All the world’s onstage
For three days and nights each August, Dún Laoghaire erupts in a maelstrom of multiculturalism as the best theatre, dance, markets, exhibitions and workshops on the planet converge on Co Dublin. And the music’s not bad either, writes Jim Carroll
THE annual metamorphosis is about to begin. Every August for one weekend, the seaside town of Dún Laoghaire turns into Fun Laoghaire. More than 220,000 people come out to play as the Festival of World Cultures takes over the streets, parks, bars, clubs and venues of the town for three days and nights.
As always, the statistics are striking. More than 800 musicians, plus 1,000 participants and volunteers, will be overseeing some 150 events from August 22nd to 24th. But those figures are not half as impressive as the FWC’s musical scope this year.
While a lot of attention will – justifiably – be paid to the colourful, family-friendly span of workshops, exhibitions, street events, kids’ stuff, markets and assorted arts and crafts frolics which will be going on all over town, this year, the festival has displayed considerable musical muscle and smarts with its booking policy.
It doesn’t get much better than a showcase for the music and musicians from the fantastic Ethiopiques series of albums. Since 1998, Francis Falceto’s Ethiopiques releases have turned up an extraordinary treasure-trove of sounds from the golden age of Ethiopian and Eritrean music in the 1960s and 1970s.
Back then, the clubs in Addis Abba were swinging, full of musicians who were exploring different styles of music in a hugely unique manner and coming up with their own language. Expect to hear big-band jazz, funk and soul to stir the heart and move the feet when the mighty band-leader Mahmoud Ahmed – along with Mulatu Astatqé, Alemayéhu Eshete and the Either Orchestra – get into a groove at the Pavilion Theatre on Friday August 22nd. If you only get to see one show at the FWC, this is the one to catch.
Those who have seen Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou will already have seen Seu Jorge and, more importantly heard the Brazilian crooner’s sublime songs (plus some David Bowie covers too). Before his film career – he was also in City Of God – Jorge was performing in pop-samba bands such as Farofa Carioca, and recorded a debut album, Carolina, with Beastie Boys collaborator Mario Caldato.
These days, Jorge specialises in breezy favela-folk, music which tips the straw hat to such tropicalia maestros as Gilbero Gil but which is firmly rooted in the nu-Brasil of today. Expect good vibes and fantastic songs when Jorge and band take to the stage at the Purty Kitchen on Saturday August 23rd.
The mean streets of Brooklyn are home to the Balkan Beat Box, but their sound crisscrosses oceans and oceans. It’s a perfectly realised sound clash where Balkan, Mediterranean and Arabic rhythms sit comfortably shoulder to shoulder with hip-hop, electronica and dance-floor funk.
In many ways, it’s a sound perfectly in tune with the jumping and pumping cultural mix of their New York neighbourhood back home. It has also proven to be hugely popular with festival-goers worldwide. Balkan Beat Box bring the noise to the Purty Kitchen on Sunday 24th.
In 1989, Yungchen Lhamo fled her native Tibet across the Himalayas, first to Nepal and then on to India. An encounter with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala inspired her to devote time to developing her music. Now based in New York, Lhamo has received much acclaim for her exquisite voice and distinctive, delicate songs about her experiences in exile, as showcased on albums such as Ama. She performs at Monkstown Parish Church on Friday 22nd. Sa Dingding comes to Dún Laoghaire with a whole bundle of BBC World Music Awards to her credit. The “Chinese Kate Bush” has made quite a splash already, singing songs in Mongolian, Sanskrit and Tibetan with an exotic mix of traditional Chinese instruments, electronic beats and guitars. Two million album sales in southeast Asia persuaded major record label Universal to take her on. She performs with full band and dancers at the Pavilion Theatre on Sunday 24th. There will be plenty of energy and exuberence on show when Orchestra National de Barbes start to rumble. Like several acts from the north African immigrant community of Paris, the 11-strong Orchestra have been deeply involved in mixing and matching African, Arabic and western sounds on albums such as Alik. They play at the Purty Kitchen on Friday 22nd. The festival’s main stage is located at Newtownsmith Green, and there will be free concerts here on Saturday and Sunday. Those performing on Saturday include Cote d’Ivoire reggae artist Tiken Jah Fakoly, Indian percussionists Senses, Irish-Nigerian singer Bridgy, Hothouse Flower Liam Ó Maonlaí in solo mode and a collaboration between Monaghan’s O’Neill Pipe Band and Spain’s Samba da Rua.
Sunday’s show at this location will be headlined by Parisian “salsamuffin” star Sergent Garcia, with support from the North Strand Klezmer Band, Cork-based rhumba merchants Motema (recently seen wowing the crowds at the Farmleigh Affair) and Ukraine’s DakhaBrakha.
You won’t be able to move for free shows around the town over the weekend featuring Irish and international acts. Ones to watch out for include Lisa Hannigan performing songs from her forthcoming debut solo album Sea Sew (Kingston Garden Hotel, Sunday), heavy-hitting Balkan rhythms from the Irish-based Yurodny (Royal Marine Hotel, Sunday) and the sounds of Lyon as played by Fanfare Piston (People’s Park, Sunday).
Left: Favela-folk maestro Seu Jorge and, below, the Orchestra National de Barbes