Friday, May 19, 2017

Barbaric Violins ~ Review

I love beautiful landscapes: sometimes they have the same effect on my soul as a well-handled bow has on a resounding violin. They create crazy feelings ~ Stendhal, Memories of a Tourist
I coincidentally shared a petit taxi with the manager of Violons Barbares, Jean-Hervé Vidal, the other night. He told me the group, based around the French city of Strasbourg, was "energetic and strong" on stage, and quite "rock and roll." He wasn't wrong. Not only were they a quite rock and roll, but also a bit punk, pretty folky, even a little bit techno. And a whole load of fun.

The Barbaric Violins, as they are known in English, are a three-piece band now two albums in to a successful international and inter-genre collaboration. And it's easy to see why: they clearly love what they do and have great fun doing it. First on stage was percussionist Fabien Guyot from France, who jammed a range of instruments from Asian-style cymbals and a singing bowl to a bunch of drums from various musical traditions. He built up the rhythm to a trancey techno beat and announced the arrival of Enkhjargal Dandarvaanchig, aka Epi, a morin khuur (horse head) violinist and throat singer from Mongolia, He was followed by Dimitar Gougov, the Bulgarian initiator of the project who plays the gadulka, a violin from the Balkans that has three finger chords and 11 resonating strings.

Enkhjargal Dandaryaanchig, aka Epi, the Mongolian and his morin khoor

As the trio galloped across the Mongolian Steppes, raced around the Balkans, hopped around Central Asia and played love songs from around the world, all contributed on vocals (regardless of the language), but it was Epi's that really stood out. From a deep bass tone to Mongolian throat singing to beautiful harmonies with his colleagues, his incredible voice was as important a contribution to the collective whole as his fiddle. As well as being umbilically connected as a group, each communicated specifically with the audience. Songs were introduced with jokes in French, Arabic and English, and spectators were strongly encouraged (with specific instructions) to get up and dance. For a couple of numbers, Gougov even jumped off the stage and wandered among the public, like a roving minstrel, to enable us to better appreciate his instrument and his skill.

Fabien Guyot, a French percussionist and expert in improvisation 

By the end, most of the audience were on their feet and the request for an encore was inevitable. We were offered "Saturday Yurt Fever," one of Epi's compositions. While the title owed a lot to the Bee Gees, the opening drum beat was equally in debt to Earl Palmer (rock and roll drummer for Eddie Cochrane and Little Richard) before it becoming a punk violin track reminiscent of The Clash (if only they'd played violins). With a scat rap by Guyot thrown into the mix. If Epi hadn't had to sit to play his fiddle, he would surely have pogoed across the stage!

Bulgarian Dimitar Gougov with his gadulka

This is the kind of cross-cultural genre-warping collaboration that the Fez Festival occasionally showcases very well. The Barbaric violins gave us solos which shone and teamwork which stunned. All three members were equally displaced out of their comfort zones and into a new space of truly creative collaboration. Their confidence in their individual and collective abilities created a relaxed and most of all fun and entertaining vibe that was infectious. Now that's what I call a fusion!

Review by Lynn Hamoudi
Photos by Sandy McCutcheon


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