Songlines Music Awards 2021 Winners’ Concert, Barbican, London


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The Independent Culture

Songlines magazine hosts the only World Music awards in the UK, its winners chosen not by critics or industry professionals, but by readers and listeners. Its editor in chief Simon Broughton introduced the Best Newcomer, Album and Group award winners from the stage of a sold-out Barbican Hall.

Best Newcomer, Fatoumata Diawara, has been a regular concert presence since releasing Fatou last year. Here she was with a new band – sadly minus guitarist Moh Kouyate, and replaced by a loud, indifferent French player, though she rose to the occasion with an impassioned Kele (War), presaged by a speech imploring peace in her native Mali torn by political, ethnic and religious schisms.

Anoushka Shankar’s set was drawn from Traveller, an exploration of the shared routes and shoots of Indian and Flamenco music, with a seven-piece band featuring her sitar with guitarist El Melon, piercing shannai pipe and tanpura lute, Flamenco and Indian percussion and Spanish singer Sandra Carrasco.

It’s an enthralling, mesmerising music with Shankar’s rapid fingers letting loose a torrent of sounds from her centre-stage platform, the musicians ranged either side, and the confluences of Spanish and Indian forms rising and falling through a strong eight-song set. Highlights included a Farsi love song dating from the 13th century, the electrifying palmas and shinnai of Ishq, and a beautiful melding of Flamenco song and raga on guitar and sitar.

Tinariwen were the headliners and remain the most iconic of world music acts. The storm of violence hanging over their Saharan homelands means that music of any kind is now banned there, a fact which made their hypnotic and compelling performance all the more powerful.

Six of the band travelled from the Sahara up through Algeria to get to London and, in their Tuareg robes, speaking little beyond, ‘is okay?’, their compacted ten-song set was the first and last word in lean, unencumbered power, a masterclass in the ancient art of weaving that matches Ronnie and Keef.

They tune and stroke their songs into life, breaking them open from lean, probing single notes into gigantic, accumulating riffs. It’s as they’re following a faint desert path that builds into a spirit road, an exodus. It’s stuff for a standing ovation, which they get and deserve.

Afterwards, one of them’s out on Silk Street smoking impassively in his stage clothes as audience members stop to snatch photos and give thanks; a car blasts their music amidst the choking line-up of taxis down Beech Street. One must hope the nightmares engulfing their homeland will end, just as their music continues to reverberate.