The Garifuna Collective/Gasper Nali/Racubah – Neuadd Ogwen

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In the same week Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour sells his 1969 Black Fender Stratocaster for £3.1m, Gasper Nali sits alone on the Neuadd Ogwen stage in Bethesda, ready to support World Music legends The Garifuna Collective with the home-made bass guitar he plays. The instrument is actually called a babatoni. It is about 3 metres long, with one string, and a cow skin drum as a resonating box. Nali plays the instrument by hitting the string with a stick and changes the notes by placing an empty bottle along the string’s length. It makes a unique sound. Gilmour and Nali couldn’t be further apart on the musical spectrum but for one vital similarity. They both create magic from their art.

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Nali opens his far too short set with the relatively sedate “Olemera” from his 2015 album, ‘Abale Ndikuwuzeni’. The album’s title translates as ‘People, Let Me Tell You’. Near the end of the song the single string on the babatoni breaks. There’s a groan of disappointment from the crowd, and while Nali restrings the instrument his tour manager comes on stage and explains how the strings are in fact made from the wire found in car tyres. The rubber of the tyres is melted and the wire is removed. There is a 50/50 chance a string will work. We shouldn’t worry though, as they have around 75m of wire on tour with them. This raises a laugh from the audience and then Nali is ready to carry on.

The babatoni hums and buzzes like the hazy days of Summer that Bethesda is currently basking in, while the beat from Nali’s single kick drum proves to be irresistible, the audience soon dancing and clapping in time to the second song, ‘Aliyense Adzaonetsa’.

It isn’t long though before Nali is announcing the last song of his set. It is the title track from ‘Abale Ndikuwuzeni’. The moan from the crowd is even louder than when the string broke at the start of the evening, and so Nali milks what little time he has left on stage for all it is worth, getting the audience to sing along to the song. By the time he’s finished you’re left wondering why this guy is a support act.

The Garifuna Collective are in a class of their own though, of course. Their 2007 album ‘Wátina’, recorded with the late Andy Palicio, is one of the most praised world music albums ever released, and was selected by amazon.com as the Greatest World Music Album of All Time; beating Buena Vista Social Club, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti and other worthy contenders to the title. And here are nine of the collective on stage in Bethesda.

The band appears wary at first, hesitant, testing the crowd. To be fair, Gasper Nali is a tough act to follow, no matter how short his set was. But these are seasoned artistes and they are in their element, in front of a receptive and appreciative crowd, and by the time they break into ‘Ubou’ (The World), from the album ‘Ayo’, the floor is packed with dancing bodies. Rhythms and melodies swirl through the crowd, complex structures of sound that take the feet hostage.

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The Garifuna Collective is a multigenerational collection of musicians tapping into the rich history of the Garifuna people, telling stories, keeping their culture alive by infusing the traditional with their own musicianship. The result is sublime.

The audience just about raises the roof when it starts singing along to ‘Merua’ from the 2008 album, ‘Umalali’, and when two women in the audience are invited up on stage to dance along with the band you know that this isn’t just a gig, this is a full on party!

At one point the Collective plays a “Christmas” song and a dancer comes on stage dressed in an outfit that wouldn’t look out of place in a ‘Pet Shop Boys’ video. The audience might not be entirely sure what’s going on but they’re loving every second of it.

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Local DJs Racubah kept everyone occupied between sets.

Neuadd Ogwen is making a name for itself with the rich tapestry of music it is promoting, and The Garifuna Collective joins an illustrious list of world renowned talent that has performed in the independent music venue over the past few years.

With such artists as Lorkin O’Reilly performing soon, with his fusion of 60’s American folk music and traditional celtic vibes, plus home grown hero Gruff Rhys set to play at the venue in September, as part of the 3 day Ara Deg festival, and the return of Cate Le Bon, Neuadd Ogwen looks set to continue with it’s mission to bring the best music there is out there to Bethesda.

The night was like many nights at the venue, brave, enlightening, and entertaining.

 

Jeremy Dutcher – 9Bach(Noeth) – Live at Neuadd Ogwen

The Polaris Music Prize and Juno Award winning tenor, and activist, Jeremy Dutcher, brought the “indigenous” songs of the Maliseet culture all the way from Saint John River valley in Canada to the small town of Bethesda in North Wales on Friday evening.

The town’s independent music venue, Neuadd Ogwen, treated a packed house to an unforgettable evening of world class “world music” which I suspect many aficionados would have paid a small fortune to experience, which is ironic when you consider that Dutcher himself is determined to make the “indigenous music” box he has been placed into obsolete.

A stripped down 9Bach (noeth) opens, with Lisa Jen Brown (vocals/Harmonium/keyboard) and Martin Hoyland (guitar) playing a short but emotional set, including tracks from their BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards winning album, “Tincian”.

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From the gentle opening of “Llyn Du” (“Black Lake”) onwards, Lisa Jen charms the audience with her delicate vocals and her disarming chats in-between songs.

There is a sadness to the set, felt by both 9Bach and anyone in the audience who was aware of the recent death of Alan James, an early founder of the WOMAD music festival. James was a close friend, manager, and a champion of 9Bach, and both their last song and an early song from Jeremy Dutcher’s set are dedicated to a man who did so much to bring the music of the world to a wider audience.

Which brings us to Jeremy Dutcher. This is his first ever tour of Europe and having thanked his hosts for their hospitality he announces “Paris, Madrid, and now Bethesda!” which elicits a roar of approval from the audience, but then the fact that the venue has secured such a prestigious artist should be celebrated.

Dutcher is garnering a lot of publicity for his album, “Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa”, which blends archival recordings of traditional Maliseet songs with his own classically trained tenor voice, and piano. The performance is simple on the surface. Dutcher sits at the piano for most of the songs, standing up briefly to perform a couple with nothing but a shaker and his voice.

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Then there are the archival recordings themselves. Whether you subscribe to the argument that analogue beats digital or not, something happens inside you when you hear these voices from the past in all their scratchy glory. In Dutcher’s own words he creates “sound worlds”, setting free these lost years and the silenced voices of the Maliseet, shining a 21st century light on them. That it was illegal to sing these songs in Canada up until the 1950’s speaks volumes. That there are very few speakers of the Maliseet language left in the world today should be considered a crime. “When we lose a language we lose everything”, says Dutcher while acknowledging a connection he sees between the Maliseet and the Welsh fight to retain and celebrate both language and cultural identity.

At one point in the evening Dutcher splits the audience into two groups and asks them to create a drone, with one half humming a G root note, and the other half humming a 5th. Dutcher then creates vocal loops, which are laid over each other. It is a magical moment.

Dutcher hopes that the label of “indigenous music” will become obsolete within a year. Judging from the quality of the music the audience at Neuadd Ogwen were treated to, I fail to see why this shouldn’t be the case. This music is hard to pigeon hole in the most positive way possible. To quote Dutcher again, “When we hear music it leaves the brain and it takes over the heart”.

The concert was both intimate and huge, a bit like a small town independent music venue hosting world class award winning music.

Photographs by Denise Baker Denise Baker

9Bach live at Neuadd Ogwen

As the North Wales village of Bethesda braced itself for a blizzard, a near capacity crowd battled the bitter cold night, in order to watch 9Bach perform live at the village’s independent live music venue, Neuadd Ogwen. It was a homecoming show for the band, following their co-headlining appearance with Moulettes at the majestic Cadogan Hall in Belgravia, London the previous night.

Fellow Bethesda band Yucatan came on stage first, with a sadly brief set. Just five songs were played in total. Included though was a cover of Across The Universe (Ar Draws y Gofod Pell). Yucatan recorded the track this year, to coincide with The Beatles celebrations at Festival No.6, 2017. The fact that this classic fitted in seamlessly with the band’s own compositions speaks volumes. If you ever dream you are bird soaring over the mountains of Snowdonia, then Yucatan songs like the beautiful Cwm Llym, played tonight, would be the perfect soundtrack to listen to while you fly.

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Bethesda based poet Martin Daws was up next. Daws was commissioned to write his poem “Love Letter to Bethesda” by 9Bach for their Llechi show, and tonight he bridged the gap between Yucatan and the headliners effortlessly. His smooth and amiable delivery brightened the room, and his use of the kalimba during the poem “Bring Down the Walls” carried a hint of the international feel of things to come.

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9Bach’s “Tincian” was voted best album at the 2015 BBC Folk awards, and the band includes traditional Welsh folk songs in its repertoire. However, they blend the traditional with other styles in such a way that the label “folk” no longer seems large enough to do their music justice. 9Bach are far from parochial. Their music certainly captures the beauty of the area where the band is based, but it is enriched by rhythms, melodies and stories from around the globe. The Australian aboriginal performance group, the Black Arm Band Company was name checked at one point for instance, and Greek rembetika gets a look in during the set too. There is also a definite funk and groove present at times, to move things along.

So while it is hard not to use the “F” word when writing about 9Bach, these World Music ambassadors are far more than folk music alone.

A song about the last known male northern white rhino left in the world, Yr Olaf blends in comfortably with another about the interconnectedness between people, between us and place, between us and nature; that song, “Anian”, is also the title of the band’s latest album.

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The three “London boys” at the back (Ali Byworth, Dan Swain, Martin Hoyland) provided a faultless canvas of drums, bass, and guitar respectively, upon which vocalist Lisa Jen Brown, keyboard player/singer Mirain Haf Roberts, and harpist Esylit Glyn Jones painted enchanting and evocative portraits of the world, of the past, of the slate quarry nearby, and of what it means to be alive in these troubled times.

9Bach exuded warmth and confidence in equal measures on stage, and one can’t help but feel that the audience returned home after the gig all the richer, and with a glow in the heart. It was a night Bethesda could be proud of.

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(Photographs by Denise Baker)

PESDA ROC 2017

This recent Bank Holiday saw the return of Bethesda’s annual celebration of live music, “Pesda Roc” at Neuadd Ogwen.

The weekend kicked off on Saturday night, with intimate sets from Lastigband, Argrph, Phalcons, and Dj Delweddau Hen Dduwiau in the bar; but there was a definite buzz surrounding Sunday’s upcoming climax of the two day festival; local legends Maffia Mr Huws were back.

Brython Shag opened the Sunday night; not an easy band to pigeonhole. Opening number “Bywyd Ei Hon” (“Life Itself”) could be an eighties alt-rock anthem, but before you know it, you’re deep in Ian Dury/Blockhead territory; Deian Jones’ funky bass pumping up the crowd on the dance floor.

Vocalist Ceri Cunnington meanwhile, wanders the stage like a man with no control over his limbs. It’s a captivating, if chaotic performance; at one point, during a delightfully new wave/punk pop, Summer infused “Sana Gwyn A Sandals” (“White Socks And Sandals”), Cunnington almost cuts off the start of a sparkling solo from guitarist Gai Toms.

Sadly, their set had to be cut short; there were three bands waiting to play. They closed with “Dwnsia Ne Granda” (“Dance Or Listen”), and this reviewer was left wishing there had been more time available to do both. They are most definitely on the “Listen Again” list.

Next up were Radio Rhydd. In these days of X-Factor/No Talent nightmares, let’s be grateful there are still angry young men like Radio Rhydd making real music; and urging us to smash up and burn our TVs.

Vocalist Cai O’Marah embodied the bands’ passionate outrage; rasping and ranting and rapping his way topless on stage, singing like a man on a mission to spread the word.

The fact that they grew up listening to and being inspired by Maffia Mr Huws is beyond any doubt really; although they do add their own white, urban hip-hop touch to the punk and reggae mix of their local heroes.

A furious “Bernard Bancs” kicked off the set; Radio Rhydd meant business.

Four songs in, and Brython Shag’s Ceri Cunnington is invited back on stage for “Cariad a Chymuned”, and the audience goes wild.

Drums ticked like a Doomsday Clock approaching midnight, during closing number “Croeso Ir Apocalypse” (“Welcome The Apocalypse”). Radio Rhydd were having a blast, and so were the audience. But there was still one more band to go before the much anticipated return of Maffia Mr Huws.

That penultimate band being Ffug.

The band opened with the spindly instrumental “Be My Friend”, before things turned heavy glam with “Anorexic Alcoholic”. By the time “Love Is Stupid” kicked in, three young skateboarders were leaning against a wall to one side of the venue, nodding their heads in time to the frantic beat, while a group of middle aged men jumped up and down across the room like it was 1977, and a woman shook and swirled around in the middle of the dance floor. Ffug, it appears, have something for everyone who likes their music heavy and loud. It’s hard to imagine such a large noise is coming from the four slight and skinny lads on stage.

Vocalist Iolo Seyfl snarls like Cobain one minute, before switching to a sneer that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Japan album.

Billy Morley’s guitar sleazed and seduced during a slinking, mid set “Speedboat Dreaming”, whilst Henry Jones (bass) and Joey Robbins (drums) smashed their way through “Are You With Us?”; the kind of song you can imagine hearing while the credits roll, at the end of a particularly fast and furiously explosive action movie.

But now it was the moment everyone had been waiting for; Maffia Mr Huws were ready to rock, and the crowd were ready to enjoy. No one was disappointed.

The band hit the stage running with “Newyddion Heddiw” and the crowd went wild; not least the singers of Brython Shag and Radio Rhydd, who stormed onto the dance floor, along with the rest of the fans.

This was old skool punk rock, with a heady dose of reggae thrown in.

When the band started playing “Yr Addewid”, Radio Rhydd’s Cai O’Marah could no longer contain his enthusiasm and climbed on stage; the mic being handed to him by Maffia Mr Huws’ lead vocalist, Hefin Huws. The mic could have been a baton of musical heritage, being passed on from one generation to the next.

Maybe it’s something in the Bethesda water, because towards the end of the set, both O’Marah and Brython Shag’s Ceri Cunnington were back on stage with the headliners; hijacking the mics, while Huws proved that original punks still know how to rebel with style. He lit a cigarette and stood back; allowing the young ones another chance to shine. The crowd lapped up every moment.

The night ended with Maffia Mr Huws, the crowd, and the supporting acts all leaping around, having a whale of a time, and singing along to the motoring fury of “Gitar yn y To”.

Here’s to “Pesda Roc 2018”. This reviewer can’t wait.