Simon Broughton reports on the excellent artists performing at the first evening of Songlines Encounters Festival
Songlines Encounters Festival kicked off with our favourite Cypriot trio: a turban, a top-knot and a flat cap. These were Antonis, Demetris and Angelos, otherwise known as Monsieur Doumani. Do they perhaps represent the Sufi, the hippie and the labourer? Whatever, they play a wonderful reworking of traditional Cypriot repertoire and numbers of their own.
The common theme last night was Southern European musical cultures with a twist. Monsieur Doumani have a love of the tradition but delivered with a mischievous irreverence. Their song ‘The Bland’ is directed at politicians who don’t do what they preach. But what comes over to us non-Greek speakers is the sense of enjoyment and the striking instrumental arrangements for mini-bouzouki (tzouras), guitar and trombone (occasionally flute). They play with a fire that got the audience animated from the start. Monsieur Doumani are a terrific band with an infectious sense of fun.
Gisela João – pronounced Ju-wow – also delivers fado with a twist. Not for her the traditional black shawl. She’s wearing blue sneakers and a short white dress of her own design, which looks like what an angel might wear while playing tennis. For her fado is life. “We are not always smiling,” she says, “and we are not always sad.” For João, fado reflects all of life, including chance meetings with interstellar aliens in the garden – a highlight of last night’s show. Her band are brilliant musically, with Ricardo Parriera on Portuguese guitar, but they need to look like they’re having fun – like Monsieur Doumani do.
But what is special about João is the way she can send up the genre yet perform some of her emotional numbers, like ‘Madrugada sem Sono’ and ‘Meu Amigo Está Longe’, so they go straight to he heart. Justifiably she got a standing ovation. Gisela is a star. Ju-WOW!