Sunday, 16 June 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: The International Roots Orchestra and Amani Creatives' Choir Concert - HOME, Manchester.


As part of the Horizons Festival at Home, Manchester, which aims to celebrate the contributions that refugees make to the cultural, political, social and economic life of the UK, there was a double bill music event featuring the Amani Creatives' Choir, based in Moston, and the Manchester International Roots Orchestra.

The Amani Creatives started off the evening with a collection of songs from different parts of the world and sung in different languages, representing the members of the choir. These were really engaging arrangements of folk songs with some echoes of the lyrics in English, which helped the audience to connect with the music but really you could have listened to them sing in any language and understood the beauty of the emotion. There were a few soloists who stood out, and the second song in particular had a fantastic unison trio with voices that blended really nicely. Although Amani Creatives focus on celebrating the music traditions of Africa, this particular song included a section in Syrian sung by a Syrian refugee who was simply superb.

There were no programme notes for this so unfortunately I cannot give the soloists the credit they were due – but each soloist had something different to contribute to the songs not only in the unique quality of their voice, but also the connection to the songs they were singing. The choir sang around six songs and while some of the songs were fun and uplifting, the slower songs had warmth but still had a lift to them.

The choir leader and creative producer for the ensemble, Emmanuela Yogolelo, was firmly in control – it all sounded so natural and effortless, but really there was a complexity that wasn’t immediately obvious, particularly in structuring these songs. While it was obvious to the eye that Yogolelo is a natural musical director, it was clear also that she is a skilled arranger and crafter of songs in African traditional styles.

The choir was accompanied by a three piece band – keyboard, bass guitar and drums. These musicians were fantastically talented and played quite complex rhythmic and harmonic elements in great support of the choir. Their moments of instrumental improvisations were well thought out and crafted.

This choir is a community choir that serves to display the fantastic energy and richness of African traditional singing, it clearly is something very important to all of the members of the choir who seemed really proud to be sharing their art with the public and with each other and the audience loved it.

The second half of the concert saw the Manchester International Roots Orchestra perform a rich programme of music – again from different parts of the world reflecting the performers' background. Here we had some fusion of styles and some outright authentic folk songs. There were a few really beautiful songs from the Kurdish tradition with the full band or as a duo with vocals/percussion. These were romantic songs, some with longing and some with humour and the singing style was very impressive covering a wide dynamic range and several vocal techniques. There were also some Roma style songs that were fun and had the audience dancing and taking part. The band itself was a seemingly odd mix of instruments – keyboard, double bass, bassoon, hand drums from different parts of the world, a drum kit and a large lute-like instrument that sounded like an energetic harp – but these contributed to fantastic arrangements of the songs. Many in the audience were familiar with some of these songs and were clearly pleased when this or that one was announced. It must be said that quite a number of people had to be turned away at the door as they hadn’t got a ticket in time and it was sold out. This was no surprise as this is a thoroughly professional band that took us all on a deeply warming journey around the world. Some of the songs were declaimed as poetry in English before being sung. Typical themes were homeland, lost love, fleeing war and hope. In the middle of the performance a slightly nervous guest performer told us about how she had to leave her home and she took with her the lyrics to a song that she really liked. She sang it all the time on her journey and she sang it to us. She wasn’t, she informed us, a singer – it was a beautifully astounding performance. This was not an easy song to sing, but a complex ballad which had a lot of variation and change as it went on and the performer sang this unaccompanied, maintaining her pitch perfectly throughout. It was one of the highlights of the night.

This concert highlighted the humanity of people who have had to leave their homes for a variety of reasons. They shared their sorrow through music, but also their joy, their love and their fun. It also highlighted the sheer wealth and depth of music from many world traditions and brought home how lucky we are as a society to have this richness of culture around us, simply through opening a door to those that need it.

This evening was a celebration and certainly something that each performer should be intensely proud of.

Horizons Festival continues over this week at Home, Manchester and has a variety of talks, cinema, theatre and music events.

Reviewer - Aaron Loughrey
on - 15/6/19

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