Monday Music: Festivals

I just got a reminder about earlybird tickets for Womadelaide. It reminded me how I had hopes, a few years ago, that one day my brother Mark and I would do a road trip to Adelaide for this exciting world music festival. I may make it there one day, but it won’t be with Mark because he died in late 2010.

I don’t know what the line-up will be for 2014, but the Womadelaide home page features one of Mark’s favourite musicians: Hugh Masekela. We played Hugh Masekela at his funeral. He particularly loved Coal Train (Stimela).

The Womad reminder also got me thinking about the wonderful musical discoveries you can make at festivals. Mark went to Womadelaide in 2005 and returned raving about Senegalese hip hop group Daara J. I was a bit surprised my 50-something brother liked hip hop — until I listened to them, and realised that Daara J are so much more than hip hop.

In this video they are singing with Senegalese diva Rokia Traore — what a divine voice. I love how this song combines the traditional rhythms and Traore’s undulating vocals with the raw, raspy, in-your-face rapping from the guys. Other songs in their repertoire draw on latin and reggae sounds.

Music festivals are also a great place to discover local talent. For a few years when AM was old enough to camp and young enough to want to go on holidays with me, we went every Easter to the national folk festival in Canberra. It was at ‘The National’ as it’s known, that I first heard the wonderfully frenetic Django Reinhardt style of George Washingmachine.

The good thing about local talent is that there’s a good chance you’ll get to see them again, in a local club or pub, without having to pay an arm and a leg. George Washingmachine has even played a cafe a few doors down from where I work, and although I admit I didn’t make it to see him, I’m pleased to know that I could have – and next time maybe I will.

One group I should be seeing a lot more of because they play in Sydney all the time, is Lolo Lovina. The first time I saw them perform was at the Illawarra folk festival a few years ago. I rather stupidly decided to drive for seven hours from my parent’s place at Port Macquarie to the festival on the South Coast. AM was so cranky about the marathon drive (which delayed him getting back to his gaming at home) that he sat in the car with his ipod the whole day, completely ignoring all the wonderful music outside. I was exhausted, and it had been raining so much that I was dancing in grass saturated with water up to my ankles, but Lolo Lovina were worth it all.

At least the experience didn’t put AM off music festivals. These days, he’s old enough to go to them without me, and for the past two summers he’s gone up to Woodford with a friend. The first time, he even brought me back a present. ‘I thought you’d like this because it sounded a bit like what you like, a bit sort of African’ — is what I remember him saying when he gave me the CD. In fact the Oka boys are Aboriginal / Samoan / white and some of their pieces are quite ambient, but yes, I liked it. I’m pretty fond of the electronic didge, for a start.

The other thing about music festivals, is that sometimes they are your only chance to hear a band or ensemble or … stuff.

One year at the National we sat in a white dome watching an animated representation of the sounds of a cello. The visuals were charming — luminous swirls of colour that lengthened or shortened according to the note, and raced along strange dreamlike pathways, speeding, slowing, pivoting and leaping in tune with the cello. We went back for more.

Our host was a music teacher and musician who was experimenting with the visualisations of sound as a potential way to teach music. I took his card, I checked out his website occasionally (he put the animation online), and then, after a while, I forgot — and now I can’t find him, or his quirky, delightful invention. I hope it’s still out there somewhere and that one day it will dance its way back across my path.

I thought my final pick for this week, Psallite, was in the same category. My initial search for this mob of cheeky (and somewhat salacious) Medieval minstrels, who I also saw at the National, lead only to some beautiful religious music.

But I persevered, and found that although Psallite can’t be found on YouTube, and their blog hasn’t even a single post, they still exist on MySpace! (make sure you check out ‘Young Colin cleaving of a beam’.) And I have their CD — which just goes to show, if you see a good band, ensemble, whatever, at a music festival — support them, or they may just disappear from your life completely.

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