Posts Tagged ‘Afrobeat’

Firmly established in its 24th year as one of the premier music festivals of the world, the Byron Bay Bluesfest continues to top its already heady highs. The lineup for this year’s festival was a dream program for lovers of blues and roots music and anything else festival director Peter Noble decided to throw our way.

Criticised in the past for veering too far from its original blues brief, Bluesfest has outgrown these criticisms purely by booking the biggest acts in the world, and some of the most interesting – over the past few years headliners have been Bob Dylan, B B King, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Yes, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty, Paul Simon and (almost) Roger Daltrey performing Tommy (even though Daltrey didn’t show – next year maybe?).

Noble’s knack for picking the greats, blues or not – and a demonstration of the power he wields on the world festival circuit in doing so – was vindicated by this year’s record attendance: capacity crowds of 17,000 per day which adds up to 85,000 in toto.

And I was one of those fools dancing in the rain. And the smile is still on my face.

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Taj Mahal

Accompanied by Gaz T, my intrepid local tracker and native guide, my 24th Byron Bay Bluesfest experience started on the Friday with the wonderful Taj Mahal. Mahal was one of those bluesmen – like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee – that the 1970s hippie freaks took to their hearts back in those fragrant days. His popularity has remained undiminished since then. As is often the case, I expected a creaky veteran, tottering on a chair – but what we got was a big man, standing tall, whipping his trio through modern blues, pre-war country blues and even calypso flavoured blues. Yeah!

And if Taj Mahal surprised me with his age-denying vigour, reggae and ska legend Jimmy Cliff utterly floored me. Cliff was already a star in Jamaica while Bob Marley was merely learning his trade, and at 65 he has lost nothing – twisting, dancing, leaping through his set. It is this pin-sharp showmanship that reminds us of the huge influence classic 60s Motown had on pre-Marley Jamaican artists. Slick, soulful and bang-on, his beautiful songs had heart, message and groove.

jimmycliff

Jimmy Cliff

Shuggie Otis

Shuggie Otis

While everyone headed to Steve Miller in one of the big tents, I moved towards the smaller Jambalaya stage and blues guitarist Shuggie Otis. Otis was a child prodigy of the blues guitar, the son of rhythm-and-blues bandleader Johnny Otis. After a few semi-hits in the 70s he faded from view. After a 40 year hiatus for whatever reason, he is back touring the world and I could not miss him. Rail thin and now with the angular almost-Latin good looks of his father, Shuggie seemed troubled and ill at ease. But when he found his zone and soared, he soared higher and higher. His beautiful playing took my breath completely away. In a way it was more exciting to see an artist who could easily miss, but hit it so well; compared to all the other in-the-pocket coolly-pro bands at Bluesfest, Otis’s set had that element of danger. Sublime and edgy.

Then the rain hit and my Bluesfest experience sprung a leak. Not having brought a raincoat or wet-weather gear I was soaked to the skin in minutes. Not being able to squeeze into the Steve Miller tent I stood in the rain and watched him play ‘Fly Like An Eagle’ – rain will come and go, the beautiful epoch-defining voice of The Space Cowboy (some call him Maurice…) singing this glorious freedom song was here and now. Around me, teenage fans danced in the rain to Miller’s golden period hits, singing every word to ‘Rockin’ Me Baby’ and ‘The Joker’. It’s only rain, it can soak our skin but it can’t dampen our spirit.

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Carlos Santana

Keeping the San Fran psychedelic vibe going – albeit in a very very different way – Santana’s set began with cosmic interstellar graphics fading in and out of the two huge screens either side of the stage. Then it was a brief drum roll from drummer Dennis Chambers and the Santana band roared into 1971’s ‘Toussaint L’Overture’. As well as Chambers, the percussion backline was made up of long-time conguero Raul Rekow and Karl Perazza on timbales – who together propelled the music like a freight-train, but a freight-train which skips and dances lightly along the track. Of course the main voice of this band has always been the elegant guitar playing of Carlos Santana – always lyrical, always going for the emotional connection over the empty dazzle of technique. Which ultimately makes him, above and beyond his Latin and jazz phrasing, one hell of a great blues guitarist – as we heard from a short (and all too rare) snatch of Santana playing some straight blues during the set. Can music reviewers still use words like ‘celestial’? I guess I just did, because it is the only word I have left to describe Santana’s unearthly performance.

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi

The day ended with a truly soulful set from The Tedeschi-Trucks Band. The absolute highlight of my first ‘Fest two years ago, the band of slide ex-wünderkind Derek Trucks and his wife, vocalist Susan Tedeschi never fails to amaze. For their 2013 return they brought their three-man horn section along and their firepower went up a notch. The thrilling ‘Midnight In Harlem’ – a song that is built on an almost sexual upward curve – had Trucks’ solo coda taking it up and up into that region that Carlos Santana used to (and I am sure still does) call ‘spiritual orgasm’.

I was saturated with rain, good vibes and killer music. And I still had two days to go.

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allentoussaint

Allen Toussaint

Saturday we eased in with the once and future king of the Big Easy himself, New Orleans magus Allen Toussaint. The man’s CV is virtually a history of modern R&B, soul and funk and his urbane cool belies his immense impact in shaping these musics. As if his beautiful, artfully funky music (and stunningly virtuosic piano playing) wasn’t gift enough, he threw Mardi Gras masks (and green and yellow AFL footballs?) to the crowd. A charmer in every way.

After a while cruising the human river and people watching (a Bluesfest pastime in itself) I chanced upon Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. And it was one of those wonderful music moments when seeing a band live makes you an instant fan – all subsequent listening experiences filtered through that thrilling ‘Eureka!’ moment of discovery. Wilco’s music seems to beat with the same American-classic heart at the centre of the songs of Neil Young and the darker Bruce Springsteen material. The band (especially guitarist Nels Cline) seem to be able to paint perfect soundscapes behind any of Tweedy’s songs, be they dark rockers or sweeter country-tinged ballads. A revelation.

Floating on the beauty of Wilco’s music I was yanked back down to earth by Status Quo. Britain’s answer to AC/DC, the indestructible Quo have been playing the same song for over 40 years – a variant on 12-bar pub boogie that has sold 118 million albums (think about that figure for a minute). Watching their flawless set, with mainstays Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt rocking hard before banks of white Marshalls, I could (almost) forgive them their awful Coles ads. Some bands are simply a force of nature and Quo are a blast of the simple joy of undiluted rock’n’roll.

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Robert Plant’s Sensational Shape Shifters

The straight-from-the-botttle thrust of Quo was perhaps a good brain-scourer –  an astringent appetiser – for the almost too-rich feast that was Robert Plant, which followed next. The fabled Led Zeppelin vocalist has been the main obstacle to any Led Zep reunions, as he has always moved forward with his music, taking his former band’s world-music aesthetic to greater heights than they ever did. His new band, The Sensational Shape Shifters, are the best version of Plant’s patented future-primitive groove – to one side of the stage we have Juldeh Camara working a Gambian wooden banjo, to the other side keyboardist John Baggott (ex-Massive Attack) sits in a nest of synths and laptops. Plant acknowledged the faithful with a few Led Zeppelin tunes, but messed with their anthem ‘Whole Lotta Love’, bedding it in a chugging African drum figure. Unlike almost every other ‘legendary’ act at Bluesfest he made no attempt to recreate his past, instead giving us a show we would think about for many months to come – a show driven by the restless creativity and often contrary nature of a true and uncompromising artist.

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Sunday we awoke to clouds and gray skies over the succulent green of Byron Shire. At the ‘Fest, Tony Joe White’s Swamp-Fox baritone conspired with the dull skies to lull us into maybe too deep a state of ‘relaxation’. We needed a wake-up!

saskwatch

Saskwatch

And we got it in the shape of Melbourne nine-piece Saskwatch. Bursting with chops and youth – and fronted by their not-so-secret weapon, vocalist Nkechi Anele – the band mixes soul, funk and Afrobeat horns to great effect. Like Mayer Hawthorne in the US they also take the bouncier, pop-soul side of Motown and do great things with it. Last year it was The Eagle and The Worm that assured me music is in good hands for the future – this year is was the snap, crackle and (soul-)pop of Saskwatch.

My 2013 Bluesfest experience wound to a finish in a mix of rain, muddy dancers and 1970s progressive rock classicism. Jon Anderson, the vocalist of perhaps the greatest of all Prog bands, YES, played an intimate solo show for us that was quite sublime. (Oddly, YES played Bluesfest last year with –surreally – a replacement vocalist who was drawn from a YES covers band). Listening to Anderson peppering his set with acoustic, folky versions of YESsongs made me realise that it was in this form these tunes were written and presented to the band – who then proceeded to inflate them to Prog size. Unadorned with pomp, they are lovely songs, Anderson’s voice is one of the sweetest in all Rock and the man is once of our most beloved space cadets.

My prize for 24th Bluesfest Festival Moment goes, however, to the experience of standing in the teeming rain, with my 5 dollar poncho disintegrating on my back as I listened to Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson singing ‘It’s Raining Again’ (with not a drop of irony from what I could gather). But of course, the magic of his songs – one beautifully uplifting hit after another – sung in his spacey tenor blew away the rainclouds in my head and warmed the souls of all who listened. Once again, it’s only rain; this was bliss, a good reason to live right here, right now.

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stilts

Beautiful people

So that was it – right there, right then. Bluesfest 2013 – a festival beyond belief in so many ways. Criticisms? Around me I heard faint grumbles of over-selling and over crowding, and yes, it seemed fuller that previous years. But it is never anything like a problem – considering the logistics of an event that has grown to such proportions, artistically and attendance-wise.

What will Peter Noble conjure up for us next year? Being the 25th Bluesfest, he and his intrepid team will need to go beyond the pale to top the jaw-dropping line-ups of the last few years. The Jimi Hendrix Experience? The Beatles? Elvis Presley (pre-Hollywood of course)? I am just putting it out there – and knowing Noble’s almost supernatural powers (coupled with the soul of a true music fan), I really wouldn’t entirely put it past him.

 

Published April 2013 on megaphoneoz.com

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With roots in the tiny Indian Ocean nation of Seychelles, home to a unique culture that fuses Africa, Europe and Asia, Grace Barbé is a singer, songwriter and musician whose music, like her mixed heritage, reflects and celebrates the diverse influences of her Creole culture. The combination of afro-funk, island roots and reggae sung in Creole, English and French laced with a modern pop sensibility has created a fresh vibrant sound in the world music scene.

Grace has recently released her debut album, Kreol Daughter and will be appearing at the this years WOMADelaide. Check out her music – it is as funky as a breath of fresh air can be –http://wp.gracebarbe.com.

I recently spoke with Grace about her music for TheOrangePress.net:

 TheOrangePress: I will start by going backwards. What did winning the WAMI (Western Australian Music Industry Association) Award in 2008 mean to you and your music?

Grace Barbé: In 2008… well, that was my first Award in WA and it kind of recognised why I am doing music and gave me the motivation and inspiration to actually keep doing it, and know that I can be recognised for my work. I’ve won three other WAMIs after that so it has been fantastic.

TOP: Your music is beautiful… I am very interested in the Seychelles influence on the music. I listened to a YouTube clip of ‘Fatige’ and  – I am a muso – it took me a little while to figure out what time-signature that was in… It was a beautiful groove. Is that part of it – the crossing over (of rhythms)?

GB: It is not the ‘Sega’ but it is influenced by the ‘Sega’ from the Indian Ocean Islands… but on quite a few of my songs I’ve got quite a bit of crossover happening between Afrobeat music, the ‘sega’ and a bit of afro-funk in there – it’s quite a complex track!

TOP: I’m glad I didn’t try to dance to it… but I ended up dancing to it anyway… Now, you collaborate with James Searle; can you give me some insights on how you guys collaborate… how do you work together… who does what?

GB: Sure. Yes, Jamie and I – I call him Jamie – we’ve been working together for almost ten years now. We were in bands together in the past in Perth. He’s from the UK and he grew up on reggae music and African Music and he lived in Tanzania for a year – so he’s got all these influences and a rich collection of African music and Afrobeat… he was so fascinated by the Seychelles and the Indian Ocean Islands and he was lucky to head over there to the Seychelles and Mauritius and do a bit of research. We came back with all this information and these rhythms, thinking it’s crazy not to be doing something with this – properly, with proper production. We started working on reggae first; we had reggae bands – and once we’d done it for a while and we studied the industry and how it works, we’re thinking there’s a lot of reggae bands out there – if we want to stand out we need to do something quite unique. And here I am, a Seychelloise living in Perth – it would be crazy for me to not go back into history and bring all that into my music. So that’s what we did: we started introducing the Sega rhythm and the crossovers, the Afrobeat … and pop and funk… introducing it to the band. And in about five years, with the lineup I have now, it took about that long to play the rhythms the way that we do now.

TOP: Oh really?

GB: My drummer is from Amsterdam and he’s never played sega before but he grew up with the African rhythms – he’s been to Guinea and knows about the African rhythms… he’s got the 6/8 feel already, but you’ll fine that the 6/8 rhythms from around the world, they sound familiar but they’re all a bit different. But he had to learn how to play the Sega from the Seychelles and Mauritius properly.

TOP: Talking about collaborations, on Kreol Daughter you’ve worked with Jeremy Allom (UK producer and engineer: Massive Attack, Bjork, Sly & Robbie, Maxie Priest) from the UK. How did that come about?

GB: Well he lives in Perth and I didn’t even know that. And it was through someone in the music scene who mentioned it who’d worked with him. We thought we’d go and see what he’s like, and we really liked his work. He’s fantastic to work with and he loved what we were doing.

TOP: He understood where you were coming from?

GB: Absolutely. He being from the UK and working with major reggae artists… with the reggae on the Kreol Daughter album. So that’s why we brought him onto the project, because we knew that he specialised in that particular genre. And the other tracks he mixed really well, the non-reggae tracks on the album…

TOP: Was he very hands on? Or did he just let you do your thing?

GB: He was a hands on engineer and mixer. Jamie Searle is my producer and I co-produced with him. So it was myself, James and Jeremy in the studio pretty much and it was fantastic …I tried to stay in the background and watch these two guys at work. It was my first album so I learned a lot through the process…

TOP: And are you happy with how it all turned out?

GB: I’m very happy…

TOP: So you are doing WOMADdelaide in March?

GB: I am.

TOP: And are you looking forward to that?

GB: I am. It’s been my dream for the past few years to play at WOMAD, finally. It’s my biggest gig so far I would say… one of my biggest and my priorities are for WOMAD for the next few months.

TOP: That’s wonderful. One last question: What’s your view on current music?

GB: On current music? Well, I try not to get too caught up or too stressed about where the music industry is going, and where music is going. I try to eliminate that as much as possible in my own work, so I can focus on doing what I do – because what I do is genuine, it’s fresh and it comes from my heart… and I’m putting as much as I can into it, and it shows: it reflects in the reaction of the audience. I listen to a lot of other musics… I find that pop music is getting really stale. I grew up on pop music as well, I’m an 80s child… but it’s getting very stale and its all the same. It definitely means that I’m not taking little influences here and there to put into my own style… it’s very important for me to push the foundation of who I am as an artist from the Indian Ocean islands… that’s what I’m focussing on.

Published February 2012 on theorangepress.net