Posts Tagged ‘WOMEX’


Emily Portman Trio performs “Sunken Bells” at WOMEX from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

My deep love for British folk music stems back to my first Young Tradition albums, which landed in the USA and immediately made waves in the folk community here. Although there will always be musical mingling along borders, I still find that Britfolk is distinctive from Celtic music. I will leave it to those who can articulate it better to write what those differences are, (comments welcome!) but for me the melodies, harmonic structures and lyrics touch me deeply and are very much their own.

Emily Portman is definitely spinning her songs from the web of British folk music (and a sprinkling of other folk lore). What is lovely is that these songs feel if they have been around for centuries, and even though the poetic lyrics may be post modern in sentiment, they still stem from the magic and mayhem that pervades myths and folk tales. This is very well crafted, creative songwriting.

The Emily Portman Trio performed for a daycase at WOMEX, and I was not at first drawn into the sound. But I was glad that I stayed and shot, because as I did, I started to appreciate the music far more. Portman has a rather soft, head voice, but it is deadly accurate, and the two other women who make up the trio (Lucy Farrell on on viola and Rachel Newton on harp) supply imaginative, sure footed harmonies. Between the three they create a hypnotic sound that may start with a drone or a simple repeated figure, which gets more layered and richer as the song proceeds. Stay with this stuff, it will entrance you in the best sense of the word.

“Sunken Bells” was inspired by mermaid tales. I was first struck by the musical elements of the song but the lyrics are something to be savored, perhaps on a second or third listening.


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The French-rooted communities in Canada and Louisiana have become treasure houses of culture, and that culture summons up a way of life where people worked hard, loved hard, and danced just as hard.

A good dance band has to keep the dancers moving. And if the beat isn’t right, the dancers will know it — and show it. So not only do you have to be fleet-fingered, your energy has to match that of the dancers, it has to push them, lift them, provide that wonderful ride and release that is a good dance. Watching and listening to the Québécois band De Temps Antan at their WOMEX showcase, that point was powerfully brought home. The room was only just large enough for the crowd that came to hear them, and there was certainly no room for dancing. Still, one could see the many dance gigs that must have shaped this trio. You’ll see a superb interaction and great joy in their presentation, and they feed off the energy in a room and get stronger with each song. Having reviewed the footage I shot many times, I can tell you that I almost felt exhausted myself by the end of the set– yet their tempos remained rock solid and their arrangements tight.

That said, I’ve chosen to start off my video with one of their slower songs, one they found in an archive. These guys do their homework researching older material and giving it fresh new arrangements. “Jeune et Jolie” (young and pretty) has a sturdy melody, and the band works it for all its worth. It gives you a chance to see that these guys –who all, by the way, tenured with “La Bottine Souriante” that institution of Québécois music — aren’t just wonderful instrumentalists, they are also excellent singers. This is followed by a buoyant dance medley.

Watching a performance like this makes me wonder what we may have lost in our journey towards more and more impersonal modes of music delivery. I ask myself “what is the difference in the experience of dancing to a live band, and dancing to a deejay?” It’s a hard one to answer, but there are differences, and they are worth thinking about and evaluating.

De Temps Antan is: Éric Beaudry (guitar, bouzouki, vocals, feet), André Brunet (fiddle, vocals, feet) and Pierre-Luc Dupuis (accordion, harmonica, vocals, feet).

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Papa Wemba was already a huge star in the Congo when I was just getting my feet wet in world music over twenty-five years ago. I first encountered Congolese popular music through the recordings of Tabu Ley Rochereau. The music was incredibly buoyant, reminding me a lot of the uplifting character of Haitian compas. I spent many an hour dancing alone in my apartment to that insanely happy beat called soukous. Papa Wemba’s name is likewise associated with soukous and Congolese rhumba, and he is a major force in his own right, cranking out hit after hit.  As you will hear, his voice is sweetness itself, and if you are not already familiar with his music I suspect you will want to hear more.

Wemba was surely the headliner at this year’s WOMEX, and he did not disappoint. He and his band turned in a stellar set, getting the big auditorium pulsing with irresistible beats, infectious riffs and fluid guitar lines. It was a formidable reminder that Wemba is definitely open for business, and by the end of the set, just about everyone was up and dancing, and the African fans in the audience were  blissed. I was dutifully busy videotaping and that doesn’t always allow for enjoyment, but when the song featured here came up, I thought to myself “Whoa. This is the sh-t.”

Here’s some background from the WOMEX guide: “His glittering career spans four decades of Congolese music history, in which he’s played a crucial role. Since his debut in 1969 as one of the founders of the influential Zaïko Langa Langa, who shook up the rhumba scene with their powerful new approach and set the scene for the soukous craze, he’s set trends.…now celebrating 40 years at the top.”  And of course, just Google the name and you’ll have more info than you know what to do with.

My heartfelt thanks to Afropop Worldwide for sharing the excellent clean recording of the concert (which they in turn received from the BBC; thanks to them too!) without which I would never have posted the video.

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Here’s where you’ll find my weekly original world music video blogs that appear on Huffington Post, as well as an archive starting in April of 2009.

This is also the place where you will find video that is exclusive to my site. I’ve traveled to places like Uzbekistan, Morocco, and Taiwan and no matter where I go I have found amazingly talented and creative people working in every genre from the deepest traditions to the cutting edge.

It’s been incredibly rewarding to interview them and to capture some of what they do on video. Enjoy what you see and hear, and let me know what you think. I welcome your feedback.