Wassermusik, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s major summer festival, addressed a range of topics in its first two editions, including surf music, sailors’ songs and the accordion. Last year, the central theme was important waterways.
The three festival weekends in 2010 followed a strict geographical order, and were dedicated to the unique cultural landscapes along the Nile, Danube and Amazon rivers. Now the festival is taking place for the fourth time.
A concert by Omar Souleyman at the end of Wassermusik 2010 that delighted the audience and the media alike provided a promising preview of this year’s festival theme – a theme that may appear paradoxical at first, combining Wassermusik and the desert. Yet it is only natural for a festival series that is dedicated to the vital and threatened resource that is water should also address its absence.
Together, the world’s deserts cover about a fifth of its surface land, about 30 million square kilometers. If we include semi-deserts, the figure rises to about a third, just short of 50 million square kilometers. Altogether, they cover almost 10 % of the world’s total surface area.
Today, some deserts remain almost devoid of human (or other) life, while other deserts have developed into rich cultural landscapes. To us Europeans, they represent hostile hells on earth or mythical wonderlands. Since the days of Herodotus, they have symbolized the strange and the exotic. Humankind is increasingly domesticating and threatening desert lands by exploiting their natural resources, reclaiming the land for livestock or crops or opening them up to tourism. At the same time, the deserts are expanding and reclaiming areas that once covered by well irrigated forests and plains. This effect of global climate change can now be observed worldwide. ‘Desertification’ has become a buzzword of concerned debate.
Mulatu Astatke and The Black Jesus Experience | Yekermo Sew
Wassermusik 2011 features a highly diverse musical program that, on the one hand, showcases artists who address the cultural-historical and natural-historical role of the desert – in other words, whose subject matter is the desert. One the other hand, this year’s festival also features a number of artists from desert cultures. The program dramaturgy is designed to be less strict in its division of regions and topics than the previous edition. This time, it’s about organic tensions and a well-balanced musical program with new discoveries and established stars. Once again, a series of films and texts will address various aspects of the festival theme.
Fri 15 July: Khaled, support: The Black Jesus Experience
Wassermusik 2011 opens with a star guest: KHALED, the King of Raï who turned 50 this year, already had more than a hundred recordings to his name by the time he was 28. A superstar in the Maghreb and in France, Khaled also regularly makes the charts in other Francophone or Arabic-speaking countries. One of his most famous songs is “Aïcha”, from his 1996 album “Sahra”, which was dedicated to the Sahara Desert. He may well perform the entire album again at WASSERMUSIK 2011.
THE BLACK JESUS EXPERIENCE come from Australia but their musical roots are in Ethiopia. This nine-piece Ethiojazz/Hip-Hop ensemble blends traditional Ethiopian song with Jazz, Funk and Hip Hop. It’s a multi-continental Groove experience, currently on tour as a support act to Mulatu Astatke.
Sat 16 July: Group Doueh, support: Hamac Caziim
GROUP DOUEH from the Western Sahara are another fine discovery by the impeccably tasteful Sublime Frequencies Label. Like their fellow Sublime Frequencies star Omar Souleyman, they are much sought-after guests at international festivals, where they enchant their audiences with Desert Trance and Wahwah guitar. Back home, Group Doueh still specializes as a wedding band. Front man Bamaar Salmou AKA Doueh cites Jimi Hendrix and James Brown as his main influences. His energy is counterbalanced by the intense vocal performances of his wife Halima and his cousin Bashiri.
Group Doueh | Sublime Frequencies Tour
The rock band HAMAC CAZIIM comes from the province of Sinaloa in north-western Mexico. The four band members, who belong to the Comca’ac people, shake their hair to a heady mix of punk rock and heavy metal sounds, including double bass drum and everything else that goes with it – a remarkable blend of such music with the language and traditional melodies of the Comca’ac people.
Sun 17 July: Yemen Blues, support: The Ramirez Brothers
The Negev Desert, also called Negeb, covers some 12,000 km² and about 60 percent of the state of Israel. However, only about ten percent of the population live in the region. The Negev reaches to the Egyptian-Israeli border and the Gaza strip in the west, to the Arava valley in the East and to the line between Gaza and En Gedi by the Dead Sea in the north. The ensemble YEMEN BLUES, with its sparing, groove-oriented sound, combines traditional melodies and instruments with the worlds of Blues, Jazz and Funk. Yemen Blues stand for modernist compositions and arrangements with West African roots. Their hectic tour schedule has made them cultural ambassadors of a homeland in which dissidents and regime critics are brutally oppressed.
Fri 22 July: Mundovivo, support: Elemotho
The Namibian musician ELEMOTHO grew up on a farm in the Kalahari desert. He began writing his own songs at the age of 17. His studies abroad took him to Norway, where he joined a theater group for which he wrote music. In 2003, after his return to Namibia, he released his first album, “The System Is A Joke”. He has since established himself among the leading new voices of southern Africa.
Sat 23 July: Desert Slide, support: The Dhoad Gypsies From Rajasthan
DESERT SLIDE is the current line-up led by the Indian slide guitar virtuoso Vishwa MohanBhatt. A student of Ravi Shankar, he attracted global attention for the first time in 1994, with his Grammy-winning album with Ry Cooder, “A Meeting By The River”. His interest in the slide guitar techniques of the Blues prompted him to develop his own instrument, the Mohan Veena, a 19-string guitar that has since become widely used in the Indian music scene. Desert Slide is the project name for his collaboration with the Gypsy group Divana from Rajasthan. “A meeting of masters inspired by the vast expanses of the Thar desert. Not to be missed”, wrote the British magazine Mojo.
THE DHOAD GYPSIES FROM RAJASTHAN have been relentlessly touring for more than six years now, playing more than 600 concerts in forty countries, and acting, in a sense, as cultural ambassadors of Rajasthan. The core of the band is formed by four brothers whose family has played a leading role in Rajasthani music for seven generations. Led by front man Rahis Bharti and the tabla virtuoso Amrat Hussain, they play a diverse repertoire of old songs and their own new compositions, in an “emotive and rousing style with unparalleled rhythmic complexity and speed”, as Folk Roots put it. The live show is rendered all the more spectacular by the addition of a dancer and a fakir.
Fri 29 July: Tinariwen, support: Les Boukakes In Tamasheq, the language of the Tuareg, “TINARIWEN” means “deserts”.
The Tuareg band was formed in 1982 in a Libyan military camp at which Tuaregs whose livelihoods had been destroyed by prolonged droughts were trained as soldiers. Some of the band members were actively involved in fighting against the oppression of their nomad people and did not devote their attentions entirely to music until after the rebellion in Mali in 1996. Tinariwen are regarded as the first Tuareg band to use electric guitars. Their music, with its hypnotic rhythms, restless Hendrix-style guitar and rambling pieces sounds like a blueprint for psychedelic Desert Blues Rock.
The music of LES BOUKAKES -a neologism made up of abusive terms Bougnoul (derogatory term for Arabs) and Macaque (ugly monkey) – comes from both their Arab roots and their French homeland. While the integration of north African immigrants in French society remains a divisive issue, these 7 musicians from 5 different countries easily transcend cultural boundaries.
Sat 30 July: OMFO-Chaikhana
The Taklamakan Desert covers about two thirds of the Uighur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang in northwestern China. The Gobi is a Steppe desert region in Central Asia and the world’s fifth largest desert. The details of the Taklamakan and Gobi program are being developed by the musician OMFO, acting as an external curator.
OMFO | Trans Balkan Express
OMFO (= Our Man from Odessa) is the pseudonym of German Popov, who was born in 1966 in the port city of Odessa in the USSR. In the 1990s, he emigrated to Amsterdam, where he launched his musical career through a number of bands, mostly made up of other exiles from the former USSR. After a series of changes in direction, taking in Soviet Nostalgia and New Age, he launched his first solo album as OMFO at the beginning of the new millenium: “Trans Balkan Express”, released by the Frankfurt label Essay Recordings, caught the attention of the British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, who used two of his songs for the soundtrack to his legendary film “Borat”.
Fri 5 August: Howe Gelb & Giant Sand + guests
The singer, guitarist and song-writer HOWE GELB from Tucson, Arizona, and his GIANT SAND are considered the founding fathers of Desert Rock, a downtempo, rather dark and melancholy mixture of Alternative Rock, Folk and Country. Over the years the line-up of the band, which was funded in the early 1980s, gradually changed as members came and went: for example, John Convertino (drums) and Joey Burns (bass), who would later found the group Calexico, were longtime members.
Sat 6 August: Amadou & Mariam
Celebrated in France as a “discovery from Mali”, they were awarded the “Victoire de là Musique”, Manu Chao counts among their admirers and produced her award-winning album “Dimanche à Bamako”, and Herbert Grönemeyer also invited them as guests on his soccer song, “Zeit, dass sich was dreht”. AMADOU & MARIAM are global stars, the figurehead of West
African pop music. They worked with Damon Albarn and Keziah Jones on their 2008 album “Welcome To Mali”.
WASSEERMUSIK Festival 2011
HKW Royal | Haus der Kulturen der Welt | John-Foster-Dulles-Allee 10 | 10557 Berlin/Mitte
Enrty: 25 € / 30 € / 35 €
Das Haus der Kulturen der Welt | Foto: Sabine Wenzel