Kenny Mathieson celebrates diversity with two of the Mela’s big names

he Edinburgh Mela has a pleasingly varied musical programme on offer. and two of the biggest names in world

music will provide a perfect illustration of just what a rich diversity lurks behind that all-

encompassing marketing banner. The Mela. of course. also provides an authentic cultural context for the music. although both Papa Wemba and Nusrat liateh Ali Khan have established major reputations as concert attractions and even pop stars on a global basis.

()f the two. Pakistan's Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party have maintained the most direct connection with the religious and cultural roots of their music. They may have recorded for Peter Gabriel‘s Real World label and had the re- mix treatment from Massive Attack. but their own concerts concentrate very much on the traditional art of i/an-wa/i (the devotional music of the Islam‘s mystical Sufi sect). with its hypnotic repetitions and inspirational improvisations.

An imposing physical as well as vocal presence. he is the most famous qan-wal (or devotional singer) of his time. and inherited that mantle with some initial parental reluctance from his father. llis all-male party (women are not permitted to perform devotional music) provide an instrumental and vocal accompaniment to his swooping. soaring. highly decorated melodies. The expressive qualities inherent in the music overcome any language and cultural barriers.

liven so, the uncommitted may prefer to opt for the contemporary Afro-pop sound of the great Zairean singer. Papa Wemba. He is based in Paris. where the synthesis between western grooves and traditional African music has been

bubbling furiously over the last decade. The singer still maintains his roots in authentic Zairean music. but his assault on the world

market has been stepped up with the release of

his third album. Emotion, produced by Stephen Hague. whose credits include New Order and the Pet Shop Boys.

‘I still have my original group for my fans in Zaire who want to hear typical African sounds. but when I decided that I wanted to try to make an international name. 1 formed another group to appeal to a different public. and the music I play with them is not aimed at an African audience. it


is for everyone in the world you can find every tempo there. African. Latin. Anglo-Saxon. I call it universal tempo. l have never mixed the two, because both are different aspects of my musical personality. and I believe that I can follow more than one path with success.‘

While Wemba‘s high. sweet. aching tenor is unmistakably Zairean. his non-African music introduces a whole cornucopia of western dancefloor influences. and he has become almost as well known for his designer stage

clothes as for his music. This is a rare opportunity to catch both of these great

performers live on a Scottish stage.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party (Fringe), Meadow/Mink Stadium (Venue I51) 529 3153, Sat 2 Sept, 7pm. £l()—£2() ([7); Papa Wemba (Fringe), Meadowbank Stadium (Venue I51) 529 3 I53, Sun 3 Sept, 7pm, £8.50 (£5).

Nusrat Fateh All Khan: qawwall megastar


Fiona Shepherd hits the silk trail and unveils the mysteries of the Peking Opera.

ost promoters would be glad to sell their events on the basis of their exclusive nature. Gregor Robertson. who founded The China Connection with his wife Dr Ming Chen to promote the Chinese arts in Scotland. would rather you could witness the likes of Peking Opera every month btit feels increasingly that events like the Chinese concert he has organised for this year's Mela are token one-offs.

He senses a reluctance on the part of Scottish funding bodies to get behind Chinese musicians and performers such that many of these artists make their living in other areas. His wife. for example. is trained in Chinese dance and music but pays her way by practising traditional Chinese medicine.

Robertson himself first cultivated an interest in Oriental art forms as producer of Radio Scotland‘s Chinese Times, not just a programme for the Chinese community in Scotland but a chance to introduce new forms of music to the West.

He is a knowledgeable ambassador and over the years has established links with the enclave of Chinese performers in this country. most of whom live in London.

‘I came across them busking in Covent Garden.’ he says. ‘making this fantastic music which is so accessible to us because it’s pentatonic music just like Celtic folk music. Some of the tunes are note-for-note identical to Scottish and Irish folk melodies.

‘In China. the arts are being marginalised except in the major cities. There's a lot of

boring. derivative pop music there now. The best music is what comes out of the ethnic minorities where there’s this vigorous folk tradition. Chinese orchestras are more like folk groups of session musicians.’

The UK Chinese Orchestra will be demonstrating this at the concert. Also participating is the precocious Tina Chen who has studied dance all over the world and is expert in a range ofstyles from classical court to Tibetan to Mongolian. Li Ruru. who trained the performers for the film Farewell My C ()ncubine. will offer a taste of Peking Opera. a spectacular genre Robertson is particularly enthusiastic about

‘lt’s a very addictive sound involving vocal acrobatics which are way beyond anything that our professional singers can do. It leaves Pavarotti miles behind. It’s not only singing —— it’s a display of costume. acrobatics. trapeze work. face masks. make-up and ritualised stories. Every flicker of the pinkie to every movement of the leg and the foot actually means something in the story-telling.‘

Chinese Peking ()pera (Fringe) UK Peking

()pera, Meadow/Mink Stadium ( Venue I51) 529 3/53, 3 Sept, 1pm, £7.50 (£5).

The List 25 Aug-7 Sept 19951