Celebrating the links between folk music around the world and protest song, at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, Celtic Connections presented an evening dedicated to the art, featuring a mix of world-wide performers.
The show was hosted and opened by Karine Polwart, who was joined on stage by brother Steven on guitar and Inge Thomson; multi-tasking as always on accordion, vocals and percussion. Two of Karine’s most powerful songs, the enigmatic Sorry and anti-nuclear Better Things were followed by a new song, Cover Your Eyes, inspired by the film You’ve Been Trumped (see our article on the film), which discusses the fate of Aberdeenshire’s coastline, and its inhabitants at the hands of the Donald Trump.
You can tear these dunes asunder, turn this wonder into dust
With your cruel hands and crooked hearts laden with lust
And expensive lies
But the haar will stumble in to cover your eyes
The haar will stumble in.
Moving on from the land ownership debate, King Of Birds is a new song (as featured on Folk Radio UK recently) celebrating loud voices from small people.
Karine’s set was followed by Kamilya Jubran, a Palestinian born in Israel. Kamilya’a softly spoken introduction belied the power behind her voice; empassioned and enthralling. Accompanying herself on her Oud, in a style that goes far beyond her Arabic Classical beginnings, Kamilya presented four songs of impressive intensity. The first, Nafad Al-Ahwal (Exhausted Conditions) comes from the poetry of Paul Shaoul. Ankamishu (I Shrink) was dedicated to the struggle of the Syrian people. Makan (A Place) is a strident affirmation of the right to be, and the set closed with Miraat Al Hijara (Mirror Of Stones) written by Iraqi exile Fadhil Al Azzawi.
Kamilya’s earnest performance was moving and very well received indeed.
Native American poet, musician and activist John Treddel‘s performance was sincere but didn’t quite hit the mark. Two electric guitars and an over-emphasis on electronics made his work appear rather cliched. T’ygh elder Quiltman‘s traditional chants lent gravity to an otherwise disappointing set. We were left feeling that perhaps Treddel’s poetry with only Quiltman’s chants would have had more impact.
It was a treat to see Chris Wood perform in front a Glasgow audience. His biting humour, soothing voice and affable delivery were perfect for this show. The Grand Correction presents a self-sufficient view of the credit crunch, and the ever popular Cottager’s Reply, his take on the importance of family roots, was delivered with his usual passion. The chilling ballad Hollow Point is about the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes and was clearly an emotional performance. Chris then decided to close with Jerusalem – a brave move for an Englishman in Glasgow! The audience were soothed, though, by his opinion that Hubert Perry’s tune has created ‘strange jingoistic monster’ out of what’s basically just a few questions. I think he got away with it.
Justin Currie was next up, endlessly fussing over a single note on his keyboard in We Are not The People, which might have been concerned with lack of national identity – I’m just note sure whose identity. After this slightly anthemic opening, Justin reverted to his own vitriolic quick fire verbal target practice with No Surrender and (did he really have to?) Nothing Ever Happens.
The evening closed with a set from Pura Fe – a singer-songwriter, poet, musician, artist and social activist who blends modern jazz and blues with traditional Native American music. Her powerful gospel singer’s voice works well with her band; Cary Morin on guitar plays a fine fingerstyle and Pete Knudson on percussion. Highlights of a storming set included Red Black On Blues, which discusses the combined plight of Native Americans and African slaves and Borders, which reminds us of the lost link between people when war lays down lines to separate them ‘We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us’.
The evening was billed as being inspired, in part, by the events of the Arab Spring uprisings. There’s a painful irony in the knowledge that as we celebrated the power of song to unite and provide comfort, tragedy was unfolding in an Egyptian football stadium as division and anger overflowed and went beyond the power of song.
Music will always be an essential mouthpiece of struggle, and a weapon against oppression. But just as the events unfolding in song can sadden and shock us, those unfolding in front of our eyes, will often bring the greatest shocks.
Kamilya Jubran – Amshi
Pura Fe Trio – Red, Black on Blues