Pain, joy and everything inbetween – Womex Showcase day 1

wpid-wp-1382646592794.jpgIt would have been wrong to start a womex in Wales without a harp.  But in front of a classic band set up of guitar, bass, drums Georgia Ruth seems to cut a lonely female figure.  Singing in both Welsh and English the music thrives on the  seeming disconnect between the delicate sounds of Ruth’s ravishing voice and harp and her bands driving rhythm. At times the band sits back, allowing Ruth voice to take centre stage at others they surge forward and take over.  It gives the set a thrilling contemporary edge, hinting at a darkness underneath the tenderness.

wpid-wp-1382649166798.jpgThere s no hint of any darkness what so ever over at the tented twin stage.  You kind of know something is up when the whole back of the tent is gleefully salsaing a way.. Up front on stage  are the Cumbia All Stars, eight performers who must have a combined age of well over 460 but with all the energy of youth, and considerably more moves. Four percussionists drive the rhythm based set, with a front line of two guitarists (giving it that surf guitar feel), 1 bass and all topped off by the enigmatic Luis German Carrillo Boysset on vocals and, er, moves!.  Forty years ago the band members were, in their own right, founders of a genre of music now called Peruvian Cumbia. Today as they revisit the genre they may no longer be breaking any new musical ground,  but it’s joyous stuff as bright as the Haiwain shirts on show!

wpid-wp-1382649166798.jpgSticking with the joy theme Shanghaan Electro burst on stage in a flurry of colour and the sound of shrieks and whistles. Ladies and Gentlemen we are here to rumble announces Dj and vocalist Richard Mthetwa. And rumble they do combining retro beats, street dance,colour and that glorious South African choral sound …oh and 189 beats per minute.

wpid-wp-1382651713305.jpgBack on the horizons stage the mood was a little more sombre (I entered to the line `and we sunk his body low`). Fiona Hunter mines the traditional songs of Scotland, delivering them with a smile as wide as the Clyde. Faithful to the originals Hunter and her band bring a contemporary feel to each. There is a delicacy and subtlety in the arrangements (for tenor guitar, guitar,fiddle and double bass). Hunters voice is rich and full, often communicating the songs story through the sweep of her voice. It’s a beguiling tapestry of sound which leaves you wanting more.

Amira, like Fiona Hunter before explores the traditional songs of her home land… In this case the traditional Sevdah of the balkans. Songs which give poetic expression of life, love, loss and longing and which, according to Amira are sweet honey which reflect the true soul of the often misrepresented Balkans.

In Amira`s hands these songs of deep melancholy are given a meaning which transcends language backed by a contemporary jazz duo of piano and bass(I particularly enjoyed Bojan Z imaginative and expressive piano solos)  . As a trio they utterly communicate the pain at the heart of these songs.   Sad and mournful the material may be, but here they are also truly beautiful

wpid-wp-1382655237409.jpgBack in the bar the Jacky Molerd Quartet are lightening the mood with an invigorating twist on  traditional tunes from Brittany. And then with little pause for breath it’s back up stairs for the final Horizons gig of the night.

Kan may be new but its members are already familiar, featuring as it does Brian Finnegan (Flook), Aidan O Rourke (Lau),Ian Stephenson (Baltic Crossing) and Jim Goodwin (LSO) . wpid-wp-1382657446322.jpgIt’s fast paced, virtuosic stuff combining traditional reels, jigs and the like with the individual members own compositions. It goes without saying it’s thrilling, bold and breathtaking. Brian Finnegan`s pipes and flutes in particular had me flying high over far off oceans and for the second time this evening I feel compelled to dance.

That’s when you know its time to go back to the hotel!

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