@ Café Oto (East)
Whilst discovering more about Širom before I went to see them in East Londons nicest cafe venue (personal opinion), I found that they describe themselves on facebook as Slovenian acoustic folk trance drone avant-garde experimental band. - I figured if they have as much musical inspiration as they do genre describing words, then we’d be in for a a mouth full of music.
Café Oto is located in East London, cafe by day selling vinyls teas and cakes, and by evening, the small barely raised stage fills and the room transforms into magical musical get away. This time on entering the Oto, seats were being placed out fo the ever growing audience. Looking around, the audience seemed mainly middle aged artistic types, some with small kids tacking naps in their laps, and the odd student here and there.
I took a seat to the right of the stage and feasted my eyes on the array of musical instruments mapped out on the floor. I see two balafons, African xylophones, I see a ribab, a one stringed lute from Morocco played with a padded bow and traditionally accompanying poets. As well as this, we can see a violin, many forms of percussion, a small kalimba lamellaphone which is a small thumb piano and a few other instruments also.
The Slovenian trio came to the stage, and in an atmospheric way began the musical journey. For that’s what it was. The trance came over to me in waves, at times during the performance I found myself with my eyes closed in an almost mediative way as the music took ahold of my conscience.
Notably each movement lasted around the twenty minute mark, certainly not a performance of 4-7 minute songs back to back. During each piece, the members of the group: Iztok Koren, mainly on percussive instruments and banjo, Ana Kravanja rousing on the violin, however playing many other things too and finally, Samo Kutin on the balafons, kalimbas and something that looked somewhere between a DIY-do-it-yourself Kora, and an oversizes gourd bow. Research tells me this is in fact a home-made harp.
The music starts, I notice at first that Iztok is playing the banjo with the bow…(I later noticed we actually had a 4 strings banjo, and a 5 string). At first I wasn’t sure I enjoyed the sound, but once layered and set in its context with the violin and balloon playing, and then slowly a beat, I found myself in awe and embarrassed I had initially doubted the sound. The avant-garde elements were obvious enough, the audio experimentation, the adventurous journeys they were taking us on. This bow came into use in many ways, at some point, a balafon was picked up vertically, and the thin edges of the keys were played with this bow. Again, a strange yet immersive sound.
Lyrics take a back seat with this experience, the occasional vocal drone from Ana and Samo, we had rhythm sections, at a couple of memorable points, Ana and Samo interlocked their two balafons, both members playing both balafons, the skill was impressive to say the least, furthermore this created such a beautiful sound. Melodies were made from muted strings, sounds were pulled from everything: the slide of a finger on a guitar, beating a rusty bicycle chain cog creating a singing bowl effect, the beat from tapping a banjo face, a shake of a small bell and a whisper directed away from the microphone.
Širom performed a musical experience, with such long pieces it was easy to loose yourself in their trance. Wether it be the ongoing ukulele, or the banjo or violin, as the musicians switched between instruments mid-movement, they did so with such a gracious and smooth transitions keeping the vibe alive throughout.
Their energy exuded thoughts of nature, running water, the kalimba and the balafons connotated rain-forests for me, I felt that Širom were welcoming me into their imiaginations, into their nature, into the landscapes of Slovenia. It sounded as though each ember had multiple sets of hands and were creating noises that I could barely keep up with.
Širom formed in 2014 and are signed to Glitterbeat records, their 2017 album ‘I Can be a Clay Snapper’ is available on Spotify, I would personally recommend ‘Boats, Biding, Beware!’. For me the album falls directly into that that can be played on nearly all occasions, be it a dinner party, an intense personal listening session, cycle around the city or relaxing with friends. I
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of seeing Širom at Cafe Oto, I would call it an experience. Although musical, it certainly didn’t feel quite like a normal gig, a gig installation perhaps? There we find our avant-garde.