Doug Sandle writes:
Leeds Combined arts lived up to its title with a programme that included poetry, song, music and visual art in a multicultural presentation that featured several languages and traditions. The evening was varied but always interesting and engaging, including some exceptional performances of quality and skill that were received with appreciative enthusiasm by a room full audience. IMOWI, (Indian Music On Western Instruments) opened the proceedings with a fusing of background recorded sitar music with live flute and tabla providing an overlay of more western musical forms, which skilfully fused and counterpointed with the sitar background in a meditative and relaxing opening.
Local poet Bill Fitzsimons followed with a rhyming evocation of his Irish background, opening with Dublin Boy that told of his love of words and poetry. His Irish past was evoked in Back Home and in the second half of the evening Teanga Dhύchais, which was read in Irish Gaelic, ironically lamented his frustration in not being proficient in his ‘mother tongue’. His poem Searching was for me the more evocative and powerful of his contributions, perhaps for not being restricted by the constraints of rhyming couplets, but also for its imagery and expressiveness – it ended as follows:
A gang of raucous ravens mock me
from tall trees and my spirit slumps.
There is no revelation here, no mystical
bonding with ancient ghosts – merely
inadequate memory and a longing
for a childhood that was never mine.
Jacqueline Zacharias from York read work from her Poems on the River Ouse, which were powerfully delivered evocations of nature, myth, folk lore and her personal responses to the river. Her strong presentation beautifully captured the moods and nuances of the river and its landscape in a reading in which voice and body combined - her arm and hand moving as if in a dance with the words and the images she brought forth. Her homage to the Ouse climaxed with a powerful incantation of the sublime and darker supernatural forces of the river – an engrossing performance.
Poetry and folk songs from Russia, spanning over 250 years, were sung and recited by Natasha Mwitta that included work by Pushkin, Tsvetajeva and Pasternak. A regular contributor to Combined Arts, Natasha confidently engaged the audience with both Russian and English versions and the poetic tones and cadences of the Russian language were sensitively expressed to perhaps surprise the non Russian speakers in the audience (99%?) with its lyricism.
The ‘unexpected’ happening of the evening were two presentations that included some actual paintings, held aloft by a volunteer, while local artist Lilliane Gosling explained the origins of her subject matter. Drawing upon myths and folk tales from different eras and cultures, Lilliane’s art illustrates and explores the narratives and their symbolic meanings. In a delivery that was assessable but informed, she recounted the fascinating background to each of the pictures displayed. The audience were intrigued as she deconstructed the imagery to reveal their wider cultural meanings and uses, drawing upon feminist analysis as well as the psychology of archetypes. Her painting The Waq Wag Tree, for example illustrates a mariners’ folk tale about a mythical tree that grows women, but which is both beautiful but empty. The artist having used words to inspire her paintings, the paintings are then used for further words by popular local poet Linda Marshall in poetic responses that were presented in her usual sharply crafted and observed manner. For example, Lilliane’s painting of the Waq Waq tree and Linda’s poem are as below:
Eyes hang off it like berries.
Skulls surround it like fallen fruit.
Once it was a tree of human heads
All speaking at the same time
In convoluted languages.
If someone had stuck an apple
Into each of those mouths,
It still wouldn’t have been an apple tree,
Or a silent tree.
Look at its glittery jewelled colours!
It is the tree of paradise, of earth, of hell.
Its vociferous lips agree
There is only one word for pleasure
And that is pain.
IMOWI having opened the evening were also featured several times elsewhere in the programme. Maisie Bannister delightfully played the classical guitar featuring Etude 6 by the Cuban guitarist and composer Leo Brouwer. Sam Lewis on the saxophone and John Ball on tabla closed the evening as they played to a background sitar playing Ahir Bhairav, a Hindustani classical raga. The tones of the sitar provided a background like a rippling meandering brook as the saxophone soared, fluttered and swooped above it like a singing bird – it was an exquisite piece to end the evening, skilfully executed.
However, earlier in opening the second half of the presentation, IMOWI had provided perhaps for many the ‘show stopper’ of the evening – two songs, one from North Africa and the other from Bengal, sung by Vanessa Chuturghoon, accompanied most professionally by guitarist Joe Harris. Both were most beautifully sung, (in Swahili and Bengali), with a haunting and poetic voice that sonorously filled the room with its lingering notes and hypnotic rhythms.
Carol Downing’s Combined Arts evening has become a regular feature of the Headingley LitFest and, as this evening ably demonstrated, their contribution has gone from strength to strength.