Sunday, November 02, 2008

Live in concert: Yungchen Llamo

This was at the Festival of World Cultures in Dun Laoghaire. I had wanted to go the Éthiopiques again, but they were sold out, so we took a chance with this Tibetan lady. This was on in the Monkstown Church venue.

A sinking feeling manifested in my stomach.From the moment the support act (some Tibetan bloke with an Irish woman singer and some other people of indeterminate nationality) started. The singer opened with an unaccompanied song in Irish about the plight of the Tibetans, and nearly burst our eardrums when she hit the high loud notes. This was not her fault, but the Monkstown Church sound munter had obviously turned everything up to eleven and then headed off to the pub, suggesting that we would be in for a treat when Ms Llamo (or Ms Yungchen) took the stage.

The rest of the support act, thankfully, was fronted by quieter vocals from the Tibetan guy, with the others doing a lot of waving little bells and things like that. This reminded me of the Fonal bands and their fun with chains and beads, and was certainly appealing visually. It also reminded me a bit of that micromonic stuff you get in Al-Amarja.

Yungchen Llamo's own performance was somewhat problematic. The sound munter had her vocals up wayyyyy too loud, which was almost literally painful given her fondness for sustained very high, very loud notes. The other cross she had to bear was her backing band. I reckon something more approximating to traditional Tibetan instruments would have suited her vocal style; instead she was accompanied by jazz-rock combo from another musical planet. They were all excellent musicians and all, but they didn't really seem to go with Yungchen's style of music; I liked them most when they were playing on their own while she was taking a break.

But it wasn't all bad. I gradually acclimatised myself to both the incongruous backing band and the over-amplification, which meant I was able to appreciate Yungchen Llamo's impressive voice and singing style. Her funny lady persona and strange philosophising were also rather endearing. What was particularly, enjoyable, though was the element of audience participation involved in the concert. The first time she tried this, it maybe did not work so well, as the line she wanted us to sing while she sang over it was a bit too complex. The second time, though, she just wanted us to make a drone noise as a backdrop for her singing. Being in a packed church full of people going "AAAAAAAUUUUUUUUMMMMMMM" is an experience to savour.

And then, when the night was drawing near to its close, Yungchen announced that she had an Irish guest star who would now be joining her for a few tunes. It could only be Liam Ó Maonlaí, and it was. Next to someone with the vocal skill of the Tibetan he seemed a bit out of his depth, and his traditional Irish attack brought another undigested musical element to the table, making for a difficult end to the evening.

Talking about this concert to people who weren't there, I did get a comment about how fusion never works, as an explanation for why the band and Liam Ó Maonlaí jarred so much with Yungchen Llamo herself. I see where they're coming from, but I'm not entirely convinced by this, thinking that ultimately musical forms will always cross-pollinate and should never be kept in their separate boxes. It may just be that some things cross-pollinate better than others, or that there are good and bad ways to make different forms engage with each other. This may be a fruitful avenue for future research.

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