Look back at Europe’s cultural history and you’ll keep coming across two places in Western Asia which had a decisive influence on developments in our part of the world. One of them is the area between the Tigris and the Euphrates, also known (depending on the government and the era) as Babylon, Assyria or Mesopotamia. The other is Persia, the forerunner of today’s Iran – a region of high culture where the arts and science flourished and even made their way to Europe, which at that time was far more backward. Accordingly, considering Iran also means going back to the deepest roots of our own culture. And even though Europe went on to develop very differently, it received crucial impetus from Western Asia.
Country Focus on IRAN
Whenever a special guest country is chosen for the Rudolstadt Festival, uppermost in the festival team’s minds is its current music scene. In Iran’s case, it’s so exciting and diverse that we’ve managed to compile a programme full of contrasts. It ranges from concerts incorporating classical traditions to music driven by current political protest. We’ll also be presenting a small selection of folk music from various regions. After all, modern-day Iran is a multi-ethnic state where the Persians making up nearly 65% of the population are joined by Kurds, Azerbaijanis (Azeri), Turkmens, Lurs, Baluch, Bakhtiari, Arabs, Kashgai and numerous smaller ethnic groups such as Armenians and even Assyrians. They all speak their own languages and have their own traditions and musical instruments.
Given the restrictions imposed by the Mullah State, especially on women, the artists (both males and females) are delighted to be offered a platform to perform their music. A biting view of these restrictions will be presented in comic strips by Marjane Satrapi in the exhibition ‘Persepolis’, and they will also – alongside detailed information on musical traditions and so on –be one of the themes addressed during both the symposium and a panel debate featuring some of the artists.
Cowboy Junkies (CAN)
Now that’s what we call continuity. The Cowboy Junkies arriving in Rudolstadt are the same quartet line-up which founded the band in Toronto 34 years ago. Playing Americana (when it was still called alternative country), they’re still playing the kind of music that got The Trinity Sessions (1988) described tongue-in-cheek as “so ethereal and low-key ambient it makes the Grateful Dead sound like Napalm Death.” (Sean O’Hagan, NME). But now the music’s still maturer and more intenser. A five-star recommendation.
Fémina is an all-female group. Their name gives that away. Their roots lie in their hometown of San Martín de los Andes in south-west Argentina’s Neuquén’s province. Now based in the capital, the trio’s music is a folk-hip-hop, melding rap and traditional music forms from Patagonia with an urban twist. Their songs weave themes of feminism, messages of gender inequality and putting that right, love and unity, strength and solidarity. “Fémina are just terrific!” (Iggy Pop)
MARKOS – the Patriarch of Rebetiko - A tribute to Markos Vamvakaris (GRE)
Nicknamed “patriarch of the rebetiko” (Greek urban popular song), Márkos Vamvakáris (1905–1972) was a bouzouki player, singer and composer. His legacy as one of the nation’s greatest musicians is unassailable. Mikis Theodorakis (born 1925) said of him: “We all, we are but branches of a tree. Márkos is that tree.” This very, very special tribute project, with his son Stelios Vamvakáris on bouzouki, reinterprets his music and replenishes his legacy.
Small Island Big Song (TWN|MAD|NZL|Melanesia)
Small Island Big Song is a collective of indigenous musicians sharing in common an ancient seafaring ancestry across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, from Taiwan to Rapa Nui and from Madagascar to the Solomon Islands. Together, they create a contemporary and relevant epic musical statement concerning a region at the frontline of cultural and environmental challenges.
Symbio is a Swedish duo of two expert musicians on hurdy-gurdy and accordion. Both were trained academically. They’ve performed as a duo since 2011. In 2016, they were honoured as the Best New Artist of the Year at the Swedish Folk & World Music Awards. Their original compositions merge folk, minimalism, and electronic dance music creating a dream-like cinematic and, er, symbiotic experience for the listener.
Dance of the Year: The Bourrée
Although the bourrée is one of France’s most characteristic dance forms, its origins are shrouded in mystery. Does it stem from ancient Greek or even Gallic war dances? Or was it a corruption of “bou rei io”, the words shouted whenever a king was enthroned? But the most popular theory is that the bourrée emerged from a folk dance. Louis de Cahusac noted in 1751 in the famous Encyclopédie edited by D’Alembert and Diderot: “There is a dance known as Bourrée. It is cheerful & is believed to come from Auvergne, a province where it is indeed still performed. It consists of three compound steps with two movements. It begins with a quarter-bar anacrusis. … The bourrée is danced in two-four time and consists of two parts, each comprising four bars or a multiple of four.”
The dance came into fashion around 1660 at the court of Louis XIV. Soon perceived as insufficiently elegant, it was mainly kept alive by the rural populace. In the late-19th century, the bourrée was brought to the capital by jobseekers from the provinces. Hundreds of forms developed over the years. These days, the bourrée is danced at Balfolks and constantly energized and revitalized by young musicians. The dances are traditionally accompanied by the cabrette (a type of bagpipe), violin, accordion (chromatic or diatonic), hurdy-gurdy and also singing. Recently, however, other instruments such as the harmonica and the clarinet have also breathed new life into bourrée music.
Featuring Café-Charbons, Cie Bernard Coclet, Eméline Rivière.
RUTH Awards 2019
Rudi Zapf & Zapf’nstreich (DEU)
Without Rudi Zapf, born in December 1959, few Germans outside of Bavaria would know or care about the Hackbrett (hammered dulcimer). As, deep breath, combination musician-teacher-festival organiser-composer-arranger-bandleader, Zapf single-handedly uncorked the champagne bottle of interest in the instrument. He elevated it way beyond its tight parameters on the Alpine trad. music circuit. He played whatever took his fancy: folk (naturally) and ambient music, rock and pop and classical. That innate curiosity about the instrument never left him. He granted the Hackbrett multiple lives. That’s why he is receiving the main prize of the RUTH Awards 2019.
The Sephardics (DEU)
Sepharad, Biblical scholars say, appears once in the Good Book. No matter, it has used for time out of mind in the context of Iberia’s Jewish people. (They also named the Iberian Peninsula ‘Sepharad’.) True to their name’s source, the Sephardics play the musical heritage of these people, served up with a good strong dose of jazz and rock. An innovative approach to a very old tradition. PS Since you asked so nicely, The Book of Obadiah 1:20.
Gankino Circus (DEU)
12 years ago Gankino Circus took to the road. From their home in the Franconia region in Germany they travelled to the Balkans where the Wild East and the Wild West meet. (Several European Western movies prove this.) Back home in their pub they listened to tales the locals told. Stories of beer, wine and rummy locals, of lost love and even stranger things. Almost as weird as what Gankino Circus made out of it. Hilarious!
Photo Credits: (1) Rudolstadt Festival, (2) Impressions from Iran (Mulo Francel), (3) Mehdi & Adib Rostami, (4) A Tribute to Markos Vamvakaris, (5) Prudhomme 'Rembetiko', (6) Small Island Big Song, (22) Gankino Circus (unknown/from website).