But as long as the basic rhythm fits, it’s amazing what you can get away with. The timing is crucial however for the Chandralekha clips and for that the sync is spot on.

What the Bollywood Brass Band and Jyotsna Srikanth have achieved with this show is not just an entertaining way to present Indian movie tunes, but actually contribute to the art form with their original soundtracks.

Everyone is overawed by Srikanth’s skill and humility as a collaborator, while she says: “The chemistry matches between us and that is very important for a collaboration. If it doesn’t work in India, they say it’s ‘like eating yoghurt rice with ketchup’.” This collaboration is one tip-top thali.


DATE Bollywood Brass Band & Jyotsna Srikanth will perform at Salisbury Festival on June 1 and Songlines Encounters Festival at Kings Place on June 2

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Introducing: Solo & Indrė

Posted on May 18th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .


Simon Broughton investigates the Senegalese and Lithuanian collaboration ahead of its UK premiere next month

Solo & Indrė perform at Songlines Encounters Festival at Kings Place on June 3. Click here to buy tickets.

Basically it’s pretty simple – kora meets kanklės, Senegal meets Lithuania. Solo Cissokho, from Senegal, plays the West African kora and Indrė Jurgelevičiūtė, from Lithuania, plays a Baltic zither, the Lithuanian version of the Finnish kantele that is also played in Latvia and Estonia. But of course, none of these collaborations are as simple as they look. Just on the string-count, this involves 21 plus 29, that’s 50 strings to be pulled.

What’s remarkable is how quickly this one took off. Jurgelevičiūtė had been interested in working with a kora player, so when Solo Cissokho was doing a concert in Vilnius with his trio, they met up for dinner, decided to try playing together the next day and ended up recording an album.

A recording from that session won the Battle of the Bands competition in 2015 – a really useful leg-up organised by World Music Network – and the Solo & Indrė album got some very fine reviews. ‘The mix of Baltic and West African folk styles is an unlikely one, but the sound it creates is relaxing, thoughtful and oddly saddening, in the most beautiful way,’ said Jim Hickson in his review in #114.

The duo actually create a very similar soundworld to Seckou Keita & Catrin Finch, whose Songlines Music Award-winning kora and harp collaboration Clychau Dibon has been a big success. Both duos feature plucked strings in which it’s hard to tell one instrument from another. There’s another connection as both kora players come from Ziguinchor in the kora heartland of Casamance.

“We put the tunes from both of us together and the music decides where we go,” says Cissokho. “And we connect the tunes into one musical story,” Jurgelevičiūtė adds. “Sometimes I start a tune and Solo adds something very unexpected and beautiful,” which is exactly what such collaborations are about. The opening track on Solo & Indrė seamlessly joins a Cissokho composition to a Lithuanian tune, one melody magically evolving into another.

Cissokho now lives in Sweden, where he forged his first BBC award-winning partnership with violinist Ellika Frisell. They recorded two albums and recently a third bringing in Mexican percussionist Rafael Sida, so Cissokho is no stranger to the art of collaboration. “I didn’t decide to do this project with Indrė,” he says, “the instruments did.”

But collaborations are actually about people and not about instruments or musical genres. The best musical partnerships are about musicians working together and understanding each other. Indrė Jurgelevičiūtė started playing the kanklės aged seven. “This traditional Lithuanian instrument has its origins centuries back,” she says, “and it was used in pagan rituals, for worshipping the gods and for protection from bad spirits.” As with the kantele, there are many versions from simple five, nine and 12-string versions to the 29-string ‘concert’ version of the instrument she uses here.

“My songs are coming from traditional tunes,” she says, “often rearranged and improvised.” But both Cissokho and Jurgelevičiūtė are vocalists as well. Singing is central to the Casamance griot tradition and Jurgelevičiūtė has not only studied Lithuanian song, but is a big fan of Indian music and was about to start seriously studying with Kishori Amonkar, who sadly died last month (see obit on p15). Amonkar’s mantra was about really getting inside the raga and the space of the music.

Solo & Indrė is not just a meeting of instruments, it is really a meeting of tradition bearers.

DATE: Solo & Indrė play at Songlines Encounters Festival at Kings Place on June 3

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