Shooglenifty cuts a rug at Music Hall

17 May

BEIRUT: It isn’t often that one hears the shrill tunes of traditional Scots music in Lebanon.

Perhaps this is why Sunday night’s chord-strumming, string-whizzing performance of Scottish fusion band Shooglenifty had such a dramatic effect.

Twenty-year veterans of the stage and studio, this six-man band is one of Scotland’s premier exports, famed internationally for its unique splicing of traditional Scots folk and contemporary techno.

Shooglenifty and guests took to the stage of Wadi Abu Jmeel’s Music Hall. The gig provided a spectacular send-off to the Beirut instalment of Reel Festivals’ 2011, which now wends its way back to Scotland.Reel had originally planned to have events in Syria as well as Lebanon, but events in Syria made it necessary to cancel these. The program set out to bring Scotland’s best films, music and poetry to Lebanon, and to showcase a selection of the best contemporary Syrian and Lebanese films, poetry and music in Scotland.

The Beirut program included philosophical street art by Bill Drummond, projections of documentary and feature film at Metropolis Cinema-Sofil, and Syrian, Scots and Lebanese poetry, read as well as discussed, at Saifi Urban Gardens.

Reel’s promotional literature speaks of Shooglenifty’s “super funky phonics” and “wild uptempo mix.” Any doubts as to whether this sort of thing could be popular among a Lebanese audience were put to bed at the very start of Shooglenifty’s 90-minute set.

It took less than a minute for a crowd to leap to its feet and gather before the stage, jigging and reeling with Pictish enthusiasm.

Fiddle player Angus Grant’s virtuosity with his instrument was astonishing, and he proved able to create and sustain the most beautiful notes while on the move, sliding, bolting and leaping mid-bow.

His charisma was matched by that of his band mates. Drummer James MacKintosh set the beats with energetic gusto and pinpoint accuracy, oftentimes pushing his avid audience into a frenzy of pogo-ing as they tried to keep up the pace.

The throng of Quee MacArthur’s bass provided a sonorous and somehow profound backbeat, expertly picked up and sharpened by Garry Finlayson on banjo and banjax – a five-string electric banjo.

At times, the fingers of guitarist Malcolm James Crosbie would shoot across his instrument’s strings with such energy that the clarity of his playing was somehow surprising.

Eyes closed, Luke Plumb gave a compelling, powerful performance with his mandolin.

It was as though the playing of each note were a moral imperative.

The individual performances were impressive but the players’ years of diligent study and talent expressed itself in their ensemble work.

The Music Hall show was Shooglenifty’s Lebanese debut, apposite since the Reel Festivals’ raison d’etre is to promote understanding among countries by sharing one another’s arts and cultural production.

The trans-cultural success of the festival was made obvious when Lebanese nay player Bashir Saade and Iraqi oudist Omar Dewachi took to the stage to accompany the Scots.

Having only met two nights previously, the mingling of Arabic and Scots provided visual and aural evidence that the interaction of cultures through art is one of the most entertaining ways to build bridges among nations.

Reel 2011’s focus now turns to Scotland. It will be interesting indeed to see whether the Lebanese and Syrian artists taking part will receive the same reception in Scotland as the Scots artists got here.


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