2004 Gourd Festival Concert Review - Sue
Refuge in a Gourd
While it wasn't my first encounter with the Gourd Festival, this was my first
evening concert. I have nothing but praise for the event - the price was fair,
the facilities adequate, and there were even concessions. However, the only
real criticism was the lack of good directions on the fairgrounds. Solve this
minor problem and there will be increased attendance next year. Applause to
the Ohio Gourd Society for an overall great job. Many do not realize the world
wide significance of gourds in music making, nor do they think of gourds as
having potential for new forms of music. If there were any doubters beforehand,
the concert made many converts.
The first group known as the Oxford Gourd and Drum Ensemble intentionally perform in an organic manner, improvising on hand made instruments. Distinct atmospheres enveloped the listeners through myriad percussive, rattling, blowing and plucking sounds. One song, dedicated to recreating a summer evening did just that, complete with 'crickets', 'bullfrogs' and other rhythms of nature. Adding to the fun was their musical re-enactment of a steam engine which was both believable and a nice segway to the next act.
Paul Sedgwick, recently returned from West Africa, gave an engrossing history of the banjo, beginning with the akonting, a traditional instrument. He then traced its development into the contemporary banjo resurrecting early minstrel tunes from the nineteenth century. Interest in learning traditional akonting is fading in Africa. Paul has not only learned how to play and make them, he has made an instructional video to help keep this knowledge alive. He also played a gourd didgeridoo, native to the aboriginal peoples of Australia. Though normally made from wood, Paul's instrument and skillful circular breathing made it impossible to tell the difference.
Shifting from the educational, but only less formally, were the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra. They made a particularly flamboyant aural and visual display. In full homemade regalia they sounded as if they were the progeny of the 'Hoosier Hotshots', Harry Partch, and Sun Ra. While this is supposed to be impossible, RIGO had a good time showing us that it was not. The playfulness of their original compositions thinly disguised evidence of strong musicianship and a deep knowledge of world music. Mbiras, gamelon-like marimbas, scrappers and all things gourdian blended together like Captain Beefheart in Wonderland. This was an act for all ages and dispositions. For many they were just plain "awesome."
The last musician recapitulated the idea of creating an atmosphere - but it was with greater seriousness. Xavier Quijas Yxayoti, a Native American from Mexico, created a sacred space in a performance using little more than his voice, clay flutes, and a rotating drum-rattle that simulated sounds of the ocean. He began his one man religious ceremony by entering in total darkness, burning sage, and saying prayers. A small fire added to the feeling of being outdoors. All of this, including his songs, stories and audience participation enabled everyone to enter a more timeless frame of mind.
By the end of the concert, each left in good spirits - literally. It is my hope that more well considered concerts such as this can continue at future Gourd Festivals. In an age of increasingly synthesized sound and much noise pollution, it was a delight to recall by demonstration one of the oldest sources of music.
See more photos of 2004 Ohio Gourd Show - click here.