Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Go the Naki.
So, I spent the weekend in New Plymouth, and so did me old mate Trevor Reekie. He went to Womad, I went to my Mum's birthday party. I had a good time, sounds like Trevor did too. Here's his report. (Yasmin Levy photos above and below taken at interview by Michael Flynn)
Friday 16th March 07 :
Caught the shuttle and flew to New Plymouth for WOMAD - missed the New Plymouth shuttle, hopped into a ($35) cab to the orange Apartments in Bell St . Unpacked, looked at my notes and had a wee lie down before making my way on foot to the site.
Walking thru the bush of Brooklands Park listening to tuis and wood pigeons .. for someone who gets nervous away from the sight of concrete it's quite wierd... went to the meet and greet for the media in the drizzling rain. Met Sally who does the PR for Womad and she was incredibly forthcoming and helpful... thats a bonus in this gig.
Yasmin Levy did a quick number along with Mahotella Queens - who were three 65 year old South African aunties who could give Mick Jagger a run for all his money. So much energy and hilariously funny too boot! Went up and hung out for a while in the food arena before doing my first interview with Gotan Project, who can't tango but if u sell as much product as they do, who fucking cares. Their first single they released themselves (cos no-one else would) and at the time they couldn't decide whether to press 500 or a thousand .... the first album then went on to sell over 3 million units world wide .. They were nice guys and gave me a bunch of CDs. These guys are as business savvy as they are at spotting holes in the market. Tango has been very good
Had some dinner and the weekend started . Huun Huur Tu are 3 Tuvian (a small Siberian country of 150,000) throat singers harmonizing together .. Its like a herd of whales ... A totally out of it noise like you've never heard before . Saw a lot of people, old friends and people who's names I'd forgotten .. in fact Womad is a bit like a party where every room you walk into is playing different music and u meet different people in all of them ... the atmosphere is eclectic and electric .
The weather held and the park was pulling 35,000 over the 3 days . It's not that big a park - loads of stalls , food , 5-6 performance stages, and all sensibly programmed - crowds from all walks of life who even bring their own deck chairs with wine holders. I didn't know you could buy deck chairs with built-in wine holders but hey I'm inner city and don't have a deck so how would I ?
Gotan Project was the big one on Friday night . It's a big slick show with loads of technology (they have 2 major mixing desks just for side of stage and a shit load of their set is coming off computers, not to mention lights and video screens).... and a big band.
Ten people floating on and off stage thru the nite including a gorgeous female string quartet, a piano player, a bandonian (an accordian /concertina sounding type instrument that originated in the churches of Germany and made its way to the whore houses of Buenos Aires) .. Gotans acknowleged that Brooklands Park is one of the most beautiful places they have ever played ... huuuuge crowd response!!!
Sneaked off after their set and went back to my room to write up my notes and rest up for tomorrow .. .. very hungry, thirsty and tired . And the electric jug in my room doesn't work. . .
Sat 17th March 07 ;
Woke up at 8 am after a good sleep. Certainly better than the AK CBD on a Friday nite. Had to go look for a shop to buy supplies. B/fast at McDonalds. Starting to rain. Man, I walk a lot. big BIG day today.
Made my way to the festival site, grabbed a coffee and set up to interview Etran Finatawa (Tuareg and Wodaabe nomads) and what people they were - they are remarkable and special... Like from another planet. they have had lives that we could not possibly comprehend and yet they are blessed despite generations of political misrepresentation. They have humility and at the same time are fiercely proud. Beautiful people. I gave them a Nigel Gavin CD and they gave me a silver wrist bracelet . It was a special moment...
Saw Holly Smiths set which was a great performance and an important gig for her .. did an interview with Mr Scruff. Nice guy. Bright. Another English DJ who knows his shit, said some good things like "I like being out of my musical comfort zone". Then at 3pm did the live phoner for the 101 show - after finding a land line that worked (thanx Sally) . It took a while to
sort out that the toll-block on the phone was ass-about-face, ie I could ring RNZ but they couldn't ring me... Bizarre!
Straight after did the interview with Lila Downs. She remembered our previous phone I/v last year when she was cooking dinner at her Mum's house in Mexico. She was something else. Stunning attire. Pleasant. Easy to be with. There aren't many interviews with a female artist that include a discussion about table dancers and hookers.
Following that did an interview with Samba Sunda from Java but it didn't go that well. I just didn't know their stuff . And he wasn't easy to be with (probably cos he knew that I just didn't know their stuff. These guys have released something like 14 albums in Java but they aren't available here). Plus their NY manager sitting in with us made for an unwelcome dynamic.
Last interview was with Billy Cobham. He was ok and lightened up for a couple of questions - but having a 3rd person in the room changed the dynamic again - especially when it was his wife who he's obviously scared of.
When she left he told me a story about how in the mid 60's the 'unofficial' employment exchange for musicians was a bar in 57th street... Its where Mingus or Miles rang to get musos for a gig that night, or women looking for their partners and husbands, or drug deals going down. One wall is lined with pay phones that only accepted incoming calls. I suspect Billy is a hard man coz when I suggested that George Benson was a person who gave him one of his early breaks he came back pretty quickly with a rebuttal.
The rain finally came and I blame Don McGlashan - it started after his set which the crowd loved. I hung in there sheltering under a tree. Stayed for Lila Downs which didn't seem to connect to me . Maybe it was the weather . Maybe I was too far away . Maybe I was expecting too much! Yet straight after her set, Yasmin Levy's gig (also in the rain) was non-negotiable. It was both brilliant and inspiring . She is the real deal. Possibly one of the greats! You can hear generations in her voice. She really emotes and her voice can fill your entire universe... I saw a woman break into tears ...
I stuck around for a bit of Salif Keita - he is a World superstar and the ability of his Malian band reflected that. He will be paying them top wages but so so worth it . virtuoso musicians. The bass solo I heard this guy do was insane - and I hate bass solos - everyone was moving . Yambo Yambo is a killer song. Infectious. They must put something in the water in Mali cos so much of their music is engaging .
I've learned something from this weekend, and that is the power of music. Yasmin had it. Etran Finatawa have it. What I mean by that is (personally) over the years I got so sucked into the major label advances and making records I never wanted to hear again that I forgot about integrity.
Making Nigel Gavin's album was a step in the right direction but of course outside of his tours and Marbecks etc it wont sell ... I needed to break that cycle of believing that a things worth is determined by what it sells. I needed to feel and believe that it aint necessarily what you get for it, its what you become as a result of it.
What Etran Finatawa reminded me is that we have the luxury of worrying about things like how we are perceived, promotion, marketing, money and how that equates to success. Etran Finatawa is more worried about lack of fucking water, being politically denied and where his grandparents are going to die and be buried. He knows he has been chosen to play music to give a voice to other Wodabe and Toureg peoples...
I'd forgotten that music is a voice, not a fucking mp3 with a video that has conned some young woman into flashing her cleavage so she can be on tv, and that some fucking idiot can feel good about him/herself because he/she is desperately grabbing at their chance of 15 minutes of fame by stringing a few cheap and puerile rhyming couplets together...and I appreciated the
reminder because, like a near death experience, it helps re-establish some truth and confirm the beauty of what we (sometimes) have ... it's grounding. Humbling even.
Music is their medium. They tell stories and correspond and communicate with music. The problem with Western music is we turned it into a vulgar, commercialised fashion industry that only a few can survive in . Now it has got to a point where it says bugger all. Its been over-marketed. These Womad people make music that emotes. They are driven by story-telling, communication, tradition and respect. It breeds integrity. There seems
to be so little integrity in western music right now !
Biggest difference between a Big Day Out and a Womad = singers!
As I was walking home in the drizzling rain a hoon leaned out his car window and yelled at me. Remember when people did that! [In New Plymouth, they still do]
Sunday 18 March 07 :
Oh dear oh dear oh dear , its pissing down and has done all nite. Its wet wet wet wet! I don't think it could really get any wetter. The maori guy who runs the Orange apartments gave me a lift to the local Eftpos and then up to the gates of Brooklands park . So hospitable. He's from Porirua and theres many hearts of gold from that neck of the woods...
First assignment of the day was an interview with the remarkably beautiful Yasmin Levy - she was great and I think it was a good interview . She gave me this kind of 'what have we got here' look . When I told her that I'd interviewed her before on the phone she said she remembered - as did Lila Downs yesterday .. so that puts me in the unique position of being remembered by two of the most charasmatic women in world music today!
I gave her a copy of Nigel Gavin's album (Nigel will approve of that one). She told me that her guitar/oud player (cos I'd complimented him) has only been with her for 3 gigs. They honestly play like they grew up together. next task was to do a live phoner to Lynn Freeman for her Arts programme . I gushed a bit, but that (hopefully) gave it an authentic ring, then met up with Maaka and Mina from Wai . Two of my favorite people who I knew from Southside of Bombay. Mina wrote Kia mau. Im so glad I did that coz I had to blow it out yesterday, so to go back and pick it up (when I so could have just forgotten it) showed some commitment and respect to them...
Then did a one on one interview with Mariza. She is not what I thought she would be. This woman is young, feline and very Very ambitious. She has come up thru the ranks very seamlessly and successfully. She tolerates the interviews because it will get her where she wants to go. She is not interested in connecting except en masse - she is an artist machine who has total animal magnetism. Although that's not what comes out of her image on her product. A very difficult interview cos I knew she was on auto-pilot despite throwing in a couple of curveball questions. But any man can forgive anyone who looks as exotic, beautiful and wild as she does.
I saw Etran Finatawa perform (they're very raw but people loved them). I loved the way they don¹t use a tuner. The main guy (who gave me the bracelet) sort of just tunes to the bass player in a 'that's close enuff for nomadic desert blues' type fashion. Like we used to in the 70's before
electronic tuners were available.
My last interview, so, returned back to the motel, dumped my gear (that bleeding DAT player as left me permanently leaning slightly to the left) , got changed into dry clothes and returned in time for Marizas performance on the main stage, with the ducks and moonlight reflecting on the water of the main stage ... It was cold and starrily lit... and packed... perfect really. The deck chair with wine holder brigade were out en masse.
Mariza enters and she is so dressed to kill. She could close airports. Her band concisting of acoustic guitar, string bass, violin and viola and Portuguese guitar are all exceptional virtuosos - she is like a panther in slow motion , a class act in every respect! She has a soaring and exceptional voice and her vocal dynamics are similar to how Buddy Guy uses his guitar - brings it right down to pin drop material.
This woman is so astute that she orchestrates her photographer to come out on stage mid set and photograph the crowd cheering behind her (4 photos) and then she tells the audience that they will soon be posted up on her web site Mariza.com. Is that savvy or what!?! ... she has all the moves .. she slinks out her vocal with total command - Mariza is a young Portuguse/African Eartha Kitt - whereas Yasmin Levy is a Ladino Lady Day - she's Billie Holliday ... an artist who tells stories and who relies on nothing but her voice. Yasmin is truly destined to be one of the greats. While Mariza will pack out Carnegie Hall weeks on end !
The final performance was (for me) Lila Downs. I really wanted to see her play well on a smaller stage . I had the feeling they were struggling with the sound a bit but when they hit it, they really nailed it! . She is extremely good - her harp player probably delivered the solo of the entire weekend . He performed this virtuosic two-hand solo on a full size harp that was kind of like a Jerry Lee Lewis piano solo. It was totally on the note and he did every thing except flip it over and jump on it.
Note : despite it being cold, crowded and very late ,all 3 artists (Yasmin, Mariza and Lila) did autograph signings straight after their shows for at least 45 - 60 mins.
Monday 19th March 07 :
I feel like Ive been away on an expedition like Colonel Fawcett. I'm stuck in New Plymouth til 3-35pm which is a waste of a day - on the plus side it is a drop dead beautiful day... Had a cup of tea with Johnny (I gave up on my electric jug) and went and had breakfast with Daniel Keighley. Good to see him. - met Johnny and Cressida from Womad. It can only be considered a
wildly successful gig. Caught a cab to the airport and hung out. Lila Downs was there as well, in fact I sat behind her on the flight back to Auckland. We talked at baggage claim. She told me her new kiwi tattoo is stinging. I wished her Bon Voyage ....and caught a shuttle home in Auckland rush hour.