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Mexico music festival falls prey to swine flu

by Daniel Brown

Article published on the 2009-05-08 Latest update 2009-05-09 09:01 TU

Pibo Marquez(Photo: D Brown)

Pibo Marquez
(Photo: D Brown)

In late April, Mexican health authorities called for all major gatherings to be suspended in attempts to isolate the deadly transmission of the virus. Naturally, the Ollin Kan Festival in Mexico City suspended the final two weeks of concerts, workshops and debates. World Tracks had once again been invited to enjoy the climax of this four-week music bonanza, the largest of its kind in North America.

World Tracks: the Ollin Kan festival

08/05/2009 by Daniel Brown

While these circumstances prevented RFI from covering the sixth edition, it does not stop us reminding listeners of just what Ollin Kan is all about.

Ollin Kan is a term from the Nahuatl people meaning "place of movement". Now, it has become the banner for four weeks of 400 free concerts on 39 stages, mainly in Mexico City.

But in 2009, this annual gathering has never had so many challenges in bringing its audience crossover music with a message.

The swine flu outbreak has come on top of a global crisis that is also hitting this pocket of cultural resistance hard. Budget cuts, commercial partners withdrawing at the last moment and personal health problems affecting its director José Luiz Cruz.

Pibo Marquez (l) and Cheikh Tidiane Seck(Photo: D Brown)

Pibo Marquez (l) and Cheikh Tidiane Seck
(Photo: D Brown)

This hasn’t stopped the spiritual godfather of Ollin Kan, keyboard wizard Cheick Tidiane Seck from returning with his Malian harmonies. The link between Seck’s West African home and Mexico was to have been fortified this year through an opera the Malian artist was to compose.

In it, Seck was to describe the fabled arrival of one of West Africa’s greatest kings to Vera Cruz in the 14th century. Aboubacar is said to have left his rhythms behind which were then integrated into Mexican traditional music.

Fellow-percussionist Minino Garay could well be part of the pioneering adventure Seck has promised us in the years to come.

The Argentine musician has also been a regular guest at Ollin Kan. He is faithful to Cruz’s gathering because of its recurrent theme, “cultures in resistance”. For the Paris-based composer, this translates as making music with local flavour, far from US dominated pop.

Pibo Marquez(Photo: D Brown)

Pibo Marquez
(Photo: D Brown)

In Mexico, Garay insisted on how privileged his career in France has been, where he never has had to “popify” his music to succeed. France being very much of a beehive of inter-cultural exchange it’s natural that Jose Luis Cruz goes fishing regularly in these musical waters. Last year, he turned to music from Brittany, in an exchange which was largely subsidised by the French authorities in bringing it to Mexico. It brought over the surprising surprising “Ethio-groove”  sounds of the Badume’s Band and Jacky Mollard’s jazz grooves.

Partly thanks to that trip, they are in line-ups at the North Sea Jazz Festival, WOMAD and La Mar de Musicas this summer.

In 2008, the organisers claimed 900,000 spectators attended the 400 concerts by 60 Mexican bands and groups from 40 visiting countries.

Given the health context, these figures will obviously not be topped in 2009.

But the festival organisers remain defiant promising that 2010 will witness Ollin Kan’s most memorable edition. In this way, they promise to mark the bicentenary of the creation of the Mexican Republic with crossover music reaching back to the roots of the nation.

Quiz of the week.

In 2008, three bands from Brittany were invited to perform at the Ollin Kan festival. You heard about the Badume’s Band and Jacky Mollard’s ensemble. What is the name of the third group, mentioned in the course of our programme?


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