OFFest Skopje, Macedonia June 1-6, 2013 Now in its 12th year, the younger sister of the Skopje Jazz Festival has been presenting a more contemporary or 21st century type of world music, where the music is a result of an accelerating fusion, a combination of local traditions with ideas and technologies from afar. It is even more than that, its umbrella has become a destination or a gathering point for a variety of forward-thinking musicians across the entire spectrum of musicfrom pop musician David Byrne to desert blues rockers like Tamikrest or Terakaft; from Portuguese film composer Rodrigo Leao to indie rockers Spiritualized; and from trip hop artists Massive Attack to the Corsican a cappella group, A Filleta.
There is no point in separating the Skopje Jazz festival and OFFest, as they are done by the same creative team. Both festivals give a unique view of how musicians work today, and one thing is for sure: not many are purists. Many of the today's musics are hybrids that have grown durable enough to feel like traditions of their own and Offest tastefully presents global musical movements as they occur and evolve. Just like previous years, for a period of a single week it seemed that the world was fused for several days at Skopje. OFFest featured 9 acts from 4 continents. At a time when the charts and the various media are dominated by fast-food music and glossy pop hits, this festival has once again affirmed the creativity and diversity of the global music scene.
East is East and West is West, but sometimes these two do meet. The merging of the Orient and the Occident is a direct product of the technology of recordings and jet-age travel. Depending on whom one talks to, the results are usually labeled as "World Music," "Fourth World Music," "Earth Music" or a number of other similar terms. One of the most successful merging of cultures musically has been sitar player Anoushka Shankar's record Traveller (Deutcsche Grammophon, 2011), where she traced the roots of Flamenco music back to Rajasthani gypsies or where classical Indian raga meets flamenco music.
While these two traditions are historically linked together, as Indian music and flamenco share common roots, still they are geographically two distinct cultures. In order to bring instruments and musical traditions together, it is natural, whether in a studio or a live setting, to look for common ground with a present danger of watering down musical traditions. Both of these traditions are very technically demanding and when blending two cultures, in order for the music to work they should rely on mutual understanding, empathy and enthusiasm.
All those elements and more came together in the program that opened this year's Offest. This event at the Universal Hall in Skopje turned into a contagious, boundary-breaking music. Just a wave from the charismatic Shankar to set the tone, and the group of five diverse and prodigiously talented musicians consisting of flamenco guitarist Daniel "El Melon" Jimenez, Shehnai & tanpura player Sanjeev Shankar, percussionists Pirashanna Thevarajah and Bernhard "Taalis" Schimpelsberger, and flamenco vocalist Sandra Carrasco, dug into their first offerings with tracks such as "Bhairavi," "Inside Me," "Ishq," "Si No Puedo Verla."
In the beginning, Shankar let the music speak for itself, but later on she began introducing the compositions and their backgrounds, or chatted joyously with the audience. In fact, all evening Shankar and her band seemed in warm, high spirits. She appeared to enjoy every moment of the performance, and displayed more than a few flashes of the brilliance along the way that have made her one of today's best representatives of her respective instrument and her genre.
This blending of musics was done in a very proficient and sympathetic way where a casual listener could wallow in the superb musicianship without being overly troubled by who did what, and where in the world these sounds came from. In lesser hands, this music would seem like gimmicky overkill. Yet, Anoushka Shankar remains the most acute and subtle musical colorist of the day. As is obvious, the essence of this project is sharing, and this is something these musicians do exceptionally well. While Shankar was at the center of the stage, both musically and metaphorically, the resulting music was an equal contribution of all members. The compositions could be compared to clouds taking shape and always changing. It would start slowly, with the sitarist introducing the scale and gradually bringing in the melody and then they would turn into more dynamic creations, with fiery dialogues between the sitar and the percussionists or the guitar.