Our day two at WOMAD began in the sheltered woodland Ecotricity stage with Nargile Mehtiyeva aka Asiq Nargile (Asiq, signifying her bardic status). She is part of a Georgian minority group and is based in the Borcali region of Southern Georgia.
She flowed onto the stage with quite a few ‘wows’ from the audience as they took in her beautiful green and gold traditional costume carrying a long-necked lute called a saz. Her playing was fascinating to watch as she alternated between strumming and highly ornamented rapid single notes which saw her hands flying over the entire length of the instrument’s neck. At times it was reminiscent of sitar playing but with shorter length notes.
Of equal impact was her singing which ranged from laments to the more uplifting. Like her playing her singing was far ranging, at times resembling a more subtle form of throat singing.
It’s always fascinating how song, despite being in a language we may not be familiar with, touches us on a more sub-conscious level…such is the power of music.
It felt like there was a strong connection between Nargile and her audience which made it quite an emotional performance, something that has been an ongoing theme and which was again highlighted again on the open air stage with the Grit Orchestra.
Greg Lawson’s score of the late Martyn Bennett’s ‘Grit’ was one of our ‘must see’ moments of the weekend. When talking about the impact of Bennett’s album, Lawson described it as having a huge visceral impact, something that translated on stage in a way that caught me completely off-guard. Some of those I got talking to in the audience were unfamiliar with Grit and whilst they clearly enjoyed what was unfolding it had a stronger impact on those who knew and loved Bennett’s music – there was literally tears and laughter. It was a reaffirmation of how far ahead of his time Bennett really was, he was one of a kind. You couldn’t have asked for a greater tribute.
In amongst the large 80-piece orchestra were some familiar faces including some of the best pipers around including Ali Hutton, Ross Ainslie and Calum MacCrimmon who were all on top-form. The singers were equally enthralling with Fiona Hunter showing plenty of grit with the vernacular scots singing of ‘Move’, the late Sheila Stewart would have been proud. Adding vocal magic to the event was also Mischa MacPherson, Karen Matheson and Rab Noakes…David Hayman’s reading of Psalm 118 for Liberation was a fine tribute to the late bard of Dundee Michael Marra. There were smiles all around and even some dancing going on..this wasn’t your typical orchestra.
It was moving, uplifting, emotional and beautiful. What more could you possibly want?
Dance and music go hand-in-hand at WOMAD and Amaraterra, originally from Salento in Italy but now based in London, put on an energetic set where their dance moves were delivered with grace and style on top of some fiery playing that would have left most breathless after one song.
Later in the evening we were given our first taste of Cameroonian Blick Bassy, introduced by Kathryn Tickell, Bassy came on stage sporting a pair of welding goggles and boiler suit, accompanied by Clément petit on Cello and trombonist (whose name I didn’t catch).
During his performance he played a tribute to the delta bluesman Skip James by playing one of his songs on a record player and singing back to him through a small handheld horn. In a strange way it made Skip James’ voice more lifelike…as if he was brought back to life for that one song.
Bassy’s co-musicians were exceptional, with Bassy set furthest back from the stage he was happy for his wingmen to be up-front, giving them a well deserved spotlight in some of the most dexterous and ornamented playing I’ve heard in a long time. I’m not even sure how I’d categorise his music, it was so original and different, a big combo of high spirited jazz, African blues but so much more.
Bassy is also a great storyteller. One of his songs was inspired by a story – a friend was explaining to him that he had to visit his grandmother in a care-home in France where Bassy is now based. His friend’s explanation of what a care home was shocked him as he assumed that people cared for their grandparents in the same way that he did in his native Cameroon where, as he explained, “we live with them until they fly”.
At the end of his set Bassy returned on stage for an encore after which he spoke of love, he asked everyone to turn to someone near them who they didn’t know and smile. Sometimes we need to do the simplest of gestures to make the world we live in feel like a better place, something that’s at the very heart of this festival and with those that perform here.
Photo Credit: Adam Gasson (main image) | Clara Salina (Blick Bassy)