What’s happened to RTE’s Other Voices?

St. James church in Dingle, co. Kerry.

What’s going on with the once great Other Voices? The first episode in this the 16th season began exactly as you would have expected, with BBC Radio 1 dj Annie Mac delivering an intro promising music from the likes of Perfume Genius (reviewed earlier here) and Django Django, with reports and footage from festivals in Berlin, Belfast and at the Electric Picnic.

The usual heady mix then of left of field, broadly indie fare mixed with the best in Irish music, and all set against the picture postcard-perfect backdrop of a church in Dingle. But that intro, it transpired, was for the series, not for the episode at hand which was considerably less auspicious.

Ibeyi, from Paris via Cuba.

First up were Picture This, who hail from Athy. If you’ve ever passed through Athy, you’ll know that at its centre sits Shaws, the drapers where every local mother brings her son and daughter to get fitted out for their first holy communion, conformation and debs. And which famously ran an ad declaring, gloriously, “Shaws, almost nationwide!” Which is all the more delightful in its refusal of the obviously correct “nearly nationwide”.

Had it been penned by a beard in Williamsburg it would quite rightly have been hailed as a brilliantly biting deconstruction of what advertising copy is supposed to do. Let’s just assume that’s exactly what was intended by whoever came up with it here. Well, Picture This sound exactly what you’d expect a band from Athy to sound like.

Wyvern Lingo.

Next up were a couple of numbers from Sigrid, an oh so earnest Swedish would-be teen queen whose dreary synth pop is obviously going down a storm with the pre-tweens, and who was clearly as surprised to find herself on stage singing as we were to see here performing on it. No doubt she’ll have a host of hilarious stories to tell her class mates once she goes back to college to finish her degree in architecture or interior design, before settling down to bring up her kids.

After the break we had a couple of songs from Wyvern Lingo, a genuinely compelling trio from Bray who set their mellifluous melodies to glitchy indietronica, very much in the mode of Sylvan Esso – who themselves are made up of one part of Mountain Man, who Wyvern Lingo were compared to when they started out.

Katie Kim performs at the RTE Choice Music Prize 2016, by Kieran Frost

After that, we were given a haunting performance from singer songwriter Maria Kelly, and it looked as if the programme was back on track. But immediately after that it was up to Belfast, and who did they find to record there? Only Picture This. And, sure enough, after Belfast it was back to Dingle we were treated to no fewer than four further tracks from Athy’s finest, and another three from Sigrid, the very much not Stina Nordenstam.

So three quarters of the programme was devoted to a pair of young-fogey, pub-rockers from the midlands, and the least threatening Swedish chanteuse you’ll ever hear.

There’s nothing wrong with devoting three quarters of your programme to just two acts, so long as the acts in question merit that attention. If the focus had been on, say, Katie Kim (reviewed here), Lisa Hannigan, Brigid Mae Power or Rejji Snow from these shores, or, from further afield, on the likes of Cigarettes After Sex, Ibeyi (reviewed here) or Car Seat Headrest (reviewed here). Or, most obviously of all, if they’d turned the show on its head, and given three quarters of it to Wyvern Lingo and Maria Kelly, and just the 20 minutes to Picture This and Sigrid.

Car Seat Headrest’s brilliant Teens of Denial.

There’s nothing wrong with Picture This, but their debut album went to number 1 here (and there’s a prize of a Curly Wurly and a sherbet dip for anyone who can correctly guess what they called it), and there are any number of outlets where they play that sort MOR music wall to wall, night and day. The whole point about Other Voices is that the music it gives voice to is supposed to be precisely that, other.

Here’s the video for Wyvern Lingo’s Out of My Hands and the video for I Love You, Sadie also from Wyvern Lingo.

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3 albums from around the world.

Ibeyi

Ibeyi

Ibeyi is the debut album from the French Cuban twin sisters of the same name. Their father was the Cuban drummer Anga Diaz, who played with Irakere and then the Buena Vista Social Club, while their mother is the French Venezuelan singer Maya Dagnino.

Having spent their lives shuttling between their home in Paris and Cuba the music they produce is a heady mix of vintage Cuban influences and a contemporary north European indie vibe. And is dominated by an Afro-Cuban beat that manages to be at once extraordinarily complex and technical and yet irresistibly alluring.

Yet there’s a subdued feel to the album, born of the fact that a number of the songs address their father, who died when the pair were 13 – they are in their very early 20s now – and their older sister who died soon after.

The Buena Vista Social Club.

The Buena Vista Social Club.

Not that it is in any way a depressing album, merely somewhat understated. There’s a spiritual force behind the songs, albeit a subtle one, and one that’s both pre-modern and non European – I’m striving valiantly here to avoid the word “primitive”.

The result is indietronica fused with hiphop of the RnB variety, underscored by African rhythms and Cuban swing. You can see the video for the single River here.

Rhiannon Giddens won a Grammy as part of the roots Americana group Carolina Chocolate Drops, but she only really came to prominence after her show steeling performance in the film Another Day Another Time.

The Coen brothers had hoped to repeat the success of O Brother Where Art Thou with this filmed concert of the OST album from Inside Llewyn Davis. The forget-the-film-enjoy-the-soundtrack ploy failed to catch fire this time around, and the resulting follow up film was largely ignored. Which was a shame, as Another Day Another Time was a lot better than it might have been given the input of the one of the Mumfords. What it did do was to introduce the world to Rhiannon Giddens, whose performance of a Scot’s Gaelic reel is jaw-dropping – you can see her perform it in Glasgow here.

Rhiannon Giddens Tomorrow Is

Rhiannon Giddens Tomorrow Is My Turn.

Tomorrow Is My Turn is her debut album out on Nonesuch and is produced inevitably by T-Bone Burnett. It moves effortlessly from covers of The Dubliners, Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton to Odetta and Nina Simone, going from protest, jazz and gospel to country and pop. The result is a timeless, modern American songbook.

Once in a blue moon, the planets align and the universe conspires to produce an album that has clearly been recorded just for you. I came across Imam Baildi, named after the stuffed aubergine dish from the eastern Mediterranean, thanks as ever to the uber reliable All Songs Considered podcast from NPR (reviewed earlier here).

The Imam Baildi Cookbook.

The Imam Baildi Cookbook.

The Falireas brothers grew up in Greece listening to the Rebetiko 78s that their father sold in his record shop. Rebetiko is a mixture of late 19th century Ottoman Greek, Turkish and Balkan influences that marries the sweeping, plangent melodies of the country with the urban concerns of the ports and cities, invariably centred around the sounds of the bouzouki. It re-surfaced in the café music of Greece and Turkey in the 40s 50s and 60s.

All of which the band fuse with thumping 21st century RnB, funk, and hiphop. Intoxicating. I’ve started off with the second of their three albums, the Imam Baildi Cookbook, and am doing my very best to limit myself to but two or three plays a day. Some hope. You can hear Busca Ritmo from the Cookbook here. And a track from the 2014 album Imam Baildi III here.

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