Fragmented Frequencies Feb 14

senyawa

Jogjakarta’s Senyawa have a unique ability to merge cultural traditions with the avant garde, resulting in a heady brew of truly unique music. They’ve toured Australia blowing audiences away at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, with Wukir Suryadi’s ‘Bamboo Spear,’ a thick stem of bamboo strung up with percussive strips of the plant’s skin and steel strings alongside Rully Shabara’s, screeching, growling and peculiar extended vocal techniques. Their music draws on everything from John Zorn’s Torture Garden to more traditional sounds with an aggressive Boredomsesque punk rock attitude. They’re releasing a new LP Acaraki on Australia’s home of the weird Dual Plover, who in a new strategy put the album up as a Pozible campaign selling 200 pre order LP’s only, thus subverting traditional marketing and distribution costs and ensuring that Lucas Abela does

n’t end up with a box of unwanted records under his bed. For cutting edge music this approach seems particularly interesting and may signal the way of the future.

Otherwise if you like your obscure West African cassette music Awesome Tapes From Africa, he of the incredible blog, is back in Australia for Womadelaide and will be DJing at Section 8 on March 9. Whilst another Womadelaide refugee Will Holland aka Quantic who twists disparate genres together like Cumbia and Dub in his own productions will be DJing at Boney on the 7th of March. But if you want to see the great Femi Kuti or John Zorn or Stars of the Lid there’s only one place you can go: Adelaide.

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Fragmented Frequencies April 2013

watercooler

Every March Fragmented Frequencies travels to Womadelaide in search of the new, of strange cultural collisions, unique traditions and inspiring musical personalities. Some seem to have just dropped from an alien planet fully formed, utilising approaches and instrumentation far outside our Western understanding, whilst others merge traditions liberally in an attempt to create true global appeal.

Ayarkhaan are a trio of Siberian women whose ethereal, almost cosmic vocals and harmonies preserve the legacy of the indigenous people of the Sakha Republic. Dressed in exotic opulent finery with jewelled headbands and brightly coloured ornate dresses, their sound and presence would be enough, yet one totally unexpected element pushes it over the edge and headlong into genius: The Khomus, or Jews Harp. When the three of them pull out this instrument, reach around their faces and begin twanging in unison, murmurs of astonishment ripple through the audience.  It’s a remarkable sound, their tempos coming from the gate of the horses as they gallop across the Siberian plains. Yet there’s something else. These women have clearly been influenced by contemporary techno music. The collision between the Siberian traditions and electronic music is astounding. They breathe into the microphones, conjuring up a bleak and cold Siberian plain, causing an involuntary shiver on a 33-degree day. They’re truly one of the most beautiful, astonishing and weirdest acts you will ever see. Youtube them – you wont be disappointed.

The ngoni is an ancient West African lute like instrument with an incredible textual sound. It’s the “African guitar,” according to Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba, the Malian master musician with his band made up of family members. Bassekou’s sound is newly electric as evidenced on his excellent Jama Ko (Out There/ Planet Company) album of this year, recorded during the political coup in Mali. Over the four days they play repeatedly in increasingly extreme heat, their sounds drifting effortlessly over the lush botanical gardens. Bassekou has been strongly influenced by Western artists, like the blues of Taj Mahal (who appears on his album), and the banjo of Bela Fleck. Not only does he use a wah pedal, and have pickups dug into the hide of his ngoni, but the most telling example of his desire to embrace western approaches is more compositional, and owes a little to a Canadian with a Crazy Horse. With his family settling on a repetitive groove he repeatedly solos over the top, leaning back, with a contented smile and gently rips these blistering solos. Vieux Farka Toure may be Mali’s Jimi Hendrix, but Bassekou is their Neil Young.

Womadelaide offers some remarkable moments. Like Tunisian oud and freejazz, complete with falsetto, Dhafer Youssef cupping a hand over his mouth like he’s about to whisper, before delivering a heartbreakingly sad high-pitched vocal that no one in the audience seems to know how to take.

“She learnt Swahili from the spirits while in a trance,” offers Reunion Island singer Christine Salem’s translator in the Taste of The World tent. She’s cooking Chicken Cari with a Tomato Rougail. And while her band help out initially, they quickly lose interest, grabbing the water cooler to use as percussion, banging pots and pans, and shakers while chanting. Between offering how much chilli to add, Christine joins in, her mix of Creole, and Swahili vocals truly captivating. It’s one of the most intimate performances of the festival, unplanned, totally off the cuff. Then she feeds us chicken.

Finally there’s Serbian composer Goran Begovic and his Wedding and Funeral Band. A unique Balkan orchestra, with brass, guitar, a vocal choir, strings, and percussion they’re equally adept at bringing the huge bombastic party music from his recent Champagne for Gypsies (Cartell), as his classical scores to Emir Kusturica films. It’s the concert hall colliding with Serbian traditions and it’s astounding. Much like Womadelaide itself, where Algerian pop sits easily alongside Mali rock music, traditional Indian vocal music, reggae legends, South African jazz and bombastic Tajikistan percussion music via Israel. See you next year.

 

Fragmented Frequencies Feb 13

bassekou-ngoni-ba

Well it’s that time of year again, when some of the most remarkable sounds in the world converge upon South Australia for probably the best run music festival in Australia: Womadelaide. The beauty is that with 8 stages, workshops, hell even cooking classes from some of the bands, you can basically program your own festival, and as such it’s a different experience for everyone who attends. Set within the gorgeous surrounds of Adelaide’s botanical gardens, if you can find a better location to experience music then I’m all ears. If perchance you can’t make it over to Adelaide, many of the artists also use the opportunity to drop by Melbourne while they’re in the neighbourhood.

Like New York’s own 11 piece Afrobeat orchestra Antibalas, who have not only been pumping out blistering slabs of afrobeat for years, but were the house band for the recent acclaimed Fela the Musical on Broadway. Last years self-titled album is a typically upbeat blast of Afro funk, heavy on extended instrumental grooves. Their live shows are reportedly wild. You can find out at the Prince on the 5th of March.

Goran Bregovic is Balkan music royalty, casting himself as a debonair, washed out composer perennially at the end of the night. His music is gypsy brass, and breakneck tango, though also brings in pop and jazzy influences in his at times mournful, others life affirming music.  He appears to have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, appearing on the cover of his previous two albums holding wine glasses and most recently he’s almost passed out on a chair holding two empty glasses on 2012’s Champagne for Gypsies. He’s bringing out his 19 piece Weddings and Funeral Band and to see such a large gypsy ensemble in the flesh is a rarity. He’s playing the Arts Centre on the 19th and 20th of March.

Vieux Farka Toure is the son of delta bluesman Ali Farka Toure. The Delta is of course the Niger delta, and his acoustic blues drew interesting parallels with his American cousins. His son however has elected to plug in, exhibiting near virtuosic electric guitar playing, influenced by the likes of Hendrix and Zeppelin, yet also drawing on Malian traditions. He played a show at the Thornbury Theatre a few years back and it was mind blowing, and the next week he was playing to 20,000 people at the opening to the Olympics in South Africa. This is one show you should not miss. On the 11th of March you need to be at the Corner. Minds will be blown.

Cretan lyra player Psarantonis is a renowned improviser who plays what he feels. He’s performing alongside his son and Dirty Three percussionist Jim White, a man who knows a thing or two about improvisation. With his indie cred down it’s no surprise that he’s also playing Golden Plains, though watch out for a show at the Forum on the 22nd of March.

One artist who thus far has no Melbourne dates is the remarkable Malian Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba. Bassekou is a master of the West African stringed instrument called the ngoni and his band is based around this instrument. They’ve released two albums, their most recent I Speak Fula was released on Next Ambience a sub label of Sub Pop, and featured View Farka Toure on a couple of tracks as well as kora legend Tounami Diabate. The texture of the strings of the ngoni is truly one of the most captivating sounds ever put to tape, and they create beguiling textural webs of sound on the album, They’re actually about to drop their third album that was apparently recorded during the recent Malian uprising and from the tracks this writer has heard, it’s a much more urgent recording, louder with an increase in tempo, where the band battled rolling blackouts and the instability in the country found a voice in the music. They’re the reason that this writer will be heading west on the 8th of March, and you should too. The opportunity to experience music like this live is nothing short of a gift.

 

 

Fragmented Frequencies Womadelaide 2012 edition

Narasirato

Womadelaide is a four-day feast of cultural music for the soul, where sounds from the world over bask in Adelaide’s glorious Botanical gardens. The beauty is that it’s all up to you, there’s so much going on you can programme your own festival. As you wander amongst the spectacular Morton Bay Figs, relax under the flying foxes, or lie on the hill surrounded by pines, you can be guaranteed that you’ll be transported to new sonic and cultural worlds.

Anda Union

Traditional Mongolian throat singers Anda Union offered a workshop in throat singing first up, tuning the audience’s ears into the overtones in the music hovering above their deep throaty growls. The irony is the best throat singer was wearing a Quicksilver t-shirt, yet that’s a typical Womadelaide moment of cultural exchange. Over the coming days they cooked for us, and performed not only traditional drinking songs, but also a rousing horse fiddle approximation of 10,000 galloping horses.

Shivkumar Sharma

“Music is beyond entertainment, it’s food for the soul, so close your eyes and leave the rest to me,” offered gentle Santoor composer Shivkumar Sharma, a man with the whitest perm in India. The improvised music of his ensemble was hypnotic, stately and almost divine, as Sharma in the drivers seat proved as good as his word.

Later handicapped Congolese ensemble Staff Benda Bilili took to the main stage. Their homemade fiddle raised their traditional rumba sounds to ecstatic heights, and when the guy in a white suite who looked like a cross between Flavour Flav and Boss Hog threw himself off his wheelchair and started dancing on his knees the crowd went wild.

Tinariwen

Two members of Toureg ensemble Tinariwen (including founder Ibrahim Ag Alhabib) were trapped by the instability in Mali, so a four piece took to the stage and they were magnetic. The stripped down version highlighted the electric bass and hitherto unheard funkiness buried within the wispy twang of their desert blues. Joined by French outfit Lo Jo for part of the performance, Tinariwen were majestic, true global superstars, offering the most powerful, compelling and evocative music of the festival, transporting listeners to the bleak beauty of their homeland with the mere flick of guitar.

Narasirato

Solomon Islands pan pipe ensemble Narasirato were the life of the festival, their infectious pipe music an energetic mix of tribal soul. They were everywhere, breathing new life into an instrument long since delegated into cliché by Peruvian market bands. With every size bamboo pipe you could imagine, they breathed into giant bass pipes, hitting some too big to blow into with thongs, dancing in unison and creating an infectious upbeat soul revue.  This is that rare kind of cultural music that seems to have fallen straight from the sky.  “Unfortunately we brought no women,” they suggestively offered.

Master Drummers Of Burrundi

The Master Drummers of Burundi returned to Womadelide after 20 years, with an ecstatic synchronised percussion onslaught, banging drums on their head, jumping impossibly high, and making a peculiar throat slitting action with their sticks, that we later discovered signals their devotion to their King. Melbourne Bollywood fanatics Bombay Royale theatrically strutted and funked across stage, Korea’s Tori Ensemble created regal court music punctuated by these bizarre moments of freejazz with a piercing female wail that could cut wood, and Palestinian’s Le Trio Joubran’s oud music resonated with centuries of tradition.

Kimmo Pohjonen

Eccentric Finish, mowhaked accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen offered metal machine music from Finland, with surround sound punctuated by avant electronics, where his midi enhanced accordion, with special microphones in its bellows, sounded like an idling motorbike, an electric guitar, or oddly enough a piano accordion.

Shantala Shivalingappa

US roots reggae exponents Groundation played into the piercing heat, seamlessly merging Jamaican beats with jazz solos, funk horns, improvisation and Rastafarian wisdom, whilst Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingappa was like a wind up doll. Or perhaps a deity. Each movement punctuated by her musical ensemble. It was hard to know who was controlling whom. Performing a traditional Southern Indian dance, everything from her hands, fingers and facial expressions were in tune with the music, and as a result we were in tune with her.

Anda Union film

Twenty years of remarkable performances and it feels like we’re only beginning. This festival is a blessing, an opportunity to engage in the global community and break down stereotypes in a joyous and meaningful way.

Fragmented Frequencies Feb 2012

Womadelaide is just around the corner and reasons to visit the spiritual home of Coopers include paraplegic street musicians Staffa Benda Bilili who live and play around the zoo gardens in Kinshasa in their hotted up tricycles, legendary touareg guitar warriors Tinariwen, who’s most recent album Tassili was recorded outdoors in the Saharan desert, and Senegalese legend Baaba Maal. Local Bollywood fanatics Bombay Royale will also be there, though you can see them every Tuesday night in Feb at the Evelyn. They’re due to drop their debut LP You Me Bullets Love in April on Hope St and if their recent 45 Sote sote Adhi Raat is any indication it will be a cracker.

DJ Rupture is coming back to town for the first time since 2002, when he brutalised Kelis’ milkshake song with intense noise in an incredible free ranging mix that encompassed popular r&b, experimental noise, and Berber pop. Since then he’s uncovered entirely new genres, of sounds from faraway lands. His radio show on WFMU and blog Mudd Up is almost a community service, with clips of all manner of faraway sounds. A few years ago he formed Nettle and their new album El Resplendor is a reimagining of The Shining in a luxury hotel in Dubai. He’s playing at the Mercat on the 8th of March and if you’re into progressive mixes of blurred musical boundaries then Rupture is your man.

 

Whilst the Adelaide Festival is the only place you’ll see Italian soundtrack maestro Ennio Morricone in Australia this year, some of the lineup are making their way to Melbourne, including Jane Birkin singing Serge Gainsbourg (18th of March Recital Centre), and Neu! Guitarist Michael Rother (19th March Corner Hotel). Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV luminary Genesis P-Orridge is hooking up with Stuart Grant (Primitive Calculators) to present and discuss THE BALLAD OF GENESIS AND LADY JAYE at ACMI on the 5th of March.  Whilst the brooding, explosive and often violent music he made over the last 30 odd years is innovative and challenging enough, it’s the art project in which he is the canvas, that is nothing short of mind blowing. In 2000 Genesis began a series of surgeries in order to more closely resemble Lady Jaye, his lover and artistic partner for nearly 15 years. “It was the ultimate act of devotion,” offers the press release,  ”He’ became a ‘she’ in a triumphant act of artistic expression. It is a project they called ‘Creating the Pandrogyne’, an attempt to deconstruct two individual identities through the creation of an indivisible third. The ultimate union.”

Local composer Anthony Pateras offers up his first soundtrack in early March, Errors of the Human Body (eMego), which sees him working with strings, brass, prepared piano, organs and electronics. As you’d expect this isn’t coming from your John Williams school of film composition, with many of Pateras’ experimental sounds, techniques and preoccupations finding their way into the work. In a world where every film score sounds the same, Errors of The Human Body Stands on its own. Filmed at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Germany, the film apparently has something to do with isolation, questionable ethics and scientific intrigue, and it pushes Pateras into unexpected new directions, such as the strangest banging club track you could ever hope to hear. It’s a monster. Pateras is playing in PIVIXKI, his duo with Max Kohane (who has his own imminent release on Sensory Projects as Crumbs), alongside doom riffers Whitehorse, noise fanatic Marco Fusinato and a Madga Mayas and Tony Buck (The Necks) duo on 16th of Feb at the Gasometer Hotel in Collingwood.

Paul Kidney Experience are Melbourne’s noisiest wig out band. An improvised jam band, they delight in gradually building up to a throbbing crescendo of chaos and then holding it for far too long until the audience either have their fists in the air or down their throats. They’re joined on their new album by legendary German freejazz komische drummer Mani Neumeir (Guru Guru), and the results are a snarling mass of squealing noise. They’re launching this monstrosity at Bar Open on the 1st of March. Be alert but not alarmed.

 

Fragmented Frequencies Nov 11

So how would you like your music? With ideas please. Earthstation is what happens when you combine a sustainability conference featuring leading scientists and academics with world music in the Belair National Park about 10kms out of Adelaide.

“India is moving 5cms every year, pushing the Himalayas North,” offers Professor Mike Sandiford in his lecture Humans as Geological Agents. At some point in 2050 he suggests our output of power will match the planet’s power, the equivalent of an atom bomb a day.

The music began with the USA’s Kronos Quartet performing Terry Riley’s NASA commissioned Sun Rings. Using, samples and incredible visual imagery of space, they conjured up a weary yet uplifting tone, where skittering electrics interweaved with classical strings. Two days later they would play a set in the hot sun with pieces from Riley, Glass, even Syrian superstar Omar Souleyman.

Chinese pipa (an ancient string instrument) master Wu Man performed with the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra, presenting traditional centuries old folk and classical music. The Zheng, a mouth organ on steroids is particularly amazing as the orchestra took us on a tour through provincial china with their stately music. On the closing night they would surprise and fascinate with a hilarious rendition of Click Go the Shears on the 21-string zither.

Central Australian Indigenous rockers Iwantja’s recent album Payla is a cracker. It’s everything but the kitchen sink fusion. “Who likes to party? This next song is called we like to party. So get ready to party,” they warn. Their energy is infectious in a set that goes from Gurrimal style crooning to 80’s soft rock finger tapping guitar solos, to 60’s surf guitar, outback reggae, power blues, heavy metal and everything in between.

“You can’t expect the US to lead on this issue, but you can expect Australia to,” offers Roy Neel (Al Gore’s Chief of staff), in a lively panel discussion on the politics and policy of climate change. He’s quite impressed that carbon tax is still alive in Australia when it was shot down in the US. Other panellists aren’t so sure. Ian Lowe from Griffith University suggests Australia can no longer use the drug dealers defence, that if we don’t sell coal someone else will. The irony of implementing a carbon tax whilst exporting coal and uranium is lost on no one. “It’s important to have a well hung parliament,” sums up Giles Parkinson.

Zakir Hussain delivered a master class in percussion, where he was joined on stage by an ever-changing gaggle of percussionists including his own brother who opened the performance with incredibly percussive breathing. Hussain understands mastery plus theatre equals a great performance. His brother talks of the journey of a train and they proceed to represent it through rhythm, ending in an incredible percussion call and response duel.

Congo’s Konono No1 took to the stage with bemused smiles, peering down at us as they fiddled with their likembes. It was like they knew something that we didn’t, and as their trance music began to take hold we rose like lemmings to dance to this strange beautiful bizarre music. The likembe sound soaring across the Belair parklands was majestic, causing people to act in strange ways, from bizarre dancing to kids being flung headlong into the air on blankets. The one constant was the beatific grins held by all.

Later Mark Atkins regaled all with his bush tales. His approach to the didgeridoo is quite unique, beat boxing, even talking through it, conjuring up everything from experimental drone music to techno, and the sound of ‘a road train right up the ass.’

The festival ended with the stately Mandela like South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. Seemingly improvised he played solo piano for over 50 minutes of gentle beautiful simplicity. A light rain fell and we lay on our backs closed our eyes and just allowed the music to flow over us.

“We don’t inherit the earth from our parents, we loan it from our children,” came a Native American proverb during the final Kronos performance. It’s a statement that sums up the festival as a whole. Ideas were everywhere, combined with solution focused positive thoughts for the future. It’s one of the smartest festivals around. Despite some odd musical choices (Paris Wells/ Rickie Lee Jones) and Tounami Diabate’s last minute cancellation, the mix of thought provoking discussions and world music over two and a half days in the beautiful Belair National Park was an inspiring model of a conscious festival. It didn’t hurt that I saw three koalas either.

Fragmented Frequencies March 2011 – Special Extended WomAdelaide review

Some prefer to dance in their own filth at Meredith, dodge vomiting teenagers at Falls or navigate the concrete metropolis of the Big Day Out, but Fragmented Frequencies believes the best place to experience music is the gorgeous surrounds of Adelaide’s Botanical gardens. Womadelaide, now a four day event is a feat of endurance, yet the diversity of acts temper the struggle, and everyday is akin to being a kid in a candy store, discovering all manner of weird and wonderful artists from numerous far away lands.

One band that we already knew thanks to their Bride of Zar album of last year was Rango, a Sudanese Egyptian ensemble who’s incredibly tactile trance music is also designed to cleanse the listener. I was curious to see how they’d be able to translate their music live, yet they did it through the strength of their personalities alone. And they seemed to be everywhere throughout the festival, playing in some capacity every day until we knew all their tunes and unique dances by heart.

In later days we attended their workshop, rattled their tin cans, they cooked us Voodoo Chicken and performed for us in the taste the world tent. These guys had an absolute ball, not only picking pretty young girls out of the crowd to dance with, but also enjoying the opportunity to share their unique culture. If any band summed up the spirit of Womadelaide it was Rango.

Next up were Mongolian throat singing outfit Hanggai. What their Introducing album of a few years ago doesn’t warn you about is their extreme bottom end. These guys used to be a punk band, and you can tell. Combine this with the fact that they’re producing these almost folk shanties, which all seem to be dedicated to drinking and it’s hard not to get swept up in Hanggai fever, particularly when for audience participation they make us sing along and hold up our beers at crucial points of a song. In fact the next time they played to close the following night, they offered the beer song twice in the same set and the crowd went wild.

Next up was one of the most incredible workshops of the festival. At the media launch earlier in the day we’d been blessed by a performance by an intriguing Ukrainian trio DakhaBrakha. Their tunes sounded like nothing else. Music haunted by ages of tradition, highly percussive, yet updated with modern elements. It was hard to know what to make of them. During their workshop they spoke of the origins of their music, of peasants singing in the fields, then they’d sing these traditional, incredibly powerful, weary songs. It was spine tingling.

We got right to the front for Syrian wedding singer and techno god Omar Souleyman, one of the most anticipated performances for us. With banging Arabic inflected electronics from one of the most incredible synth players around, Omar would patrol the stage, revving up the crowd. It quickly became apparent that the more you give the more you get, so we screamed and danced to the point of exhaustion as Omar howled and sang. It was an incredible set and one of the true highlights of the festival. It’s a shame he only played once.

The night finished with Faiz Ali Faiz, where we sat way back on the hill and let the incredible music of the Pakistani qawwali singer and his ensemble filter through the large oaks in a series of sustained crescendos. The interplay between the vocals and the instrumentation was remarkable. And it was an amazing and inspiring way to draw the evening to a close. We left during the performance and as we walked away from the park the music merged with the street sounds and carried us home. Beautiful.

The next day offered up another great workshop, this time last night’s hero Omar Souleyman. Whilst Omar spoke about his early development as a singer, attention quickly turned to the amazing synth sound of Rizan Sa’id. His ability to hold the whole performance together, his percussion and melody last night were incredible, demonstrating that despite being trapped behind a synth he was one of the most innovative and skilled instrumentalists at the festival. He told us that despite using a regular Korg synth, whilst at his recording studio in Syria he had developed a unique patch comprising of numerous traditional instruments sounds that he now sells to other Arabic musicians. He then proceeded to demonstrate the sounds of these instruments one by one. At this point my life path was mapped out. I have to buy a Korg and call Rizan up.

Next up Turkish percussionist Yasar Akpence performed with his gypsy ensemble Harem’de. His band, and in particular the clarinettist and kancun player had some incredible interplays and Akpence in particular played without ego, only demonstrating his mastery over the darbuka midway through the show with an extended solo. At one point I attempted to mimic the rhythms of his two backup percussionists. I lasted 30 seconds. They sat their happily pounding away for about 45 minutes.

Another workshop, this time from Columbian UK fusion ensemble Sidestepper, who captivated us with a history of Cumbia music, taking us through various trends, singing traditional songs and taking questions from the crowd. We never managed to see a performance of this band and its one of the biggest regrets I have from this years Womadelaide, where the programmers had the uncanny knack of scheduling the interesting bands at the same time, but leaving you plenty of room to catch Angus and Julia Stone or Ash ‘Dr Rock’ Grunwald.

We didn’t know anything about Tanya Tagak but the program described her as an Inuit throat singer. We figured it could go either way. We sat down at the beautiful Morton Bay stage and proceeded to be mesmerised by her simultaneously sensuous and animalistic performance. Joined by a guy on incredibly subtle electronics and another playing tastefully restrained scratchy violin, Tagak writhed around the stage, often on the ground, her body surging with the impact of each utterance like she was possessed. Her sounds were highly percussive, quite repetitive, though she would move from the guttural to real singing to howling like a wounded dog with ease. The performance was remarkable; a real improvised experimental work, something unique for Womadelaide, which may account for the large number of walkouts. Yet it also had real soul, an emotional integrity, which at times is something unique for improvised music. When she finished the crowd rose as one and refused to let her leave. The look on her face was complete surprise.

Two days later we attended her workshop and fell in love. It was the most intimate, open and revealing workshop of the festival. “Sometimes when I’m singing I feel like I’m underwater,” she offered. She described her family background, how she had taught herself to throat sing, and how she felt people had exploited her singing in the past. But it was when she was asked if she’d be interested in collaborating with Australian indigenous artists that we freaked. “I’d need to get to know the land first,” she offered, “go out there, see some animals, perhaps kill one and eat it.” An amazing soul who’s able to balance beauty and brutality effortlessly. I bought her album, where she works with Buck 65 and Mike Patton of all people.

Pandit Rajendra Prasanna is a North Indian Flute player who offered up some age old Hindustani and classical ragas on his traditional flute. He was joined by a series of musicians and their virtuosity and discipline was clear. However so too were their egos, which would occasionally prevent the ensemble from reaching the heights of say Faiz Ali Faiz the previous evening. That said this is improvised music that has existed for centuries with little change or concession to modernity and the customs and egos come with it. Prasanna’s sheer ease of playing the Shehnai (Indian Oboe) also was nothing short of astounding.

Sunday began with an intimate solo show from Afro Celt Sound system kora player N’Faly Kouyate. The beauty of the kora managed to overcome some of the technical glitches, which appeared to rattle Kouyate at first, however in the end he just shrugged his shoulders and ignored it. Kouyate’s playing is very song orientated, unlike say Mamadou Diabate of last year, creating simple gentle runs of notes and singing over the top. It was fascinating to note this different approach to one of Africa’s’ most iconic instruments

Brazil’s Os Mutantates came onto the big stage for their only performance at the festival with large beatific grins. It was surprising to see that the lead singer Sergio Dias looks uncannily like Paul McCartney. Their music with numerous changes and vocal oddities was enjoyable but probably 40 odd years too late. There was no power, no urgency, and no revolution in their music. But there was fun and good humour, a kind a relaxed goodwill that emanated from them. Between songs the band would rib Dias about his obsession with Julia Gillard. It was nice, but unfortunately I was drawn like a moth to flame to another incredibly unique band that was playing at the same time…

Cruelly Ukrainian trio DakhaBrakha elected to make their show seated. With cello, floor tom and accordion and sitting in a line across the stage, they’re one of the strangest most subdued metal bands around. But their music is dark, filled with intense sorrow, vulnerability, but also extreme anger. They’re a band who delight in the slow build, the percussion comes softly from a long way away before erupting into a series of intense flurries under those intense at times stern Ukrainian field vocals. Describing them as metal is probably a bit cheeky, perhaps gothic is a little better, they’re folk music but not like anything you’ve ever seen. In their vocals they imitated birds, screamed, but also offered up some of the softest, most heartbreakingly beautiful falsetto you’ve ever heard. Their set built a trance like effect in the listener, no one spoke, barely anyone moved. The Towards the end of the performance they said, “This song is good for dance. Get up!” So we did and the tune built into a dance party and everyone went crazy. It was incredible. I had no idea what I had just seen. I returned the next day and saw the exact same performance. I still have no idea what this is. But it’s amazing.

Hopelessly disorientated it took a while to stumble over to Ethiopian born Sydney based Dereb the Ambassador, who’s ethio jazz provided some soothing tonic to the intensity of DakhaBrakha. All of which may explain why I then managed to misplace my photographers camera and spent the next hour missing Tanya Tagaq’s set attempting to retrace my steps before finally the Womadelaide gods smiled down and someone handed it into lost property. “You wouldn’t believe it, someone just handed in $130,” offered the lost and found lady as I attempted to kiss her head. “It can only happen at Womadelaide.”

Later we watched a rather lacklustre performance from the Necks, who seemed to delight in little more than bashing the same notes over and over like they were attempting to hammer in nails. The next night began similarly for them, but midway through Tony Buck moved from jangling into a looped sound of what sounded like a key being cut and Chris Abrahams tinkered out a few keys and it was beautiful and subtle and perfect, proving that sometimes it takes both time and patience to mine the gold.

Monday was the hottest day thus far and as we sat beside the main stage to watch Rango again we were greeted by Papua New Guinea dance troupe Huri Duna replete in face paint and feathers drinking cider and dancing with the rest of the crowd to Rango. When we finally saw their performance, which had been periodically occurring beside stages throughout the festival it was by accident, simply an attempt to escape the booming excessive riffage of Ash Grunwald who by this stage we’d given the moniker Dr Rock. It was so loud and excessive that it seemed to permeate the entire festival. Finally we found ourselves on one of the smaller stages and witnessed one of the most amazing cultural exchanges I have ever experienced.

Huri Duna roared out in formation chanting to themselves sending the crowd scattering. They then organised themselves in front of the stage getting into lines, one man with a bow and arrow pretending to shoot people. “Down in front, I can’t see,” exclaimed one middle aged woman in a low rise seat, but the Huri Duna’s had other ideas, launching through the crowd again, changing formation and muttering to themselves. There seemed to be one person in charge, inspecting his troops, but there was a real wonky dads army feel to it all. Regardless you didn’t want to get too close in case they turned on you. “These guys have been dealing with crowd control for centuries,” offered my cohort, and he was right. I crept up close entranced by their soft singing. Suddenly on an unseen cue they all turned and lined up in front of me and a few other curious onlookers. With their painted faces and steely eyes they were especially fearsome and would be terrifying in battle. But then they played their hand drums down the line, plink, plonk, dunk, da, and all the fear was gone. That said if they had’ve screamed and charged I would’ve just evaporated. But no, they simply turned, and jumped out in unison then jogged back behind the stage like a football team. Absolutely mind blowing.

So after dosing ourselves up with more DakhaBrakha, the highlight of the festival, particularly this second performance with its searing heat, confused and bewildered we stumbled out beneath the iconic womadelaide flags, basking in the breeze as Horace Andy came to a nearby stage. It took a while for the DakhaBrakha to wear off, though soon we’d made our way in close, surrounded by grinning dancing people. Horace, ably backed up by Dub Asante was on fire, toasting away, rapid fire, and the music was tonic. We were wondering if this like the Afro Cuban Allstars and Os Mutantes was going to be a nostalgia set, but no it was warm, vital and a beautiful way for the afternoon to draw to a close. There is a reason why this man is a legend.

Amadou and Miriam are a couple of famous old ducks from Mali. They’re blessed with an ability to create gorgeous melodic tunes, having played at the last Olympics opening ceremony, they’ve also collaborated with the likes of Damon Albarn. They met decades ago at the Institute of the blind. Their most recent album Welcome to Mali is a cracker and they drew on much of this during their set. It would be interesting to know how much control they have over their music given they are both ostensibly blind, having to be led out onto stage. They wear bling and their show is filled with dancing girls and back up singers, bass guitar, drums, keys and it felt like too much. Last night I’d arrived just in time to see the end of their workshop where just the two of them played Welcome to Mali and it was incredible, really raw and really powerful. Much better than the glossed up hype machine than we witnessed the next day. As these thoughts bounced around our heads we drew back to the flags and sat on the grass, forced to acknowledge that with or without the gloss the tunes still sounded great, their songwriting and voices really broke through. Plus the old ducks were smiling happily the whole way through.

And in fact aside from the second performance where the Necks finally found their feet, we spent the rest of the night wandering around looking for and failing to find the spark that had ignited us earlier in the day.
Finally it was Faiz Ali Faiz in a sit down show on the main stage who closed the festival with more of that incredible Pakistani qawwali music that just soared across those open expanses, the huge pa sending both the music and us out into the night having not only survived another Womadelaide, but armed with the knowledge that we had witnessed some of he most incredible musical performances the world has to offer. Next year can’t come quick enough.