Kaya Festival 2012 (1-3 June 2012)

Tagged with: Kaya Festival Vaynol Bangor Wales World Music Kanda Bongo Man Sona Jobarteh Tony Allen Dele Sosimi Snowboy Ysgol Glanaethwy Dee Nyoni Drymbago Lions of Zululand Heritage Survival Tacsi Dr Zig Bubbles Glyn Phillips WorldMusic.co.uk Thabani Nyoni Dece Gambe

Small festivals are big business these days. Every year sees more and more family-friendly, niche market and even ‘boutique’ festivals added to the list. Deliberately small-scale they seem to represent a gradual disillusionment with the 'monster mudfests' where punters seem to end up as mindless sheep to be herded around to see bands they could just as easily watch on mainstream telly. Maybe it’s all part of the desire for people to reconnect with each other on a more human, often more local, scale but still gaining access to some great quality acts in the process.

It’s against this backdrop that the brand new Kaya Festival in North Wales was launched this year (1st to 3rd June 2012).   A 3-day themed fest with Friday given over to DJs (Global DJ Night), Saturday to mostly African Acts (Kaya Africa Day) and Sunday to Reggae and Caribbean (Kayabbean Sunday). Headline acts included Craig Charles, Kanda Bongo Man, Tony Allen, Ska Cubano and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.

Tickets for the whole weekend were a reasonable-ish £75 for a full price adult including camping with kids under 14 free and various concessions and packages. The organisers Thabani Nyoni and Dece Gambe although based in London were familiar with North Wales and wanted to situate their festival in the foothills of the Snowdon Mountain range. The setting was certainly spectacular with fields and woods, a small lake and a view to the mountains.

I think this was the first time they’d put on a festival and the line-up and many other factors were quite ambitious. Some things worked, others didn’t. You can’t expect everything to run smoothly . . . These are my impressions. They are independent and personal and other people will have probably have ones that differ to varying degrees. But for what they’re worth, here they are. (For the record, I didn’t have to pay for my ticket, but I bore all other costs myself - close on £100 once petrol, food, drink, etc is added on, so my experience overall was more that of a punter).

The drive through the Snowdon mountains is gorgeous and really gets you into the mood.  You certainly feel a long way from a city. Straightforward until near Bangor, but from there I felt the festival signage could have been a bit better (just another 3-4 at key points would have been useful, but luckily I made the right decisions). Was glad I’d googled the directions between Bethesda and Vaynol beforehand.

There was a lot of confusion when I arrived (just after 3pm on the Friday). The campsite section was supposed to be open from midday to allow campers to set up and get settled before the acts started at 6pm. About a hundred people or more were sitting by a gate in the side of the car park field, with all their goods spread around them. The stewards weren’t letting anyone in. Each steward had a different story as to why, ranging from Health and Safety hadn’t signed-off the site yet, to the whole main stage and huge marquee having to be completely dismantled and re-erected 100 yards away to satisfy some rule or other. Nobody knew what was going on at all and rumours were rife. They were lucky that the weather was rather warm and sunny that afternoon (for once the rain had left Wales and gone to batter England instead).

As the afternoon wore on and we all just sat or stood, and waited, the previous goodwill began to fade and people started to get increasingly annoyed - some had been waiting for 5 hours by this time with no access to food, water or shade (although luckily there were some toilets nearby).

The simmering resentment over the crazy ‘no naked flame’ on campsite policy resurfaced too.  I really think the organisers shot themselves in the foot with that one (although I later understood that it was a deal-breaker from the site owners). So what are the consequences of this policy? 'No naked flame' means no ability to cook your own food, boil water, get warm, make tea (especially for breakfast), etc. So you’re utterly dependent on the site catering for everything and have to pay whatever is asked, because you have no choice. Crazy and bound to cause resentment - after all, this is North Wales - one of the hearts of Britain’s camping culture! And huge festivals like Womad seem to get by without problems. Dunno.

If this festival takes place next year, then it needs to get sorted. Many people I spoke to said they had friends who had been put off, even cancelled, their plans to come because of this rule. This included my own wife and kids. We just couldn’t afford to feed four people for three meals a day for three days. Simple as that. So I had to come on my own. Hmmm.

We were finally let in sometime after 5pm (it was only on the third day that I found out that the 5 hour delay was because the computer ticketing system wasn’t working!). We trudged through along through some nice woody bits to a small white gazebo tent where chaos immediately ensued: traditional British patience was immediately jettisoned in favour of some angry - and quite rude - comments directed towards the two (yes, two!) ticket staff. Many people with tickets were sent trudging with all their camping equipment over to the main entrance to exchange them for wristbands, only to return after a few minutes infuriated because the staff there had sent them back again because the wristbands were at the first tent… In the meantime, the wristbands had gone in the opposite direction… you can guess the rest! To the credit of the ticket sellers and stewards they all kept their nerve and humour and were unfailingly polite, smiley and helpful all weekend. But the overall lack of co-ordination in the organisation was another story altogether.

Ticket in hand I pulled my increasingly heavy camping gear over to the main entrance, got my wristband, was searched by security (very tight all weekend and constantly searching bags and bodies) and then through the main arena towards the camping area on the other side of the main tent. Bizarre. A tiny corner of a field with long grass, fenced-in apart from one entrance/exit - and on a slope! Really? A slope! For camping?

I picked a spot at the top of the slope, pitched quickly and went off to explore the small festival site. Beautiful spot - a sort of hidden valley-cum-natural amphitheatre with a huge tent at the bottom and a backdrop of woods.  There was also a cutting through a hillside with a view to the mountains beyond. The moon came out onto a clear blue sky. Lovely.

Up the slope to the Syrcus Tent (for smaller acts). Many of the early acts suffered from no audiences due to the delays in letting people in which was a real shame. A rather splendid operatic singer called Mel Von Roux sang to the gods rather than a full house. Still beautiful though. During the evening, I caught part of a set by a band called (I think) Quercus Burlesque, the highlight of which was a song entitled “Tufty Gusset” - all about about a rather naughty lady squirrel with an errant desire to shake her furry tush and to show off her tufty bits to all the other woodland animals . . . guaranteed to make all the little male squirrels want to go into a dark hollow and polish their nuts. Missus...  Brought a wry smile to all the adults listening anyway, including me.

Outside, I met up with the lovely Paola and Danny of Dr Zig’s Giant Bubbles! Definitely one of my highlights of the festival. If you’ve never been bubbled or gone bubbling I strongly recommend it! There’s nothing quite like it to bring a smile of instantaneous and unalloyed joy to your face!

Their bubbles are HUGE!! I spent ages photographing the bubbles, the bubblers and the attendant posse of kids and adults all chasing, blowing, popping or just marvelling at the amazing bubbles.

There were bubbles like doughnuts, bubbles like sausages, bubbles with bubbles in them, misshapen bubbles, multicoloured bubbles, all produced by 5 foot poles with 10 foot or longer ropes stretched between them and a special 15-20 foot knotted version that produced scores of bubbles in long streams.

See my gallery here to get a feel for them! (http://www.worldmusic.co.uk/kaya_festival_north_wales_1st-3rd_june_2012).

Their website is: http://www.wix.com/p-dyboski/doctorzigscom

Feeling hungry I went in search of food. Hmmm. Only 5 food outlets. None of them vegetarian. Really? At a world music festival? There was a Caribbean outlet (jerked chicken, curried veg and roti), a hog roast, a burger van, a chicken rotisserie, a Moroccan outlet (that wasn’t open) and a pastry/coffee outlet. OK, there were some veggie options within that. The rotisserie people sold an amazing Raclette dish, the Caribbean people had the curry and roti option and the burger van sold chips. But, it wasn’t the widest selection. Prices were mostly £4.50 to £5 for a hot meal. The organisers were lucky that there were only about 800-1000 people there. I’d hate to think how we’d have coped with more. The traders were a little less than enthusiastic about the prices asked for their pitches, compared to the actual amount of attendees, and to being constantly asked to move during set-up.

However, the evening was still and beautiful as it turned into night - a bright gibbous moon in a clear cloudless sky and ancient oaks dotted around the site. A great venue with a lot of potential - if it is managed properly.  But, the organisers, the owners and the local council all need to be singing from the same hymn sheet if this festival is to be the success it could be. If you don’t address the needs of your public you face losing them altogether.

Eventually I found the ‘Healing Area’ (not signposted properly and not even the steward standing a few feet from entrance to it knew where it was!). A piece of flat ground above the main site next to the small lake with healing tents/tipis, a lovely fairy ring and a small venue for poets to perform - woefully poorly advertised even if you could find the area. I’d heard the sound of poetry from my tent, but couldn’t find out what it was or how to get to it, until it had all finished. Missed opportunity there, guys. What a shame. I wondered around the Fairy Ring, listening to the jingling bells and looking out at a flock of geese flying just above the treetops on the side of the lake, silhouetted against the blue, orange and purple sky as the sun set. Curiously there were no stars even though it was clear. It got cold.

Friday night was supposed to be Global DJ Night, but the headline act Craig Charles had cancelled his Friday night spot and was trying to reorganise for Sunday night. Apparently he’d had to work over late on an unscheduled shoot for Coronation Street.

From 6pm onwards the main tent had been pumping out DJ’d music across the site. The range of music wasn’t too bad - a mix mostly of ska, reggae, mashups, dub, even New Orleans Funk, but the sound quality left a lot to be desired. The sound in the tent was ok, but the problem was that outside of it, the sound was terrible! Way too much bass. Yes, I understand the importance of bass to dub, I’m a DJ and musician myself but this was actually painful. After the first half-an-hour of dub I didn’t just have a headache, I was holding my head in physical discomfort trying to find a spot in the site where I couldn’t hear it and wondering whether to spend the night in my car! Seriously, it was bad!

Weirdly, I think the natural acoustics of the site didn’t help, The main tent opened up to the campsite and the arena and the sound seemed to thunder out of the opening and gather in intensity as it rolled up the hill, like a sound vortex. It was louder and more bass-heavy at the top of the slope and in the camping field than inside the tent. By the night time it seemed to settle down more, but I also felt that there was still a lot of discrepancy in the sound quality between records and their frequencies that needed sorting out on a track-by-track basis (a constant problem when playing a combination of vinyl, CDs and mp3s - especially for world music with very different recording and mastering conditions employed).

I gave the DJs a miss and went to the smaller Syrcus tent on the hill to try and get warm in the crowd there. Just as well otherwise I’d have missed local band Tacsi. Their music seemed to be a mix of afro/reggae/punk/pop and was very danceable with some witty lyrics. Band line-up was lead singer/harmonica player (quite a character), electric guitar, trumpet, bass, keyboards (too loud in the mix), Zimbabwean kit-drummer and two percussionists. They set up a great vibe and I gradually warmed up to them as I thawed out. They certainly had the audience eating out of their hands and the tent was buzzing on their energy.

Back down in the main tent, Craig Charles’s loss was another person’s gain: DJ “The Man From Timbuktu” was bumped up to the headline slot and set about a mostly vintage African set that went down well. He smiled a lot and certainly tried to inject some enthusiasm into his set, which the crowd appreciated. Nice one, Steve.

I leaned up against the barrier, closed my eyes and let the music wash over me. It would have been bliss, if some complete nutter (and I’m being nice here) in a hoodie who looked like a reject from the days of ‘Madchester’ decided to come up to me, stick his face in mine and push me in the chest a few times. Luckily, he bounced off and went to annoy some young girls (well, not luckily for them!) - he seemed to spend the night annoying people.

That was about the only anti-social behaviour in the crowd the whole weekend that I noticed. Although, I did have a weird conversation with someone at Mr Tea’s beverage tent. A friendly, rotund, bearded gent couldn’t understand why I’d come “all the way” from Birmingham to this festival. I explained I’d been invited to review it by the PR team.

“Do you smoke The Ganja?”.

“Erm, no, I don’t smoke anything.”

“Oh, really?!”, he replied, quite incredulous.

At this point his skinny Scouse mate butts in with

“How can you be a journalist and not smoke The Ganja, eh? How can you tell The Truth?”.

“Funnily enough, I feel I always write the truth . . .”.

I said goodnight and went back to my tent-on-a-slope.

Waking up next morning was an experience. I didn’t have the best night’s sleep and ended up sliding down the tent during the night. My feet were crumpled up at the bottom and I felt exhausted from trying to keep repositioning myself. Apparently the original idea for the campsite was to put it on the (more or less) flat ground near to the car park field. Which was why the showers (unmarked and largely unused) were situated on the opposite side of the site to the campsite, hidden away.  

Well, I ain’t walking all the way over there. I’ll get a wash on the campsite. Where’s the washing facilities? Uh? There aren’t any? Walk all around the toilets. Nothing. Uh? Hold on, someone’s left a hosepipe sticking through the fence here. Is this it? Is this IT? Unsigned. Just a hosepipe. Stuck through a fence. Ok...  so, that’s the water supply and washing facilities for everybody? Ok. Clean teeth, splash water on face. Time for a cup of tea. Hold on, there’s only ONE tea/coffee facility for everybody? Right, fair enough, I’ll wait until the queue goes down . . . No I won’t, this is stupid.

Woah, woah! What? You’re starting with the bleeding DJ music at 9-bleeding-40 am? No, no, turn it off. Give us a break will you! I live, breathe, drink music, it’s my life, but this is overkill!  Even my neighbours said they were glad when it finally went off last night and they could try and sleep. Now this. At a slightly more sane level, a drumming group started up at 10am above the flag circle. OK, I give in, time to wander around the site until the acts start again.

Luckily, I caught some great acts on the Saturday starting with the Zimbabwean descended Dee Nyoni in the Syrcus Tent. Dee and her band are from London and play a mixture of Funk and Soul. They were great! More about them later when I saw her Sunday gig. But remember that name, Dee Nyoni.

I wandered over to an interesting tent with comfy chairs and a couple of old vinyl players (Dansettes possibly?). This belonged to a guy called Nick and his Solar Vinyl Sounds. Great idea. Solar panels power his vinyl disco and he had a couple of crates of mixed music: 33s, 45s, even 78s - no 16s though!) standing by, for whoever came to sit in his semi-al fresco front parlour disco! Before you ask, it still works when it’s overcast - or raining! It stores up to about 12 hours of power at least! Good for all-through-the-night vinyl discotheques. Unfortunately he’d been placed halfway up the slope opposite the main entrance to the main stage - so music overspill from that was rather taking the edge off his delightful ambience. Oh dear!

The good weather of the day before had disappeared overnight and by mid-afternoon it was grey and overcast and it started to rain - not heavy at first, but enough to dampen spirits a little.

One of the hipper, funkier places to hang out was Mr Tea’s - a fabulous beverage tent (located not far from the toilets in the camping field). It had a lovely wooden servery with a half-marquee attached (draped in rainbow silks and Moroccan style lamps) where you could sit at the tables and drink any one of a huge number of teas, tisanes, coffees and chocolates (most priced between £1.50 and £2.50). Wonderful!  I can highly recommend the hot chocolate and coffees. All real and full-bodied.  And a great selection of music too, from classic old school 60s cumbias (by the likes of Lito Barrientos and Lucho Bermudez), to "Love Potion No 9".  I’ll have a mug of that mix please! They also have a bowl for tips on the counter with the hand-written legend: “Teeping makes you sexi!”.  Loved it!

Time to hit the big tent. First up: local heroes Ysgol Glanaethwy, a 40-50 strong Welsh Choir made up of teenagers. They had no time to even do a soundcheck (a problem that persisted throughout the day - an over-ambitious programme with only a 15 minute changeover time that came back to bite them by the end of the night - utterly impossible logistics).

Anyway, we were about to be treated to some real professionalism by these young people, who didn’t moan or worry but just lined up and waited their MD’s signal. Ysgol Glanaethwy were probably the most local of all acts in a very literal and geographic sense - their school was only two fields away! But their performance was truly international and of a global level.

They leapt to fame about 3 years ago when they came close runners-up on BBC’s Last Choir Standing. I remembered seeing them on that and being blown away by them. But standing just a few feet away from them was a completely overwhelming experience. Not just sonically, but emotionally.

Their MD Cefin Roberts, speaking in a mixture of Welsh and English, said he hoped we liked choral music and introduced the first song which was sung in Welsh and was all about the great national hero and last true Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndwr (the title, which I didn't catch, was taken from Owain's nickname which translates into English as ‘Nightingale’). From that point on they captured the ears, imagination and hearts of the audience. Not a normal ‘world music’ act as such, but they do sing in a range of languages, with songs from all over the world, and are quintessentially Welsh - conscious not only of their Celtic roots, but also of being creative representatives of a cultural minority.

It’s not just the Welsh language songs (and their subject matter) or the fact that Welsh is the first language up here, not English. It’s that Wales has a reputation to uphold in the field of music and in particular in the choral tradition. Now, maybe the South Walians have staked out their ground for much of the 20th Century in Male Voice Choirs, but Ysgol Glanaethwy are a thoroughbred powerhouse of an ensemble. Don’t be fooled by their youth, once they open their mouths anything is possible, magic comes out, crackles through the air and seeps into your skin.

What? You think I’m being over-colourful in my language? Not a bit of it. Their control of sound is stunning. A racehorse given its head, a wheeling flock of birds in flight, a deep lake, a whisp of mist… I genuinely didn’t expect to be moved in the way that I was by their music. It was a visceral experience. And you didn’t have to understand Welsh to feel the raw emotion. The second song “Send An Angel” (dedicated to a friend of the choir’s who had recently suffered a bereavement), was both serenely beautiful and deeply touching. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. Now that’s the power of music.

The repertoire was largely made up of popular tunes from a variety of genres. So the iconic gospel “Oh Happy Day!” followed on and then “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Circle of Life” (although there were problems with the wrong backing tracks being played at the beginning, requiring a restart). We might have heard these songs a thousand times before, but Ysgol Glanaethwy still managed to bring something new to the table. When they launched into “Bohemian Rhapsody” and then the trademark “O Fortuna!” they were absolutely cooking on gas.  Great use of restrained theatrical gestures and facial expressions throughout too - economic, minimal even, but used to powerful effect.  Very believable.

But for me the emotional highlight of the set was their version of “Try a Little Tenderness”. Even the same problem with the false start of the wrong backing track, couldn’t detract from the ability of the performance to resonate through every muscle of my body. I could have died there and then and not had a better holy host to send me on my way! In fact, my notes at the time state: “These kids are brilliant - amazingly professional and they live every word of their songs. A powerhouse of welsh musical talent - the land of my fathers will carry on singing for generations to come!”

My only criticism is that each song ended too quickly! They were just moving up through the gears on "Try a Little Tenderness" when it was suddenly brought to an end. Cefin, I beg you, make it twice as long! Three times. Let them off the leash!   Probably just as well, I think, I would have expired had I imbibed any more ‘hwyl’ and disappeared in a puff of smoke over Snowdonia.  Hwyl fawr, indeed!

After this they brought us “Adiemus”, “Rhythm of Life” and finished with “Eryr Pengwern” - a reference to the eagle of the mountains - a song about being proud to be Welsh. Well, I might have been born in the industrial West Midlands of England, but for a few brief minutes the Celt in me stood 7 foot tall and as proud as the druids of Ynos Mon.

Ysgol Glanaethwy left the stage on a high with the warmth and applause billowing over them, but then predictably enough got soaked to the skin in mere seconds braving the heavy rain as they ran out the back of the tent to the artists’ changing area!  Ysgol Glanaethwy were one of my two unexpected highlights of Kaya 2012!

They were followed by the Lions of Zululand a song and dance troupe from KwaZulu Natal in Southern Africa. They perform a style of acapella music called ‘Amahubo’ which dates from the period of South Africa’s Apartheid Regime, when migrant mine workers were forced from their homes in the rural areas and went to work in the gold mines. They would gather together and form groups which would compete in this acapella style.

The Lions of Zululand formed up backstage and started chanting and stamping spears and shields in hand to get their energy up so by the time they hit the stage they were in top gear and flung themselves into their energetic performance.

Despite the rain, the atmosphere in the tent was on a natural high (and no, that’s not a euphemism). The local welsh afro-latin band, Drymbago, were a lot of fun and a real crowd-pleaser, performing a well-received set that got everyone up and dancing.

They banged out afro-based rhythms, whilst a tight horn section in retro-looking floral shirts (nice touch!) really beefed out the sound.  The kit drummer was good and the bass and accordion formed a solid rhythm section. Besides this, two women with dot-painted faces played duns-duns and djembes; but I couldn’t help feeling that the two male percussionists reminded me of actor Alfred Molina and garden designer James Alexander-Sinclair . . . Yeah, I know, nothing to do with music, but it had to be said. Moving on…

By this time, the packed schedule was already in disarray. The iconic DJ Snowboy (also percussionist, bandleader, composer, compiler and all-round mover and shaker) had arrived backstage during Drymbago’s performance and waited to go on. He said he’d already informed the organisers previously that he couldn’t do the 4-5 slot, but obviously none of this had got through to the Stage Manager or anyone else backstage that I’d asked.  Internal communication - another issue to be addressed. This was just the start of what was, for me, a disgraceful way to treat a respected artist (or any artist for that manner).

Snowboy was put on the side of the stage, had no lights on him, no mike and wasn’t even announced to the audience(!); and then only got to perform a 20 minute set, through which the stage crew and following band (Heritage Survival) physically dominated the stage and proceeded to do a full-blown soundcheck all over Snowboy’s selection, turning the volume of his tunes up and down willy-nilly and even right off! I was incensed.

Look, I get it - you want to get the next band up and prepped and you've already probably ripped up the running order and the times.  But you wouldn't soundcheck the DJ whilst the previous band is still performing, so why are you treating a headline DJ act who's travelled hours to get here like he's an expendable commodity of lesser value?  It's insulting.  It really is.  Snowboy managed to get only about 5-6 tracks (if that) on the decks (including Tito Puente’s euphoria-inducing “Ban Con Tim” and Sidestepper’s exuberant “Campo”) before he was ushered off stage with a grudging, muttered acknowledgement from the announcer and the next band were introduced.

I was gobsmacked! It was like they didn’t even want him there, or even knew who he was. In fact, previously the Stage Manager had asked me whether I was Snowboy . . . Luckily, the other musicians backstage knew exactly who he was. I should think so too. I’m hoping if Kaya goes ahead next year - they’ll give him the set and respect he deserves and if they’ve got any sense they’ll book his band also. I’ll be watching.

There was one act though that went some way towards making up for all this and that was the British-Gambian kora virtuoso, Sona Jobarteh. She might not have been billed as one of the headline acts but, for me at least, she was the world music highlight of Kaya Festival 2012.

Sona was born into griot ‘royalty’ being the grand-daughter of Amadu Bansang Jobarteh and a cousin of Toumani Diabate - amongst many other famous West African griots. Versed in both traditional and classical African music styles (on the kora - the African harp) and Western Classical (cello, piano and harpsichord via the RCM and the Purcell School) as well as guitar and jazz and film music, Sona is an all-round musician of outstanding skill - and that’s leaving aside the fact that she’s one of only a handful of female kora players. She’s a woman of stature. She’s also - and I hope her husband doesn’t mind me saying this - very beautiful. Sona came on stage, heavily pregnant and gorgeously resplendent in a purple and silver outfit with two koras and a guitar. Her fabulous band consisted of a kit-drummer, a percussionist (djembe, dun-duns and a rather interesting sounding metal scraper), electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass and two backing singers (in blue and silver outfits).

I really ought to give a critical analysis of the music here, but honestly I was just transported by the whole experience. Quite bewitching. During a long set, Sona switched between traditional ring-tightened and modern machine-head tuned koras and a battered looking black guitar and sang, and sang, and sang! She also established a real rapport with the large crowd and had them hanging off her every word in between songs too. There was also a decidedly feminist undercurrent to the set which went down well with many of the audience, including a song to 'all women' (called “Musso” I think).  Another song was dedicated to the Malian side of her family - to the likes of Toumani Diabate, and Djelimady Tounkara, etc and another dedicated to her grandmother. The truth is I was floating on a cloud of dreams, a thousand stories flowing through my head. For the second time that day, I marvelled at the power of music. In between all this, I was racing around trying to take photos. Sona is very photogenic and it was hard to take the lens off her face.  

However, there was a unexpected highlight near the end of the set, when she announced that there was a very special guest waiting patiently backstage. Uh? Who could this be? And then her husband came on, carrying a small stool and accompanying their young son (just 5 years old!) and a small djembe drum. He calmly sat down at the front of the stage just to the side of his mum and waited for the music to start. Cute, doesn’t even cut it! You have to see the photos! Not fazed in the slightest by the big stage, enormous tent and large crowd, little Kwame Sidiki Jobarteh-Codjoe waited for Sona to start the tune and launched himself into it, slapping away at his miniature djembe drum like a true pro, only occasionally looking back to check he was still in time with the adult percussionist.

A star in the making? Let’s wait and see, but in the hereditary world of the griots he’ll get every chance in the world. He sat there playing away and looking out at the crowd as natural as anything, occasionally throwing his head right back, revelling in the rhythms he was creating. Love it.

Afterwards I got to tell Sona that I seem to have had some kind of connection to her family throughout my life: the very first time I ever heard the sound of a kora (on Alexis Korner’s radio show around 1980/81) it was her grandfather Amadu Bansang Jobarteh; the very first time I heard and saw a kora being played live (early 90s during a recital by Ben Mandelson of the ancient story of Gil-Gamesh) it was her brother Tunde Jegede playing it. And now in 2012 here I am, seeing both her and the next generation of Jobarteh musicians. So good.

Her second album “Fasiya” (West African Guild Records) was placed at No 12 in the Top 20 Best World Music Albums of 2011 by WorldMusic.co.uk with good reason. Check her out.

There’s no doubt to me that Sona Jobarteh and her band produced the most magic moments of Kaya 2012. Highly recommended.

So how do you follow all of that? Well, there was an afrobeat double bill of Dele Sosimi teamed up with legendary drummer Tony Allen to follow. Two generations of afrobeat on stage together. Really rather good. But I think I was still a little overwhelmed by the previous band. As a drummer myself it was interesting to get close to Tony Allen and to really break down what he was doing rhythmically. Quite an experience. He is unbelievably funky. Each of his limbs moving seemingly independently as if dancing on their own. Now that’s the way to control a band from behind a kit!

After that I nipped back out to the Syrcus Tent where DJ Frankie from Sofrito had been bumped off from the main stage to; but within a few minutes I realised another band had taken to the main stage!

So back down the slope to see Congolese soukous giant Kanda Bongo Man strut his stuff! Well to be precise, both myself and the crowd were all rather taken with his pneumatic dancer who managed to strut her stuff all over the stage with magnificent aplomb and much abandon. A wonderful thing! This was music to dance to!  And she certainly danced. The audience in the main tent were very much warmed up by her gyrations and there was a great outcry when she left the stage.  

Still, the party went on as Kanda Bongo Man in his smart suit and wide-brimmed hat got us all shaking and moving backed by his great band.

That is, the whole party went on for about 20 minutes until someone went and ‘pulled the plug’ mid-tune!  Uh? The band were in full-flight, everyone was dancing, everyone was happy, KBM was warming up and getting ready for a long night of dance mayhem, when somebody turned off the sound!  Yes, just turned it off.   No warning, no fading, no waiting until the end of the tune. Just one moment on - the next, off.

The crowd were in disbelief at first and then quite incensed and started booing. The band were equally incredulous. They shouted at the soundmen to switch the sound back on, but nothing. They waved at everyone from the stage trying to illustrate to the audience that this was nothing of their doing - but they were just unceremoniously ushered off!

And what was worst of all? No-one, but NO-ONE thought to actually announce what was happening and why! That's inexcusable.  It only needed a few words.  Now, that’s how to ruin an atmosphere and leave people frustrated, angry and feeling short-changed and unimportant.

The truth is probably that the organisers had allowed everything to seriously over-run and then realised at the last minute that they were about to be charged somewhere in the region of £1000 for every minute they went over time. Maybe, I don’t know. But that begs the question of who was in charge of ensuring that the situation didn’t arise - and when it did, how best to handle it. Probably one or two songs shaved off each of the previous three sets would have balanced it out, rather than let a pedigree musician like KBM get into his stride then kick him over.

Was it late? Yes. Is a fine or court order serious? Yes, of course, very much. But there are ways to minimise bad feeling and they weren’t employed. Verdict? Not a good way to end the night and a blight on the memory of the festival. Not good. The situation should never have arisen - it was 1.45am by this time - but the timing was too tight from the beginning, no matter how good and hard working the stage crew were (and they were both!). People are in my opinion inherently good-willed and forgiving, if you tell them the truth and keep them informed, they'll usually come round. But hey, I can only guess what went wrong. The important thing is to learn the lessons for next year. But what a waste of a great band.

Back to bed in the rain and another night sliding down the tent. I woke up even more exhausted and cranky with water pooled the bottom of the tent and aching all over. Hmmm. More rain. I queued for my morning tea with the rest - and can I say, overall, that the people who attended were overwhelmingly lovely and upbeat and generous and easy-going. As were all the crew and security I spoke to, the food and beverage traders and the stall-holders. A great human atmosphere. But many people had had enough of the rain and unseasonable cold, the slope (seriously!), and having to pay for every drink or morsel of food that they needed and were packing up.

Against all my normal rules of engagement when covering a gig or festival, I decided to cut my losses and head back home later that afternoon. To be honest, I wasn’t really enticed enough to stay for the headline act (Lee Scratch Perry) although I'd been looking forward to Ska Cubano - but, nah, I’d had enough. I’m used to camping and festivals, but I wasn’t enjoying this as I should: the waiting around for hours, not knowing whether a particular artist would or would not be on at the stated time, or would perform the stated length of set, or even turn up at all (and by this time Craig Charles was rumoured to have cancelled his repositioned Sunday slot as well - powerful thing is rumour!) was too much to factor in.

The rain was nobody’s fault, but didn’t help; neither did the broken tooth I sustained eating a feta cheese wrap the day before (no fault of the vendor I add!). I was just miserable. So I had breakfast (tea and biscuits), packed down the tent in the rain, trudged back to the car a couple of times and then stayed long enough to see the one band I definitely didn’t want to miss that day.

Remember I said that the day before I’d seen a funk and soul vocalist called Dee Nyoni? Well, she was the only artist to get two slots - one on each day - although admittedly in the smaller Syrcus Tent. The reason I wanted to see her again? Well, previously I’d only caught a couple of tracks whilst passing by, but this time I was determined to send myself back to Brum on a musical high. And how!

Dee Nyoni is like a supercharged Duracell Bunny. She bounded onto stage:

“Where are all the funk lovers!”

So much energy! Jumping up and down on the stage, flash-frying the audience with her screams, hollers and banter, this is one whole lotta woman. A proper soul diva, especially as the set heated up to furnace-like temperatures.

The band was small, but as tight as a gnat’s chuff! It consisted of a keyboard player (called Orris, I think), bass guitarist and kit-drummer (Ross, interestingly just covering for the usual drummer, but sounding like he’d been there for years) and two backing vocalists: Dee’s sister and a male vocalist (who unfortunately was lost in the mix - pity since his voice when you could hear it was quite good indeed). Real professionals, good sound, great vocals, good attitude:

“It’s raining, it’s pissing it down, but we’re alright, aren’t we?”

It might have only been the smaller tent but this girl and her band could have rocked the main one easily - and was considerably better than some of the main stage acts in my opinion (there’s only so much latin percussion ensembles I can take - and by profession I’m a latin percussionist, so read that how you will!).  Very much recommended live (although can’t comment on the CD - because I didn’t get one… ahem!  Dee?)

Dee Nyoni treats funk and soul like it’s a full-on church session. Incredibly uplifting!! Her enthusiasm is infectious. She brings joy by the barrowload. You know what? I’ve got me a new religion and it’s called Funk - and Dee Nyoni is definitely the priestess. I believe!

I left straight after for a four hour drive in relentless rain - a hot bath and a horizontal bed. Bliss!

To summarise Kaya 2012:-

On the plus side: great idea, great setting, ambitious programme, good audience, a few great acts, good staff, good intentions.

On the minus side: Organisation, organisation, organisation. It really matters.

Thanks to Ben Smith and Jo Quinney for organising ticket, photo pass and PR stuff and to those members of the backstage crew and volunteers who put themselves out throughout the weekend to assist me. Props to the Syrcus tent crew for a well-run stage. Gracias to Tato for selflessly lending me his lens at a critical moment and to Kia for an interesting rumination on the state of world music in the UK. Thanks to Katie the flag-twirler for trying to show me how to twirl flags and make huge bubbles! Magic. And to all the many, many people I spoke to throughout the weekend for their friendly disposition (Madchester Nutter excluded!). Apologies to the acts I missed, but it’s impossible to get to see everything - that’s festivals for you!

Glyn Phillips (WorldMusic.co.uk)

To see the photo galleries, click any of the links below (we recommend that you display the photos full-screen for best detail):

Sona Jobarteh: www.worldmusic.co.uk/sona_jobarteh_kaya_festival_2612
Tony Allen / Dele Sosimi: www.worldmusic.co.uk/tony_allen_dele_sosimi_kaya_festival_2612
Kanda Bongo Man: www.worldmusic.co.uk/kanda_bongo_man_kaya_festival_2312
Heritage Survival: www.worldmusic.co.uk/heritage_survival_kaya_festival_2612
Dee Nyoni: www.worldmusic.co.uk/dee_nyoni_kaya_festival_2_3612
Snowboy: www.worldmusic.co.uk/snowboy_kaya_festival_2612
Drymbago: www.worldmusic.co.uk/drymbago
Ysgol Glanaethwy: www.worldmusic.co.uk/ysgol_glanaethwy_kaya_festival_2612
Lions of Zululand: www.worldmusic.co.uk/lions_of_zululand_kaya_festival_2612
Kaya Festival - General Pics: http://worldmusic.co.uk/kaya_festival_north_wales_1st-3rd_june_2012