By Samir Shukla
Warm weather kicks off a slew of music festivals around the country. There are one-day to multi-day festivals for all musical tastes and genres. One of the most intriguing festivals in North Carolina is the annual Moogfest held in Durham. It is a “synthesis of music, art, and technology.” This year Moogfest takes place from May 19 – 22. The festival began in 2004 and has grown to include top-notch musicians along with futurist thinkers, artists, scientists, designers, inventors, and slew of like-minded people interested in rethinking music and technology. During the day thinkers, speakers, and tech enthusiasts attend the conference and conversations. At night eclectic and experimental musicians and performers fill various venues throughout Durham for intriguing showcases and concerts. Expect pop music, avant garde performers, electronica and free jazz artists. According to the organizers, “Moogfest is a tribute to Dr. Robert Moog and the profound influence his inventions have had on how we hear the world. Over the last sixty years, Bob Moog and Moog Music have pioneered the analog synthesizer and other technology tools for artists. This exchange between engineer and musician is celebrated with a unique festival format where the creative process is understood as collaboration among many people, across time and space, in commerce and culture.” This year’s performers include Gary Numan, Daniel Lanois, Explosions in the Sky, Odesza, Blood Orange, The Orb, Laurie Anderson and many others. For full details visit, www.MoogFest.com.
By Samir Shukla
Subcontinental Drift is Sultans of String’s fifth album further evolving the band’s meld of folk, African, flamenco, Celtic, Arabic and roots music. Bandleader Chris McKhool grew up in a Lebanese-Egyptian home in Canada and the other globally-connected musicians in the band include guitarist Kevin Laliberté, bassist Drew Birston, Cuban percussionist Rosendo Chendy Leon, and guitarist Eddie Paton. The new recording also features guest musician and sitar master Anwar Khurshid, adding Hindustani music into the band’s multi-ethnic adventurism. Khurshid is a Pakistani heritage sitar teacher and composer in Canada who was featured on the soundtracks of the films Life of Pi and Kama Sutra. “There is something really magical about joining world music rhythms that we often play, but with pop sensibilities and forms and lengths, and blending that with the music of the East,” said bandleader/fiddler McKhool in a press release.
The Canadian combo is adept at weaving genres and musical traditions, and the latest effort Subcontinental Drift is the reward for listeners.
“Enter the Gate” is the first track on the album and is a showcase of the evocative music to follow in the rest of the recording. It’s a track mixing all the elements of the band along with sitarist Khurshid adding the Indian Subcontinental drift, if you will.
In “Rakes of Mallow / Rouge River Valley” Khurshid shows off his vocal abilities scatting through the saptak, the series of swaras or seven notes of Hindustani music, while the band bursts into a Celtic reel.
“Ho Jamalo” is a traditional Sindhi song rewritten and sung by Khurshid with Sudanese vocalist Waleed Abdulhamid singing in his native dialect, adding a folky African element. The song is a jazzy, moody blend of Indian, African and rock. It may take a few listens for it to gel for some folks due to its varied dual vocals, but once absorbed, it opens a world of multilayered composing and playing.
“A Place to Call Home” is a warm, country-folk song evoking a longing for a place to belong.
“Blowin’ In the Wind” is a version of the Bob Dylan classic that sounds good, and is a perkier version with Indian, Arabic, and percussive rhythms, but doesn’t quite reach the somber and reflective power of the original. But of course, that’s a tall order for anyone covering that song.
The track “Snake Charmer” evokes the snake charmers of the Subcontinent with fiddle, sinewy sitar, and guitar opening the doors to the charmers’ seemingly magical and exotic world.
The Sindhi song “Parchan Shaal Panhwar” is sung by Shweta Subram and is a longing of a person’s return to his native village, hoping for acceptance again after roaming the world. It’s a lovely track with Khurshid adding support vocals while the band forms a twilight-evoking musical backdrop.
A couple of instrumentals, “Journey to Freedom” and “Subcontinental Drift” are perfect to add to a library of nighttime driving music.
“A Heart Does What It Does” is the final track in which Khurshid sings in Urdu about the frailties of the heart and love. It’s seems the perfect closing song for this recording.
By Samir Shukla
MerleFest, the largest roots and traditional music festival in the country, is an annual gathering of outstanding musicians and music outreach on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC. This year’s festival will be held from April 28 - May 1. MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the son of the late American music legend Doc Watson, guitarist Eddy Merle Watson. MerleFest is a celebration of “traditional plus” music, a blend of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and also includes Americana, country, blues, and rock. The festival hosts a diverse mix of artists on its 13 stages during the course of the four-day event. The annual event is the primary fundraiser for the Wilkes Community College, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.
There are so many bands and activities, that time becomes fluid. It’s easy to soak in the warm sounds, as folks can stage-hop around the festival and listen to an array of talent, from local banjo and guitar pickers to national acts. Some of the major performers this year include, Jason Isbell, John Prine, Dave Rawlings Machine, The Wood Brothers, Steep Canyon Rangers, Jerry Douglas, Scythian, The Kruger Brothers, and Donna the Buffalo. Over 100 varied artists spanning many genres will be appearing throughout the festival.
Alcohol is not served and is prohibited at MerleFest. The family-oriented festival also features a jam camp, nature walks, songwriters’ coffee house, acoustic kids showcase, little pickers’ family area, impromptu jam sessions, lots of vendors and plenty of food.
For the youngsters the “Little Pickers Family Area” offers a many games and fun along with storytelling, songwriting, and of course, music. The Little Pickers Stage has been expanded and seating doubled due to its popularity. Other activities in this area include painting, sand art, mural wall, and scrap exchange.
The late Doc Watson, founder of MerleFest, said, “When Merle and I started out we called our music ‘traditional plus’, meaning the traditional music of the Appalachian region plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play. Since the beginning, the people of the college and I have agreed that the music of MerleFest is ‘traditional plus’.”
The festival draws nearly 80,000 participants every year. There is plenty of free parking and shuttles haul folks directly to the festival entrance gate. Look for the signs that say “Festival Parking.” Follow the signs. A volunteer will help you find a parking space. They will also point you to a shuttle stop where you can hitch a ride on one of the local Boy Scout Troop buses.
For full details, tickets and passes, list of performers and more, visit www.merlefest.org.