Having been a resident of Whitby not so long back I can safely say that its cultural highlight of the year is the Musicport festival. The organisation, now in its 15th year, currently hosts this event in the Whitby Pavilion. Not only do many locals mark this weekend down as their most important event on their calendars, but many music lovers from far and wide make an annual pilgrimage to this picturesque North Yorkshire town where aside from a Goth weekend twice a year, nothing else much happens. This festival is labelled as a ‘world music’ event – by that I think it is meant that the artists come from different parts of the world and play non mainstream music.
This year’s festival sees a remarkable number of crossover projects: on the Friday we have the Varldens Band whose members hail from India, Zimbabwe, Sweden, Scotland, France & England and their music certainly reflects all these nationalities and more. Also on Friday, Project Jam Sandwich is a fusion of Scottish, South African and Bulgarian folk. This theme continues throughout the weekend for example Saturday’s headline act is Fanfara Tirana meets Trans-Global Underground an Albanian brass band joins with the already multi faceted London based fusion outfit. On Saturday there are sets from Dub Colossus, an Ethiopian, and dub reggae combo and the fascinating Kora Band from the US/UK who fuse the Kora with contemporary Jazz. On Sunday, The African Roots Fusion Band from Birmingham perform a mixture of African, Caribbean and Irish compositions. Popular folk singer songwriter Jess Morgan teams up with the quirky instrumental duo The Hut People.
If Celtic style music is your thing, there is again plenty on offer at this year’s festival although interestingly enough a lot of these bands hail from Northern Europe so on the Saturday there is an amazing fiddle band from Finland Frigg and a Celtic band from the Netherlands Maalstroom. There is also a Cajun/Zydeco band The Cajun Roosters whose members hail not from the deep south of Louisiana but from Germany, The UK, Belgium and France! Sunday also sees a salsa orchestra Tromboranga who hail from Barcelona. Good time Americana is represented by The Whiskey Dogs and Rock ’n’ Roll by Lula and the Bebops.
As with most festivals, singer songwriters abound and this festival sports a very eclectic bunch. From Belfast we have Duke Special and from Edinburgh (via London), Ross Wilson’s Blue Rose Code. Canada is represented by old fashioned folk story teller Ben Rogers. Jerusalem born artist Avital Razal brings a very deep and political offering to the Sunday afternoon slot. Brazilian born now UK resident Richard De Soussa blends latin rhythms with pop melodies. Paul Armfield and The Gentle Good from Wales are both classic tale telling folk artists.
The festival brings together lots of interesting pairings – representing the folk duo local Whitby-ite George Husband and Londoner Miles Pascall produce a moving acoustic groove set, whilst Naomi Bedford partners Paul Simmonds, of The Men They Couldn’t Hang fame, for a lively country folk duet. The Oxley-Meier Guitar Project hailing from Britain and Switzerland respectively present a fabulously textured jazz orientated performance. TwoManTing featuring Jon Lewis on guitar and Jah-Man Aggrey on percussion perform witty songs with an afro beat. Will McMicol (guitar) and Luke Selby (drums) combine to provide a gorgeous Brazilian inspired set.
For me one of the joys of Musicport is hearing artists who present styles of music which I have never experienced before: – Najma Aktar fuses traditional Ghazal with modern jazz influences, former Tibetan monk Ngawang Lodup accompanies himself on the electric mandolin and dramnyen lute as he performs traditional and contemporary folk songs from his homeland. One of the most interesting acts of the entire festival is Jon Sterckx Drumscapes a one man virtuoso percussion extravaganza featuring rhythms and instruments from around the world combined with sampled electronics.
Various other genres of music and performance arts are also on offer over the course of the weekend. On Friday night there is a DJ set from former Special Terry Hall. There is also performance poetry from Yussef Ahmed on Saturday and a poetry collective on Sunday called ‘A Firm of Poets’. Another interesting act is Keith James who performs a set entitled ‘The Songs of Nick Drake’. Given that there is a branch of that well known German supermarket chain a stone’s throw away from the Pavilion one only hopes Grime MC African Boy performs his fabulously titled ‘One day I went to Lidl’
The final day of the festival prominently features top leading British folk artists: Demon Barbers Xl who blend traditional folk with electronic instrumentation and seem a blast, the charming Emily Portman trio also seems like a real treat and Emily’s work seems to be contemporary, haunting and beguiling.
The probable highlight is saved for last. The festival headline act for the final set on Sunday is the magnificent local folk superstar Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band who no doubt will bring the festival to a rousing and triumphant finale.