Live review: Celtic Connections: Folk Nations with Patsy Reid, Suhail Yusuf Khan, Hannah James, Georgia Ruth Williams, Saurav Moni at Mitchell Library

celtic-connectionsFriday night in the library… ‘mare of students the world o’er.

This isn’t the nightmare realised though, it is a rather splendid evening of talent and song in the theatre space of the Mitchell, so shake off that reminiscent dissertation chill!

The evening is called ‘Folk Nations’ and was one of the facets of a British Council project to encourage collaboration between musicians in the UK and South Asia; it is a long-term project that has involved residencies, recordings and concerts.

The musicians playing tonight include Patsy Reid, Suhail Yusuf Khan, Hannah James, Georgia Ruth Williams and Saurav Moni who met together in Kolkata in February of last year to develop their practice.

Each player on the stage takes a turn to introduce their song, a song on which they’ve taken creative lead on the arrangement and that their identity is tied to.

Not one song falls flat or flags behind the others, every single one feels like a fresh take on a meaningfully selected gem.

The voices on display are the kind that provoke thought beyond the usual good/ great/ garbage; noticing things about the human voice, and how people associate the traditional singing of distant countries to be in some way more difficult, more complicated or even strange, when actually we are just unaccustomed.

The same idea could be applied to the instruments; the ektara on the lap of Moni is no more complex than the fiddle held on Reid’s shoulder.

The wooden Ektara, with its arching handles and bowl-like base only sounds more mysterious because we’re familiar with the fiddle’s four strings and frets.

It’s great to watch Suhail Yusuf Khan and Saurav Moni look as impressed by the silky ebbs and flows of the voices of Welsh Williams and English James, as we are by their smooth undulating chants.

As well as playing the accordion, James is also a clog dancer – sounds like the stuffiest thing ever said on Rave Child but actually, somehow, it is good!

She has an on-stage face-off with the drummer, who thumps and she taps in a strange but fun hands vs. feet beat battle.

Williams sings – and at one point speaks – in Welsh, she reinforces the stereotype that the best voices are from the valleys!

She has a delicate playing style on the harp and her arms look more like they are dancing than plucking the strings.

Moni is enthusiastic and eye-catching in orange and red loose-layered fabrics, he leads a Bengali rowing song that is catchy and gets the reserved wee theatre going.

Sarangi-player Khan sings with such passion the Mitchell theatre is pulled into a hot corner of Delhi.

Khan is very in-demand at the moment and is pioneering India’s scene in terms of electronic and acoustic crossovers.

At the end, the audience are standing and demanding more, the group has to amble on stage and explain modestly that they didn’t have an encore and that they’d played every song in their repertoire.

Someone in the crowd yells for them to “just do the harmonies again!” – they oblige and that sums up the evening.

Words: Leonie Colmar

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