Edinburgh International Festival: 6 Contemporary Music Highlights for 2022

Scotsman music critic Fiona Shepherd picks her must-see shows from this year’s Edinburgh International Festival programme

Herbie Hancock PIC: Courtesy of the Edinburgh International Festival
Herbie Hancock PIC: Courtesy of the Edinburgh International Festival

Herbie Hancock, Playhouse, 7 August

This multi-Grammy Award-winning giant of modern music makes his Festival debut at the age of 82. Hancock’s compositions have embodied and influenced many genres. He was at the eye of the bebop hurricane playing in the Miles Davis Quintet, drew in funk and soul stylings to his own jazz fusion outfit The Headhunters and produced one of the most pioneering pieces of electronica with his much-sampled hit single Rockit. If you only see one concert…

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Princess Nokia, Leith Theatre, 17 August

Princess Nokia PIC: Daniela Spector
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This cross-genre rapper and songwriter from Spanish Harlem unwittingly captured the spirit of the pandemic with her two 2020 albums, Everything Sucks and Everything is Beautiful. Born Destiny Nicole Frasqueri, her musical influences span her Puerto Rican roots, soul, punk, metal and house music, all colliding in her upfront, unapologetic, entertaining live shows.

Taraf de Caliu, Leith Theatre, 10 August

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Taraf de Caliu are a Romany supergroup forged from legendary parent band Taraf de Haïdouks, who have been regulars on the world festival circuit for more than 30 years, showcasing the traditional music of the lautari gypsies of Romania. Expect anything from hectic Balkan dance tunes to mournful gypsy balladry from this cross-generational big band who are still based in the Clejani commune in southern Romania.

Jeff Mills, Leith Theatre, 11 August

As Herbie Hancock is to jazz, so Jeff Mills is to techno. As a DJ in the early 80s, he gave airplay to his fellow Detroit producers Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Juan Atkins before founding his own techno collective Underground Resistance. Nicknamed “The Wizard”, Mills can mix up to 70 records in an hour-long DJ set and has released multiple albums and EPs on his own Axis label. The Wizard is no stranger to Scotland; now he brings the spirit of Detroit to Leith Theatre.

Arooj Aftab, Leith Theatre, 21 August

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This Brooklyn-based singer/composer is one of the rising stars of modern Pakistani music, combining Hindustani classical music and Sufi vocal traditions with western influences from Billie Holiday to Mariah Carey, indie pop to electronica. After early acclaim for her boundary-trashing sound, Aftab broke through to wider recognition with her third album Vulture Prince, even making it onto Barack Obama’s summer playlist in 2021.

Ezra Furman, Leith Theatre, 23 August

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Self-styled rock’n’roll songwriter, anxious Jew and transgender artiste, Ezra Furman embodies a fascinating convergence of influences, from Lou Reed to the Talmud, which was clearly attractive to the producers of TV hit Sex Education – Furman writes all the music for the show in addition to her own brace of mordantly witty punk rock albums. Plus she can rock a twinset and pearls with aplomb.