RICH MIX (Brick Lane, London)
“Fourteen musicians, seven countries, three continents, one band”. Any world music lover would have their hands full with such a rich roster of indigenous instruments as are involved in the Världens Band. This colossal collection of cultures play styles of music hailing from the furthest corners of the world. Whilst watching the Världens Band I heard classical Indian inspirations, Swedish punk melodies, Mediterranean rhythms, Senegalese fusions, classic Greek and Scottish sounds, each blended with a multitude of various influences.
I walked into the ‘Rich Mix for the first time and I immediately liked the aesthetics of the venue. With its soft sunset coloured lights, it seemed there was a warm energy coming from the central stage. I looked around and couldn’t observe a particular demographic from the already formed crowd. Adults, old and young, stood side by side. Myself with a group of ethnomusicology students, stood next to a grandfather, father and son; a rare sight at a concert. There was nothing linking the varied audience together, such as style.
Immediately the eyes feasted upon the multitude of worldly decor and instruments dressing the stage. From mbiras, to koras, clarinets to Galician pipes, guitars to ukuleles, doumbeks to tablas, fiddles to accordions to name but a few. Promptly at 8pm, 14 musicians took to the stage and, without introduction, played their first tune: Thillana. Thillana is a traditional Indian song beginning with a lady singing in a traditional ‘devotional’ way; she is then joined, by the pipe, drums and fiddle. The audience is immediately receptive, seemingly impressed, applause circulates before the end of the song punctuating the singing of Charu Hariharan, who has won devotional singing competitions and has a wealth of traditional music teachings.
The tone it seemed, was set. Jumping immediately into their second song: this time one of the drummers came forward and played a tar which I had never before seen played live. So this ethnographer was starting to feel satisfied by this ‘world music’ concert. Furthermore the switching of instruments highlighted the multi instrumentalism of the obviously multi-talented players. The song then proceeded to gain instrumentation: bagpipes, flute, percussion and fiddle. Heralding quickly into an unlikely speedier pace - this pleased the audience who started to dance and clap along. This pattern of strange tempo combinations with break-down bridges was ever-present throughout their performance, mixing genres, tempos, rhythms and instruments in every song. Each introduction described which member of the band had written the song, from where in the world they had written it, and what styles it incorporated. This gave the impression that the audience were being taken on a journey: from each of the musicians home towns/countries, to the collected places they have travelled together. Each song was also embellished with a personal anecdote from the musicians, thus intensifying the bond between audience and performer, and by extension, audience members to one another. Furthermore the musicians themselves represented many different ethnicities, each adorned with clothes of wonderful colours and fabrics not local to London. An array of styles it seemed, representing their native homes, or perhaps collected whilst travelling the world together.
Halfway through the evening, they left the stage, taking a break. Breaking a set into two halves isn’t something that happens in the majority of headlining gigs. I believe perhaps this was a sign of the seriousness with which they take their music and styles. If one was to attend an orchestral performance in a concert hall, it would be expected to see the performance split into two, unlike the many rock or pop bands I have seen. The break allowed for discussion of the performance so far, and a buildup of anticipation for the second half.
I’d like to speak specifically about when Abdou Cissokho (born in South Senegal), introduced a song entitled “Revolution” saying “We are the young people and the old people of the revolution and we could make this world better… trust me” at which laughter rippled through the otherwise silent crowd. Each audience member appeared to be listening intently to the introductions of each song - something that had become apparently necessary in order to understand the forthcoming fusions. Starting a beautifully intense duet between Kora and fiddle, (played by Anna Möller of Sweden), with the gentle shake of a tambourine, a slow steady reggae beat is introduced with added bass, and ukulele. Abdou then sings the soft melody of a religious hymn sung to bring people together. Then it built up and was accompanied in parts by five part harmonies. The effect was instantaneous, as I look around the audience, all eyes are emotionally clamped on the delicate ornamentations being played on the Kora. A synonymous sway seemed to connect every person in the room together with one another and with the musicians. Supporting musicians on the accordion, doumbek, the Galician pipe and ukulele built a slow tension, to then drop out completely to be replaced by a bass/kora bridge which was almost performed in a call and response fashion. This once againreminded us of the versatility of the band. Then at once, with a flourish of Kora playing, all the instruments are brought back this time to a faster, upbeat reggae, almost afro-beat rhythm
I chose to speak about this song in depth for two reasons, firstly because not one person could be seen standing stationary during this song, and the undeniably enthused round of applause received at the end of the song, which resonated longer than any other. It felt as though, if I had listened to their album before the performance, that this song would have been the anticipated highlight of the evening. Secondly because having later listened to their recorded version and compared it with their live version, it is clear to see that the musicians themselves are versed in live improvisation; the studio version of ‘Revolution’ has much softer overtones throughout the whole track. Whereas, when played live, it built an energy throughout the whole song, which in turn, amounted to a climactic ending. The scene resembled that of a dramatic carnival like celebration, with people dancing with one another, and taking strangers by the arms.
I once heard a seminar on the ‘affect’ of live music between each audience member with one another and also with the musicians. It said that the audience noticing one another enjoying the music, in this case, smiling and dancing, only enhances the feeling of ‘joy’ in the occasion and that this ‘joy’ will be enhanced further if it is shared emotionally with the audience as well as the musicians. I found myself thinking back to this whilst watching the Varldens. The obvious friendship and love for each of their songs was easily seen through their smiles to one another, their laughing and energetic dancing, which certainly enhanced an almost transcendent like joy from the audience.
After looking into the bands repertoire, I found this quote from their website “Världens Band performs a mix of folk and roots music from its members’ native countries in a collision of cultures and a style self-branded as ‘Transglobal Roots Fusion’”. Since Transglobal normally refers to some kind of global network it seems a suitable choice of branding.
Reading more into their background, it was clear each musician is highly esteemed and classically trained in their native folk music. They have many awards between them with many taking music classes with ‘masters’ of their skill. This was clear in the easy flow and complexity of the whole performance. Their album released in 2015 is entitled, ’Transglobal Roots Fusion’. Upon listening to the album and finding that not one track had the same origins as the next; I found myself further impressed as the quality of the recordings are of a very high standard making for easy listening. Being able to listen to each song more intently allowed for a better appreciation of the native styles woven into every track. I felt a sense of nostalgia when I heard a familiar part of a song, taking me back to their live performance. So it’s clear even a subliminal as well as a literal impression had been made.
The end of the concert heard a seemingly never-ending applause punctuated with cheers, ‘whoops’ and whistles. After requests for an encore, they introduced themselves and their team, played one final song and left the stage. I found that a huge number of the audience stayed behind, chatting to one another: strangers discussing their experiences with many people buying albums from the stall. I left feeling elated, feeling as though perhaps it was the perfect place to be on cold Thursday night in London. I have since bought their album, which I rate highly.