BaliSpirit Festival: Global Devotion and Fusion
Following the two music performances on the inaugural night of the BaliSpirt Festival 2010, a terrific lineup of six bands delighted audiences again on
Thursday, April 1!
After a traditional Balinese invocation, Daphne Tse took the stage accompanied by four young local instrumentalists.
Her soulful voice had charmed the audience last year as well (especially with the title song from her album Mata), and this year she rendered songs
dedicated to Mother Theresa and to peace.
Daphne grew up in Texas and Los Angeles, and spends a lot of time in Bali. She acknowledged the presence of her parents also in the audience during her
Bali performance. Other compositions were about growing up in a city, and about the joys of backpacking in Europe before the Euro currency made $5-a-night
stays on Greece’s beaches impossible! The audience also joined in for songs like “There is so much magnificence in the ocean” and “You’re gonna make
me lonesome when you leave.”
The tempo picked up with African-inspired tracks by Brian Parks (a.k.a. BKP), who blended crisp acoustic guitar with reggae bass and drums. A delightful
feature of the BaliSpirit Festival is that many bands collaborate with another – and BKP brought onto stage two members of the horn section from Swedish
Two fabulous local bands then enthralled the audience: Sanggar Nata Raja and Tropical Transit. A dozen percussionists on the ornately designed jegog, a
bamboo gamelan instrument, mesmerized the audience with high-energy percussive melodies, while playing on their feet for almost an hour. One track
also featured vocal chants and a performance by four lovely dancers.
Their set was pure adrenaline, and showcased the wide range of sound possible on three sets of jegog for bass, rhythm and melody. It would have been terrific
if the band had described their music to the audience as well; luckily I was standing next to an Indonesian journalist who explained some of the melodies
and rhythms, such as a farmers’ celebration piece. I later on thanked the band, especially percussionist Putu Winata who also delighted the audience
with a full 32-tooth smile throughout his high-energy performance!
A more contemporary and fusion band took the stage next: the highly-popular pan-Indonesian group Tropical Transit, headed by the enigmatic acoustic guitarist
Riwin. Other superb musicians were on flute, and there was even a puppeteer on stage. But what made the set really stand out was the presence of two
theatrical dancers and a yogini, who performed on a stage decorated with petals and burning incense sticks.
Their songs are about peace and devotion to noble uplifting causes. Vocalist extraordinaire Ayu Lakshmi, who also performed on the opening night at the
Festival, electrified the audience again with her songs in the ancient language Kawi.
One of the dancers was from Japan, and the yogini was from Bosnia – a truly international collaboration! Each song was detailed and hypnotic, and really
enthralled the audience – especially with Ayu and the male dancer walking into the audience and passing out lighted incense sticks and lotus flowers.
The fluid close interaction between the dancers, vocalist and yogini were spectacular, and had the audience spellbound. “If I had more time, I would explain
more about our traditions,” Lakshmi told me after the performance in an interview.
Her father is a guitarist and her mother a dentist. “They first wanted me also to be come a doctor,” she joked. She performed recently in India: Delhi,
Rishikesh and Dehradun.
The texture of the evening changed again with superb instrumental solos by Mali’s Mamadou Diabate on the kora. He comes from a family of griots, or Manding
minstrels, who use music and sometimes oratory to preserve and sustain people’s consciousness of the past.
His cousin is the legendary Toumani Diabate, who gave Mamadou the nickname “Djelika Djan” meaning “Tall Griot,” a reference to his impressive physical
stature. Mamadou has collaborated with a range of stars including Donald Byrd, Thomas Mapfumo and Angélique Kidjo.
While some in the audience may have seen kora players perform while standing or dancing, Mamadou was seated during his entire set, which allowed him to
showcase the full range of sound on the magnificent 21-string kora – and also highlight his incredible dexterity and speed of playing.
No one could have believed that such an orchestral range of shimmering sound could emanate from plucking and strumming by just two fingers of each hand:
the thumb and forefinger! Thanks to some superb video work by the roving camera, people at the back could also see the deft stringwork as well as Mamadou
mouthing some of the pieces.
Another terrific collaborative moment was when Mamadou was joined on stage by two vocalists – including Ghana’s Afro Moses, who will play again on the
final day! Unforgettable images from this set include Afro Moses unfurling his turbaned dreadlocks, and casting off his robe and dancing on stage for
The evening ended on an ecstatic note of devotional chanting by Maha Kirtan, a collaboration between Byron Bay-based Sankirtan along with Geoffrey Gordon
and Punnu Singh Wasu.
The dozen musicians filled the entire stage, and the audience joined readily in the devotional Hindu and qawwali chants. Sankirtan musicians Asakti, Kunda
and Sangeeta travel to India frequently. Geoffrey Gordon has contributed to world music and devotional kirtan chanting (his collaborations include
Jai Uttal and Rita Coolidge). Vocalist Punnu Singh Wasu is from India but has spent most of the past decade in Manila and Bali.
The humble harmonium was joined by djembe, darbuka, bass and drums in the instrument lineup, and the multi-ethnic composition of the artistes clearly drove
home the Festival’s message of unity through spirituality.
It was terrific to hear classic bhajans from my childhood days such as Bolo Radhe, Guru Dev Jai Jai Ma, Jai Jagadamba, and Krishna Govinda elevated to
entirely new frontiers by new accents, instruments, and musical styles such as jazz!
We look forward to hearing many of these musicians perform again later in the Festival and conduct some workshops as well. The theme for the music for
the next night, April 2, is “It’s All About The Beats.” Get ready for more energy from another orbit!!
Written by : Madanmohan Rao