Womex 2013, Day 3

womex 001Could it get any better? The short answer was ‘Yes’.

The sheer unexpected excellence of pretty much every act was a revelation. I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that, with apologies to the National Eisteddfod, there can’t have been many better festivals/musical gatherings in our long and glorious history.

Jambinai

I could curse myself sick for arriving late. I caught the last four minutes of this South Korean trio’s set. It was the best four minutes of the festival.

A wailing, melancholy tune so achingly beautiful soared out of the Pabell and, inside, was unbelievably moving. It came from a one-string instrument being played with a bow. Powerfully and overwhelmingly sad, dramatic and inspirational at the same time. Stupendous.

They are at @jambinai on Twitter.

Rascasuelos

For intensity, this no-nonsense Argentinian group could give the South Koreans a run for their money.

At a guess, you’d think they’ve all digested John Coltrane and Don Van Vliet and decided tense tango needs to be taken in a new direction.

Rascasuelos
Rascasuelos

Of all the acts I saw, and it was impossible to see everyone,  probably the best musicians of all.

No conductor meant that timings – and they were quite a lot of jerky, dissonant leaps and jumps – needed to be split second and were impeccably accomplished.womex 029

Doomy tangos were dusted off via a band featuring grand piano, cello, brass, accordion and drums.

Most songs were accompanied by a natty vocalist who acted out agonisingly tales of tortured love.

It bore some resemblance to the Portuguese fado tradition and, if you don’t like ‘dark’ music, then it might have seemed overwrought.

The accordionist sported the best tattoo I’d ever scene (pictured right, taken on the iPhone zoom)  – in fact the only good tat I’ve ever seen. The bull from Picasso’s Guernica.

If anyone was classier than this Argentinian outfit, then I missed them.

9Bach

Band leader Lisa Jen, from Bethesda,  was on Radio Cymru earlier in the day bemoaning the criticism she says she suffered from people who think her music betrays ‘traditional’ Welsh folk.

Well, carry on betraying! This was the best Welsh folk band I’ve heard and they’d certainly liven up next year’s National Eisteddfod if they haven’t been banned already.

9Bach in the Weston Studio
9Bach in the Weston Studio

It started off with a number that had enchanting Clannad-esque ethereal female harmonies. But don’t let that put you off – this didn’t descend into easy, cheesy folk.

Lisa Jen, despite being nervous at having such an important chance to showcase the band, didn’t disappoint.womex 038

It’s not just nationalistic fervour that prompts the assertion that hers was the loveliest, strongest vocal performance I witnessed. She was outstanding, as were the back-up vocals from the band.

A small harp was used – not to provide the classic slightly bland sound that is one of our national cliches,  but to provide jagged edges to some of the songs. Glockenspiel, harmonium, guitar, bass and drums fleshed out the sound.

Their next album Tincian is out next year and if this is anything to go by, will be excellent.

Ebo Taylor

Four Ghanians teamed up with four white guys who live in Berlin for a sensational funk finale.

Ghanaian Ebo Taylor's sensational finale brought Womex 2013 to an end
Ghanaian Ebo Taylor’s sensational finale brought Womex 2013 to an end

Hotfooting it from Hackney the night before, this was the closing act in the Pabell and it was a criminally short set of 45 minutes with the 1.30pm curfew ruthlessly enforced.

The organist was channelling Jimmy Smith – contrapuntal chords keeping the band chugging while the drummer banged the pots like he could play well in to next year.

Mr Taylor, in his polka dot outfit and sporting a big smile is surely a legend in Accra. And if he isn’t then he should be. Reminded me of CDs I had of Tony Allen, which an ex-girlfriend snaffled when we split up.

Rousing end to a great festival. They were roared off after a brilliant set.

Womex 2013

Where do all these people come from? I hadn´t heard of any of these acts before the weekend and only went to the first night as a one-off.

By the end of the second act I was hooked and signed up for the following two nights.

Womex 2013 was by a long chalk the best live music I’ve heard in Cardiff since I saw Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Cure at Sophia Gardens (the pavilion, not the cricket ground) back in 1979.

Different vibe too, Back then, half the audience were having a scrap and people were led out with blood on their faces. Here, nobody was drunk. This must be a first for a Saturday night in South Wales. Everybody was happy.

Nearly 50 acts performed and it wasn’t really possible to see all of them. I saw about 15 and probably eight left me reeling in wonder.

South African band Nomtusi played a poppy set on the Glanfa stage
South African band Nomtusi played a poppy set on the Glanfa stage

My favourites were the Shangaan Electro – whose slightly shambolic take on African music, coupled with their naive charm and ability to confound expectations were unforgettable. 9Bach and Rascasuelos were brilliantly professional and unexpectedly wonderful.

The event constantly astonished in its scope  and ambition. In an era when white rock and X-Factor mush suggest innovation is dead and the most important thing is to write your business plan, and then get some songs together, most acts pulled off breathtaking surprises.

Womex restored my faith in music, for sure.

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