Archive for the ‘World Music’ Category

Hard Rock Calling Festival Day 3 – Paul Simon “graces” London with his towering musical presence and “lands” an epic concert.

Sunday July 15th 2012

Paul Simon performs "Mother and Child Reunion" with Jimmy Cliff during Graceland 25th Anniversary Tour, Hyde Park, London July 15th 2012

Paul Simon performs “Mother and Child Reunion” with Jimmy Cliff during Graceland 25th Anniversary Tour, Hyde Park, London July 15th 2012

I would praise and criticize the organisers of Hard Rock calling and its predecessor a week ago – the Wireless festival, in equal measure. They have different sponsors but are both run by Live Nation.  The criticism would be regarding the spectator numbers they allow in to this considerably under pressure corner of Hyde Park that annually hosts musical events between July and August.

I went to the first ever day of the Wireless in 2005 and the 2nd day of the inaugural festival of Hyde Park calling (now Hard Rock calling in 2006); The Who were headliners for the latter. I am fairly certain that in the early years of these events capacity was between no more than 35000 to 50000. Whilst this could still sometimes present a challenge in terms of getting a decent view, there was at least some breathing space around.

Spectators numbers at present are in the 70K to 80K range for big musical event days and it can be downright claustrophobic.  In addition, this number of people at last week’s Wireless festival there to see Rihanna and Drake in a relatively medium sized enclosed space combined with recent adverse weather combined to turn the usually green areas in a bog so that the organisers were obliged to lays down many tons of woodchip.

The praise I give to Live Nation is the perennial ability to attract artists of calibre or I would hazard to say, even legends to this venue.

Paul Simon is one such legend. Now, judging by the crowd demographic, many were just to there see him whatever he performed. But many were also there from my generation –  the 40 somethings -that were introduced to Paul Simon on the back of his much loved Graceland album and that was the purpose of this concert – to celebrate this classic album .

The album itself is over 25 years old being first released in the UK in September 1986 and hit number one position for the first in October remaining there for 5 weeks and then going back up to number one for another 3 weeks in February 1987. It was to spawn 2 hits singles and 2 minor hits. It won a grammy for Best Album in the US and won Paul Simon a Brit award for Best International Artist. In various lists it has been consistently quoted as being the within the Top 100 of Best Albums of all time. When you listen to the album it’s not hard to understand why? It is fuses various South African genres with folkish elements and the accordion in the pop and rock mix. This combined with Simon’s irresistible conversational style of storytelling makes for a great cocktail.

This day 3 of the Hard Rock Calling festival and many act on that interested me and therefore I felt very sorry to leave before the end of one the acts I was enjoying. Apologies to the group Big Country for that but I did not want to risk missing the start of Graceland.

But Simon did not actually start with “Graceland”. In fact the set was well crafted and split into several segments.  Although a huge cheer went up, he opened with what I assume is his regular band, in a relatively relaxed and low key way with  “Kodachrome” and  then the Gospel tinged rhthym of “Gone at Last”.  The first really known song  “50 Ways to Leave your Lover” was unveiled 4 songs in and prompted a sing-along in some section of the huge crowd. Then , what was probably the worst kept secret on the day – the “surprise” guest – Jimmy Cliff. He performed 3 of his biggest hits solo “The Harder they Come”  “ Many Rivers to Cross” and “Vietnam” .  Simon re-emerged to perform “Mother and Child Re-union” with Cliff.

Simon moved into the next phase that saw him perform another five songs, the most memorable of which were “That was Your Mother” , “Mystery Train” and “ Slip Sliding Away”

At this point you could feel the anticipation levels rise as the accomplished and acclaimed Ladysmith  Black Mambazo took to the stage to perform a couple of their own sons. And then suddenly, we were there at the highlight of the evening.  The group’s  Zulu  icathamiya singing style –a beautiful style of African  accapella floated effortlessly through the air as they and Simon eased into  first track “Homeless”  from the Graceland album.  They were continue the collaboration on  “Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes” .  The South African mbaqanga rhythms started to take hold and the party vibe got going.  By the time we got to “I Know what I Know” and “The Boy in the Bubble”  the party was in full flow particularly in those sections of the crowd with younger people.  Great atmosphere.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo opening the Graceland section of Paul Simon's concert with the song Homeless, Hyde Park,  London, July15th 2012

Ladysmith Black Mambazo opening the Graceland section of Paul Simon’s concert with the song Homeless, Hyde Park, London, July15th 2012

 

If you look at the credit list, there were a huge number artists involved in the making and touring of the original Graceland and I’m not going to,list them here. Many of them were on the stage including the jazz and afrobeat musician Hugh Masekela  Maselela  with the backing of the Graceland ensemble performed a couple of numbers himself  including a moving tribute to Nelson Mandela.

The rest of Graceland resumed after this interlude,  with Thandiswa Madwai duetting with Simon on “Under African Skies”.  Graceland itself and the album’s biggest hit “You Can Call Me Al”  prompted another mass sing-along and with that the Graceland part of the concert was over.

Simon was back on the stage after a few minutes to round off the evening with some of his renowned older songs.  Most impressive was the moment 80000 people went silent throughout the Park for Sound of Silence and you could almost hear a pin drop. For “The Boxer” Jerry Douglas, who earlier in the day had been on performing with Alison Krauss and Union Station was invited back on stage. The chorus “Lie la lie” rippled round the large green space emanating like a wave round the audience

The final tune of the encore  –  Late in the Evening , Simon performed with a lively almost cabaret quality. The second encore with the song Still Crazy After All These Years wound the show down nicely with Paul Simon  putting his hands applauding, bowing humbly before the vast crowd and leaving us to reflect on what had been a lengthy but memorable classic concert.  The making of Graceland -the album may have been contraversial in terms of whether or not it broke the Apartheid cultural boycott of the 1980’s in South Africa but the live show even 25 years on  is  a real gem.

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Field Day Festival, including Django Django, Afrocubism, Metronomy, SBTRKT, Franz Ferdinand : Victoria Park,  Diamond Jubilee Weekend, Saturday 2nd June, 2012

Franz Ferdinand headline Field Day festival, Saturday 2nd June, 2012

Franz Ferdinand headline Field Day festival, Saturday 2nd June, 2012

 

Field Day festival is a one day festival aimed mainly  at the younger indie /alternative rock  lover that has been going since 2007.  As well as bands, there are village fete type activities to enjoy. There are also plenty of areas with DJ playing various genres of dance music.

Last time I was there in 2009, I found it to be a small but quality festival with grade A music, organic food from a wide variety of stalls – none of the standard rubbish fodder you get at other festivals and pleasant in terms of limited crowd numbers that gave enough for an atmosphere but were manageable.  In the 3 years since,  the festival has obviously expanded and I wonder whether it has exceeded its original parameters.

Despite this being  my first festival of the summer, I wasn’t in a great mood having had to walk a good half mile from where we entered into Victoria Park to the entrance.  It’s a elongated site and a long walk around the perimeter. On the way to the entrance, we passed a throng of people, maybe numbering in the hundreds, queuing.  Then at the entrance there were further big queues, requiring a 15 minute wait and a heavy frisk down by Security before getting in. Upon arrival, and a little bit of orientation of the site by me and niece, we decided to head for the Village Mentality stage,  to see Django  Django ,one of the band’s marked out on my niece itinerary.  There was a ridiculous number of people in the area around the tent so we were clambering, tripping and pushing our through people. No space on the left hand side, a bit more on the right but we still could not get inside because of the numbers.  Never mind, we plonked ourselves instead by a shady tree and listened from outside while getting the odd glimpse of the band through a 1000 heads and multiple poles and guy ropes.

We get a glimpse of Django Django from outside the Village Mentality tent at the Field Day festival, June 2nd 2012, London

We get a glimpse of Django Django from outside the Village Mentality tent at the Field Day festival, June 2nd 2012, London

Django Django play a abstract kind of alternative electro. Tracks like “Waveform” conveyed more of a mood than a story, almost a feeling of communing with nature.  The light African style drums rhythms juxtaposed with the mysterious sounding synth chords of “Skies over Cairo” also impressed as did the electro-rootsy blues rhythm of “Firewater”. The type of music may an acquired taste to some but personally I enjoyed it and would enjoyed a whole lot more still if only I could have fully had sight of the band during the show.

Members of Afrocubism take the well deserved audience applause at Field Day festival, June 2nd 2012, Victoria Park, London

Members of Afrocubism take the well deserved audience applause at Field Day festival, June 2nd 2012, Victoria Park, London

 

After light refreshment and a rush to answer the call of nature (where standing at the urinal staring out at bloke dressed in penguin costume proved surreal), it was back to business as we finally managed to get in to a tent and get to the front for one of the main acts that we had specially come to see, namely the cubo-malian fusion that is Afrocubism.  This group is one part members of the Bueno Vista social club and one part  leading musicians of Mali, including Kora master Tourmani Diabete . This falls into what is generally categorised as World Music, but seems quite out of place with the orientation of this festival. Nonetheless this group proves to be brilliant. There is a cast of thousands on the stage with assorted instruments including 2 trumpets , 1 rhythm guitar, a bass,  maracas, double bass, conga drums, a West African stringed instrument called the ngoni (which was played with such virtuosity by Bassekou Kouyate,  it left me speechless), the balafon – a kind of West African glockenspiel and what looked like a Tama drum. Completing the line and looking very commanding in the centre of the stage was Eliades Ochoa with his standout Cowboy hat and Cubano tres guitar and vocalist Kassy Mady Diabate, who is music royality in West Africa being not only a musician but an oral historian through his music.  His joy and love of the music was infectious as he did not stop groving and smiling all the time he was on stage. For his part Eliades Ochoa was impressive vocally with  “Al Vaimen di Mi Carreta”  and other tunes like “Mali Cuba” blended perfectly the African and Cuban instruments into a feelgood almost holiday sound. You could just imagine yourself driving under a sunny blue sky in some pretty far flung corner of the globe with smiling happy children rushing out of villages to greet you. All the musicians were top quality including the two trumpeters who performed an excellent solo. With the audience indulging insome laid back dancing , this gig transported you mentally to a happy place.

Metronomy thrill at Field Day festival, Saturday 2nd June 2012, Victoria Park, London

Metronomy thrill at Field Day festival, Saturday 2nd June 2012, Victoria Park, London

 

Then, after a quick tour of the World food stands and settling on some kind of tasty Portuguese chicken stew in a quaint plastic dish , it was back to main stage area for a final hurrah to my favourite group of the moment Metronomy.  My niece and I have already seen this group at what was foe us the concert of 2011. So, could they top or at least equal it? Not quite but they came close and put in a cracking performance nonetheless.  I immensely enjoyed myself and bopped along happily to the sounds of “The Bay” , “Corinne” and “Loving Arm” despite being considerably jostled by the usual late arrivals trying to muscle in towards the front and the drunks. The band were enthusiastic and engaging with the audience. A number in the crowd got on the shoulders of other much to the chagrin of stewards who had obviously been overcome with the current zeal of health and safety. Third time I have seen the band in a year and third time they have put on a great show. Is this group capable of a bad live performance? I don’t think so.

SBTRKT in silhouette at Field Day festival, Saturday 2nd June, 2012, Victoria Park, London

SBTRKT in silhouette at Field Day festival, Saturday 2nd June, 2012, Victoria Park, London

Going into the evening the weather took a turn for the worse; cloud started bubbling over and then a chill in the air. We raced back to the tent to try to get in to see SBTRKT but no dice. The tent was absolutely jammed, leaving us in our familiar position of standing outside, catching glimpses of the group in silhouette and some of the lighting special effects. The music was great though. Much of it was a kind of fusion of dance electronica meets dub step and techno with tracks like “Pharoahs” and “Wildfires”.  Other tracks merged these genres with soul voice like in “Never Never” and “Something Goes Right”.  By the end of the gig it had started to drizzle.

This left just one thing left to do – hang around for 50 minutes, waiting for Franz Ferdinand to come on. To pass the time and to warm up, we attempted and failed to buy a burger after another festival goer showed us how uncooked it was, ergo we settled for German sausage. Somewhat frustratingly, the server seemed incapable of knowing the difference between strong and mild mustard.

Franz Ferdinand play a tub-thumping set at Field Day festival, Saturday 2nd June, 2012, Victoria Park, London

Franz Ferdinand play a tub-thumping set at Field Day festival, Saturday 2nd June, 2012, Victoria Park, London

 

It was now chucking it down with rain so we were relieved to have the headliners start. We stood to the back out of the main throng but still had a great view. The crowd to be fair had been a little reduced by the rain. However, our position just in front of the disabled viewing platform proved to be perfect. Franz Ferdinand was absolutely cracking. Grown men danced and jumped about in the rain at the back of the crowd to tub-thumpers like “Do You Want To”, “Take Me Out”. My personal favourite “No You Girls” was delivered by the band with gusto.  There were several new tracks played including one with curious lyrics called “Fresh Strawberries” that harked back to one of the more gentle indie styles of the early 80’s .The barnstorming end  reached its climax fittingly with “Burn this City”.  We sang, we jumped, we danced with umbrellas in the heavily pouring rain. I never had so much fun.

That said although the music was great at the festival and in some cases cutting edge, a lot was wrong. They have increased the capacity in recent years and it shows. It used to be relaxed with space to move and watch the bands in a leisurely fashion – especially earlier in the day. This year, it felt like you were tripping over people and the tents were ridiculously over crowded.  Getting to food stalls and bars occasioned at times, a 20 minute wait and the amount of drunks seems to increase year on year, in spite of stewards removing bottles and cans at the entrance.  The quality of the musical line-up saved the day but all in all I cannot count Field Day as my favourite ever festival.

Amadou and Miriam thrill the crowd at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire, Friday 13th April 2012

Amadou and Miriam thrill the crowd at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire, Friday 13th April 2012

Amadou and Miriam bring African Dance Vibe to London

Malian duo Amadou and Mariam brought their vibrant show to London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire and wowed the crowd in the process – a feat made all the more remarkable because most of the songs are in Malian languages -mainly Bambara and French with a few of the choruses in English. Fortunately for me I had an advantage over many in that I speak French so some songs I did understand. I won’t get too hung up on it, though; good music is good music in whatever culture. The infectious polyphonic rhythms transcended the language barrier as witnessed by the steady mild bouncing movements of the jigging crowd firstly on the ground level and then as the gig progressed up onto the balconies.

The other remarkable fact for those not familiar with the duo is that Amadou Bagayoko and Miriam Doumbia are both blind and have been for all their adult lives. Apart from being guided onto centre stage to the microphones, this proves to be no disadvantage. Though, the pair are very talented on their own as they prove in the opening, it doesn’t hurt to have a strong band consisting of keyboard bass, drums and percussion as well as two lively backing singer providing some energetic african ( I assume Malian) dancing, backing you up. It is hard to pick all the titles because of the said language barrier. Although, Amadou was announcing the song as he went, the roar of the crowd made his accented voice hard to hear for Malian songs.

I had better luck with the French titles. Of these, I particularly enjoyed the bluesy tone of Amadou’s voice combined with the west african roots rhythms on the track “Oh Amadou” and the passion of “Mon Afrique”. “Dimanche a Bamako” (Sunday in Bamako)  that closed the pre-encore part brought a popular reponse, particular from french speaking contingents in the crowd. It was shame Miriam whose lyrically strong voice imposed itself mid-way through the gig could not complete the show. She looked unsteady on her feet and had to be helped off.  Amadou and his translator later explained she was feeling tired. So the last 30 minutes Amadou and the band did a first rate job in holding the show. Amadou did a amazing an 8 minute guitar solo and in the encore the song “Africa” cranked up the atmosphere several notches to the extent that the even the majority on the balconies were up on their feet.

 

Amadou rocks out during a great guitar solo at Shepherd's Bush Empire, April 13th 2012

Amadou rocks out during a great guitar solo at Shepherd's Bush Empire, April 13th 2012

Though it was a shame that Miriam could not complete the concert, there was still a buzz through the whole gig. The audience loved it, I loved it. At the end, when it was announced that it was Miriam’s birthday, the next day, they even sang Happy Bithday to her. What a lovely way to finish.