FNC 2016: El Gusto review

Chaabi orchestra El Gusto in concert.
Chaabi orchestra El Gusto in concert.

Two-sentence review: There is some fantastic music in the documentary El Gusto. I heartily suggest that you watch it!

Longer review: The documentary El Gusto is about Algerian chaabi music in general, and some musicians who used to play it, who came together to play it again, after many years apart. The film has been called the Algerian version of the Buena Vista Social Club.

The film has three main elements – a tour through the narrow, twisty streets of old Algiers, anecdotes about chaabi and life in Algeria, before and after the country’s independence from France, and musical performances.

Chaabi music has roots in Arab, Berber and Andalusian music. It was heard at weddings, parties and in the bars and cafés of the Casbah. Have you heard Rachid Taha sing Ya Rayah? That’s a chaabi tune, though Taha is usually described as someone who sings rai.

Chaabi orchestras include piano, violins, lutes, ouds, mandoles, banjos, zithers, accordions, drums and tambourines. People had already been playing it for decades when El Hadj Mohammed El Anka began teaching formal classes at the Municipal Conservatory of Algiers in the 1950s. Back then Muslims and Jews were neighbours and friends who partied together and made music together.

Safinez Bousbia, the film’s director, was studying architecture in Ireland in 2003 when she took a vacation trip to Algiers, the city where she was born. While discussing a purchase in Mohamed Ferkioui’s mirror shop, she learned about his earlier life as a chaabi musician. He was among the first graduates of the El Anka’s course at the conservatory.

Bousbia was so fascinated by his story that she wanted to find out what had happened to the other musicians, and to help them re-connect with one another. It took her several years to locate them. Some were still in Algeria while others had moved to Paris or Marseille long ago. Once the connections were made, they wanted to meet and they also wanted to play together again. They did so under the name El Gusto Orchestra of Algiers. The film includes footage from rehearsals and concerts in Algeria and France. An audience in France enthusiastically sings along to Ya Rayah. (The group went on to perform in the U.S. and the U.K., as well.)

You can preview and buy the group’s two albums, Abdel Hadi Halo & The El Gusto Orchestra of Algiers, and Orchestre El Gusto on iTunes.

El Gusto, directed by Safinez Bousbia, In French and Arabic with French subtitles, 93 minutes long.

With Mamad Haïder Benchaouch, Rachid Berkani, Ahmed Bernaoui,  Robert Castel, Abdelkader Chercham, Luc Cherki, Maurice El Medioni, Abdelrahmane Guellat, Joseph Hadjaj,  Liamine Haimoun (and many more).

El Gusto will be shown Monday Oct, 10, 2016, at 13:30, at Cinéma du Parc as part of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal.

Read more about the film and buy tickets on the FNC web site.

Advertisements

RIDM+ Documentary night takes us Around the World in 50 Concerts

 

Around the World in 50 Concerts is a film about a world tour by he Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. The documentary by Heddy Honigmann is the January selection for RIDM+, an offshoot of Montreal's RIDM film festival.
Around the World in 50 Concerts is a film about a world tour by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. The documentary by Heddy Honigmann is the January selection for RIDM+, an offshoot of Montreal’s RIDM film festival.

RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival, takes place in November. But, to keep memories of the festival alive, and to give film fans a treat, RIDM+ presents a film on the last Thursday of the month.

January’s selection is Around the World in 50 Concerts. Filmmaker Heddy Honigmann accompanies the musicians of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra on a world tour to celebrate the orchestra’s 125th anniversary. Despite the name, the film does not include excerpts from 50 concerts; most of the scenes were shot in Buenos Aires, Johannesburg and St. Petersburg.

There’s lots of praise for Around the World in 50 Concerts on the Internet. The Hollywood Reporter says it is “accessibly entertaining and suitable for audiences old and young, including those previously immune to classical music’s charms,” and the New York Times takes note of its “ecstatic impressionism, shot through with melancholy.”
On the web site of the New Zealand Film Festival: “It’s impossible to imagine a more appreciative observer of the venture than Honigmann. Her alertness to what drives musicians to dedicate their lives to performing is matched by a subtle understanding of the consolations that music can offer to any of us. And both are rendered all the more potent by her abiding sensitivity to exile, whether it be felt by a young flautist in his hotel room missing a son’s birthday halfway across the world; or by an elderly Russian who finds in Mahler’s Symphony No 8 a conduit to the vanished world of his mother who once heard it conducted by the composer himself.”
In POV Magazine, Marc Glassman says: “Honigmann is a true artist and arguably, the finest Dutch documentary director living today. (Like Canada, Holland has a fine documentary tradition, so that’s quite a statement).”

“Honigmann makes films that honour their subjects but go farther than most docs take us. In Around the World, she starts the film with the orchestra’s percussionist. What’s it like to play for only a minute in a symphony? The musician lights up and launches into a detailed explanation of how one should play the cymbals quite spectacularly—-but briefly—in the second movement of Bruckner’s 7th. The anticipation of the moment and the delight when he rises and adds his spectacular KLANG to the symphony is blissfully human.”

Members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra share laughs in a scene from Around the World in 50 Concerts. The documentary by Heddy Honigmann is the January selection for RIDM+, an offshoot of Montreals RIDM film festival.
Members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra share laughs in a scene from Around the World in 50 Concerts. The documentary by Heddy Honigmann is the January selection for RIDM+, an offshoot of Montreals RIDM film festival.

Ronnie Scheib of Variety writes: “Honigmann focuses on individual orchestra and audience members without fanfare, allowing them virtuoso riffs but never losing sight of the ensemble. . . Orchestra members, accustomed to her company, seem to spontaneously confide in her, telling her stories. Audience members, interviewed one-on-one in moving vehicles or in their homes, enter more fully into a dialogue with Honigmann, their exchanges very casual and conversational.” Reader Kazuhiro Soda added this enthusiastic comment to the Variety article: “I saw this film at MoMA. It was a masterpiece. It is definitely one of the best movies ever made about music but it’s much more. As always, Heddy showed us the best part of our humanity. She reminds us that there’s something beautiful in this world despite all the violence and miseries. One of the musicians in the film said that art is larger than politics. By watching the film, I truly believed it. Heddy’s approach to documentary is so classical but at the same time very modern and new.”
On his web site The Whole Note, Paul Ennis says: “The power of music to elevate, soothe and communicate is at the core of this moving documentary.” Ennis also gives a rundown of some of the music in the film: “Bruckner’s Seventh, Rachmaninov’s Paganini Variations, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and Violin Concerto, Verdi’s Requiem, Mahler’s First, Second and Eighth among others.”

Check out the trailer for Around the World in 50 Concerts below. I noticed that here are lots of smiles in it.

A 15-minute short film, Le Son Du Silence, directed by Maxim Rheault, will be shown before Around the World in 50 Concerts. Laetitia Grou, the producer of Le Son Du Silence, will be there.
Le Son Du Silence and Around the World in 50 Concerts, 8 p.m., Thursday, January 28, 2016, at Cinéma du parc, 3575 Ave du Parc.

Buy tickets online here.

 

 

 

RIDM 2015 Review: They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile

Members of the band Songhoy Blues are among the musicians who appear in the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile.
Members of the band Songhoy Blues are among the musicians who appear in the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile.

They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile is a documentary about the difficulties faced by residents of northern Mali, especially the musicians, after a Tuareg rebellion in 2012 was hijacked by Islamist forces. Mosques, tombs, libraries, and ancient manuscripts were destroyed. The imposition of sharia law meant veils for women, amputated limbs for convicted thieves and a ban on all music – even ringtones on cellphones. Musicians fled cities like Gao and Timbuktu in fear for their lives. Among those who appear in the film, some went to Bamako, in Mali’s south, while others went to refugee camps in Burkina Faso.

Malian musician Fadimata Walett Oumar, who is nicknamed Disco, right, and her husband Hassan (Jimmy) Mehdi, in a scene from the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile. The film is being shown at RIDM, Montreal's documentary film festival.
Malian musician Fadimata Walett Oumar, who is nicknamed Disco, right, and her husband Hassan (Jimmy) Mehdi, in a scene from the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile. The film is being shown at RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival.

The people we meet include established stars Khaira Arby and Fadimata Walett Oumar (nicknamed Disco, because she was a big Madonna fan in her younger days). Disco is a longstanding member of the group Tartit, though it is not named until near the end of the film. She is also married to a high-ranking Malian soldier who changes allegiance more than once, which makes their lives somewhat complicated. The film also serves as a promotional vehicle for a younger band called Songhoy Blues, and includes footage from their U.K. tour. (Earlier this year, they toured North America, making stops at SXSW and in Toronto, too.) You can find music by Khaira Arby, Tartit and Songhoy Blues on iTunes; click on their names to go there. The film’s soundtrack will be released, but sadly, it isn’t ready yet. If you like what you heard in the film, check out Tinariwen, as well.

Khaira Arby is among the Malian musicians who appear in the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile.
Khaira Arby is among the Malian musicians who appear in the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile.

Most of us will never see the wonders of Timbuktu in person, so I appreciated glimpses of them in the film. I suspect that some scenes were shot before the widespread destruction and that many of those intriguing structures no longer exist.

At 100 minutes, the film seems stretched out. I expected lots of music, since it is about musicians, after all, but got tantalizing snippets instead. There is lots of talking, and some of it is repetitive. Perhaps I am just a victim of my own expectations – the film has many positive reviews on the Internet. Sample quote from a review in the Austin Chronicle:
“Social journalism of the highest order, They Will Have to Kill Us First is by turns horrific and front-loaded with sonic heroism. It’s also one of the most vibrantly shot and masterfully edited documentaries of this or any other SXSW year.”

Full disclosure, I did watch They Will Have To Kill Us First at home via an online screener, which must have reduced its power considerably.

(Justified) spoiler: The film ends with a joyous outdoor concert in Timbuktu, with lots of happy women and children among the audience.
They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile (Click on the film’s name to read more about it on the RIDM web site.)

Friday, Nov. 13, 2:30 p.m.
Cinéma Du Parc 1 (Buy tickets here)

Saturday, Nov. 14, 215 p.m.
Cinéma Du Parc 2 (Buy tickets here)

They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile
Country : Mali, United Kingdom
Year : 2015
Language : English, Bambara, French, Songhay
Subtitles : English
Runtime : 100 min
Production : Kat Amara Korba, Sarah Mosses, Johanna Schwartz, John Schwartz
Cinematography : Karelle Walker
Editing : Andrea Carnevali, Guy Creasey
Sound : Phitz Hearne
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs from Nov. 12-22, 2015. Visit the web site ridm.qc.ca for more information about the festival.

FNC 2015 Review: Chinese punk musicians have their say in Never Release My Fist

Wu Wei, standing, centre rear, with his fellow punk musicians outside his bar in Wuhan, China. Note the bagpipes! The history of Chinese punk music is explored in the documentary Never Release My Fist, by Shuibo Wang.
Wu Wei, standing, centre rear, with his fellow punk musicians outside his bar in Wuhan, China. Note the bagpipes! The history of Chinese punk music is explored in the documentary Never Release My Fist, by Shuibo Wang.

If you like punk music, China, or documentary films, then Never Release My Fist is especially for you. But really, I think this film would appeal to any living, breathing person with an interest in his or her fellow human beings, and how they live their lives, struggle to survive, and try to express themselves. I liked it a lot; if I didn’t have another musical commitment today, I would watch it again!

Montreal documentary filmmaker Shuibo Wang received an Oscar nomination for his NFB short, Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square. In Never Release My Fist he explores the world of Chinese punk, with particular attention paid to Wu Wei, who is often described as the father of Chinese punk. He formed his band SMZB in 1996.

Wu Wei describes himself as unemployed and aimless in the first few years after he finished high school, but he now comes across as very thoughtful and articulate man, distressed by the politics and rampant consumer culture in China. All the same, his lyrics sound quite poetic.

Wu Wei is from the city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in central China. It’s a city of 10 million people known for heavy industry but it also has several universities, with as many as one million students (potential fans! Though director Wang says that most young Chinese prefer pop music).
While he benefited from some time in Beijing, Wuhan is where Wu Wei played most of his music, and it became the punk hotspot of China.

Musicians everywhere have tough lives, but the punks of Wuhan had little money to buy instruments, few places to play, and they faced government censorship as well. Text messages and email were intercepted.

An image from Never Release My Fist, a documentary film about punk rock in China. It's part of the lineup at the Festival du nouveau cinema in Montreal.
An image from Never Release My Fist, a documentary film about punk rock in China. It’s part of the lineup at the Festival du nouveau cinema in Montreal.

Wu Wei might be the main star of the film but his bandmates, former bandmates and fellow punk musicians get their share of screen time. Punk in Wuhan was not just a guy thing, either. Women played a big part, too. We see their performances and they share their sometimes harrowing stories and as well.

At some point SMZB included bagpipes and a violin to some songs, a very interesting touch! And Hou Hsiao Hsien uses bagpipes in the closing credits of The Assassin. Are bagpipes a thing in China now?

Filmmaker Shuibo Wang was able to use lots of great vintage footage that was shot before he ever met the musicians. He will attend the screening and answer questions after the film.

Festival du nouveau cinema programmer Julien Fonfrede, left, and Montreal director Shuibo Wang. (Photo copyright Maryse Boyce)
Festival du nouveau cinema programmer Julien Fonfrede, left, and Montreal director Shuibo Wang. (Photo copyright Maryse Boyce)

Never Release My Fist is being shown as part of the Festival du nouveau cinéma, which runs from Oct. 7 – Oct. 18, 2015. Visit the FNC web site for more information about Never Release My Fist.

Never Release My Fist
Directed by Shuibo Wang
China, Canada | 87 minutes | 2015, in Cantonese with English subtitles
Saturday, Oct.17, 2015, 17:00
Program #283
Cinéma du Parc 2, 3575 Ave. du Parc

I want to go to ShazamFest, don’t you?

Musicians and fans at the music-and-more event called ShazamFest. Photo by Claude Dufresne from the ShazamFest web page.
Musicians and fans at the music-and-more event called ShazamFest. Photo by Claude Dufresne from the ShazamFest web page.

ShazamFest is a family-friendly, music-and-lots-more festival that will present its tenth edition from July 9-12, 2015, on an organic farm in Barnston West, in the Eastern Townships.

My first reaction to the locale was “Too far, no car,” but after attending a press conference and meeting some of the incredibly friendly, dedicated, passionate people involved in ShazamFest, including its founder, Ziv Przytyk, I’m hoping I can convince one of my friends with a car to take me there, even if only for one day.

Since we’re talking about “one day,” this is a good time to mention that admission to the festival is free on Sunday, July 12.
Musical acts at ShazamFest include Buck 65, Socalled, Bob Log III, The Damn Truth and the Lemon Bucket Orkestra. (In an interview with La Tribune last year, ShazamFest founder Ziv Przytyk said that the vocalist for The Damn Truth has a voice like Janis Joplin’s. Sounds good!) The band Kyriaki will present the Greek music known as Rebetika. See the full lineup and ShazamFest schedule here.

Wrestling demonstration at ShazamFest. Needless to say, this is not wrestling as seen at the Olympics, or the Pan-Am Games. Photo from the ShazamFest web page.
Wrestling demonstration at ShazamFest. Needless to say, this is not wrestling as seen at the Olympics, or the Pan-Am Games. Photo from the ShazamFest web page.

In addition to music, there will be wrestlers and wrestling workshops, circus workshops, a tie-dye workshop, forging with knife maker and blacksmith David MacDonald, yoga on the beach, skateboarding and the Canadian Extreme Laughter Championship. The “ShazamFest Olympics” will include a tug-of-war and stone skipping. People are urged to wear costumes. There will be prizes for the best ones.

Skateboarders at ShazamFest. Photo from ShazamFest web page.
Skateboarders at ShazamFest. Photo from ShazamFest web page.

Two kitchens will sell tasty, locally sourced meals, with choices suitable for vegans and carnivores; a third kitchen will sell delicious desserts.

The Blue Mushroom Sirkus Psyshow, which has revived the concept of the circus sideshow, will present, among many things, a strongman, sword-swallowing, fire-eating and a burlesque performance by Miss BonBon Bombay that involves flames in, um, surprising and unexpected ways. This was a big hit at the press conference, let me tell you.

Miss BonBon Bombay explained that her fire act was a tribute to veteran burlesque performer Satan’s Angel (The Devil’s Own Mistress, Queen of the Fire Tassels), and that it’s done with her permission and blessing.

The Blue Mushroom Sirkus Psyshow has an amazing web site at bluemushroompsyshow.org; there are clever biographies of troupe members, that suggest possible supernatural connections, and great photos, too. There’s a Facebook page for the Blue Mushroom Sirkus Psyshow, as well.

Strongman The Mighty Leviticus, of The Blue Mushroom Sirkus Psyshow performs at an earlier edition of ShazamFest. I do believe that he is bending steel rebar with his teeth. (Does his dentist know about this?  Photo, by Claude Dufresne, from ShazamFest web site.
Strongman The Mighty Leviticus, of The Blue Mushroom Sirkus Psyshow performs at an earlier edition of ShazamFest. I do believe that he is bending steel rebar with his teeth. (Does his dentist know about this? Photo, by Claude Dufresne, from ShazamFest web site.

So, what about those people I met? The first one was Ziv Przytyk, the founder of ShazamFest. He was as enthusiastic as all get out, and wearing a bright yellow jumpsuit that he had made himself! Talented guy! He explained that he sees the festival, and its rural location, as a “space to bring people together, to create a community.” The first year 400 people came; these days attendance is around 2,000 people. Those people make networks and build friendships there. The festival is now old enough that sometimes three generations of a family will come. There has never been any kind of trouble at ShazamFest. Ziv has a theory that people behave well at the festival because children are there; they are a civilizing influence.

I talked to Miss BonBon Bombay, as mentioned above, and to her colleagues, strongman The Mighty Leviticus, and powerful vocalist Angela Solo. I listened to the singing-and-guitar playing duo Les Deuxluxes, and watched some antics from the Eastern Townships Wrestling Association, who challenged Ziv Przytyk to a showdown at the festival.

As for ShazamFest tickets, there are many options. Children who are 12 years old or younger get in free. A full weekend pass, for one person, which includes camping and parking, will be $90 at the gate, but it was available back in February for only $55. Keep this in mind for next year! The price for Friday is $45, Saturday is $50. A family pass (two adults and two teens) will be $200 at the gate. (As I write this, that pass is available for $175 if bought online.)

People who buy a day pass can stay untill the following morning. In keeping with ShazamFest’s environmentally conscious ethos, people who arrive on a bicycle will get a 20-per-cent discount on their tickets.

And remember that Sunday is free! Visit ShazamFest’s ticket page for complete details.

People who attend ShazamFest are welcome to camp overnight. Photo, by Claude Dufresne, from the ShazamFest web site.
People who attend ShazamFest are welcome to camp overnight. Photo, by Claude Dufresne, from the ShazamFest web site.