Whenever I go to a concert in the Purcell Room, I remember that South Bank boss who announced that he was going to knock it down and build a super-duper new venue underground. The plan bit the dust, the boss decamped with his tail between his legs, and the hall mercifully remained as it is: an intimate space with an excellent acoustic. So why amplify?
Over-amplification was only one of Mukka's crimes, when they occupied this space with a concert entitled 21st-Century Gypsy Beats. They also kept their audience waiting 25 minutes, filling in the time with records many people knew and were sick of. And when they did appear - like a bunch of kids who'd raided the prop box for "Gypsy" attire - they didn't seem to have done much preparation. Their barefoot dancer had to weave her way through drums and mikes, taking care not to trip over wires; their singer tried to get everyone up and dancing, despite the fact that it's not a good idea to make two hundred people dance on two narrow flights of steps.
Yet Mukka could be good. Their musicians are first-rate, their hyper-articulated dancer is mesmerising, and their singer Dana could comfortably command a whole evening by herself. All that's missing is professionalism. And in that, they should take a lesson from Mazaika, a "Gypsy" band who regularly hone their act in Tuesday night sessions at the Quecumbar brasserie in Battersea.
Their violinist Sarah Harrison plays so fast that she gasps like an exhausted sprinter after each dizzy riff; their accordionist and singer Igor Outkine co-presides over the proceedings with gnome-like geniality; he also has a lovely tenor voice. We got Brahms and Sarasate, Polish tangos sung in Russian, and love-songs galore; at one point we were roped in to deputise for an absent 300-voice chorus. By the end of the evening, the Purcell Room had become a tavern.
But the most significant world-music event of the week was on Radio 3, where Andy Kershaw brought us a programme from North Korea. Entitled The Songs of The Hermit Kingdom, this two-parter gave that impoverished pariah-state the sort of sympathetic scrutiny it rarely gets in the Western media, whose reporters take their sneering cue from the Bush and Blair governments.
As Kershaw discovered, there's a beating heart behind the brainwashed façade of the average soldier or spokesman, and often real musical talent. One of the waitresses he coaxed into song had a vibrato spanning half an octave but other singers were bewitching. Most children in this "uncivilised" land learn an instrument. The Axis of Evil may not be buried yet, but this documentary represented one more nail in its coffin.Reuse content