Thursday, August 6, 2009

The World Festival at St George's West

Last year, The World Festival at St George’s West was an absolute highlight of the Fringe. The brainchild of Toby Gough, it brought an eclectic fusion of top-quality world music to Edinburgh in an explosion of colour, energy and sheer unbridled joie de vivre.

Winning last year’s Scotsman’s Spirit of the Fringe award, The World Festival is back with an equally varied and entertaining cocktail of voices, rhythms and atmosphere rarely seen in Edinburgh – even during Festival time.

Last night’s press preview treated us to short excerpts from all the acts' shows, giving a tantalising taster of the full programme set to run at the beautiful and atmospheric St George’s West venue throughout August.

First up were the the beguiling rhythms and sounds of A Town Called Addis, an Ethiopian ensemble that bring the pumping sounds of Addis Ababa music halls and nightclubs to Edinburgh’s rather more austeure and hallowed halls. Some great sounds from this charismatic nine-piece band definintely made me look forward to seeing the full show next week.

Based on last night’s snippet, Mercy Madonna of Malawi looks set to be the funniest thing at the Fringe this year, bar none. A “black musical comedy” (sic), this is based on Madonna’s much-publicised adoption of Malawian orphans, and not only explores that episode but also the ethical and moral dilemmas and issues behind it. Already stirring up controversy in the national press, this is definitely one to catch.

So what’s funny about it? Well, the loose lyrical interpretations of songs such as “Like A Prayer”, the adult cast dressed in nappies and ‘adopt me’ t-shirts, and Madonna being played by a six-foot tall Malawian male in a blonde wig – and that’s just for starters. Apparently, The World Festival have offered Madonna free tickets to this show, but it has yet to be confirmed if she will attend…

The Creole Choir of Cuba are a 14-strong troupe of Haitian immigrants living in Cuba, who bring their colourful costumes and spellbinding harmonies to Edinburgh after making a big impression at this year’s WOMAD and Big Tent festivals. Drawing on Haitian customs, rituals, religion and culture, the Creole Choir of Cuba must have been working their magic on the hairs on the back of my neck at one point. Stunning stuff.

The young Sri Lankan dancers of Ranganika – Island of Dance stormed the stage next in a riot of colour, percussion and movement. In fact, I don’t think they stood still for one second of their set, faces rapt with joy as they treated us to their cultural music and dance in a display of colour and happiness.

It was left to last year’s hit act, Capoeira Knights: Boys From Brazil to end proceedings. The blend of martial-arts, dancing and uplifting pumping live music creates a show that is unmissable and breathtaking in its feats of stunning acrobatics and muscular energy. Deserving and more than capable of taking their show on a world tour or similar, Capoeria Knights are the jewel in The World Festival’s already studded crown.

As a finale, all the acts got up on stage together, in a routine that summed up and demonstrated that The World Festival is aptly-named. Seeing dancers from Sri Lanka gleefully moving to music from Brazil as Malawian artistes danced together with colourfully-attired Cuban singers was an emotionally uplifting sight that brought shivers to my spine, even more so when the entire troupe spilled out of the venue to startle, bemuse and ultimately entertain unwitting passers by on Shandwick Place.

I love the World Festival: it encapsulates everything that is wonderful about the Fringe – and the world itself, given freedom to express itself and its many and varied cultures.

My advice? Go to all the shows. Go to some of them twice. Just make sure you go.

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