Review: Eleventh Transmission; Moe Clark

Posted by on 8 August 2007

Calgary Folk Music FEASTival

Calgary Folk Music FEASTival

by Moe Clark

Ever wondered what a Mongolian throat singing, Pakistani harmonium squeezing, Greek Blues salad would taste like? Well if a mix-up of Chirgilgin, Mushfiq Ensemble, and the Rembetika Hipsters is any indication, give me one heaping serving please. This jam session happened the third day of the Calgary Folk Music Festival, and it is one I will never forget.

Some might say that the true gems at the Calgary Folk Music Festival won't be found after the sun starts to set and everyone has that end-of-the-day glaze on. The sun-baked, mid-day sessions always seem to catch my appeal, way more than the bands I intentionally come to see. This was most definitely the case on Saturday afternoon at the festival, where we danced our booties-off, sweat beneath the sun, and drank a little bit of that devilish sangria, which made a sure-fire mix for me to enjoy this fine city.

To start off our afternoon of jamming my friends and I took in some shade at the “Partners in Rhyme” stage to enjoy four different groups. A somewhat eclectic mix of full frontal spoken word, sweet soliloquies and narrative folk, this partial jam made for an easy listening transition into the festival vibe. TOFU turned quite a few heads with their rough-edged wordsmith pieces and they excited a few audience members when they entered the crowd to exchange some kisses. Ego-driven, but centered around the power of their minds and speech (not sex-appeal) TOFU’s power over words caught our ears. Oh Suzanna swept us away with her subtle tones that rang clear and pure. Slaid Cleaves delved into his historically relevant narratives about horse jockeys and their widows with his cowboy riffs.

But the glue that stuck it all together with her dedication of love to all those playing around her was the socially conscious maiden, Anne Loree. She had the entire audience singing about crap and holes in the ozone layer, definitely the “jam” that allowed everything to flow together. All in all, it was nice to get a little bit from all around.

After our cool session under the tent, we took to a heavier stage and had a real feast of funk and fancy. Given no more than two options at this site if you arrived fashionably late, you had the choice to sit down and sweat in the sun, or stand up and sweat in the sun. If it weren’t for that seductively sweet sunlight though, I don’t think this dish of “Chips, Chicken, and Banana Splits” would have split open our legs and forced us into the depths of dancing. We were teleported into Calypso Jamaica, hot heated thermally grounded New Zealand, and back to Canada in a matter of chords. This definitely led us into the true realm of jamming. Joined together on one stage, over 15 performers mashed it out in reggae, funk, soul, jazz, R&B, and undertones of euphoric electronica. Led by the acclaimed Paul Ubana Jones, a classically trained, London borne, now New Zealander, and co-driven by Eccodek (Toronto) and Jamaica to Toronto (Toronto), there was a constant chaotic drive towards the continuation of audience hype, love-making riffs, and reggae mega tonic. We left the stage daydreaming of the Mighty Pope and his polyester play-dough voice, rotating guitars, and a staggering lyrical unity that the audience carried through when dancers on stage broke through the electrical wiring. We watched as the oldest member of the magical music mash-up continued to sing and blind us with his voice as the sound stopped. Ubana Jones lit the fuse with his percussive guitar skills, and then the entire collective finished it off with one last hit of super hot sublime. Line-ups for water were heavier than the dancing crowd when this show was said and done.

Our second last approach brought us back into the cool shade of a tent for the “Brave Old World” salad. No forks required. Only ears to spoon the sound, and souls brave enough to chew. WOW… is my number one comment. Why didn’t they bring something like this onto a larger stage? Then I realize that the impact of jams such as these comes from the intimacy held within the space and sound. If it weren’t for an audience held completely captive to the thirteen eclectic performers giving it their “tradition-all” sound, this scene wouldn’t have aroused the intense dynamic energy that it did.

Shut your eyes and for a minute picture yourself riding bareback through the snowy mountainous regions of Mongolia, at your side four still figures murmur timeless tones in the depths of their throats. Now step off your pony and into the bustling streets of Pakistan (now Ottawa) where a harmonium player shines a smile and sings his traditional songs with a tabla accompanist and some percussive femininity. Finally we arrive in Canada, into a daydreamt Klezmer- mezmerizing moment of ouds, flutes, little guitars, and orchestrated lightness. This all happened simultaneously as we watched so many different cultures, sounds and tones, riffs and rhythms merge together to create beauty. We could not move. We could only listen and watch. This scene was definitely a fusion of fantasy that would traverse any party setting with worldly charm.

Finally, the man that brought us to this day, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, swept us into the world of elation. The syncopated kindness of his banjo welded to the magic of the red-hot Cuban sounds of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. But it didn’t go off without the support from his bassist Victor Wooten, who enthralled the crowds with his spider-like dialectic fingers. With rounds of Cuban voice, Spanish sounds and rhythms, dancing feet, crazy crowds, and simple additions of banjo, sax, bass, and drum-kit, this jam was a kiss to the soul. One big, fat, wet kiss to the soul. People got lost in the camaraderie of movement and festive understanding. Jams like these require festivals to contain them, invite them, and support them with the bodies and heat that only these like-minded individuals can bring.

How do you make a potato, couscous, pasta, taboulli salad? I don’t know. But the Calgary Folk Music Festival cooked up new realms of multi-cultural music that were intense enough to tantalize even the most discerning taste buds. This year was a year never to be forgotten. My only complaint - that not everyone could be there to enjoy this delicacy. The price still steeped me a little high at times, but I understand when there is limited space. I suppose I just wish that there didn’t have to be such a limit on time, and that this type of event could have spanned more than just one park, for more than just four days. With energy as diverse and vibrant as the one I experienced, I would advise anyone to take the trip. Plate in hand, an open mind, and feet ready for the wicked realms of the unknown, I’d backpack it back to my own inner-city park, for this out-of-the-ordinary experience. Go ahead and give it a taste test next year.