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Live From Birmingham: Jeffrey Lewis, Jesús Fernández, Kadialy Kouyaté & Peatbog Faeries

Martin Longley By

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Andalucian Jesús Fernández was both the lead dancer and choreographer for this two night presentation of his Cádiz flamenco production, at a venue that's probably unknown to most Birmingham music freaks. The Elmhurst School For Dance is approaching its first decade of activity, and still has the gleam of newness to its portals. The performance theatre has a steep bank of seats, and a glove-like acoustic warmth, making a highly fitting home for an intimate music/dance evening. Fernández kept himself firmly centre-stage for the duration, so the piece was crafted to display his own talents, with a surrounding cast (from Cádiz and Madrid) of a guitarist and singers, with a certain amount of doubling up on palmas (flamenco hand-clapping) and percussion. This was a form of gentrified flamenco, when compared to the usual straggly locks, open-necked shirts and surprisingly mobile beer bellies. Less hardcore, but this was no bad thing, lending a whole host of modern dance trimmings to the moves, becoming more theatrical, paying greater attention to a visual panorama, to the dynamics between subtle minimalism and outbreaks of more active climaxing. This was conveyed via a sensitive relationship between music and gesture, caught under sparse lighting, painted with precisely directed pin-points of illuminated action.

Fernández combined his detailed movements with a more earthy energy, mixing in some humour with the drama. The theatre's sound system caught the voices, guitar and palmas in a well-balanced spread that still resembled an acoustic sound, though sensitively amplified. Performer positioning was constantly shifting, with a trio chorus standing in various locations, lit differently each time, and guitarist Jesús Núñez moving his tiny stool around to surprise the audience with a fresh set-up for each thematic segment. The work possessed a very male-orientated perspective on flamenco, very much concentrating on Fernández as a central performer, sometimes directly in dialogue, both physical and verbal, with lead singer David Vázquez. Towards the end, Anabel Moreno revealed her dancing potential, having previously rationed herself with palmas and backing vocals. It would have been a good idea to have given her an expanded role, heightening the female contribution. She clearly could have handled such a shift in focus.

Kadialy Kouyaté
The Old Print Works
June 28, 2014

Muzikstan was a mini-fest within the larger Celebrating Sanctuary season, bringing together artists from divergent rootsy traditions. The Old Print Works provided a good example of how, with basic internal embellishments such as mood lighting, comfortable sofas, a makeshift bar and nostril-tingling samosas, a bare factory environment could be transformed into an cosy music space. There was even a small bakery situated on the long corridor journey to the toilet facilities, though this was happenstance rather than integral design. The headlining act was Senegalese kora player and griot (storyteller by heritage) Kadialy Kouyaté, leading a four-piece band. During the previous weekend's Sanctuary all-dayer he'd performed solo and in duo, but this was another facet, revealing the kora as a lead instrument, backed by guitar, bass and drums. Kouyaté's silvery striations were comparably evocative, but amplified with a cutting edge, shimmering across a thumping and pumping electric foundation. Most of the solo features were played by the leader, but there were phases of interlocking lead guitar licks, along with some pliant basslines and snapcracking drum parts. Most of the tunes maintained a vigorous forward momentum, but a couple of them stood out as being notably melodic in their repeated hooklines. Three or four numbers before the end of the hour long set, the climax arrived, when a ritualistic rhythmic repetition pushed the dancing crowd into full trance mode. Not so much a set of light, shade or variation, but more of a mission towards steadily-entangling hypnosis. A later climax was provided by veteran local dj Zuppa Inglese, spinning Afro-sounds that took in Nigerian Afrobeat and Congolese soukous, stopping off in Bollywood on the way.

Peatbog Faeries
The Hare & Hounds
July 9, 2014

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