Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Monday, September 01, 2008

Edinburgh Mela - 31 August 2008

Getting ahead of myself here as I still have several events in the Fringe, the official Festival and the book festival to review, but I wanted to review the two events I saw today at the Edinburgh Mela down in Leith. It was the first time I'd been to the Mela, and it was great to see so many Asian (and non-Asian) guys having fun. There were a lot of Asian stalls there, though only one selling CDs and DVDs (why so many clothes and jewellery stalls and only one music stall? come ON!) The food was pretty good, but more to the point the events were great. £2 bought a day ticket which would have taken me to a dozen events if I'd wished. In fact I went to only two.

First there was Yatra / Journey. According to the blurb this was a collaboration between twenty musicians, though there were 14 on stage. We had six Scottsh musicisns from Scots and Gaelic traditions: three pipers, a harpist, a fiddler/keyboardist and a singer. We had three musicians from Indian traditions: two tabla players and a dhrupad singer. Finally we had five Taiko drummers, from Scotland but playing in a Japanese tradition. They performed for an hour in a collaboration that mingled the traditions: rather like The Imagined Village, but whereas that ensemble uses various styles to illuminate English folk music, Yatra illuminated each of its component traditions in turn. In his introduction barnaby Brown pointed out that rather than having one director, Yatra had three facilitators to ensure an even-handed approach, and I think it worked. Sometimes one tradition would be to the fore with the other musicians commenting on it, while sometimes there was a genuine cross-cultural merging going on, as with the Scottish bagpipers and the Taiko drummers. (This section answered the question "What can play with three bagpipers and not be overwhelmed by them?" A: three Taiko drummers. Fluctuat nec mergitur, indeed.) All the contributors had something interesting to offer, whether it was the combination of Indian and Japanese rhythmic verbalisations being overlaid by the Gaelic "Fionnghula's Bothy", the many different harps proffered by the harpist, the unusual tabla techniques on display (I'd never seen a tabla player using more than two drums, nor had I seen one using the tuning mallet on the right-hand drum to effect glissando effects), or the sheer visual panache of the Taiko team (whose two-players-three-drums display resembled an aikido kata).

I hope that - like The Imagined Village - Yatra stay together and keep working, perhaps recording as well. I'm sure they have more to say, to each other and to the rest of us.

Next up were Gamelan Naga Mas. I have reviewed them before here (and blogged about them here) and their performance tonight was in essence a shortened version of the one at the Kibble Palace, including both Iron Pipes (a collaboration with bagpiper Barnaby Brown) and the hit of the earlier evening, Kecakaireachd, their fusion of Gaelic canntaireachd and Balinese kecak (vocalisation and movement). During the latter piece Naga Mas suffered a kind of pitch invasion from four small children who clambered up the steps to the stage and parked themselves there, almost in the playing space (amply supplied with fresh fruit and helium balloons). At the end of the number they were asked politely to get down and all bar one did: the youngest, on the topmost step, announced that she was staying right there, whereat the nice announcer lady started making phone calls to security and the wee girl made her exit. Naga Mas also had in their audience a group of four Indonesians, who seemed to enjoy their efforts (cheering in recognition when they announced some titles). Another highly enjoyable set.

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