Reflections on the 2006 Tanz&FolkFest Rudolstadt

1. 8. 2006 | Rubriky: Články,Interviews, reviews,Multilingual

My long-time friend and much respected colleague Ken Hunt kindly volunteered this report from one of the biggest European world music festivals.

Rudolstadt, Germany, 7-9 July 2006

Much has changed. Much remains the same since 1991, the year of the Rudolstadt’s first capitalist-swine-era folk festival. Post-reunification investment, the festival’s monetary and publicity injections and the media coverage generated by the festival have contributed to the town’s tell-tale affluence, so evident when comparing photographs of then with now. What looked shabby, potholed or ramshackle in 1991 has largely vanished. Shops now merely nod to yesteryear with displays of the odd Ostalgie board game, GDR-era children’s storybook favourites or accounts of ‘wie wir waren’ (the way we were) as Barbra von Streisand sang in the old film hit.

The 2006 TFF RU had France as its country or national theme with the likes of Les Primatifs du Futur, Françoiz Breant and umpteen others flying the tricolour in the hours before Zidane’s petit contretemps in the world cup final. Festival art and graphics director Jürgen Wolff’s essay in the weighty festival paperback cum programme dealt with the nearby Battle of Saalefeld during the Napoleonic wars. Alas for Prinz Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, he got more than a head butt and no Blücher arrived to tip the balance and inspire a song of the toe-tapping quality of Abba’s “Waterloo”. Tango was the dance of choice for those who do more than tap their feet at the dance (Tanz) part of the festival and, I seriously hope, get to exert themselves in even more tangoistically contorted fashion afterwards. The instrument of 2006 for those who got past its caterwauling clichés was the bagpipes.

The film critic Duane Byrge once remarked along the lines of the only problem with film festivals was the films. TFF RU is enough to make the cynic-critic re-yoke that beastly remark with a new harness. With 16 stages listed in the 2006 programme, the problem with TFF RU is the sheer scale of what is on offer. Clashes were inevitable, as happened on the midnight shift on Saturday night with Suzanne Vega atop the Heidecksburg, Rudolstadt’s castle on the hill, and Jimmy Cliff in the park named after Heinrich Heine. (Both acts were both excellent and crowd-pleasing, but to see Cliff meant leaving Vega.) To wax impressionistic therefore, amid interviewing and being interviewed, hanging out and hanging clothes out to dry, and leaving out performances that triggered only mild applause in my mind or ones that were mere pauses whilst walking somewhere else, here are my personal highlights.

The special concert (charged on top of the festival proper tickets) on Thursday, 6 July, was an Italian spectacular, “La Notte della Taranta” fronted by Stewart Copeland. To give a flavour of the festival’s vibe, before the evening’s performance the former Police drummer and film composer sat alfresco (merited on this occasion, I feel), often animatedly, at a table on the market square, untroubled by the public. “La Notte della Taranta” lived up to its tag of spectacular on the big stage at the Heidecksburg. The blend of voices and stringed, wind, keyboard and percussion instruments transplanted well, if temporarily, on German soil and the overall performance, albeit slightly overlong or unfocussed to my mind at times, was seductive. Traditional and modernistic elements were woven together exceptionally well. One highlight was the call and response between frame-drum and kit drums. It was the voices that carried the day for me. Magic.

On the Friday afternoon the festival proper kicked off. The day’s highlight, without a shadow of jingoism creeping in, was Britain’s Bellowhead. Another big band, ten strong, though mini on the scale of the very big band that delivered “La Notte della Taranta”, they were raucous and refined, disciplined and loose. A band of their size mixing brass, woodwinds, bagpipes, strings, free-reed, percussion and vocals is primarily destined for festivals and million-rupee big bashes. Therefore the opportunity to see them live was not to be missed. Their “Rigs Of The Time”, a trad. arr. exposition of corruption and scam worthy of Gay and Brecht’s poison pens, bottled the genie beautifully. Their forceful set also managed to gobsmack the local branch of junior festival-goers who were transfixed by where what sound was coming from. Strange percussion gestures and rude noises coming from the brass section hath strange powers. (Any gratuitous Shakespeare quotation from The Tempest has been omitted because this is another age’s popular culture.) Afterwards, Jürgen Wolff, in music as satirical and trenchant as his festival-related artwork, applauded Bellowhead’s “folk comedy” in such material as “Flash Company”. He never said it but it is nothing less than some sort of Hogarthian “Rake’s Progress” illustration given a lyric and musical accompaniment from East Anglia, England’s sticky-out arse into the sea.

An event in Konstantin Wecker’s off-stage life overshadows his music in the popular imagination, leastways as far as the general public in Germany is concerned, it would appear. The Konstantin Wecker: Bagdad-Kabul-Projekt warrants the public revising their attitude because of the power of the project. It consisted of a band of brothers from Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey and Germany and, on the strength of their Saturday evening performance at the castle, it ranks as the greatest East-West divan bands, to corrupt Goethe’s line for modern purposes, arguably to come out of Germany in 50 years and certainly this century.

The Mexican Indian (Mixtec)-American singer Lila Downs bestrode the Heidecksburg big stage in bright sunshine on the Sunday afternoon like a cougar. The temperatures were in the 30s and she and her band responded accordingly, putting on a truly eye- and ear-catching show that revealed many layers of her performance artistry denied the audio – and probably the DVD – medium. Not least of these were the sheer physicality of her performance and the degree of the eye contact between the musicians. She coiled and uncoiled on stage, responded wide-eyed to an unexpected flurry of bass notes or an impromptu variation on a harp run (I love Mexican harp but lack the vocabulary to discuss it with authority), albeit on a melodic theme that she knew inside-out (therein lies the real deal). She hugged and tugged at the microphone. Above all, she sang as if this could be the last performance of her life. And afterwards, drained yet high from her high-energy exertions she took time to sign posters and CDs, talk to and have photos taken with beaming members of her audience, in the full knowledge that she was going straight into a television interview backstage. A super-trouper of the highest order.

Coming down from Lila Downs’ concert, only Geneva’s deadpan best would do. And not simply because the terrace stage is a slacker’s short stagger across the cobbles from the Heidecksburg main stage. A downpour had prevented hearing the Dead Brothers on the Neumarkt stage on Saturday. (Rain stopped audience participation rather than play on this occasion, another tokenist sports reference.) The Dead Brothers’ droll songs sung in American English, with Swiss German intros and a bit of High German to placate the locals, with images of crows, folk and country were just the thing to follow up afterwards. Much like every festival should do. Festivals are what you take away.

– Ken Hunt

Ken Hunt is a full-time freelance writer, broadcaster, translator and lyricist. He is also the editor-writer of the English-language programme notes for TFF RU.


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