London International Arts Festival 2014 Opening Day – Report

The third edition of London International Arts Festival kicked off at Rich Mix London on Sunday the 26th of October. It was my first experience of the show, and I was quite looking forward to it given the seemingly eclectic mix of musicians and genres that show has featured in the past, and looked to feature in 2014 as well. And the line-up on day 1 was an accurate representation of that diversity. I had to miss out on the workshops earlier in the day but managed to make it to the venue for the gigs (albeit a little late). Opening the festival was the Latin Afrobeat band from Edinburgh called Poción de Fe. Festival artistic director Jyotsna Srikanth apparently discovered them at Edinburgh Fringe Festival and decided to invite them to LIAF. Two songs in, it was easy to see why she got impressed; this band is a live wire on stage! A seven member band that features a saxophonist and a trombonist, Poción de Fe (whose name translates to Potion of Faith as per google) featured a lot of fun originals and also a few well-chosen covers that included Fela Kuti and Buena Vista Social Club.

After that high energy start, the baton was passed on to the Bangalore-based fusion band led by Kannada composer Praveen D Rao, Chakrafonics. The group I was most excited about from the day’s lineup, mainly for their female vocalist+flautist, Varijashree Venugopal. A child prodigy of whom I was largely unaware till earlier this year when she came on a music show on a South Indian channel with Stephen Devassy and did a mindblowing rendition of the kiranavali raga based Carnatic piece Etiyochanalu. And I have been a fan since then. I was not to be disappointed on Sunday either, while the one hour (which was my only grouse about the gig, it should have been longer!) featured a lot of Varijasree’s singing and flute-play, the other singer Ajay Warrier (who is quite active on the Indian playback scene too, having recorded songs in about 15 languages as per Praveen) was equally fabulous on his part, with fab support from Praveen on keyboard (and a very hipster-looking melodica) and Pramath Kiran on the drums. The songs fused Carnatic and Hindustani and folk and electronica with occasional movie song bits thrown in for good measure. The band missed playing the songs that are featured on Praveen’s youtube channel, but the audience did request Varijashree to sing Gananaayakam, and she pulled off an amazing job of the off-the-cuff performance (video at the end).

Austrian violinist Matthias Jakisic was up next, a man who is the equivalent of an entire band courtesy his live looping skills. For forty five minutes the crowd sat enthralled by his marathon performance where he continuously flitted from one abstruse sound to another, incorporating some lovely melodies at times. It was my first time watching a live looping-based show, and I must say it is quite a fascinating art form! After that solo performance, Matthias invited Jyotsna over to join him for “a jam, like in the good old days” to use the man’s own words. And they did their jamming in style, Matthias’ abstract style now coloured with Jyotsna’s Carnatic sensibilities. Just two pieces unfortunately, one in shuddha dhanyaasi raga and the other in punnaagavaraali raga, but both incredible performances that earned the duo a standing ovation at the end.

Portuguese-Indian born world electronic musician Dilen closed the night with his techno-led groovy sounds, assisted by London-based mridangam-kanjira player Thayalan Raveendran. In the latter half of his gig he was also joined by festival Director Srikanth Sharma who strutted some of his Carnatic skills on stage.

So a wonderful start to the fest, and with the more promising names in the list yet to perform (Kadri Gopalnath!) I can’t wait to watch the rest of LIAF!

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