World Music Day: Lock 17, Camden Town London
Wednesday 07 January 2004
Radio 3's born-again devotion to world music means that every New Year's Day is given over to it, and if this year's foray has turned out to be less adventurous than previous years, it is still an excellent idea to raise the profile of the Asian musicians who now reside over here. The grand finale is a live concert at Camden Town's Lock 17 - formerly known as Dingwall's - where a succession of crowd-pleasers are invited to strut their stuff.
First up is an Edinburgh band I have until now always resisted the idea of - Salsa Celtica, billed as, "Scots musicians in love with Latin music, and Latin musicians in love with Scots music." For a while my suspicions seem vindicated: putting a four-square beat over a Cuban groove proclaims a European centre of gravity. But as their sunny music takes hold, and their Venezuelan singer asserts his vocal kinship with Ibrahim Ferrer, that centre shifts west and I am won over. While the stage is being rearranged for the next group, Lucy Duran offers a radio excursion to the Canaries Womad, where a Tenerife band shows the benign effects of exposure to their musical roots, thanks to an encounter with Buena Vista Social Club.
After that, it is the Irish folk singer Cara Dillon's turn to shine, but her mousey little voice is totally eclipsed by what follows - Ladino singer Yasmin Levy. Levy's speciality is Judaeo-Spanish songs from 600 years ago, but what she does with them is electrifying. Her natural timbre is a high, delicate vibrato, with a thrilling edge, and more than a hint of danger. She doesn't quite hit the "cracked" tone required by the first flamenco song she essays, but when she delivers a flamenco song she chanced to hear a Turkish woman sing once, the effect is powerfully authentic; great to find this sort of song-collecting reminiscent of Bartok still goes on. That number is sung a cappella, but otherwise she's accompanied on an Armenian duduk, and the two voices complement each other in a bewitching way. Here is a small prediction: this simple reed recorder, which some say goes back 3,000 years, will have caught on big in Europe, by the end of 2004.
After another Canaries interlude, when the Iraqi-Jewish singer Yair Dalal proclaims his mission of peace, we wash back up on British soil with the Water Boys and are reminded of the essential banality of our home-grown brand of folk. No wonder Terry Hall (late of Fun Boy Three) has felt impelled to join forces with Mushtaq (late of Fun-Da-Mental). These charismatic performers carry the rest of the evening with their hot new blend of hip-hop, Middle Eastern, and Gypsy elements, which is by turns spaced-out and sharply political. A perfect way to see out the old year, and ring in the new.
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