Music review: Karmana, Songs Of The Roma

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What happens when the rangy, melismatic energy of traditional Roma singing is tethered to western “art music” accompaniments on guitar and cello?

Star rating: ****

Venue: Summerhall (Venue 26)

One might tend to presume that the folk element might find itself constricted, but not when the fusion has been arranged by eclectically-minded Scots classical guitarist Simon Thacker, here with regular playing partner Polish cellist Justyna Jablonska, and whose guest for this show is the Lublin-based Roma singer and violinist Masha Natanson.

Thacker is well-known for his explorations of Indian music, flamenco and jazz: here he takes soundings from the culture that could, arguably, link all of these genres, the Roma whose journeying took them from the Subcontinent to Iberia and beyond. “Karmana”, Thacker tells us, is Sanskrit for “performing anything by means of magic” and, if not quite invoking the supernatural, the hour-long show’s music, including extracts from the guitarist’s soon-to-be-recorded Karmana suite and his arrangements of Gypsy songs, certainly generated some beguiling moments.

Thacker opened with the suite’s Albedo, an Indo-
Flamenco guitar prelude, before being joined by the richly flowing lines from Jablonska’s cello, the two instruments dancing dramatically together before coming to a sudden stop. If Natanson was faintly bemused to find herself on a Fringe stage, it certainly didn’t show in her persuasive delivery of songs which followed the Roma journey into Romania, Macedonia and Russia.

One song evoked the grimmest journey of all – that of the Roma crammed into Nazi death trains. It opened with brooding cello and terse guitar outbursts before Natanson’s melismatically yearning tones delivered an eloquent reproach to man’s inhumanity to man.

Until 20 August. Today 9:15pm.

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