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Festival Review Thunderously intense and utterly transfixing

WOMAD 2019
Charlton Park

IF WE are going to be gratuitously hermetic about it — and surely that is a writer’s job, after all! — we could say, emotionally speaking, there are essentially two types of music.

The music I have always been drawn towards is searching, questioning, slightly unsettling, disturbing even — but always reaching for transcendence.

This is the heart of modern music, perhaps best encapsulated by John Coltrane’s later period, or by all manner of electronic urban dance forms.

Indeed, as New York three-piece Moon Hooch have discovered, experimental jazz and wompy, doom-laden dubstep are perfectly suited to each other.

Their grafting of these two apparently disparate genres makes total sense, both of them rooted in an insistence and intensity which combine to create a raw and visceral soundscape.

Frankly, it’s all a bit too much for me, so I head off to the Siam tent for the Iberi choir.

That’s more like it. The voices of this Georgian six-piece caress the soul like a warm embrace, and for the first time in my life, I realise I don’t always need music to be disconcerting.

Certainly sensual, and even at times mysterious, their choral harmonies are deeply soothing. This is the other type of music: traditional, pre-capitalist, folk music — music, as Paul Robeson observed, generally played only on the black notes — reassuring, calming, bonding — and devoid of that element of tragic quest which defines so much of the music of the capitalist era.

The most interesting acts though, of course, combine elements of both, and exemplary in this regard is the Ghanaian-born, New York-raised Jojo Abot.

Dressed somewhere between an Afro-futurist Barbarella and a space-age voodoo priestess, and flanked by two backing singers employing precision choreography worthy of a Beyonce concert, Abot oozes sass and provides a fitting reminder that Africa is not just a “land of tradition,” but an evolving and dynamic culture being created right now.

The music, which she terms “Afro-hypo-sonic,” is a kind of Africised electro-dubstep, augmented with live drummer, and vocals so bold and powerful that they almost knock you off your feet.

This is not so much a “set” as a piece of ceremonial magic, summoning up the spirits with an impassioned plea to heal ourselves — thunderously intense and utterly transfixing.

 

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