Birdsongs in Marsden Jazz Festival

I am driving to Marsden in 9 seater minibus full with musician and instruments, 7 km west of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, and the view is divine. Marsden looks majestic between the curtains of drizzling rain in the valley where it spreads its eagle wings among.

Tony gives me quick background info about the large village. The woollen cloth was the source of their wealth back then, now is the culture they attract.

Toni Koni on the Bass

Pretty houses cover the valley slopes. The impression of a cute Italian village without the vineyards.

The festival proves the impression of a warm village. The festival is practically run by the village itself. Not the council, but the people who live, work and create many more likewise events here.

Every volunteer I spoke with lives in the village. They love their festival and we loved them all.

We are in a church for this event. My first duty was to find where the food and beverages are. 11 of us, when the time comes, we need to be fed. Not all of us like to eat at the same time. Some of us don’t eat anything until the gig finishes, some of us have to have the food to feel relax. Some like a little nibble of a certain type and some must eat now and then.

Marsden Jazz Festival went the extra mile with food, hot pot curries, freshly made hummus with the right amount of lemon zing and the homemade chocolate fudge. Yummm

Front Line Rafiki Jazz

Yes, I agree, this is not a travel or a food blog, let’s talk about the music! In this blog post, I decided to introduce you to the background of the band members. A very brief look of 40 years of the music career of individual masters of music of their traditions.

Here we go, with a count of three!

Vijay plays the violin and bansuri; trained in Carnatic South Indian classical and folklore music with Indian roots

Johnny plays the tabla, trained in North Indian Music with British roots

Tony plays the bass; trained in free Jazz with British roots

Mina plays the oud, kawala, ney and lots of other instruments, trained in classical Arabic and European music and Coptic liturgy and sings with Egyptian roots

Sarah is one of the few Nasheed artist, Qawaali and Naath Sufi Singer with Kashmiri roots

Guery plays the Berimbau and percussions also Brazilian Capoeira teacher with Brazilian roots

Avital is classically (opera) trained, psych-folk composer-singer, trained in dhrupad (ancient meditative songs, 6 years residency in India) with Jerusalem roots

Cath classically trained guitarist and violinist. She plays the steel pans and the guitar in the band also a musicologist with doctorate with Nigerian and British roots

Kadialy plays the Kora and sings; a young descendant of Balla Fasseke Kouyate, the first Mandinka djali & official griot of Manding emperor Sundjata Keita with Casamance Senegal roots.

Video: Marsden Jazz Festival, Rafiki Jazz playing Chad Gadya: Aramaic-Hebrew passover song; Avital Raz singing; song by Chava Alberstein.

That’s just the start of who they are and what they have been doing.

The band is touched with deep devotional sounds. I see this devotion from the lens of an artist, a self-belief in divine beauty, a critically important way of encompassing unspoken emotional and historical truths. Passing on experiences that we still smell the scent of the conversations. It is a devotion to love, freedom of self-expression, the beauty of interacting with each other’s differences. This is a responsibility of our time, to protect our differences by combining them freely to create beauty for the appreciation of the masses.

I know, my fire got going again! Let’s go back to the gig…

The gig was held at the St Bartholomew’s church. When you walk through the nave towards the midsection, there were wooden carved windows with no glass in the middle which acts as a panel screen which separated the area that hides the stained glass windows, created over a period of 50 years by various artists. Just opposite that was the 3 manual Binns church organ (behind-the-scenes talk)

Guery on the Berumbau, Liz Baker Photos

The band settled just in front of this wooden window panel screen, and our projection was set to create an overlapping effect between the window frames and the looped animation.

The acoustic in the church was the greatest of the sounds I have heard so far. It felt like there was a dome of the sound nest above the band. The sound propagated directionally from that invisible dome. 

The churches are great for acoustics but not every church. The stones of the walls and the shapes of the objects are of great importance when it comes to the reverberation as not all reverberation is desired. Hats up to our sound engineer Robin and the stage and sound team Marsden Jazz festival provided.

Rafiki Jazz Marsden Jazz Festival

The gig reminded me of bird songs, like skylarks flying above the meadows were chattering in a soft line.

So I remembered Rumi..

“Drum sound rises on the air

Its throb, my heart

A voice inside the beat

says, ‘I know you’re tired

but come. This is the way.’’

This birdsong feeling is the haunting ingredient, and echoes of personalities in the songs were inviting the audience to “Do Brave It All”…

“Birdsong brings relief

to my longing.

I am just as ecstatic as they are,

but with nothing to say!

Please, universal soul, practice

Some song, or something, through me!”

With the last song, the 360 of the 460 stained pitch pine pews occupied by the most amazing audience were clapping endlessly. We rocked it up; you rocked it up. Marsden Jazz Festival rocked it up!

We all need an action when things calm down, calming force. The 200kg gothic revival brass eagle lectern needed to be shifted back to its place. 2 volunteers over 60, Sarah Yaseen, Toni Koni and I got into the business of shifting the holy beast. Twist, move, steady….

The sounds-cape for Rafiki Jazz now is different. I invite you all to be part of this journey, the journey of birdsongs at the speed of soundless…

We would like to thank to Alistair McDonald for his visual technical solutions and Liz Baker Photography for the photos from the gig.