Sunday, 13 April 2014

Penang world music festival 2014

We attended the Penang World Music Festival 2014 at the Botanical Gardens on the Penang island last evening. First time we had ever attended a world music festival anywhere. Hence, we did not know what to expect. All I knew was that the festival would showcase ethnic music from around the world, courtesy of the foreign and local participants.

We arrived at the car park and took the shuttle bus to the entrance of the Gardens. A short walk along the waterfall road to the ticket counter, we exchanged our coupon for tickets and there we were, inside the festival grounds. Two stages side-by-side, so that the audience need not have to wait between performances while the acts readied themselves. We were quite apprehensive about having to sit on the grass but we found a convenient spot on the granite steps quite close to one of the stages.

For appetisers, first off was a Bhangra dance followed in quick succession by a traditional Chinese dance and a performance by a local Penang group, Aswad.

Then came the first featured performance of the evening: a Gamelan orchestra comprising entirely of students from the Tengku Abdul Rahman Secondary School in Nibong Tebal, Province Wellesley, Penang. The performance wowed the crowd which kept asking for more.

After that was the session from an Uzbekistan quartet called Oxus, playing rather forlorn Uzbek music on their traditional instruments. Long performance of about 40 minutes. But it was a very trying performance. Personally, I never felt so bored since entering the festival grounds. The crowd obviously felt the same because the applause was polite but muted. There was none of the raucous hand-clapping or whistles that had accompanied the previous acts. Oxus definitely don't deserve getting such a long time slot at the festival.

Nading Rhapsody's performance of the music of the Iban and other Sarawak indigenous people was a refreshing change after that. Apart from the music, we quite enjoyed their costumes.

The second foreign performance was by Carlos Dje Dje with his brand of reggae music. Being from South Africa, his slot of South African music, which I had already been aware from the music of Paul Simon's Graceland album, was full of references to the late departed Nelson Mandela and his ex-wife, Winnie Mandela. Although Mandela was a great person, perhaps milking his name here was a bit overdone. That aside, it was a mesmerising half-hour show.

I never knew that Mohram, a group of musicians from Kelate (Kelantan), could sound so modern but it was announced that this group already had lots of international exposure. To see Mohram perform here was thus a treat. If anything, it confirms that local musicians can groove with fusion music too.

N'Faly Kouyate was the final foreign act of the evening. This guy originated from Guinea in West Africa but later moved to Belgium. Earlier in the evening, I had noticed him walking about the festival grounds but dressed up in formal attire. I had suspected that he would be performing later but I never did expect him to come of stage dressed in his traditional Guinean robes. Here, you see N'Faly playing his celebrated instrument called the kora.

The evening closed with a light-hearted performance by a group of local Penangites calling themselves Culture Shot, also known as La La Li La Tam Pong, and they entertained the remaining crowd with their amusing renditions of local Penang ditties.

Too bad though that my wife and I shall not be attending the second day of the Penang World Music Festival 2014 on Sunday.

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