One thing that is happening in Ireland these days is that people from other cultures are coming to live in it. Sometimes this leads to people moaning that said other culture people are taking our jobs, women, men, or cheap accommodation, or are providing disturbingly efficient and friendly service in many shops and restaurants. The Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown council is attempting to combat such thoughts by pointing out to people all the exciting stuff that comes from interacting with other cultures – funny food and, especially, funny music. So for the last number of years they have organised this Festival of World Cultures and brought in loads of world musicy type acts to play at it. I usually go along to at least some of it.
This year on the Saturday evening I went to see some fellows called The Marzoug Band from Biskra. Biskra is somewhere in Algeria… north-east, they say, but looking at a map reveals it is a good bit in from the coast. The music of these Marzoug fellows was mainly percussion based (drums of various types, and castanets), but their killer instrument is a bagpipe that looked like it was once a piglet. For one track they also boasted something that may have been an oud.
This was one of those indoor gigs you pay money to go to, with the concert taking place in the Pavilion Theatre. I was downstairs, in the unseated area, but while people were waiting for the band to come on we took to sitting cross-legged on the floor, giving things an endearingly ethnic vibe. As is the way of these things, Marzoug's crazy drumming and squealing piping soon brought people to their feet. The castanet lads did a bit of dancing as well, lending things an impressively real deal air by being a bit folkishly rubbish at it.
For their encores, Marzoug invaded the audience, playing their stuff among us. Whitey got down.
On Sunday afternoon, I had hoped to see Prison Love, but where they were playing was stuffed; this is always a problem with the free indoor gigs. So instead I drifted around a bit and caught some Tibetan dance troupe playing in the Harbour Plaza. They preformed a number of dances from their unfortunate country, and one from neighbouring Bhutan. They also sang while they danced, with the women doing that high-pitched semi-distorted sound the ladies of the east are known for. One would have to say that the blokes were maybe not as impressive as singers, but perhaps again this shows their true folkish lack of professionalism. One of the best routines was for a song called Uncle Lotus, which they sang with great gusto. It turns out, of course, that Uncle Lotus is one of the many code-words people in Tibet use for the current Dalai Lama. You do have to wonder about the Chinese occupation authorities in Tibet, watching people jump around happily singing about how much they wuv their Uncle Lotus. "Do you reckon we should check out this Uncle Lotus guy?" "Ah leave it. Let them sing about their relatives as much as they like, so long as no one brings that Dalai Lama fucker into it".
After that Mark and I wandered up to the main open air stage where Trans-Global Underground were due to be playing in a soundclash with Trio Bulgarka. You may have heard of these groups – Trans-Global Underground were a group I used to go on about a lot more than ten years ago when I was very taken with their first album, featuring as it does such tracks as 'Templehead', 'Shimmer', 'Slowfinger', 'This Is The Army Of Forgotten Souls', and so on. I somewhat lost touch with them after that, though I did see them play in Dublin the day after wor sister's wedding some years back, when the passing of time had rather shrunk both their line-up and their popularity. The Trio Bulgarka, meanwhile, are a Bulgarian vocal group perhaps best known for singing on Kate Bush albums and ads for cider.
In Dun Laoghaire, TGU came on first. One odd thing about TGU now is that basically none of the people whose names I remember from their record sleeves are in the band any more – no Alex Kasiek, Count Dubullah, Neil Sparkes, or Natacha Atlas, though of course some of these have gone on to solo fame and fortune. Instead the line up features some guy on drums, some guy on keyboards, a woman on sitar (and occasional bass), a bloke who runs around with a mobile drum, and a rapper. They do not wear masks.
The sound is broadly similar to what I would think of as "classic" TGU… music pulling elements from Africa, Arabia, and the Indian Sub-continent (and maybe the West Indies). Describing it in such bald terms does not really do it justice, though – this is perfect festival music, kind of hypnotic in its rhythms, dancey yet not so dancey you will cause yourself an injury. Deadly stuff.
And then the curiously dressed Trio Bugarka joined us. They are three ladies of indeterminate size and age who sing harmony stuff with each other in an usual vocal style that seems to be partly based around holding notes for a very long time. They sang a couple of songs on their own before TGU joined in… the combined tunes were like TGU songs over which the Trio sang. Now, you might think this kind of thing is a really weird mismatch of different musical styles, and maybe more than none of Trio Bulgarka were wondering if they were prostituting the sacred music of their ancient nation. From TGU's point of view, though, it was all grand – they are used to running all kinds of different musics together and seeing what happens. They are also used to having vocalists from particular musical traditions join them, with Natacha Atlas singing over much of their first couple of records. So yeah, it all worked. Actually, it was really good indeed, one of the best things I have ever seen at the Festival of World Cultures.