FolkWorld Issue 43 11/2010; Live Report by Alex Monaghan

Festival of World Cultures
... with an Irish Accent

Yakshagana Kendra

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Alex Monaghan reviews the 10th year of Dun Laoghaire’s colourful and exotic festival in July, very good value – and world famous in Ireland.

The Festival of World Cultures in Dun Laoghaire, the picturesque port resort just south of Dublin, attracts over 200,000 people and has been steadily growing since its inception in 2001. Appearances by top Irish musicians are just the tip of the iceberg for FOWC. 2010’s programme featured headliners from Scandinavia, Mexico, China, Kenya, Algeria, Romania, Sudan, India, Trinidad and elsewhere. Another unusual facet of this festival is that events are mostly free, thanks to cultural funding from the countries represented.

Irish music was generally presented on the smaller stages. Diarmaid Moynihan, ace uilleann piper, was appearing with his sister and brother, Deirdre and Donncha, as well as guest accordionist Tom Doherty from Connemara. The infectious driving sound of Alalé, combining Galician gaita with Irish fiddle, had also made the trip from Galway to Dublin and had the youngsters dancing madly on the lawns.

Lúnasa  ft. Alan Kelly & Tola Custy

Lúnasa @ FolkWorld: FW#5, #26, #27, #28, #30,
#32, #33 #37 #39, #42

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Saturday ended with the Mairtin O'Connor Band, always a showstopper, and Sunday's climax was provided by Lúnasa with their new electric-acoustic bass who are therefore no longer “the hottest acoustic band on the planet” – they can now drop the word “acoustic”.

Flutes and whistles are a passion of mine, in Celtic and other music. This year they were plentiful in Dun Laoghaire, from the classic Roscommon repertoire of Stephanie Nicole Geremia to the gauzy tapestries woven by Chinese master Guo Yue on bamboo and jade flutes. Accordions of all shapes and sizes, violins and fiddles, and a selection of horns blasted out melodies from Iceland to Istanbul, Bucharest to Buenos Aires. Drums in the night, drums during breakfast and every time in between: bodhráns and bongos, tablas and tambourines, the wonderful Orchestre Poly Rhythmo from Benin, and the even more wonderful Ttukunak twins playing txalaparta duets from the Basque country. Plus all the usual festival fare of funk, pop, electro, retro, dance, DJs and didgeridoos.

That's just the music. Add the same again of international foods, caterers from China, Kenya, Ethiopia, Burma, Lebanon, France, Italy, Germany, India, Cyprus, even the USA. Lunch was a nightmare: how to choose? This feast for the eyes, nose and mouth was accompanied by world-class street performers such as La Banda Del Surdo (musical stiltwalkers) and Osadia (masked Japanese hairdressers with swords and claws). Circuses and dancers from India, singers from the Arctic to the Equator, a Cool Earth eco exhibition, massage and make-up in the Health & Harmony centre: more than enough for family, friends, and frankly people who don't just want to listen to the music!

Guo Yue

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Some shows were ticket-only, pay-per-viewer, but well worth it. Pol Brennan introduced Ayub Ogada from Barack Obama’s African roots, Kenya's Luo tribe, a totally laid-back singer and storyteller who strapped antique metal bells to his ankle and tuned the knotted nylon strings of his lyre by stretching them with his thumb. The Kenyan nyatiti, a simple harp made from a gourd, provides perfect accompaniment in the hands of a master.

Ogada shared the limelight with the man I really wanted to see, Chinese flute virtuoso Guo Yue: since his 1992 recording Trisan, Guo Yue's music has intrigued and delighted me. The Chinese bamboo flute is an extremely expressive and flexible instrument, making performances intensely personal: Dragonfly, a soaring piece written for the jewelled insects he captured as a boy in the strict regime which denied people pets, contrasted starkly with a composition for his mother who was broken by prison and interrogation because she taught English. As a special treat, Mr Guo produced a white jade flute - a rare and precious treasure, invested with magical properties - and invoked yet another mood through its pure yet strangely fragile tone.

If you google Guo Yue, you will find almost as much information about his culinary prowess as about his music. He would have been delighted, I'm sure, by the range of delicacies on offer at the FOWC food markets. By far the most numerous purveyors of hot victuals were the Lebanese, selling falafel and spiced lamb in every conceivable form. Africa was represented by stalls from Kenya and Ethiopia, peddling meat stews and sweet dough balls. The Indian subcontinent offered all the usual curries, as well as specialities from lesser-known southern and northern cuisines.


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I was drawn to delights from further East: hearty Chinese pot-sticker dumplings, delicate Thai duck rolls, Japanese noodles. Cold snacks and provisions were laid out on another area of the quayside: dried fruits and olives from Cyprus, pastries from Italy, French sausages, German gingerbread, and those enterprising Lebanese again with mouth-watering baklava, candied nuts and Turkish delight. There was a worrying tendency for the Irish stalls to offer cup-cakes as their contribution to global culinary excellence: maybe Marie Antoinette had a point.

Having walked among miles of market stalls, or danced to the late-night rhythms of the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Khaled and Calypso Rose, a certain type of tourist might repair to the Health & Harmony pavilion in the grand buildings of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, another major sponsor of the festival. Essences and oils, tints and tinctures, dozens of different therapies and umpteen varieties of massage, all under one vaulted roof. Other types might hanker after serious discussion of cultural change and a shrinking world, or of ecology and global economy. Still others might prefer feasts for the eyes or exercises for the mind: ethnic embroidery, home-made electronic instruments, Celtic shields, circus skills or decorated umbrellas, take your pick.

Me, I stuck mainly to the music. On the Irish side, highlights piled on highlights: Guidewires and the fabulous Breton flute of Sylvain Barou, Buille and the blistering concertina of Niall Vallely, the Alan Kelly Quartet, guest appearances by Dónal Lunny and Karan Casey, and the fantastic Lúnasa with frontman Kevin Crawford in full comic flow: priceless, and all free.

Buille ft. Donal Lunny

Buille @ FolkWorld: FW#31, #34

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Ranging further afield, the unmissable sound of Ttukunak is an abiding memory: twins Mika and Sara hammering all kinds of improvised music out of wooden planks and stone tablets, the prodigious traditional percussion of the Basque txalaparta, with a modern twist using metal pipes. Everyone wanted to play along with these plank-battering twins, who picked out the Moynihan brothers but confused them with the Last of the Mohicans, perhaps due to their hairstyles.

Balkan band Lazik were another revelation, crazy animated Belgian clarinet (Lazik Bertrand?) and sinuous fiddle playing melodies from Macedonia to Mecca. From early morning to late at night, a world of musical diversity. The serenity of Tibetan monastery chants. The frenzy of gypsy wedding music. I'm not particularly a World Music devotee, but the quality and breadth of musical talent on show was breathtaking, and scarily good.

With all this free entertainment on offer, it's not surprising that the Festival of World Cultures draws a crowd. Some performances were very popular, standing room only, but the press of people was never overwhelming. Orange-clad helpers were always on hand to direct, coax, advise, and generally assist people to make the most of FOWC. It's family friendly. It's integrated. It's relaxed, in an endearingly Irish way, but far from disorganised. You can hear it, taste it, scratch and sniff it. You can participate actively or passively, start with the dawn yoga or sit and sip the black stuff, spend all weekend at the festival or just dip in for particular events. All this at the seaside too, and it honestly hardly rained at all this year. Check out for a fantastic event that embraces the whole world.

Photo Credits: (1) Yakshagana Kendra (by Leon Farrell); (2) Lúnasa ft. Alan Kelly & Tola Custy, (4) Ttukunak (by Tom Tso Choche); (3) Guo Yue (by Trevor Mooney); (5) Buille ft. Donal Lunny (by Tom Soldan).

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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 11/2010

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