ARTICLE: No Borders - Världens Band
October 2015, The RichMix, Shoreditch
Article by music journalist Chris Twomey
There’s been a lot of music in my life. All sorts of music. First there was classical (courtesy of my dad), ‘light popular’ (mum), then my first EP - ‘Pinky & Perky Sing The Beatles‘.
I didn’t choose it, the parents did, honest guv.
Later, at school, I became a boy chorister (soprano), then turned into a rather obnoxious broken-voiced, classical music-hating rebel, which somehow lead me to becoming….a music journalist.
Nearly 35 years on, it’s no longer my job description, although I still do a bit of freelancing for rock magazines, but I look back and think “wow…I‘ve soaked up a lot of stuff”.
I’ve interviewed chart-topping pop idols, boy bands, reggae singers, soul divas, heavy metal bands from California and Germany, ghazal singers from Pakistan, Canadian folk singers, Texan Country singers, avant-garde freaks of every description, major punk and new wave bands, TV talent contest-winning opera singers and (pause for breath) the list goes on and on. There have been several gen-you-ine gold-plated legends among them too. Paul McCartney ring any bells? Ray Davies? The Beach Boys? Abba? The Bee Gees?
The reason I’m telling you this is because I really have been surrounded by a hell of a lot of SOUND and what I love about music is its ability to catch me off-guard, even now.
On 13 October (2015) I went to see Världens Band play The RichMix in Shoreditch having been invited by the show’s promoters Celebrate Life. I’d enjoyed the friendly vibe and general ‘unusualness’ of a couple of previous CL events so I thought it was worth checking out - even though I couldn‘t quite get my head around the group’s pre-publicity.
“Fourteen musicians, seven countries, three continents, one band,” read their official press release. Really? Blimey, sounded like the Womad equivalent of speed dating - all the world music you could possibly want in one convenient bite-sized serving. “Transglobal roots fusion” is how the band themselves defined their niche. Gulp. Never heard of such a thing.
The apprehension increased when I arrived at the venue and saw a stage filled with instruments which, strictly speaking, shouldn’t have been sharing the same room. Just as polar bears and lions only co-exist when they’re forced to (in zoos) the purist in me felt it was wrong that guitars, drums and their conventional like were sitting cheek by jowl with bagpipes, a melodeon and weird-looking stringed objects (with names like mandola, mridangam and kora) which obviously produced a sound if handled correctly. I was suddenly an ex-music hack out of his comfort zone.
And then Varldens Band appeared: seven Swedes, two English guys, a Scot, a bloke from Senegal and women from France and India. Normally they’d also be joined by Tunisian Navah Elbaz, their main vocalist, apparently, but she was too heavily pregnant to tour.
And what of the music? This is where Varldens Band (Swedish for World Band) got really interesting because if I’d been asked to define their sound, be really “genre-specific” as it were, I’d have struggled. Rather like those wine experts who claim they can detect “hints” of this and “notes” of that, I’m going to have to turn slightly pretentious and report the definite presence of Celtic folk music, along with Indian classical and north African song structures, topped off with a sprinkling of southern European and Balkan influences. I can also confirm that they were by turns soulful, melodic, danceable and…totally engrossing.
Varldens Band’s set didn’t last very long and when it ended I felt pleasantly shell-shocked. On paper they had read like a potential car crash, but turned out to be an explosion of joy.
After the show I managed to collar Cassandre Balbar, the band’s French recorder and bagpipe player and asked her how on earth so many musicians from such different backgrounds were able to construct anything vaguely cohesive, let alone intriguingly different, elevating and enjoyable. I don’t think Cassandre could really explain it herself. She just knew that whenever this collective come together - everyone in Varldens Band has a ‘day job’ in other groups - something magic happens. But it’s a job in itself trying to get everyone together, which is why you’re going to have to wait another year at least before Varldens Band return to London. In the meantime, check out their excellent debut album and trust this old cynic who thought he’d seen it all before. You haven’t.
Thanks to Demola for the photos.