LIVE REVIEW: Harambee Pasadia (27.5.16) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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For most people, running a successful band, gigging and recording albums would be a major achievement, involving huge amounts of time and hard work.  For most people, completing a PhD would be a major achievement, involving huge amounts of time and hard work.  For most people, organising and running a festival would be a major achievement, involving huge amounts of time and hard work.  Hannabiell Sanders has managed all three this year along with the heroic and often unsung Yilis Del Carmen Suriel.  The end-of-May bank holiday weekend saw the return of the UK’s number one Afro-fusion festival, Harambee Pasadia, and once again, it was a corker.  Set in the idyllic surrounds of Barnard Castle’s The Hub, an eco-building nestled between lush green fields and reed-lined ponds, the feel-good factor was omnipotent.

To even attempt to discuss each act that performed over the course of the festival would require producing a PhD thesis of my own, so instead I will select my personal highlights and attempt to share with you a little of the joy from this gloriously sunny weekend.

The whole ethos of the Harambee Pasadia is collaboration, community and connectivity, and it is in that spirit that anything ever gets done.

Before I talk about any of the performances it is absolutely essential that I congratulate the people without whom the festival simply wouldn’t happen, the volunteers.  This isn’t like any normal festival; the team of incredibly hard-working people behind the scenes aren’t paid in money, they don’t need to be, they are there out of love, and they are paid in love (and beer). The whole ethos of the Harambee Pasadia is collaboration, community and connectivity, and it is in that spirit that anything ever gets done.  It would be very easy for them to slack off, but they don’t, and their relentless hard work should be roundly applauded.  Every one of them is a star.

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So, to the lads and lasses onstage.  I’ll admit, there was one band in particular that I was most looking forward to seeing, the Hot 8 Brass Band.  All hailing from New Orleans, these guys are the real deal, Jazz is coursing through their veins and they include 2 drummers, 2 trombonists, 2 trumpeters, a saxophonist and a sousaphone…ist.  The fact Hannabiell had persuaded them to break from their UK tour schedule to play at lil’ old Harambee Pasadia can be considered a major coup.  I had assumed they’d be the Sunday night headline, but I didn’t have to wait that long as they rocked up on a sunny Saturday mid-afternoon and proceeded to simply blow the socks off the HP crew.  I was a little worried, the intimate (small) nature of the venue and the select (relatively small) crowd might have been a problem for a big-time Charlie, but these fellas are salt of the Earth, like I said, the real deal, so I needn’t have fretted.  Indeed, as Big Al (trumpet) pointed out, this was the smallest crowd they had encountered on this tour, but also the most energetic. As for their music, some people might find the concept hard, but when you hear a band like the Hot 8, you don’t just listen to the music, you feel it. It enters through your ears, yes, but it does more, it envelops you, wraps you up and funkily shakes your BUTT!  These guys learn their instruments, then they unlearn them and learn them again, but better.  The result is musicians of absolute perfection who somehow manage to sound as if they’ve picked the instrument up for the first time and instantly mastered it…wow, this is hard to explain, distressed furniture is better than the shiny new stuff.  Put it this way, the Hot 8 Brass Band funk HARD.

You don’t just listen to the music, you feel it.

Drums were the recurring theme throughout Harambee Pasadia, more specifically the kind hit by hand, and in addition to the ever-delightful ladies of Midnight Blue, we were treated to the inspiring rhythms of Robert Maseko followed by Tanante, featuring the unfeasibly quick handed Iya Sako.  These three acts followed each other in quick succession, whipping the assembled dancers into a trance-like frenzy of dancing activity, and we still had the Volta 45 and Lively Up DJs to come!

On the theme of drumming, I took part in the West African Drumming workshop, led by Mr Sako. Amazingly there were enough djembe drums for the 20 or so participants which we gleefully smacked and beat until our fingers were black and blue under the tutelage of Guinea’s finest.

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A highlight of the festival for me were the Hot Diamond Aces, truly bringing the funk, and with a horn section tighter than the gnat’s proverbial they perfectly complemented the West African focus of the weekend.

It wasn’t all music though, and apart from the artistic henna tattoo I succumbed to, I was transported back to my youth playing with kites and witnessed some incredible physical strength and acrobatic coordination from the Kenyan duo OneFace (twins!); not to mention the firedancing and power tool crotch spark shower girls (needs to be seen to be believed). Perhaps the most spellbinding performance, apart from the AMAZING firework display, was from Yuvel Soria’s Bolivian contemporary dance piece Retratos. Featuring Hannabiell on trombone and Brendan Murphy on percussion, with Yuvel and Holly Irving dancing, it was contemplative and touching, perfectly coordinated and beautifully executed, a real moment of tranquillity in an otherwise frenetic few days.

I haven’t mentioned half of the acts involved because I simply don’t have the space to do so, but I will end by saying that next year is going to be absolutely unmissable, big plans are afoot!

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