Friday Night Lights

by wjw on September 26, 2016

I spent two nights this last weekend at Globalquerque, our annual world music fiesta.  There were eighteen bands rotating on three stages, which meant there was always music being played somewhere, and because I was often somewhere listening to music, that meant I couldn’t be everywhere.  So I’m going to describe only what I saw and heard, and if I missed your favorite band, I’m sorry about that, I’ll try to do better next time.

Supporting my quest for new sounds were the hucksters of the Santa Fe Brewing Company, who kept serving up their sweet nutty porter, and the folks at the Jambo restaurant booth, who produced a very sustaining curry chicken in the style of coastal Kenya.  Plus the ice cream booth with their mango-chile popsicles.

First up was Fémina, a trio from Patagonia who are exploring the relationship between the folk music of their home country and— no, really?— rap.  The harmonies were nice, but the rap was in a language I don’t speak, so there was a lot that didn’t come across.

Next up was Rajab Suleiman & Kithara, who hail from Zanzibar.  From the first few notes you hear how the music of that region was influenced by the Middle East, though there were some local touches as well, such as the female backup singers who could shake their hips as well as illustrate the songs with handspeak, as in hula.  Plus accordion, because you totally can’t go wrong with accordion!

The style of music on display was taarab, which used to be played with orchestras of 50-60 players.  Then came electricity and amplification, and the bands and the music got a lot smaller, if louder.  Rajab Suleiman is trying to rebuilt some of that original sound, though still with a smaller ensemble.  My problem was that I kept thinking how much better these tunes would sound with a 50-piece orchestra behind them.

Breathes there a man with soul so dead that he doesn’t like cowboy songs?  Even if they’re sung in Mongolian, with indigenous instruments and throat-singing?

What you need for a proper cowboy-western song is the following.

  • A sound that somehow invokes the big open spaces.

  • Music that reflects the varieties of nature

  • Heavy-duty nostalgia for days gone by

It also doesn’t hurt if your sound somehow echoes theme music from epic Western films.

I’m on the verge of nominating Anda Union as the best cowboy band of all time, because they’ve got all that and more.  (Throat-singing!  A guy who can throat-sing and play the flute at the same time!  I didn’t know there were so many kinds of throat-singing!)

There was even a song about Django!  (Well, Jiangur, the Hero of Western Mongolia.)

Anda Union supposedly has members from all the tribes united by Chingiz Khan.  (No wonder they’re nostalgic.)  Listening to them was the most fun I had at the festival.

Felix Peralta, of the Cajun-Norteño fusion band Felix y Los Gatos, has put together a more “traditional” band called Los Galliñeros, or the Chicken Coops.  They’re so new they don’t even have a video on YouTube yet! With a guitar, accordion, cajon, and Native American flute, I don’t know how traditional they are (or can be), but I can testify that they rocked.

I wish I’d seen more of Vân-Ânh Võ, seen here playing “Purple Haze” on a dan Bau, a traditional Vietnamese single-string instrument “invented by bad girls on the street.”  The whammy-bar thingie is made of buffalo horn.

Vân-Ânh Võ doesn’t just play rock songs with a buffalo horn, she’s a composer and a master of the dan tranh, which is a kind of zither that produces a complex, intricate sound, and another instrument I can only describe as a marimba-thing hung on cords like a hammock.  Here’s her TED talk, but be aware than the video runs 18 minutes.

A few months ago I posted about streaming audio from Mauritius and Réunion, and on that account if no other I was eager to see Maya Kamaty, four-time winner of the Prix de Musiques de l’Océan Indien.

Réunion being smack in the middle of l’Océan Indien, it can’t help but be open to a zillion musical influences, with Indian, African, Brazilian sambas all smashing headlong into French chanson and blues and soul and every other damn thing, and sung in French or Creole.  Some of the music was tropical and sensual, and some rocked, and Maya Kamaty worked the hell out of it either way.

On my way from one place to another I caught some of Orkestra Mendoza‘s set.  Hailing from distant, exotic Tucson, they work in their Latin music idiom while adding surf music and psychedelic touches.  I didn’t hear any of the latter elements on the stage, but here it is on the video, so we’re good.

Friday night finished with Herencia de Timbiquí, playing music from the Pacific coast of Colombia.  The sound was lovely, but I’d been at the festival for six hours, I was hungry and thirsty, and by that point I desperately needed to sit somewhere quiet with my feet up, so I went home and did exactly that.

But reader, that was only the first night!  Stay tuned to Radio Walter, where the wax racks hold max stacks of tracks!

Steinar Bang September 27, 2016 at 12:33 pm

My favorite cowboy song, is sung by a geordie named Jimmy Nail:

wjw September 27, 2016 at 11:50 pm

That was pretty great.

Though my favorite British cowboy song is still “Muswell Hillbillies.”

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