Orishas! An Afrocuban Art Form

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In February I took part in the project Orishas! An AfroCuban Art Form as part of Trinity Laban’s two week festival, Colab.  Eight hundred dancers and musicians come together throughout this event to experiment and develop ideas.  It’s about the collaboration of art forms, people, music and culture and ultimately the journey this takes.

Orishas! An Afrocuban Art Form brought together 12 musicians and 7 dancers to explore the Yoruba traditions through contemporary music and dance styles.  Cuban form: Afro roots.  Our work was first publicly performed at Laban Theatre in Greenwich on Friday 13th February.

The Team

It was a privilege to work with such a diverse and inspiring team.  The lead composer Made Kuti, grandson to Fela Kuti who is a leading figure in the musical style Afro-beat and one of the most influential figures in African history, brought a deep understanding of the music from the roots of a culture where he was born.  Originally from Lagos in Nigeria, Made presented a truly authentic knowledge and feel for the music.  Joined by dancer and choreographer Noelia Tajes, from Spanish heritage, we explored traditional Cuban dance styles as well as a range of movement inspired by Orishas.  Another invaluable contribution to the project was José Ferrera Mulen, an incredible percussionist trained in his hometown of Guantanamo in Cuba.  He led the whole group in playing a range of Cuban drumming rhythms as well as a number of Cuban dance routines.

10991365_10155211256570626_4348781171671772118_n(left-right José, Noelia, Madé)

A Story

Orishas refers to the deities associated with West African traditions.  Our idea was to bring elements of one particular spiritual figure, Elegua.  Using four traits associated with Elegua, death, constriction, rebirth and freedom, we created our piece.  We used traditional chants and melodies in our piece.  Here is a clip of a chant we opened with, relating directly to our chosen spiritual figure.

Dancers Playing & Musicians Dancing

Throughout the week both musicians and dancers explored both art-forms and performed in some capacity in both elements.

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A Community

The project brought together a new group of people, many of whom had never worked with each other before.  The group morale was high and there was a real sense of working as a team. As an intensive short course we spent a lot of time as a group and it was amazing to see the support and willingness to explore everyone’s ideas.  The positive group dynamics were recognisable by the audience in the final performance.

A Performance

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Please Vote!

My folk band, The Maccaferri Club are delighted to have been selected for the video competition to open the main stage on Saturday evening at Warwick Folk Festival in July.

If you could take a minute to VOTE for us, we would be so so grateful.
VOTE HERE: http://www.warwickfolkfestival.co.uk/artists-and-events/concerts/new-folk-competition/

You can vote once a day throughout January.
A very happy New Year to you!
Xx

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The 12 Tunes of Christmas

Here is a selection of some of my favourite folk tunes, from albums released in 2013, for you to count down the days of Christmas with.  Remember only one each day, you wouldn’t open your advent calendar all in one go… or would you? 
On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
Monday Night at Riccardo’s (track 8) – Breabach
Nominated ‘Best Group’ for the 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, Breabach released their brand new album, ‘Ùrlar’, on 21st October.  Inspired by their Scottish roots, this album so aptly reflects this, not just through a clear connection to the sounds of their homeland but also through the title ‘Ùrlar’ meaning ‘Ground’ and referring specifically to the ‘piobaireachd ground’, the theme/ground of highland music. Track 8 on the album, ‘Monday Night at Riccardo’s’, introduced with the tune, ‘The Dudes of Hazzard’, inspired by the Scottish Highland bike race, is a fast paced tune and is definitely one of my favourites on the album. 
 Skip to track 8…
 
On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
 Wanderlust – Blue Rose Code
 After seeing Ross Wilson (Blue Rose Code) live at St James Church, Piccadilly, I was captivated by his charming musical presence, meaningful words and ultimately raw talent.  
 To read more about Blue Rose Code check out my Talent Spot review: https://steffidykes.wordpress.com/2013/11/09/karine-polwart-blue-rose-code-2/
 
On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
 Waxy’s -The Will Pound Band
Will Pound, one of the world’s top harmonica players nominated for 2014 Radio 2 BBC ‘Musician of the Year’ joins Henry Webster on fiddle, Chris Sarjeant on guitar and John Parker on double bass to form The Will Pound Band.  In the video below you can hear track 4 from the band’s debut album ‘A Cut Above’.  This video brings a lovely little reminder of the summer months of 2013.  I’m already excited for the festival season in 2014…    
 
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
Ganka’s Dance – Tandem
‘Challenging both the audience of a scene strongly rooted in tradition, the other, a culture stimulated by synthetics and technological enhancements, Tandem are bringing in a new crowd….’ 
Read more of my interview with Henry Webster from Tandem here: https://steffidykes.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/an-interview-with-tandem-no-handlebars/
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
Midnattsang – Gjermund Larsen Trio
Translated to mean ‘Midnight Song’, I have fallen asleep many a night listening to the creative melodies and beautiful harmonies of this inspiring Norwegian fiddle player.  Every track in his 2013 album ‘Reise’ is as good as the next.  
As Nick Coleman so articulately quotes in his review in The Independent:
Larsen’s trio plays highly melodic compositions which wander like jazz but root themselves like folk.’
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/reviews/album-gjermund-larsen-trio-ankomst-hello-1870698.html
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
Sorry – Karine Polwart
Spell-bounding stories enliven the words of the powerful songs written by Karine Polwart.  ‘Sorry’ differs somewhat from the rest, as although messages are undoubtedly hidden amidst the lines, this one song Karine chooses never to explain what made her write it. 
 
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
 One More Time With Feeling – Angus Lyon
“The idea behind this music was to explore the notion that a lot of who you are comes from those who went before you. The older I get the more this comes true. Like each generation of a family these three parts of music have their own individual voices and ideas but are ultimately influenced by what’s happened before. So much has changed in the world in the space of only three generations and I wanted to include that change in the style and attitude of the different parts.”
 Angus. 
(http://anguslyon.bandcamp.com)
 Need I say more…
 
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
 Breton Set – Lúnasa
 Recorded live with Ireland’s RTÉ Concert Orchestra at Dublin’s National Concert Hall, this Irish folk collective perform this set of 3 traditional Breton tunes drawing on the Celtic links with France.   
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
 The Bird That Winds the Spring (Fraction Man) – Lau
Remixed’ is Lau’s latest album formed as a result of some serious collaborations.  Some of the tracks are repeated on the album with different versions as Lau gave the remixers the choice of which previously recorded track they wanted to re-work; this gives the album a real character. 
 
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
 There Is a Stone – John Smith
After 2 years of writer’s block John Smith sincerely considered giving up on songwriting. His 2013 album ‘Great Lakes’ brought him strongly out of this troubling period with it’s sublime mix of soft husky vocals coloured by his beautiful guitar picking; depicting the words with such success and emotion.   
 
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
Red Rover – Paper Aeroplanes
Beautifully crafted folk-like melodies and wonderfully emotive lyrics.
 
 
On the twelfth day of Christmas….
I wish for you:
A very Happy Christmas! 
Here is a special set from my folk band, The Maccaferri Club.
 
 
                         Hope you have had a lovely 12 days of Christmas.
                                                                  Xx
 
 
 

An Interview with Tandem: No Handlebars

With no warning, country born, violinist Henry Webster was straight in at the deep end with this genre-crossing trio, Tandem, when former violinist just up and left.  Alongside guitarist and vocalist Dave Malkin and electronic composer Ben Corrigan this band pushes the boundaries of two completely different worlds of music, merging them together and calling it, “well whatever we like to call it on the night”.

Words by Steffi Dykes

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Looking out over the timeless and ambition fueled city of London, “give me the rolling hills of Oxfordshire” Henry so aptly puts, settled in the armchair of his charming little loft apartment, mug of tea in hand.  Darkness has fallen and the occasional flash of fireworks illuminate the room through the glass panes beamed across the ceiling this cold, wintery Bonfire Night.

Already touring around the country just months after joining Tandem, Henry has had a lot to take on.  Their debut album, launched just months before he joined the group, had been recorded with their previous violinist, and so Henry was on task to learn all the tunes, pretty much “overnight”.  As a long-term friend to band member, Dave, he admittedly had listened to the music before; not to mention the fact “it’s a really really great album” he chuckles to himself as he subtly plugs this little compilation of delights, From Good Stock.  Challenges are of course inevitable but this diligent young musician takes it in his stride, “it’s all fun though” he shrugs it off as he relaxes back into his seat.

Replacing a band member isn’t about imitating their playing, but it’s about bringing a new approach and different ideas.  Naturally things will change and already “the sound is different”, not just due to Henry’s addition, but also as the three experiment with new ideas together.  “Ben’s completely different approach to music is such an invaluable contribution”.   Henry’s favourite track on the album is Golden Harps, and with a clear hint of recognition in his voice he adds, “Ben really took this one and did his own thing, it’s really cool”.  Moving forward to new material, Henry brings to the mix a former tune he composed for a band he leads, the Henry Webster Band, to perform at Oxford Folk Weekend last year.  As Dave was also in this band, Henry had had ‘his influence in arranging the tune previously’, however coming back at it fresh now, with Ben’s input, really allowed the creativity of the group to rework it.

“Living with Dave is logistically easy for rehearsals” Henry articulately states.  Band members Henry and Dave have been living together now for a while and playing together long before Henry became a member of Tandem, “we are used to putting up with each other”.  “I can always get out and go and pump my guns” he tenses his arms and laughs with a cheeky, infectious grin; glancing down at his stripy bamboo socks, his “number 1 tour essential” he confesses.

Challenging both the audience of a scene strongly rooted in tradition, the other, a culture stimulated by synthetics and technological enhancements, Tandem are bringing in a new crowd, assuredly pushing away from the hierarchical habits of folk clubs.  A mix of traditionally inspired folk music empowered by a creative electronic soundscape, that Henry describes as “Ben’s electrickery”.  “Our sound is completely and utterly inappropriate for folk clubs and they’d hate it”, he says, “We are sort of eliminating ourselves from what we know, which is difficult”.  A desire to inform a society of the traditional music of our country, “folk outreach” as Henry likes to call it.  We certainly know which country Henry’s rooting for.

Inspired by his home stomping ground, Henry was brought up in Oxfordshire, a place that has significantly contributed to his musical appetite.  A boy of 15 presented with the talented figure of John Spiers, (member of Bellowhead), when he returned to do some ceilidh workshops after having studied at the school himself years earlier, certainly “got the ball rolling”.  Now touring around the country, returning to Oxford for a gig at the Old Fire Station he looks forward, in particular to this one, with great anticipation.  He hopes for a good crowd of friends and family and local people to support him, giving them something in response to, “where have you been for the last four years?”

With no limitations, Tandem make plans to collaborate with a potter and a dancer, a project inspired by Dave’s hometown Lincolnshire.  Although “it’s the most topographically boring place in the world”, Henry mutters and struggles to see Dave’s attraction in “endless rows of cabbages and distance for miles” it is certainly something new to engage with.  For Tandem this is just the start as they dare to go beyond the constraints of what is known.  The “folk police” are on to them but they are not stopping yet, as their sound spreads through the villages and towns of this country.  Next year, they hope to take things further afield to the South of France and possibly to Germany.  Henry adds with a twinkle in his eye, “There is a strong folk scene in Germany and they might really dig this sort of music”.

Check Tandem out now on their current winter tour, running from 1st November – 1st December 2013

Karine Polwart & Blue Rose Code

With her delicate harmonies, intricately woven melodies and inspiring storytelling, Karine Polwart enchanted the audience of St James Church, Piccadilly, on Saturday evening.  Alongside her brother Steven Polwart and Inge Thomson, she sung of issues and events close to the heart of not only herself but also of many others.  Her study in politics and philosophy at the University of Dundee followed by many years working for Scottish Women’s Aid highlight her passion for social justice; this is so adequately illustrated through her lyrics.
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Karine’s performance of ‘Sorrowlessfield’, the penultimate track of her 2008 album, ‘This Earthly Spell’ was especially stirring.  A heartrending story in reference to The Battle of Flodden, the last and most ruthless battle between England and Scotland on the 9th September 1513.  A victory for England, with a brutal effect on Scotland, who suffered such a fatal loss.  Sorrowless Field is the name of a farm near Earlston that supposedly was the only farm where everyone made it home alive after the battle.  Karine’s elegant and poetic choice of words relate to this event, speaking for such powerful emotions of pain, grief and heartbreak.  
I dreamt last night of a sorrowless field
We lay all day in that meadow
I dreamt last night of a sorrowless field
Unburdened by destiny’s shadow
Based in the grounds of Sir Christopher Wren’s architectural wonder, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Occupy London Movement of 2012 fought for economic equality.  Inspired by this act of justice, Karine’s award winning song, ‘King of Birds’, was the encore of the evening.  Drawing on the Celtic mythology of the wren being the king of birds and, although small, powerfully symbolic as a bird that soars above any other, Karine delivers this message of triumphing over a higher force.  Closing with a glorious unity of voices, Karine led the people at St James Church in joining together to sing the chorus. 
The Support act of the night, Blue Rose Code, preceded Karine with an unbelievable start. After having been introduced to the music of Ross Wilson (Blue Rose Code) in the last few months, I was delighted to hear his trio would be performing at the event.  Ross’s natural stage presence was evident as he stood barefoot between, violinist/backing vocalist, Lizzie Ogle and banjo player/guitarist, Steve Smith, performing with infectious passion. 
Singing tracks from his debut album, ‘North Ten’, released February of this year, Ross presented such unique character and an undoubtedly stunning voice.  Explaining, to the humour of the audience, that he had spotted his wife sneaking in late at the back, he added the words ‘15 minutes late to me’ to the lyrics of ‘Julie’, a song written about his wife.  A fascinating song with undeniably cheesy lyrics, that he somehow manages to completely pull off, creating an ultimately charming masterpiece.  
Moving forward from a troubled past, Ross reflects on life with an acceptance and new found harmony.  The first track on his album, ‘Whitechapel’, speaks of a confession: ‘…this is where I’ll start, the renewal of my heart’.  Inviting Karine Polwart to the stage, together they sung this song with heavenly harmonies and a truly unique sound.  Through carefully crafted lyrics and an aura of honesty and warmth, Ross really delivered something sublime. 
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 Check out the amazing Blue Rose Code Trio performing at Cecil Sharp House, London on 13th November 2013. 
 
 

My Folk ‘Tail’

After a, what I like to call ‘rehabilitation’, weekend in Oxford, I returned to my cosy, (word used very loosely) little house in Greenwich to find my bed scattered with mouse droppings.
Following a rather harrowing week consisting of:
  • Hoovering up mouse droppings
  • Leaving a voicemail for the landlord
  • Hoovering up more mouse droppings
  • Emailing the landlord
  • Brushing a mouse off my face in the middle of the night
  • Calling the landlord x20
  • Over-enthusiastically welcoming the pest control man into my house
  • Hoovering up yet more mouse droppings

ImageMy hopes of returning to a mouse-free environment were rapidly demolished.  Instead, a delightful little trail had been left for me upon arrival.  It seemed that my bedroom was the preferred ‘hangout’; more specifically my bed.  Like most people I enjoy a cuddle, the warmth next to you, the sharing of space, infact they are now replacing an ‘apple a day’ for ‘a hug a day’.  Although these critea were fulfilled, slowly awakening to the gentle nuzzling of a mouse, as I’m sure you can imagine, was far from quixotic.  A week of very little sleep, followed by a weekend of nothing but sleep, the thought of a repeat scenario was rather unsettling.

18:00 – With a pair of marigolds, antibacterial spray and a strong coffee, I begin an evening of decontamination.   
22:00 – Finally I finish cleaning.  A nutella toast sandwich in hand, now I’m going to disinfect the surface with 3 different cleaning solutions… I’ve heard mice like chocolate.  I open a snapchat from my sister: it’s a photo of her face with drawn-on ears and fur. 
23:00 – Set up my new temporary bed on the sofa. Listen to Norwegian folk fiddler Gjermund Larsen through one ear and the other ear is on guard, picking up every minute movement in the house.  Due to the fact that every sound I hear I feel it a necessity to investigate, I am in a constant yo-yo from one room to the next.
01:00 – I hear rustling in the bin.  Bucket and shoe in hand I venture into the lair (aka the kitchen).  I can just about make out a small hole in the bin bag from where I am standing on top of the slightly unbalanced kitchen table.  I consider for a moment how crazy I must look dressed in pyjamas and wellies, stood on a table with a bucket in my hand.  After a number of prods from a-far, with the mop, out scurries the little terror.  A moment of panic and…  I’m not going to pretend I even got close to catching it.
02:00 – I hear something drop outside the house and go to investigate.  Looking amongst the pile of Wisteria on the pavement, that I had pulled off from around my window earlier, just incase the mice were using it as a climbing frame into my bedroom, I find nothing and resume position on the sofa.  
03:00 – I put all the shoes in neat pairs, shaking each one at arm’s length, just incase…  
04:00 – I research mouse traps, the opening hours of B&Q, Rent-A-Dog and How To Salsa Dance.  I realise I’ve listened to the same album 6 times (well it is pretty special). 
05:00 – I consider what I should have for breakfast.
06:00 – I establish it’s now a sane hour to get up.  ‘Snooze’ (continue to sit on the sofa) for a further 10 minutes… 
Fall asleep!

A Musician’s Guide to Europe.

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Nearly two weeks back into term, at Trinity College of Music, after an amazing summer of folk festivals and touring around Europe with my folk band, The Maccaferri Club.  From playing on a boat around the Croatian Islands to busking under the Eiffel Tower, gigging in the restaurants of Slovenia to performing in a barn at Purbeck Folk Festival… it’s safe to say it’s been a summer to remember.  It’s such a liberating feeling spending months with just a rucksack of belongings and a recorder!  We worked our way around Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Croatia, Slovenia, Venice, Montreux and Paris; I can tell you out of all the places… Paris had the best ice cream.  I can promise you I sampled enough to give a fair judgement!

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From my experience something I would definitely encourage, before venturing into a new country, would be a slight knowledge of their language, (or at least a pocket-sized dictionary). We met an assortment of characters whilst on our travels.  Our lack of speaking Czech did not help us when in Prague we went on a rather long and, well no, not very treacherous, expedition in search of a juggling shop (don’t ask).  This seemingly was nowhere to be found despite it clearly saying on the map it was ‘right there’.  We pointed in anticipation at our required destination on the map to a passing Czech man who couldn’t understand a word we said but continued to wave his arms in varying directions. Needless to say, we did not find the juggling shop.

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Over the course of the trip we were blessed with beautiful weather.  It wasn’t until very late one night, when we arrived in the sleepy Swiss town of Montreux, with nowhere to stay, that the weather took somewhat of a turn.  Fully equipped for the elements dressed in sandals, short shorts and an oversized raincoat borrowed from an older and rather larger relative, in the unlikely event (or so I’d thought) that it could possibly rain in any country other than England, we searched for somewhere to rest our heads for the night.  At this point, I wish I’d listened to my Year 9 geography teacher when reinforcing the importance during trips to “pack appropriately for all weather types”.  Finally huddled together on a church porch, with an incessant thunderstorm that one could quite rightfully describe as ‘on our doorstep’, we eventually settled.

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The art of bargaining.  A statement I believe, with genuine conviction, was a key ingredient in surviving the duration of our tour.  We used this approach in varying ways, from playing gigs at hotels in return for accommodation, to providing restaurant music in return for a meal (definitely the best way to experience the country’s cuisine).  I have to say, my favourite was, in Croatia, when we were wandering along the promenade and stumbled upon a stand advertising Carling.  A little haggling and we had come to the agreement that every time we played a tune we would receive a free beer.  Bargaining at it’s finest!

In any case the encounters you may meet on a musical trip abroad can never be fully deciphered; this giving travelling it’s thrill and spontaneity.  Through an insight into some of my experiences I can hope only to guide and inform you.  However, there is one vital element I would emphasize to a fellow musician…

Don’t forget to pack your instrument!

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