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Music review Wood Festival, Braziers Park Oxfordshire

Small but perfectly formed world music event punches well above its weight

WOOD festival, now in its 11th year, is a modest and family-friendly festival held in the beautiful grounds of Braziers Park in Oxfordshire.

Legend has it that brothers Joe and Robin Bennett, founders of the indie-rock extravaganza Truck Festival, launched Wood once they and their friends started having kids and wanted a means of initiating their young into festival culture in a less ear-piercing way.

So Wood has remained small-scale, with plenty of children’s activities and a blend of music — largely folk and Americana —  reaching out across the generations.

Some of the acts, such as the mighty singer and kora player Jali-Fily Cissokho, have become near-permanent Wood fixtures. A jali is a traditional West African storyteller and musician and the Cissokho family have been jalis for hundreds of years and they’re even credited with the invention of the kora five centuries ago by some accounts.

Playing since he was six, Cissokho transmits this musical heritage with incredible virtuosity, his fingers emanating a serene and joyous calm.

Later, he returns with the four-piece Coute Diomboulou and their tight and funky rhythm section mixed in with dub reggae and afro beat is infectious.

With a voice as soulful and wizened as Johnny Cash and accompanied by Nitin Gaikwad on tabla, Marcus Corbett performs soothing and heartfelt folk songs with an Indian inflection. At times his guitar sounds like a sitar, while his voice breaks into a qawwali-style vibrato.

In an age of debates around cultural appropriation, Corbett and Gaikwad are a breath of fresh air. Rather than a wholesale lifting of non-European culture, this is genuine cultural collaboration, in which the Indian influence, far from being elided, is acknowledged and respected.

Brickwork Lizards, an eclectic eight-piece playing what they call “cinematic Arabic jazz-fusion,” are a proud product of cross-cultural fertilisation too.

Lead vocalist and oud player Tariq Beshir brings to bear the influence of his native Egypt — augmented by violinist Sophie Frankford, fresh from two year’s musical training in Cairo — while MC Tom O’Hawk and bassist Malachy O’Neill bring on board the spirit and gusto of their Irish heritage.

Stand-out tracks include Ya Riyah, a piece from 1930s Algeria decrying the trade-off of soul and culture for material comfort represented by migration to the West, which is given a poignant 21st century update by a new verse from O’Hawk. Hijaz Mandira, a traditional Arabic piece, shows off the band at its best, its catchy motif giving way to a smouldering jam, in which a low-key but infectious groove provides the backdrop for mesmerising solos by oud and trumpet.

 

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