As a festival junkie/live music addict, few things are as enjoyable as discovering new artists. There is a special joy in seeing an upcoming performer in a small venue or on a tiny stage before their career launches them into superstardom. I remember seeing a young girl perform at a festival in 2008 and thinking, “Wow, what a powerful voice!” Instead of watching her perform, I kept walking towards whichever well-known artist was on my schedule. A few years later the rest of the world knew that girl’s name because Adele had became a global phenomenon. This week’s Melodic Tonic collection includes some of the lesser-known international performers I hope to catch this weekend at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Who knows? Maybe one (or more) of them will be the next big thing.
The term “indie folk” is almost cliché at this point: it’s a generic label slapped on anything that isn’t easily pigeonholed into one genre. Guitar-strumming, harmonizing duo? Indie folk. Stripped-down acoustic singer/songwriter? Indie folk. Girl in a flowing dress or guy with a beard and a weathered guitar? Indie folk. Oh sure, a genre label gives you an indication of the direction you’ll go when you first listen to an artist, but hearing a band’s music for the first time is to set out on a journey with them. Just as “road trip” cannot capture in two words all the beautiful scenery you’ll experience along the way, “indie folk” doesn’t properly convey all the nuanced emotions and sounds you’ll experience while listening.
Falls, the Australian duo of Melinda Kirwin and Simon Rudston Brown, is still considered “indie folk” by most definitions of the term. Yes, their music has a gentle quality that washes over you like a warm sunset. And yes, their harmonies are as lovely as anything ever sung by Angus and Julia Stone or The Swell Season. Those comparisons barely scratch the surface of the dynamic energy these two possess and the lushly layered instrumentation on their debut EP, Into the Fire, released in 2014 on Verve Records. Those six songs are packed with honest emotion and the sage perspective of former lovers whose friendship is as strong as their harmonies. Hopefully their time in the U.S. this summer (at Bonnaroo and Firefly then a tour with Ben Lee) will produce a follow-up album next year.
You have to admire artists who make music for the sake of preserving their cultural heritage instead of celebrity and fortune. Songhoy Blues are the first African group signed to Atlantic Records since 1972, an indication of their belief that these musicians are indeed something special. The band name is derived from their ethnic roots (the Songhoy are an ethnic group in Mali) and the oppression that drove them from their homeland.
When armed Islamist extremists seized Mali in 2012, music became illegal. Musicians could no longer perform, nor could radio stations play music. The fear of having their instruments destroyed – or worse – was too great a risk, so the four members of the then-unformed band fled the region. They eventually landed in London where they recorded their debut album, Music in Exile, with the help of Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It was released on Atlantic’s Transgressive label in February. It’s bluesy, soulful, and powerful. It’s as if John Lee Hooker and B.B. King had a jam session with Jimi Hendrix, The Black Keys, and Ali Farka Touré. Even though the lyrics are sung in Bambara, their passion for life is evident. Their desire to survive despite the odds transcends language barriers and rings out loud and clear.
The Finnish-French duo of Dan Levy and Olivia Merilahti – aka The Dø – have been performing since 2007 but are just beginning to get exposure in North America. They released their third album, Shake Shook Shaken, in January on their own Siamese Squids label. Their upbeat blend of pop with its electronic edge and pulsing synth rhythms should be quite the late-night dance party!
Gabriel Garzón-Montano is an American singer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist (violin, guitar, drums, piano, bass) whose soulful voice and fresh sound are the result of his lineage and a lifelong study of music. Born to a Colombian father and a French mother (who collaborated with the Philip Glass Ensemble), Garzón-Montano defies categorization. His debut album, Bishouné: Alma del Huila (on Styles Upon Styles Records) is a smooth, effortless blending of R&B, funk, soul, and classical. It has the sultry, cosmopolitan vibe of summer nights in New York City. This diversity garnered the attention of critics and musicians alike. Instead of playing tiny venues on his introductory tour, Garzón-Montano soon found himself opening for Lenny Kravitz and having Drake sample one of his songs. Festival organizers in the U.S. also took notice, which led to bookings at several major American summer festivals, including Bonnaroo, Sloss, Forecastle, Lollapalooza, and Austin City Limits. This is an artist on the rise who is poised to conquer the world.
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