(Clore Ballroom, Southbank, June 11th 2010, review by Jane Stringfellow)
Shifting Sands, an evolving collaboration of accomplished musicians specialising in traditional music of the UK and the Middle East opened Richard Thompson’s Meltdown Festival at the Southbank on Friday night.
Thirteen musicians from six countries had worked together for three days under the direction of Andy Mellon of Bellowhead -Southbank’s resident folk group -at the invitation of the British Council. Musicians from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and UEA played traditional instruments including the oud, the quanoon and the simsimiyya (above), and brought Middle Eastern melodies and rhythms to the fore. Musicians from the UK played instruments including the harp, fiddle and bass clarinet and bought folk and jazz themes to the mix. Impressive vocalists and lively percussionists completed the sound.
Their fine set was themed "Songs of the Sea ". Of course both the Arabian Peninsula and the British Isles have long standing traditions of music made by seafarers. Shifting Sands brought this to life. It was easy to imagine being a sailor singing a rousing sea song while anticipating sounds of new shores.
In the first song, Mudather, composed by Abdullah Bahashwan (Saudia Arabia), the bass clarinet provided a distinctive structure as the tune was passed around many instruments. It sounded quite magical.
Simsema, a Bahraini song often sung at female wedding parties, got the audience clapping as the band sang.
In Mekhoulfi, a song composed by Ahmed al Ghanem (Bahrain) in an 8/4 rhythm usually associated with pearl diving songs and traditionally played by percussion, the melody was traded by many instruments including the flute and violin bringing out different musical colours.
Shifting Sands is a collaboration that has only just begun, there was tremendous excitement amongst the musicians and amongst the audience last Friday night. This is a highly original project. Richard Thompson had only heard a few preliminary tapes before inviting them to open the Meltdown Festival. Catch them when they next play in London.