Apr 23, 2024

Respect Festival 2024 Presents Our World’s Music

The Respect Festival is a tradition in Prague marking the beginning of summer. It is an open-air weekend of music from across the globe with booths of ethnic foods and a family atmosphere.

Generally emphasizing World Music, this year has more Roots, Alt-Folk and Global-Beats.

This year’s multicultural event kicks off with Ustad Noor Bakhsh, from Pakistan (the province of Balochistan), who is an 80-year old virtuoso on the zither-like benju. Throughout his life-long career, he has been tied to a vocalist for his performances; however Bakhsh is performing as a solo instrumentalist and without vocals, and so this allows the utter beauty of his instrument to sing out fully on its own without the raining chants or mantras as an aerobic vocal competition.

After the opener, the rest of the day is dominated by UK-based musicians or groups, beginning with the alt-folk duo The Breath from Manchester. The voice and flautist of The Breath is Rioghnach Connolly with an unmatchable power and presence on stage perfectly paired with the low-key but sublime Stuart McCallum on both acoustic and electric guitar. Connolly’s voice can be compared to the under-rated Karen Dalton (who was a peer of Bob Dylan’s from the early 1960s in New York). The soulfulness and joy that Connolly brings to her songs is influenced by Irish folk and Celtic history and harnessed by McCallum, who also plays with The Cinematic Orchestra, so rock or a bluesy-rock and ambient sounds can emerge when the time is right.

After this, there is Khusugtun, a self-proclaimed Mongolian ethnic band, whose sound is similar to the older and more established group Huun-Huur-Tu, from Tuva (a Russian federation along the border of Mongolia). Tuvan and Mongolian throat-singers sing both a note and its overtones, so two or three notes are sung simultaneously and when done as a group with traditional instruments or a capella, the effect is simply stunning. With this as their tradition, Khusugtun aims for an even wider appeal almost like a new Central Asian-folk-pop (with throat-singers) seemingly for a younger Mongolian audience and for an even wider appeal in the West and East.

The Blues-influenced English guitarist, composer and producer Justin Adams earned his rock and post-punk credentials after collaborating with Led Zeppelin’s vocalist Robert Plant, and then with Public Image Ltd’s bassist Jah Wobble for his group Invaders of the Heart, all the while falling under the spell of North African music, especially Moroccan and Gnawa music, which is a traditional ceremonial music for healing and for trance. Adams will be playing with Mohamed Errebbaa who is considered a younger Master of Gnawa music for their own hybrid groove.

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Saturday concludes with Jah Wobble’s group Invaders of the Heart (and hopefully including Justin Adams for this appearance). As an early punk then post-punk, Wobble is a master on the bass influenced by Dub, which was a close cousin (politically) to the punks, as connected to London’s Jamaican community with its Ska, Reggae and Dancehall Dub Sound Systems. This is the sound that Wobble and his Invaders of the Heart call forth but with their own rock, post-punk and jazz fusion influences into the mix. It is an urban (London) World Music that most of all is played from the heart with a beating or hard-driving Love vibe, so not at all as the hippies did it. And if they are in the mood, they perform the old tunes from PiL with the same fervor as then.

Sunday has another full line-up, and just as eclectic with Ali Dogan Gonultas (folk music trio of Turkish Kurdistan); Voices of Yemen (a modernized spiritual music, i.e. prayers with a Middle-Eastern groove, of the Jewish tribe of Yemen); Duo Ruut (an alt-folk Estonian duo featuring Katariina Kivi and Ann-Lisett Rebane facing each other while both singing and playing simultaneously the same zither—truly a fresh and youthful approach to the folk genre); El Tanbura (an Egyptian collective of master musicians, singers, fishermen and philosophers, in other words a mix from the streets of the community of Port Said!); and finally, Bamba Wassoulou Groove (from Mali) playing what seems now to be a standard sound merging Afro-beats and rhythms, funky basslines, rock-influenced guitars with an ever-winding dance groove.

And so while not the whole World is performing on stage, some good representatives will be.

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