Opera North Blog

Yorkshire Festival presents The Songlines Series at the Howard Assembly Room


As part of the 2016 Yorkshire Festival, the Howard Assembly Room hosted The Songlines Series: five concerts by an eclectic bill of outstanding performers hailing from Kinshasa to Robin Hood's Bay.

Congolese afrofuturists Mbongwana Star provided an incendiary opening to the series on Wednesday 22 June. Stripped of the production and electronics of their debut album From Kinshasa, their live sound was no less powerful; often dark and driven by repetitive riffs and loping rhythms, it was led with huge charisma by vocalists Coco and Theo, veterans of the great Staff Benda Bilili - and a band including Cubain Kabeye Tshimpangila sporting a tricorn hat and co-ordinated bass. From New Zealand, singer-songwriter-producer Estère opened the night with a fresh take on R&B and electronica, formidable vocal talent and winning charm.

Moving west, Malian singer, songwriter and guitarist Rokia Traoré brought her new album Né So to a sold out crowd the following day with an immaculately-paced set that took in everything from disco-inflected stompers to hushed spoken word. Mamah Diabaté's virtuosic n’goni playing was a joy; on drums Moise Ouattara wore his technical brilliance with a loose fit, and Bintou Soumbounou's harmony vocals drew the show to a ravishing close.

Düsseldorf-based prepared pianist Hauschka headlined a celebration of sonic innovation on Friday 24 June, transforming the Howard Assembly Room's Steinway grand into a full orchestra and drum kit with the addition of gaffer tape, tambourines and assorted bric-a-brac. His tinkering under the piano's lid was transmitted to the audience via a huge video projection as he layered up polyrhythms, breakbeats and motorik loops in an extraordinary audio-visual spectacle.

Leeds-based composer and analogue synth maestro Matthew Bourne opened the evening with the hometown debut of his moogmemory project, and Tom Adams completed the bill with his electronically-enhanced piano balladry.

New Mexico duo A Hawk and A Hacksaw (husband and wife Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost) brought the sounds of the Balkans, Turkey and Central and Eastern Europe to Leeds in an intense and intoxicating concert on Wednesday 29 June. A cover of Greek chanteuse Marika Papagika's 1925 recording Manaki Mou was a spine-tingling showcase of their individual prowess and intuitive duo playing, with Heather on violin and crystalline vocals and Jeremy on accordian. Jeremy switched to percussion and santur (a small hammered dulcimer) as they traversed continents and traditions, before rewarding an enraptured audience with an encore performed unplugged from the stalls.

Eliza Carthy and her 11-piece Wayward Band 'signed off this year’s Yorkshire Festival with the loudest and most exultant of hurrahs' (read a full review with more photographs at God is in the TV). A review of the first four shows can be found on the Northern Sky Magazine blog.

Yorkshire Festival’s Artistic Director Matt Burman commented:

It was a delight to work with Opera North Projects and Songlines on such a fabulous, diverse and world-class series of performances at Howard Assembly Room and as part of Yorkshire Festival 2016. Never has the sense of internationalism, collaboration and community present in the room and flowing between audiences and artists felt more vital. From dancing in the aisles at Mbongwana Star, to the charming and powerful lyrical poetry of Rokia Traoré, from the focused and atmospheric brilliance of Hauschka to the globally inspired and inspiring A Hawk and A Hacksaw and to Yorkshire's very own and finest Eliza Carthy, Matt Bourne and Boss Caine - this project genuinely represents how together we can produce amazing programmes and experiences for Yorkshire.

Mbongwana Star's ​Jean Claude Kamina Mulodi (Guitar), Theophile Nsituvuidi Nzonza (vocals) and Coco Yakala Ngambali (vocals). Credit: Tom Arber
Mbongwana Star's Cubain Kabeye Tshimpangila. Credit: Tom Arber
Estère. Credit: Tom Arber
Mamah Diabaté (n’goni) and Rokia Traoré. Credit: Opera North
Hauschka. Credit: Opera North
Matthew Bourne. Credit: Opera North
A Hawk and A Hacksaw. Credit: Opera North
Eliza Carthy. Credit: Simon Godley

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