In mid-October, I had the opportunity to travel to Spain to attend WOMEX, the World Music Expo. WOMEX just celebrated its 29th year, so it’s a year younger than Lotus. For those who haven’t heard of this event, it’s a combined tradeshow and music festival where artists who have been juried perform on 6 to 7 stages every night for an audience that includes agents/agency reps; booking specialists/artistic directors of festivals, concert series, and independent venues; and music lovers in general. WOMEX moves around Europe, with a different host city every year. The main qualification is that the host city must have enough venues that are walkable from a central location, and that the city can support the hordes that descend, via housing and food options.
For the artists, it’s an opportunity to connect with new audiences. Many are looking for European or US agencies to represent them when they tour. They are also looking to connect with the folks who do the booking at venues. For me personally, as artistic director, it’s a chance to be inspired by bands that are up and coming, who may not have toured in the US yet. It’s also an opportunity to see what’s hot right now, what kinds of innovative things world music artists are doing in their fields. And it allows me to network, to meet in person and be in conversation with agents who Lotus works with on a regular basis, and to talk with other presenters about artists they’ve presented and loved, as well as to get to know artists who might be a really good fit for Lotus.
This was my third WOMEX and the most enjoyable to date. The food in Spain is fantastic; the wine and the price of wine can’t be beat; and café con leche a couple times each day made even the constant rain seem a minor inconvenience. I was also privileged to attend a pre-Womex retreat of sorts, and the experience of gathering together with other like-minded people in the Ribeira Sacra, to sightsee and eat and commune with each other, proved to be an unanticipated gift.
The WOMEX tradeshow offers the opportunity to meet with agents with whom I have a history to find out which artists on their roster are touring next year and what collaborations might be possible. There are also mentoring sessions, and networking sessions, and round tables, on various topics of interest. Many European countries have their own booths representing their artists, and a regular end-of-day feature is a happy hour at one or more booths, where one can sample regional drinks and specialties.
Of course, this trip was undertaken for the purpose of hearing music, to learn about new music and new (to me) artists. There were so many great performances! Some of the artists may or may not make it to a future Lotus, but I thought I would share some of my favorite duo performances as the focus of this blog post, to let you go down the rabbit hole with me. However, before we enter this realm, I must announce my top solo pick, Maryna Krut.
Maryna Krut, also known as KRUTb, sang for a group of us during our Ribeira Sacra sojourn. She has an ethereal voice with an amazing range and incredible nuance, and she plays the bandura, a traditional Ukrainian string instrument. She came to fame by coming in second in the competition to be Ukraine’s Eurovision entry for 2023
Maryna shared with me that before the war, she was on the road to making pop music, but the war made her examine where she wants to go artistically and she’s leaning in to Ukrainian culture and traditional music. My hope is that we bring her here in 2024.
Tarta Relena is a Catalan folk duo. With little more than their voices and a decidedly contemporary take on oral repertoires dating back hundreds of years, Marta Torrella and Helena Ros revisit and interpret the far corners of Mediterranean musical tradition. The two singers embrace the perspective that folklore is living and ever-changing (and therefore malleable) and they use modern technology to great effect.
Symbio is a duo from Sweden who play original and folk compositions with a magical interplay of hurdy-gurdy and accordion. The music of Symbio has been described as musical storytelling where virtuoso folk, electronic dance music, and minimalistic art music meet and become a cinematic experience for the listener. Their music is playful, energetic, and very entertaining.
Puuluup is the Estonian duo of Ramo Teder and Marko Veisson. Their instruments – talharpas – represent tradition and folklore. The lyrics and melodies are a mixture of their musical memories and improvisation. Inspiration is often drawn from Finnish jouhikko repertoire, Sahel’s blues, chastushkas and other elements from musical traditions from around the world. You may have been lucky enough to see their one set at Lotus in 2022. They were only coming for one night, and then their flight was canceled and they had to rebook, they just managed to make their second set. I saw them in a big tent at WOMEX and they had the crowd in the palm of their hands. Even before body surfing entered the picture, we were all devotees.
Arnaldo Antunes and Vitor Araujo, a duo from Brazil, did an absolutely captivating set. Arnaldo has a deep baritone and he cuts a figure similar to David Byrne. His voice has a gravelly quality to it (very engaging) and he was accompanied by Vitor Araujo, a young pianist who plays every facet of his instrument from the keys to the strings inside to the piano top. With his back bent over the keyboard like the hunchback of Notre Dame, he went from caressing the keys to hitting them for all he was worth. This performance kept a full house and received an immediate standing ovation.
Italian virtuosic guitar duo Francesco Loccisano and Marcello De Carolis came to their collaboration through their shared fascination for the chitarra battente, a traditional Southern Italian instrument with baroque roots. Usually referred to in translation as ‘strumming guitar’, the chitarra battente primarily evolved as an accompanying instrument providing the rhythm for communal dances like tarantella and pizzica. It’s really compelling music.
I want to end with this music and art experience with Trilitrate, a musical trio who work with a visual artist in live collaboration on stage. This work reminds me of the Disney movie Fantasia.