World music and the London Jazz Festival
Friday was the first day of the ten-day London Jazz Festival (LJF), that glorious time of year when more live improvised music can be heard in the bars, clubs and concert halls of the capital than the rest of the year put together.
Union Chapel, the Gothic Victorian church and music venue in Islington, is as good as anywhere to spend the first night of the festival, and what could be more perfect for this sacred setting than the ringing, meditative sound of Toumani Diabaté’s kora?
This world music icon, arguably West Africa’s most valuable cultural export and a regular collaborator with artists like Damon Albarn and Björk, is both a virtuoso and an innovator. Weaving tapestries of sound with just the thumbs and forefingers required to play the West African harp, Diabaté and his soft-toned rhythm section played a magical set.
Sitting on an instrument case with a cloth draped over it, leaning over the kora in front of him, he began with a solo riff that grew and grew, germinating from a short rhythmic idea to a thick texture of musical lines with bass, accompaniment and melody all threaded beautifully together. It was like that all night. Occasionally the quartet got a foot-tapping groove going but mostly Diabaté kept to fluid, open improvisations that resounded around the venue.
But hold on. Does Diabaté music, and indeed the supporting alt-folk band Revere, play jazz? Or for that matter does Indian percussionist Zakir Hussain (who was over at the Queen Elizabeth Hall the same night) or senior Cape Verdean diva Cesaria Evora, due to sing at the QEH later in the festival but who had to withdraw for health reasons?
World music seems to be an ever growing niche on the LJF, with more headline slots for music that involves improvisation – the core element of what makes jazz – but has little else in common with the American or European jazz traditions. Few people would call this a problem I think. Global sounds add to an already diverse international jazz scene, from New Orleans trad to Scandinavian minimalism, and no other musical community can claim to be so international and cosmopolitan. It’s a balance and for the moment the LJF programmers seem to be getting it right.
Back at Union Chapel, Diabaté dedicated a piece to world music broadcaster Lucy Duran, praising her for selflessly promoting African musicians in the UK for decades. “These days, if there’s a UK music festival without African musicians, then it it’s not really any good,” he smiled. That goes for the London Jazz Festival too it would seem.
Here’s a short introduction to Toumani Diabaté:Tagged in: London Jazz Festival, music, Toumani Diabaté, World music
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