Greenbelt ’09: Day 4

So far, I haven’t had much luck with getting to see any of the talks or workshops (with the exception of the one I hosted, of course), so my aim for today was to see at least two.

My first one was Robert Beckford’s Live Aid vs. Dead Aid session in the Centaur. A very thought-provoking presentation in which Robert compared and contrasted two opposing views on aid to Africa. On one hand, you had Dambisa Moyo – author of the book Dead Aid, who argues that all aid corrupts, and that hardcore capitalism is the real solution for Africa (because we all know the credit crunch is just a blip, right? Sorry). Then there’s Bono, putting the case forward for humanitarian help and for the aid that is given to be targeted better and with more transparency to weed out any corruption. Robert himself seemed to be looking for a third option, drawing on the strengths of both sides, rather than be polarised. A very interesting talk – that is, once I’d got over the fact that he’d cut his dreadlocks off…

My second session with the Apples was titled Tracing the History of Funk. This time round, I just introduced the band (after an impromptu jam) and they took it from there. Four band members, including Ofer (one of the DJs) and the drummer, who did most of the talking. Starting with pre-slavery West Africa, he took a sample drum rhythm from Ghana and showed how it cropped up in different forms within Salsa, Brazilian Samba and Bossa Nova, New Orleans marching band music, Bebop, Jazz, and finally funk (or to be more precise, James Brown in the late 60s). The audience was full of funk fans aged from 10 to 50-plus, all with a deep love for the music. When the session ended at 3.00pm, the band literally ordered us to go and see the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, who were just about to start their Mainstage set.

I also managed to see the Women in Music panel discussion, led by Pippa Wragg – another member of Greenbelt’s music group. I even got to make a comment!

The Press Room closed at 6.00pm, and I decided that for my last few reviews, I’d just go and see stuff I wanted to see. That included Foy Vance (who’d played the Big Top earlier in the weekend, but ‘d missed it), Sister Jones and Brian Temba. And Athlete, of course (or what little would be left of their gig by the time my DJ set had finished). The Welcome Wagon seemed promising, too.

Sister Jones had started their set when I arrived at the Performance Café. Got a big hug from Brian, who was due on next. Both sets were brilliant – and then I finally got to meet Steve Campbell (their producer) for the first time, having communicated with him via email for several years.

After Brian’s & Sister Jones’ gig, I headed for the Blue Nun for my go at Djing. The delightful DJ Ayo was on before me, playing some nice House music – so for continuity’s sake, I started my set with a house tune from Ghana – an Afroganic track. Followed that with a jazz groove thing from Spha Bembe, and then with Max de Castro’s tale about a samba dancer’s wardrobe malfunction.

Predictably, there was a mass exodus around 9.25 when Athlete were due to start on mainstage, but I was determined to enjoy my time on the decks. This was also around the time that I noticed the note next to the decks with the venue’s music policy written on it: “Keep it mellow. The Blue Nun is not a banging dance venue!” Oops, too late – by then we’d already done Soca, Kuduro and Samba/D&B! Stuck with mellower stuff for the rest of the set, then caught what was left of both the Athlete and Foy Vance gigs. Caught up with Steve, Brian and the Sister Jones ladies again, and saw them off as they headed home. Then one final Last Orders (at which I did get to see Athlete) before bed.

And that was it – one of my best Greenbelts ever. Still wish I’d seen 100 Philistine Foreskins play, though…

Greenbelt ’09: My DJ Playlist

These are the tunes I played during my DJ slot in the Blue Nun wine bar on Monday night:

  1. Emagbo – Afroganic
  2. Lobhalaza – Siphamandia ‘Spha’ Bembe
  3. A Historia… – Max de Castro
  4. Adouma – Angelique Kidjo
  5. A Minha Fantasia (It Ain’t Over) – So Pra Contrariar
  6. Isto e Kuduro – Frederic Galliano Kuduro Sound System featuring Zoca Zoca
  7. Can’t Stop – Greenjade & MV
  8. I Sing – Victizzle
  9. En Mi Puertorro – Andy Montañez feat. Voltio
  10. Levanto Tu Nombre – Waldo Badel & Orquesta Horeb Internacional
  11. Josephine Brown – Sonnyboy
  12. Travelling On – Sam Payne
  13. Welcome – Isaiah Katumwa
  14. Picking Up Where We Left Off – James Taylor’s 4th Dimension
  15. Righteous – Dag
  16. Crazy – Liquid
  17. Soul Makossa – Manu Dibango
  18. Sanyu – Isaiah Katumwa
  19. Baba Rere – Kunle Ayo

Greenbelt ’09: Day 3


Seriously beginning to wonder if I’m not overworking myself. This is a festival, after all. A man needs to have a little fun…

During the night, I’d discovered that my tent is on a bit of a slope. Didn’t do anything about it then because I was trying to sleep, but once I got out of bed I re-positioned the airbed/sleeping bag combo so I won’t keep rolling off the thing at night.

IDMC had an early slot in Centaur venue with Christian Aid. I went along to that, then got to hang out some with John Fisher, ClauDieon and the rest of the gang before they had to dash off to the second of three gigs they’ve got on today (not to mention a ferry ride to France afterwards – and I thought I was overdoing it!).

Having alternated between “Yeah, go for it!” and “What have I let myself in for?” nearly every day last week, I did my first presenter’s slot this afternoon, introducing four members of the Apples to a laid-back crowd in the YMCA tent. In half an hour we talked about how the band got together, the cultural scene in Israel and the underground music scene that’s grown off the back of it. A couple of guys in the audience asked some questions, and then the band used the remaining half-hour to play tracks from some CDs they’d brought; recordings by other Israeli underground acts, including a side project of the soundman and one of the DJs, a reggae artist, a couple of other jazz things, and a very Rai-like party tune which went down really well with the audience. “The Israeli underground scene is like a big community,” they said. “We’re all friends, so we support each other.” I love that indie family vibe and camaraderie… and there was a bit more of it on show in the evening when Jahaziel and Karl Nova turned up for their slots on the Mainstage and Underground. Jahaziel played both. I saw all of his Mainstage set and a little bit of his Underground gig (I caught him teaching the audience the ‘Ben’ Yu Knee’ Reggae dance).

I finally caught up with Carl. My DJ slot is in the Blue Nun from 9pm to 10pm tomorrow. Hold on – isn’t that when Athlete are playing?

Africa Oyé ‘09

oyelogoMany music fans who visit Liverpool do so on pilgrimages to the Cavern Club. My now annual pilgrimage to Scouseland is music related, but has nothing to do with the Beatles. The thing that’s brought me up here again this year is Africa Oyé – the UK’s biggest free African music event. It’s usually held (at least, since I’ve been going) over a weekend in June.

Miserable grey clouds hung over Sefton Park all weekend. Thankfully, though, the worst that happened was the odd drizzle. I turned up on Saturday afternoon and dutifully waited at the fence by the mainstage for Ali the Press office guy to give me my pass (I was there mainly with my Sounds of Africa producer’s hat on).

It was whilst waiting for Ali that I met Maya. She had come in the place of a friend of hers; an Irish radio presenter who couldn’t make it because he was ill. Throughout the weekend we worked together, pooling our equipment and oyebirdinterviewing artists (and Paul Duhaney, the festival organiser) together.

Africa Oyé aims to bring the best in African music free to the Liverpool public. That’s ‘African’ in the broadest sense of the word; this year’s two headliners were both reggae artists (Freddie McGregor on Saturday and Carol Thompson on Sunday). The lineup also usually features Latin music – though sadly there were no salsa bands there this year. Kasaï Masaï kicked off the festival with a blend of Congolese sounds and high energy dancing.

Next on were a Senegalese trio called Groupe Lolou. I managed to miss much of their set – but only because Maya and I spent so much time talking to their manager in the press/hospitality tent backstage. Turns out that back down in London (where they all live), I’d been to one of their friends’ houses to interview another Senegalese musician! I even managed a brief conversation in Wolof (well, ‘how are you?’ ‘Fine thanks.’ Counts as a conversation to me). I should meet with them again once their album’s out.

Up till this weekend, I’d never seen Daby Touré perform live – even though he’s played Greenbelt twice, and I’d interviewed him in person a couple of years ago. He recognised me the moment he saw me, and was as thought provoking, amiable and funny throughout the interview as he’d been the last time we’d chatted – in an Arabian-style parlour in Momo’s in London. He played both days, and was a monster onstage. Fantastic.

In between sets, I had a wander around and tried to set up interviews – including one with Kwame Kwei-Armah, who was there as ambassador for the Foreign Office’s Know Before You Go campaign, aimed at getting people to ensure they’re covered for every eventuality before they go off travelling.

I only stayed long enough to hear Freddie McGregor sing ‘When Push Comes to Shove’, then I set off home (tiredness had got to me, and the clouds looked threatening). Didn’t think much of Chino (Freddie’s son) who was one of his special guests. A reggae song about ganja – very original… The little I heard of Freddie sounded great, though.

The Congolese singer Gordon Masiala kicked things off on Sunday, and provided one of my most hilarious interview moments ever. Whilst onstage, Gordon had made a point of informing us that he was wearing Versace. I’d heard a lot about Congo’s Sapeurs before (and had met the king of them, Papa Wemba, once), so I asked Gordon about the significance of high fashion in Congolese music and culture. That was his cue to give Maya and me a close-up inspection of all his designer ‘garms’. He then went off on one about how he was the best-dressed Congolese musician ever. For a minute, he sounded just like the ‘Rolex Sweep’ song: “Papa Wemba can’t dress like me; Koffi Olomide can’t dress like me; Awilo Longomba can’t dress like me. One glass of champagne for me…” at least I can now say I’ve seen the inside label of a Versace jacket…

My best new discovery on Sunday (and a slightly more level-headed interviewee than Gordon) was the Cameroonian singer Muntu Valdo. With just his guitar and a harmonica, Muntu rocked. He had a Digitech Jam Man (gadget that allows musos to create loops whilst playing live, so they can make up their own accompaniment) which he used not only to create complex backing rhythms and music, but also to provide backing vocals for himself! That gizmo has really revolutionised acoustic music.

Kanda Bongo Man had a sore throat and so delegated most of the lead vocals in his set to his two backing vocalists. Despite the throat, he and his band rocked. Is it me, or are the girl dancers in Congolese bands getting really young these days?

Final act of the festival was Carol Thompson. I really hadn’t been that interested in seeing her sing, to be honest. I vaguely remembered her from back in the 80s, but thought that putting on mellow lovers rock tunes after all the bouncing about we’d done to Kanda’s soukous jamfest would be a major anticlimax. So it was rather reluctantly that I took my position by the stage.

“I’m only going to hear one song, than home,” I told myself. In the end, she won me over. A medley of her old hits morphed into a cover of the Commodores’ ‘Easy’. She followed that with a Gospel-flavoured song based largely on Psalm 23 (“In the times we’re living in, we need to be more spiritual,” she told us). Rather than do the usual ‘say goodbye, walk off the stage and do an encore’ thing, she just sang right through, ending with a medley of old ska songs that had the entire audience screaming along (I have all the screams on tape!).

“Everybody in Liverpool is a performer,” Maya informed me as we enjoyed a post-festival drink. I certainly met a few: the old bloke with no front teeth who kept rallying other people in the crowd to dance; the guy in a cowboy hat who managed to outdance Kanda Bongo Man and his entire band; and of course the women in the front row who got louder and louder whenever they saw my Zoom recording machine pointed at them!

And that was Africa Oyé 2009: a weekend in which I heard some brilliant music, made a new friend, got a few contacts and ate way too much Chinese food for one person. Looking forward to next year’s already…

MIDEM ’09: Day 3 – morning…

Tuesday morning, 10.15-ish:

It’s still looking dreary in Cannes this morning – but at least it’s not raining. I have at least two and a half hours before my first big appointment for today, so I’ll recap on the rest of yesterday – starting with the gigs I saw.

Best of the evening had to be Monica Giraldo’s MIDEM Talent showcase at Magic Mirrors. Monica’s from Colombia; a new act and a recent Latin Grammy winner who sings, plays guitar and can handle traditional Colombian (read “African”) drums very well indeed. She sang with a three-piece band and was absolutely fantastic. Estoy totalmente enamorado – with her music, that is… Earlier in the day, I’d met a guy from her record label and he’d given me a copy of her debut CD. I will be playing that quite a lot, I reckon…

About eight or so British acts played as part of the ‘British at MIDEM’ line-up in the Ambassadeurs and Méditerranée venues in the Palais des Festivals. In the end, Paolo Nutini didn’t make it to Cannes, but Seth Lakeman was blazing! Pity I had to leave early to catch the last train home – only to discover there were no trains going my way anyway! So since I would have to take a taxi home (and therefore it didn’t matter when I left) I headed back to the Palais to see Jamie Cullum, who was headlining the British line-up. Halfway through his “swingified” version of Rihanna’s Don’t Stop the Music, I began to think that my more hardcore jazz-loving friends might have a point when they say he’s a one-trick pony. I stayed for a couple more songs, then left. Prior to arriving at MIDEM, I’d been all stoked up to see the Bomb Squad. But there was no way I was going to hang around here until 3am, or whatever unearthly hour the Electronica night was scheduled to finish.

I met a few more interesting people yesterday (the cocktail parties different exhibitors put on are great for that). Hanging around the Norway stand, eating chorizos and having my first taste of Linie (how does anybody drink that stuff and stand upright afterwards?), I met Jan – a friendly Canadian who runs a record label, an online radio/TV channel, and also works as a voice coach to singers. This is his 19th MIDEM; his first one coincided with the Gulf war kicking off (“Our plane in to Nice had a military escort,” he recalls). Jan confirmed yet again that MIDEM has scaled down this year – and that it’s not just a new thing because of the world’s economy, but that it has shrunk steadily over the years. And speaking of money – or more precisely, the lack of it – the issue of who gets how much was a big talking point here yesterday.

The first thing you see as you walk in to the Palais des Festivals is the enormous Napster banner draped across the front. It’s even bigger than the “Welcome to MIDEM” signs next to it. Many of us can remember the days when the music industry regarded Napster as Public Enemy No. 1. They may have gone legit (and, let’s be honest, totally overshadowed by the monster that is iTunes), but the file-sharing that made Napster’s name is still regarded as a problem by many in the industry. But the industry has had to learn to live with it. Which brings a new problem: How does the industry make money if they’ve accepted that people want free music, and more and more platforms are opening up to provide them music for (apparently) nothing? That was the issue under discussion at the Mobile Entertainment Forum’s workshop titled Music That Feels Like It’s Free – But What Does It Actually Cost?

Eric Nicoli, a former EMI boss, summed the industry’s predicament up pretty well. “Any company that relies on music sales will be exceedingly challenged,” he said. But Tim Clark (Robbie Williams’ manager) didn’t have much sympathy for record companies. “How can the major record companies justify taking 90% of the revenue and leaving the artist with less than 10%?” he asked. Then he had a go at the guys who provide the technology that helps people get free music, pointing out that the richest man in the record industry today is Steve Jobs (of Apple/iPod/iTunes fame).
Away from the heated debate, there are some people here with a more hands-on approach to helping both artists and their supporters gain from making music. Yesterday I had a chat with the CEO of Sellaband; today there’s the launch of NoMajorMusik – a new company with similar to Sellaband and with a ‘fairtrade’ approach to what they do. More on those later… but I will just throw in my own 2p on the “free music” thing. Music can’t totally be free. It takes a lot of hard work to make good music, and the guys who put in those long hours should have some reward for their efforts. Making music costs money, too. A couple of years ago, I met the guitar maker Matt McPherson. He let me hold and play one of his creations… and then he told me how much the guitar cost, and I nearly dropped the thing in shock! A decent guitar can easily set you back a grand or two – so how can music be free?

Anyway, that was most of yesterday’s goings-on here in Cannes. Along with all that, I also met a guy representing Chile’s number 1 hip hop act, who gave me the guy’s CD and some of his merchandise – which included a handful of condoms in packets with the guy’s picture and branding on. I had a chat with a friendly Norwegian singer – then lost the note with the venue of her gig on it, so couldn’t see her sing! I’ve had breakfast courtesy of the press club; I’ll post this, then head down to the exhibit area and hand out a few more CDs before the showcases and press conferences start.

MIDEM ’09: Day 2 – afternoon

Monday again – later in the afternoon:

It’s been a good day so far. I went back to the South Africa stand, and had a more fruitful time meeting people. The American guy’s “just go up and talk to ‘em” advice from this morning clearly worked! I visited a stand where a new French rapper called Poison was being plugged. I had a chat with his producer and gave him one of the Ground Level mixtape CDs I’d been asked to give to people. As we spoke, his producer explained that Poison was originally Congolese, and played me a track he’d done rapping in Lingala as well as French. A possible Sounds of Africa candidate, I thought.

I’ve also managed to make a lot of Latin/Spanish music contacts. Ferran Perez is from Spain, staying in the same hotel as me. He used to play accordion in a Mediterranean Celtic band called Dealan; now he’s gone into management and is representing them at MIDEM (which, he tells me, he’d never heard about until a couple of months ago). We both took the bus in to Cannes this morning, and he gave me an invite for a cocktail party organised by the Catalan music contingent. We chatted over drinks and Catalan food (various types of sausage/ham/chorizo thingies, cheese and ‘pan tomate’ – bread with tomato – really nice!). He said going into management and even coming to MIDEM were all risks for him, but he’d learned in life that you need to take risks – otherwise “you just stay at home and end up doing nothing.” Life is like standing on a travolator that’s moving in the opposite direction, he reckons. “You might think you’re standing still, but you’re actually going backwards and being left behind.”

The unexpected fun bit of today was when I was walking up to the Press Club and passed by a bloke walking in the opposite direction. I glimpsed his badge very briefly and thought I saw the name Oliver Cheatham. Was it? I went back to get another look… and it was! He was a brilliant sport. He agreed to an impromptu interview (which needed two takes, thanks to you-know-who forgetting to release the pause on the recording machine), and then took a picture with me. For the rest of today, I’ll be singing “I like to party, everybody does…”

My Mate, Your Mate…

This time last week, I was holed up in the Midlands; at the Pioneer Centre in Kidderminster – venue for Inspire!, Latin Link’s annual conference.

I’ve been to Inspire! a few times before, and it’s always great fun. It’s just a fantastic atmosphere, full of stories of the mountains and the first time someone had cuy to eat (don’t ask if you’re fond of fluffy animals), or of the market traders with their bamba (pirate) Salsa and Reggaeton CDs.

16112008001 At any Latin Link event, the Argentineans are always easy to spot – both them and the Brits who’ve spent some time there. What gives them away is the intriguing little globe-like object they all hold in their hands and taking occasional pulls on through a shiny metal straw thing. Some will have a small flask of hot water, from which they’ll occasionally give the little globes a top-up. Get too close, and they’ll offer you a sip – your initiation into the world of Mate (pronounced “matay”).

Mate is a drink intended to be shared with people. It’s a huge part of Argentinean culture. “It’s what makes Argentina special,” I’ve been told by one avid drinker. “You do have to develop a taste for it,” advises another.

I’m still some way from developing my taste for it. My sweet tooth is legendary, and Mate isn’t the sweetest thing I’ve ever drunk by any means. But when it comes to those little containers it’s served in… I was sold on those ages ago.

161120080041 My fascination with mate might have something to do with me sort of having a thing for pipes. I’ve never smoked in my life and don’t intend to start anytime soon. But there’s just something special about pipe smokers. Without his pipe, Sherlock Holmes would just be a pompous nerd with a daft hat saying patronising things to his sidekick Watson. Likewise, without mate, Argentineans are just Latinos who pronounce some of their words funny – saying “sh” where other Spanish speakers say “y”, and where English speakers would say ‘l” (that’s your Spanish pronunciation lesson for today, folks).

I’ve never seen two identical ones. I’ve seen some that looked really plain, and others that could pass for priceless works of art. I’ve even seen one made out of a horn (Argentina consumes more beef per person than any other nation on earth. I guess someone’s got to find a use for all those leftover cow parts). But I have never seen two that looked exactly the same.

16112008002 If I ever go to Argentina, I’ll buy the most arty-looking mate container I can find. I’ll be the most sociable guy around, sharing it with everyone in sight. I’d let everyone else drink while I just held that round bowl in my hand, looking and feeling cool.

Pase el mate a la izquierda (pass the mate ‘pon the left hand side), and hand me that bamba Daddy Yankee CD, please…