By Dan Talmo
As promised, this is the second of my two-part blog on the WOMEX international world music conference held in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. If you arrived here without seeing Part I, here is the direct link: http://www.wortfm.org/wort-at-womex-2016/
The final two evenings (Friday and Saturday, October 21-22) of WOMEX again featured an abundance of quality artists from around the world. Each evening featured 15 bands to choose from. On both evenings, my wife Paula and I took the option to listen to entire sets of fewer bands (and not run as much between venues as we did Thursday evening).
The highlight of Friday evening was the performance by Italian group Bella Ciao led by Ricardo Tesi. Bella Ciao is both the name of the group and the name of a famous Italian partisan (anti-fascist) resistance song from World War II. Tesi gave some background on the importance of the song in Italian folk music revival. In 1964, the song was the flash point between communist and fascist factions in Italy. The publicity over the song encouraged more interest in folk music and helped fuel a folk music revival that is still strong today. Opening with this, the group moved on to a wide variety of folk songs from all over Italy. They featured four singers, three female and one male. The female singers either sang in harmony or took turns with verses. They also came from diverse regions of Italy which gave authenticity to their folk style range.
Another special performance of the evening was the C4 Trio from Venezuela. Actually a quartet, the ensemble consisted of three cuatro players and a bass. I’ve never seen such fast picking and strumming with exceptional interplay among the band members.
Also Friday evening were fine performances by La Negra who is originally from Spain but sounded more Pan-Latin, Jose Mucavele with a velvet Mozambican voice, and Bixiga 70 whose Brazilian funk was the best party sound of the week.
These are the five performers we saw on Friday evening and links to their music:
La Negra (Amparo Velasco, Spain)
Bella Ciao (Italy)
José Mucavele (Mozambique)
C4 trio (Venezuela)
Bixiga 70 (Brazil)
On Saturday, the final evening of the conference, we caught another five performances. The best of the evening was the ensemble led by Palestinian Adnan Joubran. We were familiar with Joubran from his performance with the Trio Joubran at one of the earliest Madison World Music Festivals. Expecting a solo oud performance, we were surprised and ultimately delighted by a full ensemble with cello, woodwinds, tablas, and other percussion. Their repertoire was firmly routed in the Middle East but occasionally branched into Indian and other world sounds. The ensemble’s music was exceptionally tight and the oud solos were exquisite.
Also on Saturday we caught the Mozambican eight-piece funk band Narf and Timbila Muzimba, the highly danceable and traditional sounds of Galicia’s own Radio Cos, the stylish bandoneon tango sounds of Quinteto Bataraz, and finally, the eccentric emotional and visual performance of Fado singer Gisela Jaoa.
Here is a list of the Saturday performances with some video links:
Narf and Timbila Muzimba
A few days have passed since WOMEX and I’m still coming off the high of experiencing so much talent compressed into one long weekend. In spite of my praise, the event was not without a few drawbacks that should be noted. These were not with the performers, but with the venues’ presentations. Every venue at WOMEX suffered to different degrees by three annoyances: volume levels, back lighting, and smoke machines. I give these criticisms relative to expectations of folk and world music performances. A rock concert in a large venue would have different standards and some world music performers are definitely rock-oriented. But for the most part, volumes at all venues were too high for the style of music being performed.
Lately, and not just at WOMEX, we have seen more widespread use of fancy controlled lighting programs. This mostly involves lighting that points either straight down on performers or directly into the audience, backlighting the musicians. The audience sees a silhouette with a halo. That halo swirls around and changes to all sorts of colors and at times, the audience can’t see anyone on stage since we’re blinded by a strobe light. While I try to watch an accordion and fiddle, the venue wants me to think it’s Pink Floyd. We struck up a conversation with two of WOMEX’s own hired professional photographers and asked them what they thought about the lighting. One replied in a heavy Greek accent, “It’s the werewolf festival. We told them it was bad. You should tell them too.”
Finally, the smoke machine. As I mentioned, the volume was loud, with bright lights in my eyes, then whatever view of the band I struggled for was finally obscured by clouds of smoke. Was this an attempt to simulate a 1950’s Paris café? No cigarettes inside anymore so we have to pretend? Volume, lighting, and ambiance should all work to enhance the concert experience, not overwhelm it. But will we go to WOMEX next year in Katowice, Poland? You bet!
Photos by Paula A. White