Altan – Ireland
In the northwest of Ireland there is a lake, or rather a loch, called Altan. It is from here this fine Irish band takes its name. It is from the wild mountainous country around the loch that the band draws its music. Donegal is the bit of Irish Republic that creeps up around where British-occupied Northern Ireland ends in the Atlantic, just shy of the south-western tip of the Scottish island of Islay. Some say it is this proximity to Scotland that gives Donegal’s music its special qualities. Altan is five young Irish musicians whose music is firmly in the tradition. They display no cultural inferiority complex, seeing no need to look beyond Ireland’s borders for other influences to strengthen or change their material. Formed in 1985, Altan is principally the project of a singer Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh (pronounced Ma-ray’ed Nee Weeney) and flautist Frankie Kennedy. Mairead grew up in a Gaelic speaking area where she picked up the old songs, sun in the unaccompanied style, from her family and neighbors. She also learned the fiddle and a treasury of rare tunes from her father, the most notable traditional musician in the area. Frankie was born and raised in Belfast, but during frequent summer visits to Doneagal, his interest in traditional music was sparked. Today he is one of Ireland’s finest flute players. Along with Cairan Curran on bouzouki, Daithi Sproule on guitar and Donegal-style fiddler, Ciaran Tourish, Fankie and Mairead have carved out a hot reputation for themselves as the Irish traditional band to watch. Altan does what few other can – they perform both the slow and sad songs as well as the fiery lightening-paced instrumentals. The renaissance in Irish traditional music which first began thirty years ago will never falter as long as bands such as this one are coming forward.
Ancient Cultures – British Columbia
Researcher in animal ecology, a Simon Fraser University Political Science student, a mechanical engineer, a business administration graduate, a recording engineer and a Guatemalan musician may seem an unlikely group to come together around anything but a love for the traditional music of the Andes and the contemporary nueva of all of Latin America. These are ties that bind Hugo Guzman, Marcos Uribe, Carlos Cortes, Alberto San Martin, Carlos Galindo and Fito Garcia together as Ancient Cultures. Four members of the group are Chilean, part of the diaspora that saw almost a million people leave Chile after the military coup of 1973. After performing in a number of musical groups in the large Chilean-Canadian community they formed Ancient Cultures to pursue an interest in performing the music of northern Chile, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador: the music of the Andes – haunting, powerful and strong. The group uses traditional wind and percussion instruments drawn from the pre-Columbian culture and stringed instruments that the Spaniards brought. After adding a couple of musicians from Guatemala and Mexico, Ancient Cultures started to play music from another great, and half a millennium more recent, tradition – the Latin American community, is still growing and finding itself. We feel they are at the beginning of something great.
Brenda Wong Aoki – California
“I am Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and Scottish. Born in Utah and raised in Los Angles county.” Well, with an intro like that paid attention. After all, this was either the great American bio or a recipe for a sever personality disorder – either way, she had our attention. And after listening to the tape that accompanied Brenda’s arresting little introduction, we were knocked out. This was a not a sit-on-the-stool-with-a-book-down-at-the-library storyteller. This was theatre. This was hypnotism. This was somebody to invite to the Folk Music Festival. Brenda Wong Aoki is an actress. She does movies, TV, radio and the odd rock video to boot and she is a storyteller, although that is probably not the best word. Her stories are drawn from her own life, the life of the Asian American community and from various peoples and cultures of Asia and the Pacific – Korea, China, Japan, Hawaii, Laos. Perhaps her most powerful moments are when she talks about what is closest to her. Her story about her grandfather has raised tears in our office more than once. And that is on the basis of her voice alone. Trained in acting, modern dance, classical Japanese Noh and kyogen techniques, her reputation as an actress leads us to believe that Brenda and her art ar going to come as a startling revelation to thousands of people this weekend.
Roy Bailey – United Kingdom
In the nine years since he first performed at this festival, Roy Bailey has become a friend and it’s always hard to be objective about a friend. However, the facts about Roy Bailey are widely known. Roy Bailey is an English singer who began performing traditional material during the folk revival of the early 1960s. For many years he was the musical partner of Leon Rosselson, playing a sort of Art Garfunkel to Leon’s Paul Simon. For many years he was torn between his career as a sociology professor and his hobby of singing. Over the last five years Roy has become much better known as a solo artist. He performs mainly contemporary songs about social and political topics drawn from both sides of the Atlantic as well as Africa and South America. He has also made his hobby his profession. Semi-retired, he now sociologizes for a hobby while singing on a full-time basis bringing one of the finest voices to the contemporary folk scene. What these facts about Roy do not convey is the passion and conviction that he brings to his art. Dave Van Ronk once said “I can tell a lie but I can’t sing one.” The same could be said of Roy Bailey. He is a very special artist needed.
Jeanne Bichevskaya – Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Although the Soviet Union covers about a sixth of the earth’s surface, few of us know much about its folk music. Just as the Italians have been victimized by O Sol O Mio (a situation which we will also remedy at this festival), about the only Russian song most of are familiar with is the Volga Boatman. Jeanne Bichevskaya, we are happy to say, has traveled an enormous distance to introduce her collection of wonderful Russian folk songs which she sings in a voice that has been compared to some of the world’s greates. When Jeanne was seventeen somebody gave her a guitar. A little later she entered the Moscow Circus and Variety School where she studied with one of the Soviet Union’s best vocal teachers. By the early 1970s she was collecting, recording and performing traditional Russian folk songs. Like the folk songs of many other countries, the Russian folk repertoire has been badly served by singers who turn the songs into clichés or pieces of cultural kitsch. Jeanne puts power and beauty back into these songs with a voice and delivery powerful enough to make you understand without knowing a word of Russian. She has also gained a reputation for singing contemporary songs particularly those of the inspirer of new Soviet song writing, Bulat Okujava. Jeanne Bichevskaya brings us one of the world’s great bodies of folk music and presents it in one of its most authentic voices. She will be accompanied by Gennadi Ponmariov and Valentin Zuiev.
Jennifer Berezan – Alberta
There are probably few places that have less in common than Calgary and the San Francisco Bay area. Not only are the geographies and weather just about as different as different can be, but the social and political climates are also a great deal further apart than the thousand or so miles that separate them. Jennifer Berezan comes from Edmonton, spent a lot of time in Calgary and now lives in Oakland. Her aesthetic sensibilities are rooted in the women’s community at large, but in Canada, particularly Alberta, there tends to be more overlap and interaction between different communities. This could be what gives Jennifer’s songs an easy accessibility to audiences that do not necessarily share all her assumptions. She sings about women, about what is happening to the earth, about children and she does some very nice love songs. Some of her songs reflect the kind of straight-ahead-plain-talk that you might associate with the prairies while other more elliptical and symbolic songs are perhaps a reflection of her California influence. Along with singer Chris Webster, Jennifer Berezan is drawing both interest and praise as one of the most exciting new talents to come on the scene in both Canada and the United States.
Tony Bird – Malawi/United States
An entire decide has passed since Tony Bird first performed at this festival. Ten years ago Africa seemed a much more distant place than it does now. Mandela seemed doomed to die almost forgotten in prison; the apartheid regime appeared likely to last forever and the young white African singer seemed very much a curiosity. Looking back it is easy to view Tony as a harbinger of the future than as a curiosity. A song like Black Brother with its line “Oh dear brother, black brother, the white tyrant in death/The day’s here for justice, liberty and redress” seems more like a statement of fact that the vision it appeared to be when written almost twenty years ago. But Tony’s political songs were, and remain, only part of his artistic persona. His love songs and those celebrating African life and beauty were, and remain, some of the very best contemporary song writing. Tony grew up in Malawi, studied in Scotland, travelled and performed in Zimbabwe and South Africa and lived and recorded in England and New York. He has recently recorded his first album in almost fifteen years aided by such admirers as Morris Goldberg and members of Hugh Masakela’s band. In a period when African music has captured the imagination of millions, it is a pleasure to welcome back an artist who far ahead of his time introduced us to the sounds and images of southern Africa.
Bill Bourne & Alan MacLeod – Alberta/United Kingdon
If you think politicians make strange bedfellows, you don’t know much about the music business. Take Bill Bourne and Alan MacLeod: Icelandic Canadian country blues poetic song writer meets enfant terrible of Celtic power rock bag pipe playing. The result is one of the most exciting duos we’ve heard in years. We first met Alan MadLeod as a member of the Tannahill Weavers, one of Scotland’s best traditional groups who paid a number of visits to our fair land. Some of you might remember him as the furious-paced piper with the cowboy hat and near unintelligible brogue. Bill Bourne first came to our attention while he was tour managing and opening for the Tannahill Weavers. Then, last summer a CBC producer gave us a wonderful tape made after Bill Bourne returned to his ancestral Alberta roots. We found out that Alan MacLeod had joined Bill in Alberta. Bill Bourne started off, as many a folkie has, playing music from all over: blues, country, a bit of this, a bit of that. But Bill Bourne’s great grandfather, Stephan G. Stephansson, was at one time the poet laureate of Iceland. Stephansson lived in Alberta for many years and, in our opinion, never received the recognition he deserved. This poetic spirit that Bill seems to have inherited has come out in the form of some great songs that ring true about Canadian life. To Bill’s voice, guitar playing and lyrics, Alan MacLeod brings a dynamic presence and instrumental virtuosity, particularly on bagpipes and flute. They are indeed an odd couple but their meeting of musical energies certainly clicks.
Calicanto – Italy
The folk revival (neither the one happening now not the one that happened before nor the one that will happen in the future) occurred a little late in Italy. It was only at the beginning of the 1980s that groups, inspired to a large degree by the Celtic revival, began discovering the possibilities inherent in Italian traditional music. In fact, some Italian musicians began playing Irish music before looking to their own traditions, in the same way that many of the British revivalists started off with American tunes. Italy is a relatively young country. Only in the 19th century did the various states that dotted the peninsula come together as one state. Regional cultures, language and food are all still very much alive. Veneto had, and still has, a very strong identity, most people who live there still speak Veneto rather than Italian. But in the early 1980s no collections of the musical traditions of the region existed. The group of musicians who form Calicanto came together at the end of 1981 to research and perform the traditional music of Veneto. They discovered the indigenous bagpipe of Veneto, the piva, and scores of tunes, many intended for dancing, that were still part of the culture. Calicanto discovered old musical treasures and composed a few new ones of their own, performing on over a dozen instruments. They approach their music with love and respect but also with humour. From an area which gave the world some of its most important cultural acquisitions, we welcome a contemporary masterpiece, Calicanto. They are Gabrielle Coltri, Corrado Corradi, Giancarlo Tombesi, Roberto Tombesi and Rosana Trolese.
Kate Clinton – Massachusetts
When we started putting this year’s festival together we knew storytelling was going to be the focus of our programming. There are, of course, lots of ways to tell a story and in the late 20th century we think the stand up comedian fulfills a much needed role. One of the very finest, sharpest and funniest comedians we know is Kate Clinton. Kate is best known for feminist humour. And although Kate is popular in feminist circles, we think her comments on contemporary North American life have something to say to us all. The last time Kate was here she did a job on Mother Teresa that left a God-Fearing Catholic musician in tears. As a recovering Catholic, Kate knows the right buttons to push. Her social and political insights are as sharp as a scalpel and she wields words with the dexterity of a great surgeon. (And , to beat the analogy to death), Kate’s wit can cut out malignancy and heal. She doesn’t just poke fun but also provokes the kind of thought that inspires action. That, in our opinion, makes her a true artist. With the overwhelming abundance of idiocy we witness around us these days, we thought it was once again time to let Kate Clinton have her say.
La Ciapa Rusa – Italy
We first met Beppe and Maurizo on a northern Italian freeway exit during a winter fog. The idea of an Italian program at this year’s festival was then just that, an idea. We were cold, tired and hungry and they invited us to have a plate of something at a local restaurant. We soon discovered that a plate of something meant an eight course meal that started off with potato dumplings in a truffle cream sauce. Well, we thought if the music is half as rich, this is going to be one hell of a program! La Ciapa Rusa was a nick name given to a family of agricultural workers in the Casale area of the Piemonte region of north western Italy. This family was famous for its singing. La Ciapa Rusa we are going to hear specialize in collecting and performing the songs and dance tunes of the Alessandrino and Monferato areas of Piemonte. They are the senior group among the revivalist performers of traditional Italian music having come together in 1977. Italy is a treasure chest of traditional music with styles and repertoire distinct to very small regions. At first La Ciapa Rusa was told there was little music worth collecting but they soon discovered little jewels like the music of the piffero. The piffero is a wood wind with a large double reed, a member of the family instruments sometimes called the peasant oboes. With the piffero, the hurdy-gurdy, accordion, violin, the odd synthesizer and their voices, La Ciapa Rusa has brought to life the rural culture of their region. They have also stimulated the development of other groups who are carrying out similar work in different parts of Italy. Although they have traveled widely in Europe, this is their first visit to North America. Welcome Sergio Berardo, Francois Dujardin, Alessandro Gaydou, Giuseppe Greppi, Maurizio Martinotti and Donato Pinti.
Martin Carthy – United Kingdom
As Martin Carthy approaches his 50th birthday, we have come to the conclusion that he is the most important living performer of traditional English folk song. We know Martin Carthy is a very modest human being and he probably won’t like the statement, but that doesn’t make it any less true. He has also been, and remains, an enormously influential guitar player. Over the last twenty-five years he has worked variously as half of a duo with Dave Swarbrick; as a member of Steeleye Span and the Albion Country Band; he has collaborated with the Watersons and with John Kirkpatrick; and has worked as a solo artist. Martin has introduced traditional English songs and tunes to millions of people. But there is another side Martin Carthy which is perhaps less known and appreciated. Although not new, his commitment to social commentary is becoming a little more apparent. Martin’s last album includes not only a Leon Rosselson song (which is pretty much standard for a Martin Carthy album) but also a song of his own called Company Policy which describes the English-Argentine war over the Malvinas with a decidedly unpatriotic tone. A song by Mike Waterson about a woman who fights back against a violent husband is another example of the stories about ordinary people that capture the essence or Martin Carthy’s performance.
Richard Desjardins – Quebec
A few years ago during a trip to Montreal, we were handed a record made by an obscure Quebecois song writer of whom we had never heard before. In itself, that isn’t too surprising because frankly, we don’t know much about what goes on in Quebec. That of course is a great Canadian tragedy, but that is also another story. Although it was a great record, it was also a busy time and the album soon got lost in a pile of not so great records in the festival office. Last fall we got a call from an agent in Quebec, whom we assume was dutifully contacting various festivals to promote a song writer named Richard Desjardins. Something rang a bell – yes, it was the same artist. So we dug out the record and listened to it again. What fools we were not to hire this guy after we first heard his record! Richard Desjardins comes from Rouyan in northern Quebec. He has produced films about northern Quebec and the indigenous people who live there. He has composed music for the National Theatre School’s production of Bertholt Brecht’s Round Heads and Pointed Heads. He has done film scores, taught music in the Inuit community of Povungnituk and somehow performed his own songs in Mexico City, amongst other places. He is one mean blues piano player. As a song writer he is not easy to define. Is it blues? Is it cabaret? Is it Brel? We think that is best left to you and Richard. But we also think it’s high time you met.
Combo Ninguno – Mexico
These days when one thinks of the coast of Mexico it is inevitably the Pacific that comes to mind: Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan. These destinations have worked their way into the lexicon of the western North American vacationer. But only a hundred years ago the Pacific coast was nearly inaccessible and it was the Atlantic, particularly the port of Veracruz, which was the major port of entry into Mexico. Among the crates, barrels and assorted travellers that arrived at the thriving port of Veracruz was the Cuban son ensemble. This was a form of music that grew out of European ballroom dancing and found a home in Havana from whence it reached the mainland. Cuban and Mexican music have both changed over time. In 1983 in the city of Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz state, Combo Ninguno was formed. The group has come to specialize in what is now known as charanga criolla, a direct descendent of the Cuban son. For a lot of folks it sounds like salsa without the horns but with the violin, flute and tres (a Cuban mandolin-like stringed instrument). These instruments, although part of the past, bring a fresh new sound to the work of Combo Ninguno. Although much of the music they play is for dancing, this group captures real life in their songs. One of their best known compositions talks about the dangers of nuclear energy and particularly the nuclear power plant at Laguna Verde in Veracruz alive while preserving an important indigenous musical form. We are proud to introduce their music to the people of another port on another ocean.
Dry Branch Fire Squad – Ohio
There are lots of bluegrass bands in the world and at least a hundred of them know our address. But there is no bluegrass band quite like the Dry Branch Fire Squad and we must admit to being unabashed partisans of their work. It’s not just their great singing – lots of bluegrass sing great – and it’s not that they play great – not to be unappreciative, but there are lots of hot pickers out there. It’s not even the material that the band chooses to perform although they certainly have good taste and their ability to find interesting songs. But so do a lot of other bands. Somehow this band has found an approach, a philosophy, an attitude that distinguishes them from a dozen other bands of equal vocal and instrumental prowess. The mouthpiece for the band is Ron Thomason who, behind the facade of country hickdom, is clearly someone who thinks a lot about what he and the band are there to do. A lot of Dry Branch’s songs are about rural workers, and that’s no accident. Ron is a farmer and the band plays music as a hobby. They intentionally maintain an identity as traditional entertainers who perform music after a day’s real work. This is a band who proudly represent the culture of American rural working people. Even their somewhat corny humour is part of the tradition. Dry Branch Fire Squad is uncompromising. They are not out to get a big record contract or to make it big in the commercial country scene. They want to do exactly what they are doing and we suppose that is why we like them so much. Please welcome Suzanne Edmundson, John Hisey, Charlie Leet, Mary Jo Leet and Ron Thomasen.
Stephen Fearing – British Columbia
Canada seems to have found its role in the global division of cultural labour. It appears that our fair land has the task of producing great song writers, whether they like it or not, usually end up with the label of folk. Every so often a new crop appears. Twenty-five years ago it was Lightfoot, Cohen, Mitchell and Tyson amongst others. A decade later Connie Kaldor, Roy Forbes, Ferron, Stan Rogers and Rita MacNeil came to the fore. And now a new list of names is beginning to roll off the tongues of those familiar with what makes a memorable song. One of these names is Stephen Fearing. Writers in this country, at least in English-speaking Canada, often seem to have no regional identity. Rather, they have something which is particularly Canadian. This is true of Stephen Fearing. Born in Vancouver, eleven years in Ireland, a couple of years in the American Midwest and Stephen still somehow sounds Canadian although not particularly west coast Canadian. What he does have is a commitment to lyricism and poetics that is common to our finest song writers. Stephen’s songs do not mirror everyday speech writers might, but he tackles both big ideas and small events with an exceptional literacy. Although his musical influences draw from Celtic traditional to rhythm and blues, from jazz to rock, it is his ability to bring life to words and images that has drawn attention to his creations. Five years ago when Stephen returned to British Columbia, he was a novice both as a song writer and performer. Two years ago when he first appeared at this festival, he was an artist with promise. With non-stop touring, a batch of dynamite new songs and a brand new record, Stephen enters the 90s with that promise fulfilled. Stephen will be joined by Paul Blaney and Russell Shumksy.
Sal Ferreras & Sancocho – British Columbia
You would not expect the man who won “the classical performer of the year” award for his solo album at the CARAS West Coast Music Awards in 1988 to be performing at the folk festival. Neither would you expect the leader of one of Vancouver’s best salsa bands traditional Afro-Latin percussion ensembles to win a classical music award. Sal Ferreras has managed to come to terms with his musical split personality and he uses his skill to perform in the most varied situations. Sal is originally from Puerto Rico and since arriving in Vancouver, he has won a reputation as an accomplished, innovative and versatile percussionist. He has worked with some of the city’s best dance companies, performed with classical ensembles from the Vancouver Symphony to the New Music Ensemble and has been the artistic director of Drum Heat, an annual percussion festival. Sal, along with Jack Duncan from Vancouver and Boying Geronimo from the Phillipines, is Sancocho. They play a wide assortment of instruments from the Caribbean and pay homage through their music to the source of Latin rhythm, Africa. Their music embraces the traditional and their own compositions are based in the rhythmic styles of Cuba, Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean.
Frank Chickens – Japan/United Kingdom
The world is full of ethnic and racial stereotypes and we like to think that over the years we have done our small part to explode at least a few of the prevalent myths. Perhaps we have even gunned down one or two sacred cows. With the long awaited presence of Frank Chickens, we tackle one of the most durable stereotypes around. Frank Chickens are two Japanese women who have blended Japanese and western culture with stunning success in the English cabaret scene. The goal is “to create a subversive world where east meets west at street level. The Japanese culture we represent is Ninjas, not Samurais; sleazy barst not elaborate restaurants; Enka not traditional posh music; Takarazuka girl’s opera not Noh Theatre; strong women not sweet geishas.” And they are successful, combining biting lyrics with a wash of synthesized disco like music found in the Karaoke bars of urban Japan. Kazuko Hohki arrived in England for a six month visit ten years ago and stayed on to launch the Frank Chickens but also to work in theatre and film. Atsuko Kamura was a bass player and a founding member of Tokyo’s leading all women punk band, Polka Dot Fire Brigade, before she joined the Chickens. Their songs attack hamburgers, racist images, sexist stereotypes, mail order brides, and Asian sex holidays with wit, irony and humour as well as the sort of surrealist approach that would make Andre Breton proud. If you find their directness and power uncomfortable, then as they say in their song Yellow Toast, we are stupid little Japs and you are splendid English chaps”. We say get Chickenized.
Good Ol’ Persons – California
Once upon a time, but not that long ago, bluegrass music was boys’ music, good old boys’ music. So what could guitarist and song writer Kathy Kallic do except found an all women’s bluegrass band called the Good Ol’ Persons? In 1975 such an act was, to say the least, unusual. Well, times have changed and in fifteen years the Good Ol’ Persons has seen thirty people come and go. The group is now three women and two men. What hasn’t changed is the commitment of Kallick and her associates to perform a broad range of acoustic country music with impressive skill. The band has a couple of things going for it which set it apart from the hoard of bluegrass and country players. Kathy Kallick’s great song writing has given the band access to a source of original material of top quality. And the band has never taken a sectarian musical attitude which means they perform bluegrass from the tradition, their own songs, the occasional country rock or Cajun number and new acoustic music instrumentals. That the Good Ol’ Persons is a band of virtuosos is something else to count on. John Reischmans is one of the finest mandolin players on the scene and a composer as well. Bethany Raine, in addition to playing the string bass, is a superb singer while Sally Van Meter is one of the most popular dobro players around. New addition Kevin Wimmer has worked with the likes of Dewey Balfa and Queen Ida. All this talent, coupled with Kathy Kallicks’s great voice and songs, has produced a band with few equals.
Sheila Gostick – Ontario
Sheila Gostick is not prejudiced; she’ll take anybody or anything. For almost fifteen years Sheila has been a sort of cult figure, staking out her turn in the limbo between stand-up comedy clubs, rallies and the women’s music scene. None of them have ever really accepted her because Sheila is, above all, democratic and fair in choosing her targets. It’s fashionable to attack and mercilessly parody Toronto, but Sheila unleashes her with against Vancouver; and kids; and Valdy, for God’s sake. She has done enough traveling to be able to pick on just about any region of the country, and she does it well. Perhaps some of her best material is aimed at the misogynist, hackneyed comedy club scene that she has experienced firsthand. But Sheila is principally a commentator on Canadian events. And oh yeah, she’s a singer. A country music singer with some very bizarre lyrics which might one day surprise her with a country hit. We felt that with Meech Lake, the GST and all the rest of the nastiness going around, it was probably a good time to invite Sheila back.
Davey Graham – United Kingdom
Given the current multicultural, multidisciplinary approach to folk music symbolized bu the roots and world beat scenes, it seemed natural to invite Davey Graham to perform here. After all, he was one of the first to break down the walls between Arab and Asian and western music. We really wish we could take credit for the idea, but it was Holly Graham, Davye’s wife, who sent along a tape of her own stuff and suggested that the Festival could be a reunion for the two of them. We knew Davey Graham more as a legend than as an active performer. Armed with his phone number, we invited him. To our delight, he accepted his first trip to this country. Davey Graham began playing guitar in the late 50s in London, hanging out with folks like Long John Baldry and Alexis Koerner. He was Eric Clapton’s predecessor in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and was generally part of a group of musicians who were about to change the music of the world was listening to. It was Davey’s intention to do things with the guitar that had not been done before, mixing jazz and blues with folk styles from Ireland to India. A generation of guitar players learned from him, including a young Bert Jansch. One of Davey’s tunes, Angie, became a standard for guitar players throughout Europe and North America. Albums such as Folk Blues and Beyond and Folk Roots New Routes had a profound influence. Davey Graham just kept on playing, universally admired by his peers and relatively unknown to most of the world. Today on guitar, oud, sarod and bouzouki, Davey Graham continues to blaze new musical trails. Finally Canadian audiences are going to get a chance to hear one of the best.
Holly Graham – Washington
Every year we get between 400 and 500 tapes, albums and press kits and they like. It is rare when one makes us sit bolt upright with delight as we did when we listened to a tape that Holly Graham sent us. Just down the road in La Conner, Washington, lives a great topical song writer who is also a terrific children’s entertainer. Born in Chicago and educated in theatre in Tampa, Holly Graham spent six years in England in the late 1960s and early 70s. There she married guitarist Davey Graham (see above) and became friends with a variety of folks in the music scene, including the late singer Sandy Denny. After returning to the States, Holly worked in radio and theatre and began writing for children. Today most of her work is oriented to children and she travels to schools throughout Washington State doing their theatre and music. She also works with prisoners, the handicapped and the disturbed, through various state organizations. In her music it is perhaps the humour that stands out the most. She uses humour that stands out the most. She uses humour to sing about environmental issues, peace and human rights issues, peace and human rights as well as belly buttons. Apparently Holly is no stranger to Canada, having performed on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands where she learned one of the great Canadian folk secrets, the correct spelling of Peter Gzowksi. Having enjoyed her music so much on cassette, we are eagerly looking forward to hearing Holly Graham in person.
Clive Gregson & Ghristine Collister – United Kingdom
We first heard Clive Gregson and Christine Collister as part of Richard Thompson’s band and we were impressed. The demo tape they were handing out at that time, which later became their first album, was even more impressive. That was in 1986 when only little rumbles were reaching this Pacific outpost of the great events occurring on Maggie’s farm (as we fondly call England). The host of new English artists springing up seemed to have two things in common: one was a certain ambivalent relationship to the folk scene. The other fact was that they were writing songs that dealt with social and political issues and the effect of British policies were having on human beings. Many British artists were also showing a kind of attachment to American regional pop forms, some of them folk based, Cajun, old timey, Tex Mex and good old rockability. Clive and Christine were amongst the best representatives of of this new group of artists; those who mounted their own version of the British invasion of the early 60s on the alternative music scene. Clive Gregson comes from Manchester and cut his musical teeth in a rock band called Any Trouble, which recorded four albums. He was also a music teacher. Christine Collister started off singing covers of top forty tunes in her native Isle of Man before getting a gig as a session singer for a Manchester radio station. By 1984 they were working with Richard Thompson’s band and a few years later they started doing gigs as a duo. Clive is a singer and the writer of their original material. He shares with Richard Thompson a kind of gloomy world view as well as a superb ability on the guitar. Christine has a voice that a hundred other singers would kill for. In addition to originals they also have a wicked way with American country music. Over the last few years they’ve become familiar faces in North America as audiences have come to recognize how good they are. It’s a pleasure to welcome them back.
Great Western Orchestra – Alberta
It is somehow appropriate that the members of the Great Western Orchestra, one of the finest country units in Alberta, are a Californian and a New Brunswicker. Dave Wilkie and Stewart MacDougall have been important actors in the country music field in Alberta and beyond for quite some time. Although they are not household names by a long shot, the bands they have played in and their work are familiar to anybody who likes good music. Both have played with Ian Tyson and Stewart has written for, and played with k.d Lang. In fact, one of his songs, Busy Being Blue, remains a k.d. lang standard. Dave and Stewart’s first serious song writing collaboration, The Wind in the Wire, was chosen by Ian Tyson for his most recent album. Dave Wilkie plays the mandolin and has a certain reputation as the “mandolin kid”. In addition to founding the Great Western Orchestra in 1985, he worked regularly on CBC radio’s Dayshift, amongst other shows. Stewart MacDougall played with k.d. Lang for two years, with Ian Tyson’s Chinook Arch Riders for another two, and is as good a pianist as you are likely to find. Recently the two decided to venture into the world as the Great Western Orchestra, featuring both their own compositions and some fresh interpretations of western classics. Having decided to focus on contemporary Albertan music as one of this year’s thematic programs, we planned to hire only one country group from the province. The Great Western Orchestra is the one we chose. We think they are wonderful; as for the orchestra part, well, they are from Alberta.
Sawyer Tom Hayden – Colorado
Last January we went on an expedition to the northern Nevada mountains to attend the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering. We could have hired a dozen or two people there without even trying, but one artist that really caught our ear was Sawyer Tom Hayden. Not only was he telling stories, reciting poems and singing songs, he was also acting as MC and stage managing on the side. It just seemed like he had the festival attitude. Tom comes from Clear Creek County, Colorado where it snows in May. There, he looks after his family’s mountain ranch and has operated a sawmill for the past ten years. He sings and tells stories about the old and new west. With a background of ranching, logging, farming, truck driving and forest fire fighting, Tom has come by his stories and songs honestly. As a professional entertainer he has traveled and performed in front of enough audiences to know how to present his music and stories in a way that makes sense to even the most urban crowd. Tom has an easy way with the guitar and moves effortlessly from a one hundred year old poem to a contemporary song. Recently he sold the logging and sawmill operation to free up more time for performing and touring. We think Tom Hayden has a lot to share and suspect his newest career is about to be a success.
Hassan Hakmoun & Adam Rodolph – Morocco/United States
“It’s already pretty much booked, but what the heck. Send a tape and we’ll take a listen to it” was the not-overly-responsive greeting to Adam Rudolph’s phone call. Well as you can probably guess, these guys were too good to pass up. Hassan Hakmoun was born in Marrakesh, Morocco and by the age of seven he had fallen in love with the music of Gnawa, the decedents of western African slaves taken from Morocco five hundred years ago.. By the age of fourteen Hassan was traveling throughout Morocco learning from the Gnawi masters. A few years later he was himself working as a master musician, and in 1987 he arrived in the United States with a Moroccon music and dance troupe. Since then he has performed with his ethno rock group, Zahar, and in various traditional jazz ensembles. His instrument is the sintir, a fret less, three stringed, camel faced lute-like bass. He is also a great singer and dancer. Adam Rudolph is a musician with whom Hassan regularly performs. A composer and percussionist originally from Chicago, Adam has performed with some of jazz’s most interesting artists including Don Cherry, Herbie Hancock and Yusef Lateef. Adam was a co-founder of one of the first ethno-fusion groups in the United States, the Mandingo Griot Society. Along with percussionist Hamid Drake and oud player Radouane Laktib, they will bring to us the music of the Gnawa, music that blends West Africa and Arab influences.
John Handox – California
Every year as we put together the festival, there are certain phone calls we make. One of them is to Bruce Kaplan of Flying Fish Records, one of the finest American folk independents. Our questions is always the same, “Who is great Bruce, and who have you heard that we should have at the Festival?” This year one of Bruce’s suggestions was John Handcox, a name that rang no bells until Bruce told us he wrote We’re Going to Roll the Union On. John Handcox is one of a generation of black working class artists who played an extremely important role in the 1930s and could be said to be one of the founders of the movement, that in the 1950s and 60s, would become the Civil Rights Movement. Poor, black southerners did more than sing the blues about their condition, they organized unions. Sharecropper unions, tenants unions and labour unions. They often worked with white activists, and in many cases, led by the Communist Party. They fought against lynching, racism and their brutal exploitation as part of a radical movement which sought to wipe out segregation and discrimination but also class oppression. John Handcox was part of a movement whose story has never been fully told. Using the tunes and style of the church, John composed songs that attacked the brutal conditions that faced him and millions of others. Songs like Raggedy, Raggedy Are We; There is Mean Things Happening in this Land and a song that became one of the best loved songs in the labour movement, We’re Going to Roll the Union On. This classic even has a flexible spot for the enemy at hand: “If the boss/cops/scabs get in the way, we’re going to roll right over him/them” and it has been sung on 10,000 picket lines. John Handcox left they south under duress. But he remains a fighter for the cause of labour and is still singing.
Jim Hiscott, Victor Schultz & Friends – Manitoba
The first time we spoke with Jim Hiscott he was wearing the hat of a CBC radio producer putting together a world music pilot. The second time Jim wanted information on record distribution for a self-produced recording of his compositions. The third time we called to beg him to play here after hearing his compositions for the above mentioned recording. Are in for a treat! This guy is doing some of the most interesting music basted on folk sources in Canada. The only people who seem to know about Jim’s music are in the classical music scene but there is a reason for that. After all, Jim spent many years earning a degree at York University after first knocking off a Master of Science by the tender age of 23. He is a founding member of the Manitoba Composers Association as well as being a member of the Canadian League of Composers. Although he has written orchestral works, solo works and chamber music, he loves folk music. Hell, the guy could be the Bela Bartok of Canada. His Metis Dance Variations are a musical jewel created for violin, button accordion, piano and percussion. These tunes keep the power and beauty of the Metis originals but Jim’s compositional training extended the range. He had done the same with other folk music from this country and others. His instrument of choice is the accordion and for this festival, Jim has brought along some friends including another folk music festival lover from the Classical world, Victor Schultz, who has performed at the Festival with the klezmer group Finjan and Shirley Elias Sawatksy and Frederick Liessens.
David Holt – North Carolina
In 1982 we visited the storytelling festival in Jones borough, Tennessee. Among the performers who amazed and delighted us, was a bundle of human energy who accompanied his stories with great banjo playing. His name was David Holt and we have saved our knowledge of him for a year when we were going to feature a big storytelling program. That year has finally arrived. We are lucky that David is available since he doesn’t exactly sit around waiting for the phone to ring. In addition to his storytelling and musical performances, David is well known for his shows on the Nashville network and American public radio. Originally from Texas, David moved to California during high school. But he really found his calling in the mountains of western North Carolina which is one of the liveliest centres of American folk culture. He began an Appalachian music program at Warren Wilson College in Asheville. David has amused a huge collection of songs and tales from the southern mountains and he has performed to audiences from here to Nepal. Playing on a dozen instruments, talking and clog dancing. David Holt is the ultimate traditional entertainer.
Juba! – Alberta
We reacted with a certain puritanical prejudice, one might even call it “folklorism” when we first heard about Juba! After all, we pride ourselves on bringing in the real thing and here in the real thing and here was this bunch of folks from Edmonton, with one black and no South Africans, carving out a reputation for singing South African freedom songs. What a travesty. How unauthentic. Then last summer we heard Juba! live and it was a stunning tour de force performance which evaporated all our doubts. This is one of the finest a Capella outfits we have heard perform any style of music. They came together in 1987 in Edmonton to perform a selection of South African freedom songs at a third world film festival. A year later the group gave itself a name and in May of 1988 they toured for over a month as the musical component of a theatre production called Born in the RSA (Republic of South Africa). Since then their repertoire has expanded to encompass everything from a delightful version of Besame Mucho to Faith Nolan’s Divide and Rule. The members of Juba!, Warren Albers, Cleve Alexander, Lark Clark, Kelly Collins, Beth Portman and Scott Rollins sing like angels auditioning for the heavenly choir and they are able to make a song their own. After singing one of their South African songs, a listener who knows a thing or two about music exclaimed, “Beautiful, fantastic; are you guys from South Africa?” It was King Sunny Ade asking the question.
Si Kahn – North Carolina
Perhaps Si Kahn’s greatest achievement has been his ability to resist being drawn into music full time. For Si, music is one of a variety of means to the end of social justice. Si is the end of social justice. Si is the president of an organization called Grassroots in North Carolina and has been involved with organizing unions, registering thousands of new voters, building coalitions of blacks, women, labour, environmental and peace activists and other things. He has written books on organizing and has penned some of the best songs of any contemporary American songwriter. Aragon Mill has become a classic. We even heard the tune stolen and used in Hungary. Although Si could undoubtedly “make it” as a singer and songwriter, he chooses to use his talents as an artist in the same way he uses his organizing talents. His most recent album was commissioned by the Communications Workers of America to build a campaign known as Jobs with Justice. Before that he, Pete Seeger and Jane Sapp recorded a double album of mostly traditional labour songs that has helped us put these songs back into the repertoire of dozens of singers. In a time when it appears the visions of past radical movements were mere hallucinations and that Frank Sinatra, not Woody Guthrie, is the authentic voice of America, Si Kahn inspires us to, as in the words of one of the great civil right songs, “carry it on, carry it on”.
James Keelaghan – Alberta
Many of our best and most loved social historians over the last thirty years have been songwriters. Very few Canadian writers have managed to capture our stories in books as successfully as those who attempted to do it with song. It has been an honorable tradition from Gordon Lightfoot to James Keelaghan. James started writing his great songs about the Canadian west as work-avoidance in university. Some of us cleaned behind the stove when papers were due; James wrote songs about his subject matter. He did hits in Calgary which is the centre of a surprisingly vibrant Alberta music scene. Comparisons with Stan Rogers are often made, and the deep booming voice and the fascination with the lives of small people buffeted by big events show some similarity. But Keelaghan definitely has his own personality and a radical edge that few Canadian writers have. Keelaghan’s history is more in the tradition of British social historians like Jobsbawm and E.P. Thompson, or perhaps Ewan MacColl. He has a fascination with the past but also a commitment to share history with his listeners. The story of what we had known as the Estevan Strike, which he calls the Bienfait Massacre, is a good example. This piece of history, which is perhaps a warning about the future, is something that most Canadians believe happens in other places, such as col miners on their way to a picnic cut down by brutal police. Saskatchewan 1931. There may be a couple of master’s thesis languishing in a university library that deals with this incident, but Keelaghan’s song makes the event real. There are other songs that give us back bits of our little-known history and songs that define our lives in other ways. The quintessential B.C. experience of missing the last ferry is, for instance, immortalized in Departure Bay. Take a listen, you might learn something. James will be joined by Bill Eaglesham and Gary Bird.
Laurie Lewis & Grant Street – California
There is a certain kind of justice that makes Laurie Lewis so popular at folk festivals. After all, she was strongly influenced by festivals very similar to the ones she now performs at. Laurie grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, and as a child learned how to play the violin. As a teenager in the 1960s she was lucky enough to attend the wonderful Berkeley folk festivals where the likes of Doc Watson, Mississippi John Hurt, the Greenbrier Boys and dozens of other fine representatives of American folk culture performed. By the early 1970s Laurie was winning fiddle contests and playing in bluegrass bands around the western states. She was one of the founding mothers of the Good Ol’ Persons and also found time to play with feminist political with feminist political artists like Holly Near and Barbara Dane. At the same time, the new acoustic scene was developing in the Bay area and that too had an influence. Today Laurie Lewis is a champion fiddler, a great singer and an increasingly impressive songwriter. For the last number of years she has been touring, fronting Grant Street, which is an outstanding collection of musicians whose firm roots in the tradition don’t stop them from creating new musical forms based on a variety of influences. Grant Street includes national banjo champion Tony Furtado who is becoming a figure on the acoustic music scene in his own right. Guitarist Scott Nygaard, who is a mainstay of the Seattle jazz and bluegrass scene; Tom Rozum on mandolin and guitar; and hometown heroine Tammy Fassaert who brings her bass playing and remarkable vocal talents to the band, having part of Vancouver’s music scene for a number of years.
Syd Lieberman – Illinois
It’s amazing how many teachers there are at folk festivals. Having read thousands of performers biographies, we are convinced that in a file which stated previous occupation, teacher would be the big winner. Is this true? Jazz musicians drive cabs; folkies teach. There’s a PhD thesis out there on this one. We suppose a really good teacher is a great performer and a skilled performer, committed to conveying ideas to his/her audience, is the best teacher around. At any rate, if were handing out tenure, Syd Lieberman would certainly deserve it. Syd Lieberman was a teacher but he is now a full time storyteller. Many of his stories are drawn from the Jewish tradition where stories are most often both wise and funny. It was on a foundation of Talmudic debate that Jewish humour grew. Jews, more or less, invented stand up comedy as a secular reflection of religious argument. There is also something of the Catskills-borscht-belt comedy scene in Syd Lieberman’s art. But contrary to the “take my wife” school of humour, Syd’s stories are full of a kind of humane, validating and caring humour. This is as true of his selection of traditional stories from the eastern European Jewish tradition as it is in his own creations based on the life of his family, himself and his friends. He works in schools, hospitals, and at cultural events. When the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania wanted somebody to write, perform and record the story of the Johnstown flood of 1989, they called Syd Lieberman. When we decided to invite a number of storytellers to perform at this year’s festival, it was unthinkable that Syd would not be amongst them. He is simply one of the best.
Oscar Lopez – Alberta
Most of the Chilean artists who have performed at this festival see themselves as a part of the continuity of the Chilean new song movement. Oscar Lopez doesn’t. Oscar was born in Santiago, Chile in 1953. His family played Chilean folk music and he began playing violin in church at the tender age of ten, but by his late teens he picked up the guitar and began to work as a studio musician and playing with pop groups. For a few years he studied music at the University of Chile but soon discovered that it was more educational to perform music than study it. For six years Oscar worked doing jingles, festivals and concerts until he immigrated to Canada in 1979. In Canada he performed in such diverse situations as a reggae band before concentrating on his own approach which he calls a “fantasy of Latin strings”. Ocsar Lopez is no amateur on mandolin, bass violin, but it is on the guitar that he really shines. His own tunes reflect his Latin American origins but also show a love for classical music and jazz. he can take a tune like El Condor Pasa, sort of the Orange Blossom Special of South American music, and really add something to it. Based in Calgary for the last five years, Oscar has done all the gigs that keep a musician going, from restaurants to festivals. He has also been working with guitar players like Amos Garrett on what we hear is a stunning acoustic string group. As we began to explore what was happening in Alberta, Oscar’s name kept coming up and we figured it was high time he made is west coast debut.
Machanic Manyeruke – Zimbabwe
In these parts black gospel music tends to be thought of as big choirs and polished performance. Zimbabwean music tends to convey images of dance bands, or, for the more educated, traditional music on thumb piano. Machanic Manyeruke shatters these images with a powerful impassioned approach to Christian gospel songs sung in shona and accompanied on an electric guitar. He brings to mind images of Gary Davis, the great American street gospel singer, more than the Five Blind Boys. Mahcanic is simply one of the most interesting African artists we have heard in a number of years. After listening to his music we were determined to bring him here from Zimbabwe. Machanic was born almost fifty years ago in the town of Chiundura in Zimbabwe’s midlands. One of his elder brothers was a carpenter and needed help with various repairs and, with this in mind, his parents called him Machanic. Needless to say, he showed little aptitude for mechanical things, preferring to tinker around with a homemade banjo made out of a tin and wire. At twelve he started playing the guitar and for eight years he was the lead guitar for the Salvation Army Brigade. Later he performed solo with other musicians from the Four Brothers to his regular group, the Puritans. achanic sings because he believes. His full time job is as a waiter in the executive restaurant of a South African multinational in Harare. His songs are exclusively religious but you’ve never heard When the Saints Go Marching In until you’ve heard Machanic perform it. Machanic Manyeruke is one of the best examples we’ve heard in quite some time of the true genius of the “folk”. He makes you believe.
Diedre McCalla – California
At the age of nineteen a young woman went to her first concert where she heard Joan Baez perform at Carnegie Hall. What impressed Diedre McCalla most was a woman in control of her music and her career who was singing about important issues. Although singers like Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell had an impact on her; Diedre took the long way to a full time career as a musician. She went to theatre school at Vassar and on to the National Theatre Institute. At the same time she was performing in folk clubs and coffee houses at night, working as the musical director of the college radio station and as a ticket taker, then sound engineer at the historic Folk City Club in New York. In the mid 1980s she followed her best friend, photographer Irene Young, to California and began performing around the women’s music scene. She remembers an unknown Tracy Chapman opening for her five years ago. Diedre’s music does not fall into any easy category and in that sense; it is American music incorporating elements of blues, rock, country and folk. Her subject matter is equally diverse as she sings about everything from her cat to her mother. What comes through is her theatrical training and her passion. As a writer, guitarist and performer, Diedre McCalla is one of the best and most interesting of the second generation of feminist songwriters.
Rory McLeod – United Kingdom
Rory McLeod’s approach to performance is enough to restore our faith in the good old folk troubadour tradition. In some ways he really is someone out of the past. In an era when almost no self respecting folkie will perform without a couple of effect pedals, if not a DX-7 synthesizer, Rory is a one man band, accompanying himself on guitar, harmonica, spoons, feet and whatever else comes to hand. He is a busker: no theatres, no problem, just point him to the nearest crowd. He has worked as a fire eater and a clown in a travelling Mexican circus, spent a lot time in Germany and was recently wandering around China on the way to an Australian tour. Rory’s songs are full of commitment, exuberant energy and an honest-to-god love for people. He sings about a singing policeman, about a Turkish political prisoner who threw himself out of a German police station window to his death rather than face deportation, and about playing in a thrown together Mariachi band hired to wake up a Mexican family. His love songs are some of the least predictable and most passionate of any we have heard. In a way, Rory McLeod is the flesh-and-blood incarnation of everything food in those British television programmes about east end Londoners we used to get here. He is also about the best live performer we had had the pleasure of hearing over the last few years. His comings and goings are a bit erratic, so don’t miss your change.
Murray McLauchlan – Ontario
After twenty years, fifteen albums, nine June awards and innumerable tours and concerts, Murray McLauchlan remains one of the best known, most active and finest songwriters in the country. Though Canada seems to be a victim of a perpetual identity crisis, our songwriters still manages to take inspiration from a country that doesn’t know what to think about itself. Murray McLauchlin’s songs, as much as any of our great writers, help define this country. From Down by the Henry Moore, to the Farmer’s Song to Timberline, his songs have become as important a piece of the national fabric as Margaret Atwood’s writing, Kurelek’s paintings or Joe Fafard’s cows. Murray is one of the few male writers to sing about his open stand for choice on the abortion issue. He has experimented with different sounds including touring for a while with a full band. Lately he has returned to a more spare sound, both live and on record. With a recent album release and a brand new show on CBC radio, Murray is entering his third decade of performing at the top of his powers. For years we had hoped for a change to present him at the Festival. We can’t think of a better way to start a new decade.
Robert Minden Ensemble – British Columbia
In 1979 we had the honour of presenting Tom Scribner, the now dead lumberjack, vaudevillian, all round subversive and musical saw player extraordinaire at our festival. That was the beginning of our relationship with Robert Minden. Somehow we heard about a saw player living in Vancouver who had learned from Tom in Santa Cruz, California. Robert Minden was a sociology professor at the University of California in Santa Cruz when he heard Tom Scribner play the saw. That was the beginning of the end of Robert’s academic career but the beginning of the Robert Minden Ensemble. Somehow Robert ended up in Vancouver with his two wonderful young daughters who are enormously talented musicians. Andrea Minden plays the flute and Dewi Minden plays the trumpet. Along with Nancy Walker, a visual artist who designs costumes and stage sets as well as invents new instruments, they began to play music in the evenings. A while later Carla Hallett, a French horn player, joined the group and the Robert Minden Ensemble was founded. They play music on conventional instruments, their own inventions and found objects. They perform their music for its own sake and to accompany stories that Robert tells. One of these stories is about Ton Scribner and the saw; another is about a boy who wanted to talk to whales. Words alone cannot convey the magic of what the Robert Minden Ensemble does. Take a listen to one of the most interesting and enjoyable musical entities on the planet.
Holly Near – California
Holly Near is entering her third decade as an actress, singer, writer, organizer and cultural leader. It’s a dangerous age and a dangerous time. At this point in her career she runs the danger of either being regarded as a voice from the past or being turned into an icon. Holly Near is neither. Rather than coasting on what she has done, she seems to be taking more chances and having more fun that performers with much less to their credit. There is a book, an autobiography, published by William Morrow, which will be out this summer; there was her return to theatre a couple of years ago, the first acting she had done in a long time; and there is her latest record, a startling departure with spare production and a surprising array of songs by writers as diverse as Bruce Cockburn and Yip Harburg (Over the Rainbow). We’ve got a feeling her next album is going to be an even bigger surprise. But some things have remained the same. She still uses her superb voice to deliver great songs, whether her own or those of other writers. Her commitment to use her music to change the world remains firm. That resolve has continued for twenty years, through fourteen albums and hundreds of songs. Holly Near, not the legend, nor the icon, but the superb contemporary singer, is back at the Festival, and that is something to look forward to.
Faith Nolan – Ontario
Faith Nolan is basically a blues singer, but she has all these ideas, beliefs, commitments and a whole agenda of issues that motivate her. Therein lies the contradiction that makes Faith Nolan a unique artist. Born in Nova Scotia a fifth generation black Canadian, Faith was raised in Toronto. Music runs in her family. Her mother is a drummer, her late father was a musician and her sister played in a band. Faith has been playing music for a living ever since she hit the street, first doing pop and cover tunes on the lounge circuit. But it wasn’t until she started performing more of her songs and songs drawn from the black tradition that her talent as a blues singer met her commitment as a human being. Faith is able to take issues like racism, native rights and sexism and serve them up to an audience clothed in the garb of the black American musical wardrobe. Class consciousness with a reggae beat, the story of native martyr Anna Mae Aquash coupled with the power of the blues. This approach has won Faith a growing following across Norht America. Faith can also display an unabashed raunchiness like she does on Jelly Roll. Her style would do justice to Lil Green or Memphis Minnie. Blues singer, cultural activist, black historian, she can find her way through a diverse series of roles with no loss of Faith.
Bobby Norfolk – Missouri
Twenty years ago storytellers used to be of one of two varieties. Either they had grown up in an area where storytelling was a tradition to be carried on, or they tended to be teachers or librarians who delivered folk tales with a pretty restrained approach. Today, storytelling is more often a cabaret performance of song, dance, theatre and spoken word performed by a cast of one. The background of people telling stories tends to reflect that change. Bobby Norfolk is a good example. An award winning history major at the University of Missouri, Bobby got his start performing with his own comedy review, travelling the club circuit opening for such folks as Roberta Flack, Lou Rawls and B.B. King. He graduated to theatre, working as a regular in the St. Louis Black Repertory Theatre. He also wrote scripts, worked as a freelance journalist, as a published poet and, for good measure, as a martial arts and yoga practitioner. Bobby was asked to participate in a storytelling festival in St. Louis in 1983 and the rest, as they say, is history. With his performing experience and academic background, Bobby Norfolk has developed a very diverse repertoire of stories. He can do a whole program of ghost stories; another of of Ananse (spider) tales from West Africa. He can tell the story of Perseus and the Gorgon from Greek mythology and follow it with a program of poetry by black Americans like Langston Hughs. He can bring them all to life right before your very ears.
John O’connor – Massachusetts
Union songs are a blast from the past. Sure, there are all kinds of great songs by Joe Hill or Woody Guthrie about the bad old days when the bosses wore top hats and black frock coats and twirled their moustaches while brutally exploiting their workers. But today times are different, capitalism is different. The unions are different. If you are going to be surprised by John C O’Connor, a genuine labour singer and songwriter who writes for and about the working class struggles occurring in today’s United States. While he knows his share of the old songs, it is the new songs that are his best. His material is not often the stuff you read about in newspapers. A song about a strike against a huge conglomerate Weyerhauser in Washington and Oregon; or a song about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, an affliction which is caused by repetitive motion to the hand of the wrists; or about the problem of capital flight caused by firms moving to areas with no unions and low wages for workers. John approaches these topics with a healthy dose of humour and a good sense of what makes a song work. After living for almost a decade in Seattle, where he founded Shay’s Rebellion, John has returned to his native east coast. We’re looking forward to hearing new songs from one of the best in an old tradition.
David Olney – Tennessee
If David Olney were a prose writer, we would place him somewhere between Ernest Hemingway and Dashiell Hammett with maybe a dash of Faulkner and a light topping of Thomas Wolfe thrown on for good measure. He has a particularly American voice which pragmatically and poetically tells takes of loses who somehow survive against all odds. David Olney is a songwriter who lives in Nashville where almost everyone is searching for the country hit that will buy them the guitar shaped swimming pool and a piece of country music legend. Who knows, maybe one of David Olney’s songs will do that. Some of his admirers, folks like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, have managed to reach wide audiences. But until fame and fortune strike, David Olney gets by writing some of the best songs that we have ever heard. Originally from England, David went south in the early 70s and led his own rock and roll band. These days he performs solo, opening for John Prine and hearing his songs performed by some of the new country artists like Steve Earle. For our money there is nothing like hearing David sing his own songs. We did a concert with David a few years ago and we can’t remember a more gripping performance. If you can get the folks to sit and listen from the beginning to end, that makes you a rare artist indeed.
Ivo Papasov & His Bulgarian Wedding Band – Bulgaria
Around our office there is no shortage of music to listen to. We get four or five hundred audience tapes, records or compact discs a year, and we distribute about 3000 titles through Festival Records. The list is always growing and we hear between twenty and thirty new releases a month. But it has been a while since there was as much excitement as there was when we got a pre-release cassette of Ivo Papasov and His Bulgarian Wedding Band. We’d never heard anything like it. Bulgarian it was not. It sounded like a Bulgarian traditional orchestra who had been stranded on tour in Chicago where half a funk band was picked up and taken home. This is new music that has emerged in the last twenty years although it is based in Bulgaria’s strong folk traditions. The wedding band phenomenon represents a fusion of the dance bands that began in the 1930s with western and other eastern European popular music styles. The lead instrument is the clarinet, which became part of Bulgarian village music in the 1870s. This is joined with the accordion which made its Bulgarian debut in the 1920s. The saxophone, electric guitar, bass and drums are new. Ivo Papasov comes from a long line of Bulgarian reed instrument players. His father, grandfather and great grandfather were all well known musicians. Such a deep connection to traditional music gave Ivo the confidence to take a chance with a new sound and jazz inspired improvisations set against the complex time signatures of Bulgarian dances. And yes, they do play weddings and yes, you are going to dance.
Pentangle – United Kingdom
In the late 1960s a revolution took place in British folk music. The folkies plugged in and the resulting small group of bands brought English traditional music to the ears of millions. Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and most notably Pentangle, did for the Child ballads what Eric Clapton did for Robert Johnson. Between 1967 and 1973, Pentangle turned upside down and left an incredible mark. In 1983 the band reformed to make a new album. By the late 80s there had been some ersonnel changes but the band again decided to record and tour. For those of us who caught them the first time around, Pentangle remains true to their original sound. For those who have never heard of Pentangle, or those who recall old scratchy records played late at night by middle aged folkies, this is the chance to hear a dynamite, fresh sounding band. Pentangle’s music is not an exercise in nostalgia, nor is it a project by a bunch of musicians who are content to fall back on twenty year old reputation. The best element of the old band remains. This group of musicians fuse folk, jazz, blues and rock styles together, performing traditional tunes in a very contemporary fashion. The band is fronted by founding members Jacqui McShee and Bert Jansch. To the band has added Jerry Conway, who has drummed with everyone from Alexis Koerner to Frankie Goes to Hollywood; Nigel Portman Smith who has played bass with a wide variety of groups, including Hank Williams’ original Drifting Cowboys; and dynamite guitarist Peter Kirtley. But it is Bert’s and Jacqui’s voices that still give the group its distinctive sound. With their ability to create unique and unforgettable arrangements, Pentangle has given new life to tunes that existed quietly for hundreds of years.
Ranch Romance – Washington
Ranch Romance has become so popular in such a bried time that no doubt the phrase “overnight success” is bound to creep in somewhere. Yet even a glance at the backgrounds of the four women who make up this group gives a sense of the years of hard work it takes to reach that mythical status. One thing they have going for them is Jo Miller who plays guitar, handles lead vocals and is the group’s songwriter. She comes from the ranching country of central Washington and was an all around cowgirl until the mid 70s when she traded her horse for a Volkswagen and headed for the city. Barbara Lamb has performed on the Grand Ol’ Opry and is Washington State and Northwest Regional Fiddle Champion who placed in the the top ten nationally. Lisa Theo learned the mandolin to join a bluegrass band while at college and Nancy Katz has been a mainstay of the Seattle folk music scene for as long as we can remember. These four women came together in Seattle to perform what they describe as “regressive country”, a blend of western swing, honky tonk and acoustic rockability. Their combination of originals and older material, drawn from artists like Sons of Pioneers Hank Williams and Patsy Montana, work because they believe. This is not a parody, but rather a compliment to the brand of American popular music based on western themes and images.
Buck Ramsey – Texas
It was opening night of the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada in a sold out thousand seat hall. A couple of big guns in cowboy music were on the bill, including Ian Tyson and country singer Michael Martin Murphey. In the middle of the show they introduced a man who wheeled himself out in a wheelchair and began reading. The hall was dead quiet and this man kept reading and reading until finally he stopped. What followed next was a thundering ovation. This was our introduction to Buck Ramsey. Buck Lives in Amarillo, Texas, and is just starting to read his poems and sing songs for audiences who are not fellow cowboys. But we;ll let him tell a bit of his story himself. “While working as a rough stock rider and regular cowhand on the Alibates Division of the Coldwater Cattle Company, he got in a tangle with a horse bigger than he was, some of his gear tore up and now he gets around in a wheelchair. But he still hangs around the ranches during branding or round up time, plays hoodlum helper to the cookie, gives guff from the opry seats and plays and sings the old songs. Mostly they let me hang around because he can braid tack. When he was younger, and punching cows, he wrote poems and such now and then, but never kept them around long. When he heard of the Annual Cowboy Gathering in Elko, Nevada, he wrote and submitted some poems and has been an invited participant there the past two years. That is where he first said some of his poems and sang some of the old songs in public.”
Melanie Ray – British Columbia
We knew Melanie Ray as an organizer and coordinator of one of our Festival volunteer committees long before we realized long before we realized what a great storyteller she was. During 1986 we saw her, and then partner Nan Gregory, work at Expo and at our festival as part of a centennial program of stories about Vancouver’s history. It was then we realized that we had forever lost a great coordinator, but gained a terrific storyteller. While the storytelling scene in the United States and, to some degree, Toronto has grown, in Vancouver it is relatively underdeveloped. It is largely thanks to Melanie that storytelling has any profile at all out here. That Melanie’s stories are not drawn from any one tradition is one of her strengths. However, she can recount medieval English tales or a Hawaiian myth about the volcanic goddess of destruction. One of Melanie’s great talents is telling stories about different aspects of her own life. This allows her to draw out her audience, encouraging them to think about their own stories. She has even been known to get people up to tell stories themselves. As well as being a traditional storyteller, Melanie is an animator and a teacher. Rather than using her stories as pure entertainment, she uses them to give people back their own voices.
David Rea – California
We first heard David Rea perform at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1966. He and Doc Watson were sharing a few licks and it was truly an inspiring occasion for this future folk festival organizer. The music was close to perfect. Over the years David Rea cut out a reputation as one of the hottest pickers in the business. At the tender age of seventeen he left Akron, Ohio for Toronto and was working as Gordon Lightfoot’s guitar. He left to work with Ian and Sylvia and went on to perform and record with a kind of who’s who of folk music including the Clancy Brothers, Judy Collins, Tom Rush, Jesse Winchester etc. Oddly enough, his best known song has nothing to do with folk music, but is Mississippi Queen, now a rock classic. For a while we weren’t sure what David was up to and his early solo albums, now long out of print, quietly lived on our record shelves. Occasionally we listened to such favourites as his classic interpretation of Robert Johnson’s Hell Hound on My Trail or his mini folk opera David and Goliath. Then, lo and behold, a tape full of terrific songs arrived backed up by David’s signature, gorgeous guitar playing. An accompanying letter informed us that David has been to Vancouver. God knows how we missed it. We’re looking forward to hearing some of the tastiest picking, singing and writing around when David Rea pays us this long overdue visit.
Re Niliu – Italy
Calabria is the southernmost province of mainland Italy. Using the old boot analogy, this province occupies the sole and toes extending almost to Sicily. Calabria’s best known export to this country has been people. The pover of the region has propelled an enormous emigration. But we have a feeling that Re Miliu is about to give a whole new meaning to Calabria when the group makes it North American debut at this year’s Festival. Re Niliu performs traditional music from Calabria which is not far from North Africa. Over the years this geographical proximity has had a musical influence, as have the musics of Greece, Turkey and other Mediterranean ports of call. The five members of Re Niliu have researched and collected the popular music of their region and arranged it for traditional instruments but with a contemporary feel. They have integrated the synthesizer with the North African drum and characteristic Calabrian insturments, the pipita and the chitarra battente. What emerges is a dynamic and lyrical combination and a sound like no other. Vocals that almost sound as if they should be coming out of a mosque are coupled with the joyful lyrical instrumental background that we have come to associate with Italy.
John Renbourn – United Kingdom
Sitting on stage with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, turning out some of the loveliest guitar playing you’re likely to hear anywhere, John Renbourn makes it all seem effortless. But after thirty years of performing and having made an impact that changed the musical world, John is still studying, developing and not taking himself too seriously. John’s musical history is as a part of generation who turned on to the blues in the late 1950s before looking for a truly English musical expression. A combination of American blues, British folk songs and a love for classical music produced a style of music which didn’t have a name when john began playing it in the early 60s. He collaborated with Bert Jansch, first as a duo and later in Pentangle, and worked solo and with his own groups, including most recently, Ship of Fools. He has also lately worked with guitarist Stephan Grossman. Through it all, John remains one of the most influential and durable artists on the folk scene. Although best known as guitarist, we are also big fans of John Renbourn’s singing, whether he chooses North American or English folk songs. For the last few years John has been studying music at a British university, continuing to refine and expand his musical skills. His most recent recording, his first solo album in a decade, demonstrates that John Renbourn is not content to rest on his many years of achievement but is still working to get it right.
Samite – Uganda
There are over forty countries in Africa and hundreds of cultural groups each with a distinct musical style. We have featured maybe ten types of African music at this festival and it is clear we have a long way to go to even scratch the surface. Samite is our introduction to the music of Uganda. Samite’s grandfather taught him to play the traditional African flute and other instruments. While attending high school in Kampala (the capital of Uganda), he learned how to play the western flute. His first performing experience was in jazz bands in Kenya, including the legendary African Heritage band. But Samite became more and more interested in traditional music and eventually he left jazz for the songs and instruments of Uganda. He performed and recorded three albums in Kenya before leaving Africa in 1987 for the United States. Since then, and through a combination of luck and skill, Samite has begun to attract attention as one of the most engaging and dynamic performers of traditional African music. The music of Uganda and eastern Africa is much more lyrical, gentle and subtle than much of the African music we’ve listened to at this festival. The flute, marimba, kalimba (thumb piano) and drums combine to weave a seductive web of sound. Samite’s music is not, however, divorced from the sad history of his native Uganda. One of his songs is about teenagers dancing all night because they were afraid to leave a dancehall lest Idi Amin’s soldiers shoot them in the streets. Through a combination of songs, stories and instruments Samite introduces us to the traditions and the history of his country.
Mary Carter Smith – Maryland
Mary Carter Smith is by all accounts an exceptional woman. One of the things that make her special is that she is a griot. The term is from the Mandinga of West Africa and can best be translated as poet, traditional bearer, and oral historian. In Mandinga society the griot preserves the history of the people and educates both young and old. In 1983 the city of Baltimore appointed Mary Carter Smith as its offical griot. This is the kind of title that you can’t apply for or win the lottery. If you look at Mary Carter Smith’s accomplishments, you get a sense of how she earned it. Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1919, Mary was a voracious reader as a child, reading a book a day, and eventually she graduated from college to become an elementary school teacher. Now remember, Mary Carter Smith is black and this was the 1930s in America. There were not very many women college graduates from Alabama then; there still aren’t. From 1942 to 1973 she was an elementary school teacher and then a librarian in Baltimore schools. She claims it was the new math that drove her to the library and that the automation of libraries led her into full time storytelling. As a child she told stories to younger children; as a librarian she entertained students with stories and songs. She was also active as a writer (Langston Hughs, America’s greatest black poet gave her poetry a good review) and a community organizer. For the last seventeen years she has told stories professionally and her material is gathered from books, traditional African tales collected in seven trips there, and stories based in her own experiences and the history of black adaptation of Cinderella is one of the finest, sharpest and funniest stories we’ve ever heard. We have had several West African griots at this festival. We thought it was time to bring up from Baltimore.
Rosalie Sorrels & Bruce Carver – Idaho
At the age of thirty three and freshly divorced, Rosalie Sorrels packed her five kids into a station wagon and headed off into the life on an itinerant singer, songwriter, storyteller and single mother. In the twenty odd years since, Rosalie Sorrels has covered a lot of miles and made a lot of friends. She has also become one of the most influential, respected and loved artists on the American folk music scene. Her diverse admirers include Hunter S. Thompson, the Jefferson Starship who recorded one of her songs and the State of Idaho Governer`s Awards Committee who gave her an arts award a few years ago for “distinguished service, creative accomplishments, and dedication that contribute significantly to the quality of life in Idaho”. That’s not to mention that the thousands of people across North America who will drive through hailstorms to attend a Rosalie Sorrels concert. Rosalie has an encyclopedic knowledge of folk music from the most varied sources. She has recorded albums of songs of the Mormon pioneers and more of Utah Phillips’ songs than he has. Her collection of songs and poems What Woman, and Who, Myself and I Am, was the first collection of songs about women that we had seen. When Rosalie performs you are likely to hear a Malvina Reynolds song, a number or two by some great Texas songwriter, a traditional song from Idaho or Utah, and some of Rosalie’s own wonderful compositions. Add some very funny jokes and some very moving stories and you are in for an experience you are not likely to forget. And if Rosalie on her own isn’t enough of a treat, we’re pleased to welcome back Bruce Carver, ace guitarist, one of Rosalie’s and our favourite accompanists.
Su-Chong Lim – Alberta
Su-Chong Lim is an artist who takes multiculturalism seriously. We only wish the Canadian government took it as seriously. He was born and raised in Singapore where he won a scholarship to study at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. After graduating and working a couple of years in Singapore, he returned to Canada in 1975. From his Calgary base Su-Chong Lim has toured Alberta and beyond, introducing audiences to a wide range of songs from a wide variety of places. Obviously, he does a lot of material from Asia, from his own Chinese background, Malay-Indonesian and Southeast Asian folk music and stories. Less obviously, he can sing in Ukrainian, and perhaps most interestingly, he is a powerful contemporary writer who brings to his songs the reality of being an Asian-Canadian. He has written songs about the Vietnamese boat people, the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War and songs about his experiences as a Chinese immigrant. He performs on both the guitar and on Asian instruments like the pipa, the four stringed Chinese lute. He is also a wonder with children. We saw him do a kids’ show last year and the rapture on the faces of the kids was the kind of thing usually reserved for Raffi. The music of Alberta is one of our themes this year, and what better representation of our neighbour to the east than a Chinese Singapore born, pipa playing Candian.
Dave Swarbrick – United Kingdom
London was in the middle of the blitz when David Swarbrick was born, which may account for the peculiar timing that has become a kind of signature of Dave’s fiddle playing. Since the early 1960s, Dave has been one of the most important musicians on the British folk music scene. After a brief stint as a printer and a first stab at music with a ceilidh band, Dave joined the Ian Campbell Folk Grou, which while almost unknow nand forgotten over here, was probably the most important and influential folk group in England for a number of years. From there, Dave and Marty Carthy joined forces in what has become both a legendary, and once again active, duo. Next, Dave joined Fairport Convention and eventually came to be the group’s central force. In the mid-80s Whipersnapper came into existence and once again Dave was part of a ground breaking and trendsetting came into existence and once again Dave was part of a ground breaking and trendsetting musical entity. Dave’s fiddle style is so particular that it is immediately recognizable. He is also adept on the mandolin and has been known to sing. Thirty years after the beginnings of the British folk revival, Dave Swarbrick remains a vital force. That’s why we wouldn’t dare organize a program of British folk music veterans without including him. Plus, we like him.
Grupo Tacotento – Mexico
We must admit that we went to Minatitlan with trepidation. We were putting the pieces of the Veracruz program together and we had chosen two of the three groups. But the third group was the tough one. it was the son jarocho group; to the ears of the world this sound represents the very soul of the music of Veracruz; this was where La Bamba was born on the banks of Papaloapan River. We were going to listen to a group whose tape was at best spotty. We were worried they wouldn’t be good enough. It’s one thing to kiss them off on the phone or with a letter, but it’s another thing to sleep in their houses and know that your answer is not going to be the one they want to hear. So we drove to the grimy centre of Mexico’s oil industry with a certain level of anxiety. That night, Tacoteno was planning to carry out a genuine folk tradition. The custom is to perform music in people’s homes during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. A couple of hours later we were in love. Here was a group carrying on the true tradition of the jaraneros. But it was really the dancing that made the difference. It’s not that the members of Tacateno can’t sing or play, but somehow when the dancers hit the tarima (a stage with sound holds so that the feet on wood resonate as another instrument), the effect was outstanding. We decided then and there that Tacotena should come Vancouver and bring four dancers with them. We also decided to build a replica of a Veracruz tarmia here in Vancouver for the Festival. The nature of this music is described in this book, but Tacoteno’s commitment to preserving the unadultered music of southern Veracruz goes back to the late 1960s. Working with singers and players in their eighties and with dancers who remembered how it was done, the group has played a major in ensuring the survival of their culture. What you will see is something rare, precious and important. Grupo Tacoteno is Genaro Ganzalez Garcia, Nue Gonzalez Garcia, Noe Gonzalez Molina, Daniel Hernandez Fuentes, Fransicso Izquierdo Hernandez, Araceli Melendez de la Cruz, Juan Baltazar Melendez de la Cruz, Diego Vazquez de la Cruz, Diego Vazquez Oliveros and Juana Vazque Oliveros.
Riccardo Tesi & Patrick Vaillant – Italy/France
States tend to be polical, not cultural entities and real cultural affinity tends to pay scant attention to border lines drawn by politicians. Thus, the collaboration between a French mandolin player and an Italian accordion player makes perfect sense if you know a little background. Patrick Vaillant has, for a number of years, been part of the Occitanian cultural revival. Born in Provence in the south of France, he grew up in Paris but returned with his family to Antibes on the Mediterranean coast near the Italian coast. There, his precocious musical talent fell under the spell of the rich musical and lingual traditions of the area. Having worked with some of the bands reviving Occitanian music, Patrick concocted an idea for a program and a band based on the life of Anita, the wife of Italian hero and national unifier, Giuseppe Garibaldi. Also drawn into the Anita Anita project was Riccardo Tesi. Riccardo hails from Pistoia in Tuscani. A genius on the accordion, Riccardo began performing in the band of Italian singer, Catarina Bueno, and went on to become a member of Ritmia, an influential Italian group that visited our festival in 1987. The music of south eastern France and northern Italy has a lot in common and so do Patrick and Riccardo. They share a desire to perform traditional music and the ability to create their own new music based on Patrick’s mandolin playing and singing and Riccardo’s accordion playing. Their music, while Mediterranean in inspiration, has a universal appeal because of the meeting of two great musical talents.
Kathryn Tickell – United Kingdom
Nobody should have this much talent. At the ripe old age of twenty three, Kathryn Tickell can look back at a brilliant career that would do justice to somebody twice her age. She grew up in the North Tyne valley in England’s Northumberland amid a family full of musicians. Her father, Mike Tickell, is an acclaimed performer of songs. She began playing the piano at the age of six and at thirteen graduated to the fiddle, learning Shetland style from the great player and teacher Tom Anderson. She made her debut at the Shetland Folk Festival in 19841. As well as learning fiddle, she was mastering the authentic instrument of her region, the Northumbrian small pipes. In 1984 Kathryn was appointed the official piper to the Lord Mayor of Newcastle upon Tyne, the person to hold this office in 150 years. With three solo albums to her credit and a touring schedule that has taken her across Europe and to the Far East, Kathryn has emerged as the most important of a new generation of young traditional players from England’s north east. We understand she is about to launch a band, the better to accompany both the traditional tunes and her increasing number of original compositions. Although her age clearly draws attention, it is Kathryn’s playing that is really impressive. She has a fluid approach that is almost jazzy and her abilities just continue to develop. Until recently it would have seemed unlikely that a solo performance on bagpipes could cause a stir. But Kathryn Tickell can do just that. Pipe dreams included.
Phurbu Tsering & Thubten Samdup – Tibet/Quebec
When Chinese troops invaded Tibet in 1959, hundreds of thousands of Tibetans fled across the Himalayan mountain passes into India and live as refugees. Among these people were an eleven year old Phurbu Tsering and a ten year old Thubten Samdup. These refugees were not well to do and many children ended up in group homes sponsored by western support organizations but administered by the newly formed Tibetan government in exile. In 1960, the government in exile set up the Tibetan Music, Dance and Drama Society to help preserve Tibetan culture. Phurbu and Thubten were two of the sixteen children randomly selected from the group homes to be the society’s first performers. This handful of children was given responsibility for insuring the cultural continuity of a nation. The fact that Tibetan culture has remained alive and vital is testimony to how well they did their job. Thubten became a proficient instrumentalist, singer and dance. He was also general secretary of the society, and in 1974 received a scholarship to study ethnomusicology in the United States. Today he lives in Montreal where he continues to perform as well as being president of the Tibetan Cultural Association in Quebec and of the Canada Tibet Committee. Phurbu remained with the troupe performing operas, historical plays, monastic, folk music and dance. He also plays a number of Tibetan instruments and is probably the leading Tibetan traditional artist. He is visiting Canada to help the Tibetan community here preserve their culture. We like to think this festival is a place where some of the world’s cultural mysteries can be revealed and we look forward to learning about the rich culture of Tibet.
Guadalupe Urbina – Costa Rica
Although Costa Rica is small by Canadian standards (but so are most places) it has a number of distinct regional cultures. The ranching country of Guanacaste in the north has music which has long fascinated us. This is where Guadalupe Urbina was born in 1959. The youngest of ten children in a peasant family, she moved to the capital, San Jose, to finish high school after the death of her mother. Guadalupe graduated from the school of music at the National University in 1985 and since then she has won increasing respect as an interpreter of traditional poetry and music from her original compositions. Her voice reminds us of the other great women’s voices of Latin America: Violeta Parra, Mercedes Sosa or Ochoa. Like them, she uses her voice to talk about the reality of her people, their joys, their sorrows, their struggles against poverty, against landlords, against the oppression of women, against the destruction of the land and animals around her region: “Don’t kill this iguana/because she’s pregnant/Let her make it/’till May and give birth/Leave this turtle alone,/it’s not hurting you/Don’t kill this caterpillar/look at the colours/of its head/it looks like the blossom of a madero/in spring.” Guadalupe Urbina is an authentic voice her native Guanacaste, Costa Rico and a voice that speaks for all of Central America. We are proud to be able to introduce her.
Uzume Taiko – British Columbia
Once upon a time a group of young folks in Vancouver’s Japanese community were inspired to create a traditional ensemble. Their aim was to reclaim a sense of identity while making a joyful noise. This group called Katari Taiko has become one of the most popular performing arts groups in the city. Because Katari Taiko is big, and since its members work at all kinds of day jobs, the group doesn’t travel much nor do they perform very often. But three members of the group wanted to perform music full time, so they decided to throw away perfectly good lives and become professional musicians. In 1988 they formed Uzume Taiko to continue performing traditional Japanese drumming, but also to create their own music. That is exactly what they have done, touring with Kokoro Dance from here to Frankfurt, with Snake in the Grass Moving Theatre and with other musicians. Their instruments are drawn from Japanese traditional music: the odaiko, the big drum; the shime, a smaller drum that can be tuned; the sumo, jouske and okedo, all other styles of drums. They also use the fue, a small bamboo flute and other instruments including a conch shell. Uzume Taiko have recently recorded their first album and are receiving invitations to perform from across Canada and in Europe. What began as an exercise in cultural self awareness seems to be turning into one of the most exciting new groups on the Canadian music scene.
Danielle Villiere – France
in January of this year we received one of those packages that make our jobs so much fun. It came from a French woman we had never heard of. After listening to the enclosed tape we immediately headed for the telephone to invite Danielle Villiere to the Festival. We always knew there must be an artist such as Danielle. Her repertoire encompasses the radical French tradition, the tradition that gave the world the idea of democracy. Danielle Villiere is not a professional singer. her day job is as a trade union administrator and before that she worked as a nurse. Today she represents the CGT (one of France’s largest union federations) in her hospital as well as being union secretary general for her province of Ardennes. She is also the head of the union’s national school for human rights. This, it would seem, is quite enough. But Danielle also sings songs about workers’ struggles and social issues from the last two hundred years of French history. She sings songs from the revolution, from the Paris commune, from the strike wave of the 1939s, from the anti-fascist resistance. Her songs come from the movement against nuclear weapons, against the wars in Indochina and Algeria and her contemporary songs document resistance against the current rise of fascism and racism in France. Some of her songs, like The Time of Cherries or Le Deserteur, are familiar to us. But other songs are a revelation. We still don’t’ know how Danielle got our address, but we consider ourselves lucky to have been found.
The Waterdaughters – United Kingdom
The Watersons are regarded as one of the finest groups in folk music. Since the early 1960s they have been singing the traditional songs of England, with a special emphasis on Yorkshire, from where they come. They began one of Yorkshire’s first folk clubs at the Bluebell in Logate and it is still going twenty five years later. The Watersons have toured Europe, North America and Australia and have had a BBC documentary made about their lives. Perhaps their greatest recognition came when renowned folklorist A.L. Lloyd awarded them the gold medal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. The Watersons are Norma, Lal and Mike Waterson and Marin Carthy. The Waterdaughters are Norma Waterson Carthy and her daughter Marry Knight Waterson. They are, one supposes, a great example of how a tradition is passed on from mother to daughter. Their repertoire is strictly traditional and their a cappella harmonies are the kind that only come from a life time of singing together. They have that special harmonic quality that really only emerges in sibling or family groups. We remember the Watersons gracing our stages once in the past with enourmous pleasure. As this festival gets a little older and becomes part of a tradition itself we proudly welcome the Waterdaughters and a new generation of great traditional singers.
Williams & Bray – Washington
“The couple that plays together stays together” could be the motto for this pair of pairs. Phil and Vivian Williams and Harley and Shera Bray are two sets of long wed musical couples who combine to produce some of the finest original old time and bluegrass you are likely to hear anywhere. For a number of years we knew of Phil and Vivian as senior folkies around Seattle as well as through their own Voyager record label. Vivian is widely known as an exceptional fiddle player who has won the Women’s National Fiddle Championship three times. Phil backs up Vivian (a nice a change) and also writes lyrics and composes tunes for the mandolin. Harley Bray is a well known banjo player, going back to the Bluegrass Gentlemen in the early 1960s. Shera Bray, who sings lead and plays guitar, performed with Harley as a duo when they were living in the Midwest. The two couples came together in the group called Friends of Sally Johnson. With a background in a wide variety of American rural acoustic string based music, Williams and Bray cover the waterfront from old time fiddle tunes to contemporary material. Perhaps their greatest asset is Vivian’s composing ability. Some of her tunes are classics by anybody’s standards. For years we have wanted to invite Phil and Vivian to the Festival, but when we heard their latest effort with Harley Bray we realized the time had arrived.
Xiao Yu – British Columbia
Hot string players are a standard at folk festivals, but we think this pip player is going to raise more than a few eyebrows this weekend. Xiao Yu is a virtuoso on the pipa, which is a four stringed instrument that resembles a lute. While the lute and guitar developed in Europe from Arab roots, the pipa originated in Persia and made its way east along the Silk Road that ended in the old Chinese capital of Xian. The pipa, which has become one of the foremost instruments of Chinese music, has some uncanny similarities in sound to the banjo. Xiao Yu has been playing the pip since childhood and from the late 79s until coming to Vancouver in 1988, performed as a member of the Chinese Film Philharmonic in Beijing. As you might suspect, the job of this orchestra was to perform in concert, but also for film soundtracks, and as a result, Xiao Yu developed the versatility of a studio musician. Her technical skills are equalled by her broad over view of Chinese traditional compositions. She can move from compositions in the Chinese classical repertoire to a folk song from the Chinese Muslim community whose flamenco like sounds gives hint to its Arab origins. In Vancouver she has performed with a number of artists and recently recorded with Uzume Taiko.
Trio Xoxocapa – Mexico
The Mexican region known as the Huasteca includes parts of the states of San Luis Potosi, Hidalgo, Tamaulipas, Puebla and Veracruz. The region has a style of traditional music called huanpango and it is to this style that the Trio Xoxocapa is dedicated. The violin drives the huapango and trio leader, Victor Ramirez Del Angel, is regarded as one of the finest violinists. Victor was born in the small town of Xoxocapa, where at age eleven he began to play a violin that was made at home out of reeds. He played in the traditional celebrations in his village and in the surrounding community, performing at weddings, christenings, funerals and ceremonies characteristic of the nahua culture. Today he lives in the state capical, Xalapa, where he is also a member of Tlenhuicani, a very well known musical group, based at the university there. The other members of Trio Xoxocapa are Jorge Vidales Hernandez. Jorge began to learn the jarana huasteca, which is like a small guitar, at the age of nine and has been performing with Victor for over ten years. Ismael learned the various instruments used in the huapango. He is a fine dancer as well as being the lead vocalist of the group. The music of the Huasteca is characterised by lightning fast violin playing and a high falsetto like vocal style. Its distinct sound is one of the musical treasures of Mexico and very much a part of the traditions of northern Veracruz State. We can think of no better representatives to introduce this music to Vancouver.
Takeo Yamashiro & Teresa Ohnishi – British Columbia
Takeo Yamashiro is a master of the Japanese end blown bamboo flute known as the shakuhachi. To be called a master is no small achievement. For seven years of studying Takeo became disenchanted with the rigidity of the traditional system and he left Japan for a year of travel. He has lived in Canada ever since, working as a social worker with Tonari Gumi, a Japanese community service organization in Vancouver. Takeo has, however, remained committed to the shakuhachi (if not to the system behind its performance in Japan) and he has introduced Japanese music and the shakuhachi to thousands through his performances in Vancouver and across North America.
Born in Canada, Teresa Ohnishi began her studies on the koto, a Japanese plucked three stringed instrument, in Hiroshima twenty six years ago. She studied with her mother who is also a master on the koto. In 1976 Teresa returned to Japan for more extensive training and completed her examinations for the first degree of teaching known as Sho Jido. She is presently the chair of the Koto Ensemble of Greater Vancouver. When Teresa and Takeo perform you hear two virtuosi who have perfected their skills through decades of the most stringent training. But these two are also creative artists who bring life to the subtle and beautiful music of Japan.
Yolocamba Ita – El Salvador/Mexico
Yolocamba Ita first appeared at the Festival in 1981. This untrained band of young Salvadorean musicians captured our hearts and the hearts of thousands of other people. We heard their passion and understood their commitment to use music to support the struggle of their countrymen to overcome the brutal military regime then in power. They used their music as a weapon in the fight for their people’s liberation. The group’s members lived a nomadic life, eating only the cheapest food so that every extra nickel could be sent home. In 1981 they had only recently left El Salvador and we expected that neither their exile nor the dictatorship would last this long. In the nine years since we first met Yolocamba Ita, much has changed. However, El Salavador is sadly still ruled by a regime that violates even the most elemntal standards of human rights. The members of Yolocamba Ita continue to use their skills and commitment to support their people’s fight. Brothers Robert and Franklin Quezada are the only original members who remain. They have been joined by fellow Salvadorean Victor Ruiz and Mexicans Adalberto Romeor, Rolando Preza and Jose Juarez. Years of study have created a group with exceptional musical ability. Sophisticated treatments of traditional pieces, and contemporary pieces integrating traditional themes, as well as songs by a variety of writers, have broadened Yolocamba Ita’s repertoire. Recently, they finished recording their eighth album and recently performed in the film Romero, which won international acclaim. Oddly enough, their continued life of exile has made this a group of international calibre and stature. They are simply one of the finests groups that the Latin American new song movement has produced.