Glasgow’s annual Celtic Connections Festival features the best of folk, roots and world music, celebrating Celtic music and its connections to cultures across the globe. Artistic Director, Donald Shaw (founding member of Celtic supergroup Capercaillie) is successful in drawing artists from the four corners of the globe and generally bringing a bit of sunshine to the long, damp, dreich January nights.
This year was no exception. From19th January – 5th February, 2,100 musicians from around the world battled the elements to come to Glasgow and bring the city to life for 18 days of concerts, ceilidhs, talks, art exhibitions, workshops, and free events. Fortunately, the gigs I fancied were both on consecutive Friday nights so I made the short journey through from Edinburgh to the fantastic Old Fruitmarket venue two weeks in a row.
Salsa Celtica and Fatoumata Diawara, 27 January 2012
I had secretly hoped that, Fatou, who released her eponymous debut album in autumn last year and is tipped to be the latest in a long line of Malian musical legends, would play with Salsa Celtica. That wasn’t to be, but it was a fantastic two-gigs-for-the-price of one night out. The Old Fruitmarket is worth the trip alone – full of cast iron and old street signs, it’s a tribute to the heyday of Victorian industriousness in this, the Merchant City of the erstwhile second city of the Empire.
Fatou was fantastic! She was a livewire on stage, looking like she really had to discipline herself to actually play her guitar and not just leap around the stage whipping her cornrow plaits and fluffing her neon tutu. Not that she can’t master that guitar! She has stated that she likes to mix “new and old styles”: she sings in the Bambara language, but her Wassoulou region musical roots are layered with influences from the great jazz divas. She’s already done some of the festival circuit and is definitely one to watch!
Salsa Celtica are something else all together. I love their blend of Celtic and Cuban music and their one-big-morphing-collective approach. To be honest, though, I have seen them plenty of times and might not have made the trip if it weren’t for Fatou. However, it was definitely worth it – this was one of the best gigs I have seen them play. The audience (world music enthusiasts and Glaswegians who forgive them for being an Edinburgh band – probably because half of them are Irish, Cuban or Highlanders!) and the venue (plenty of space for dancing) were certainly contributing factors. Most of all, bandleader Toby Shippey was on fine form, navigating the band up and down Scotland and Ireland, across to Cuba and back. The combination of tracks – including many of their best known from their five albums – was spot on and the place was jumping!
Omar Sosa and Ibrahim Maalouf, 3 February 2012
One week later, back at the Fruitmarket and hoping again for a collaborative effort. But potential disaster! One year after the same thing happened to Toumani Diabate on route to the Afrocubism gig in Edinburgh, the same meteorological catastrophe was about to befall Ibrahim Maalouf! Could he out-trick the Toumani curse and get out of a snowbound Parisian airport to his Scottish gig?
Ibrahim Maalouf walked on stage half an hour late, directly from Glasgow airport. Literally. He was wearing tracksuit bottoms and as he apologised for his appearance, he looked like he was still cathcing his breath. He’d been 17 hours on route and had left the rest of the band at the airport waiting for their luggage and instruments. Fortunately, his guitarist had arrived earlier that day and between them they had managed to re-arrange three songs of the set for performance on guitar and Maalouf’s trumpet. With a bit of audience participation, it might work.
It certainly did! It wasn’t a long set, but it was a brilliant one. In the space of three songs, Maalouf demonstrated the full range of his expertise as a trumpeter and composer and endeared himself totally to the audience. The first track was a beautiful Arabic-style composition, inspired by Maalouf’s Lebanese roots. During the second, the audience provided a vocal accompaniment. And the third, Beirut, which he composed at the age of 12 in a bomb-blasted neighbourhood of the Lebanese capital, was in no way diminished by the lack of heavy guitar riffs he told us normally featured. It was a pity he had to leave after such a short stay!
Omar Sosa came on stage looking like a fantastical freakish imam in a long, red kameez-style outfit complete with crescent moon design, white skull cap and Moroccan babouches slippers. With tiny round-framed specs which glowed neon green under a UV light and a maniacal glint in his eye. Not quite what I’d expected from a Cuban. (But maybe I should have done some prior research!) And then he started going at the piano. Wow, he can play! After a lengthy virtuoso performance, his band emerged on stage, embodying the definition of ‘diversity’ – from the Mozambiquan percussionist/bassist with rattles in his trouser legs, to the New Yorkan drummer with dreds past his seat, to the amazing Cuban one-man wind section and the German trumpeter who looked liked he’d fallen out the pages of a 1970s German jazz magazine as he did a great rap, in German. (He was wearing a brown leather jacket, but I can’t swear if I saw a black polo neck).
The collective sound took syncopation to a whole new level and was a bit too free-form for my taste; my innocent ears found it hard to pick out the Afro-Cuban rhythms I was seeking (although there was a snippet of a salsa riff in there somewhere). However, Sosa is a masterful band leader and showman as well as pianist: the composed and the spontaneous were indistinguishable and created an incredible spectacle.
© Lynn Sheppard