An unarguable highlight of this year‘s ; Mayfest is the appearance of one of the tnost distinguished ambassadors for African tnusic in the West. Salif Keita.
[Distinguished in more ways than one. for Keita can trace his ancestry back to the warrior king Soundjata Keita. who founded the .‘vialian limpirc in 1240. But his inherited nobility is only part of the story. As an albino. taken to be a sign of bad luck. Salif was shunned by his family. His encounters with the griots. the upholders of traditional West African tnusic and storytelling. estranged him from his family still further. When his father discovered that Salif was living on charity by singing in marketplaces. he cut him off for six years. But it was the beginning of a career that took him from the Bamako Hotel Rail Band to the successful group Les Ambassadeurs and then to the melting pot of Paris. where he established himself internationally as one of the greatest exponents of African music.
His album Sum was one of the landmark records that helped bring the sounds of West Africa to the world -— altered by the myriad influences Keita had encountered along the way. but without sacrificing any of its essence. The more recent .‘illlt‘ll was produced by Weather Report's Joe '/.awinul.ta surprising choice. since he had never produced any other music than his own. but picked for his facility with keyboard sounds) and marked a tnove to a more brittle and insistent. uptempo sound.
Amen failed to pick up a Grammy. despite a nomination. but this was more than cotnpensated for by the award of France‘s highest cultural honour. the Chevalier des Aries et l.ettres. last year. (Alastair Mabbottl
SalifKeiIu plays the Pavilion Theatre l on Tue 4. l
18 The List 33 April—(i May WU}
Not purely academic
The Mayfest programme may not give away much of the detail, but scratch the surface of Academy Now! and an Aladdin’s cave of Scottish contemporary music can be found not too far below. As the title suggests, Academy Now! is the initiative of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, although it is billed as being ‘in association with Mayfest’. In a nutshell, it is a two-day celebratory festival of what is happening currently on the Scottish music scene with no less than nine events packed into Thursday 6 and Friday 7.
Performances are alternated with what are rather politely entitled Forums, inviting images of genteel discussion over scones and tea. Admission is free, so forget the tea. But who needs a drink when leading performers such as the SCD’s James Clark and RSND percussionist Pamella Dow are put in the firing line with composers as varied as William Sweeney, Richard Rodney Bennett, John Tavener and Judith Weir to discuss ‘Diversity in British Musical Styles’? The ubiquitous James MacMillan appears on Friday as part of the morning forum on ‘Composers and Education’ and then again in the afternoon to chair a session on ‘Scotland’s Music Now’ when he is joined by William Sweeney and Thomas Wilson.
0n the performance side, the festival launches a new student contemporary
music ensemble called, appropriately enough, Academy Now! Under their director David Davies, they give two of the four concerts and premiere special commissions by Sally Beamish, Peter lnness and Lyell Cresswell. Davies also conducts his own Paragon Ensemble (who, incidentally, present the British premiere of Violeta Dinescu’s score to accompany F. W. Murnau’s film ‘Tabu’ on 19 May) in another premiere, ‘ls It Me, Or The Basilica’ by Cluny Strachan. Music by Maxwell Davies, Sweeney and MacMillan will also be played and the festival finishes up with Richard Rodney Bennett in solo late-night cabaret — ‘Nobody Else But Me’. (Carol Main)
Academy Now! is at the RSAMD on Thursday 6 and Friday 7 May.
1 Five aside
Formed way back in the 1960s, at the height of the singer/songwriter folk guitar boom, Pentangle created a unique sound formed around two of Britain’s greatest acoustic steel- strung players, Bert Jansch and John Renbourne. The transparently pure tones of Jacqui McShee contrasted with the lazy decadence of Jansch’s vocals and the sound was filled out by a loping, jazzy rhythm section of bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox. Their highly original music defined a sort of folk baroque,
sparkling and airy, tightly arranged
but including an improvisational quality and a strong jazz element in the colour of the chordings.
Instant critical acclaim, canny management and Stateside record deals brought the band to international attention (the theme music for a seminal 70s bedsit soap, ‘Take Three Girls’, was hugely successful in Britain). Renbourne dimly remembers playing with The Grateful Dead at The Fillmore, high on acid-spiked Coca Cola. By 1973 they had split up, burned out by success and endless touring.
A new, less stressful musical direction was taken by all the members, and Jansch especially has made many return visits home to Scotland from his London base, in an ever-changing series of musical collaborations over the intervening two decades.
Pentangle reformed with a slightly differing membership for a few tours during the 805 and then drifted apart again. But the quality musicianship of the individual members remains undiminished. Only last month, Renbourne, in a guitar and vocal duo with Isaac Guillory, mesmerised a capacity Edinburgh audience with intuitive timing and the ageless intricacy and beautiful tone of finger- picked strings.
Mayfest can therefore look forward
to a great evening of nostalgia but highly relevant contemporary acoustic virtuosity. (Norman Chalmers)
Pentangle play The Ferry on Sat 1.
l The emergence of a jazz singer of genuine promise is a pretty rare phenomenon in the UK. which makes the 5 appearance of Claire Martin on the scene all the I more exciting a i development. At 35. she has already served enough of an apprenticeship not to be classed as a newcomer. but the UK tour which she is currently on is her first as a leader. She has experience of big stages. however. and none more so than when she 5 opened the bill for Tony T Bennett in front of a 3 capacity (‘oncert Hall audience at last year‘s l (ilasgow Jazz. Festival. i Her performance on that f occasion smacked not only of a distinctly up- front self-confidence and a good stage presence. but also suggested that she has what it takes in the vocal department to master the recondite art of ' genuine jazz singing. That had already been strongly insinuated by her debut album for Linn Records. The ll’uiling (fume ( l‘)‘)2 ). which picked up a lot of enthusiastic reviews. The follow-up to that set. Devil May (2111'. confirms its promise in convincing fashion. with imaginative arrangements from Rick Taylor. and some excellent playing by the likes of Jim Mullen. Iain Ballamy and Nigel Hitchcock to augment her excellent vocals. Although rising to the challenge ofja/z remains her top priority. both records reveal an inevitable awareness of pop and rock styles. and that aspect of her work emerges strongly on a number of tracks on the new recording check out for example. the sophisticated Joni Mitchell-ish treatment of ‘(‘an't (iive linough’. or ‘()n Thin lce’. 'l'ltt' ll'in'. however. did not describe her as ‘the most phenomenal folk talent yet to appear on the British ja/l. scene'. as the May'fest brochure would have its believe (try ‘vocal'. guys). The lady is not that versatile. At least. ldon't think she is. . . (Kenny Mathiesonl ('laire Marlin plays The Rea/row l-k'rry on Thurs (i. .S'm' Jar: listingsfur other (Hurt/(111's.