Reviewed: Penang World Music Festival 2013 (Day 1)

Updated: 1 Apr 2013

Time Out says

The two-day Penang World Music Festival has been a tour de force in the state, and after a three-year hiatus, the festival came roaring back in 2012. This year, the lineup more than matched its previous instalments, with musicians from the likes of Turkey, Iran, Portugal, Philippines and West Africa. 

The first day of the festival on March 30 acted as a teaser trailer for the blockbuster action promised on the final festival day. It all began with Turkish band Alp Bora Qaurtet at the grounds of the Penang Botanical Gardens. They played the music of Anatolia, a land of juxtaposed cultures steeped in history. The music was welcomingly soothing, a perfect backdrop to the fresh crowds looking for perfect spots on the grass to throw their mats on. Many of us were outside the festival gates warming up with satay, breaded chicken and coconut jelly, and only settled in when the second act from Bulgaria, Oratnitza, came on stage.


Oratnitza proved a crowd favourite with their confounding clash of genres including Bulgarian folklore, dubstep, drum ‘n’ bass and Aboriginal motifs. The cameras focused on one bearded man who goes by Horhe. He played the didgeridoo (pictured above) with a stern, deeply mesmerising intensity to create hollow cave sounds, all that went eerily well against the orthodox chanting of classical Bulgarian female singers. The band is currently sweeping the Bulgarian youth music scene - a Bulgarian Kyoto Protocol if you will.


Next up were Sabahan eight-piece Rimba, who took some time to amp up the crowd after a stunning trip to the Balkans. Modern instruments definitely overshadowed the traditional ones in this band, but when the vocalists eased into the Sumazau fly-like-a-bird dance, it was cue for us to jump up and do the same. Next up were powerhouse ethnic rock band Kalayo from the Philippines - formerly known as Pinikpikan - fronted by a fierce frontwoman who stomped around stage with her eyes closed, hands stretched out in haphazard flailing. Her presence onstage was some of the highlights of day 1, like a cross between Brittany Howard and Enya.


The quality of performances only escalated with a set by Dagaya, a taiko (drum) ensemble from Nagoya City. Evidently the most dramatic band of the night, they pounded on drums with the sort of precision and timing you expect from the Japanese. Decked out in traditional gear, each band member was slotted a lengthened drum solo, permeated by the wistful melodies of the Japanese flute. The finale was a synchronised orchestra of heavy thumping, cleverly paired with the chords of a shamisen (a stringed Japanese instrument). Dagaya never missed a beat – literally.


To wrap up the night’s lineup was Mu from Portugal, aided by a striking frontwoman and some truly unusual instruments. The hurdy gurdy, a fiddle instrument with a winding wheel on its side, was used to create droning violin-like sounds, but with uncomfortably sharp edges. Also in full use was the bulbul tarang, a stringed North Indian instrument that managed to blend stomping Celtic sounds with the grace of Asian deliberateness. Mu was also the only band to use dance as a main element, with the ethereal frontwoman evocating the movements of birds and wind to entrancing effect. She leaves us with great promise for the final festival day, and with that, we pack up to leave a party that hasn’t stopped. Surekha Ragavan

For more on the Penang World Music Festival, click here. Photos by Pein Lee and Yew.

Tags: Features