Musical magic was created on 14th June 2023 at 7.30pm at St Thomas’s Church, St Thomas’s Square, Salisbury SP1 1BA, by our wonderfully diverse group of musicians under Artistic Director Howard Moody, in collaboration with Best Foot Music – an agency supporting musicians, poets and communities who have sought refuge in the UK from around the world.
Bach’s ‘Musical Offering’, on violin, flute, cello and harpsichord, was woven with sounds from the Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe, opening borders between musical traditions. We listened in awe to Sudanese poet and musician Bashir Al Gamar reading his chilling poem ‘A Child and a Doll’, in his native Arabic tongue, with Edith WeUtonga reading the English translation. The poem speaks of a displaced child on a beach, contrasting with Shakespeare’s “isle full of noises: sounds that delight and hurt not”. The evening was full of joy and exuberance enhanced by original compositions and songs from Edith WeUtonga and Bashir Al Gamar.
A Child and a Doll – by Bashir Al Gamar
For Huda Ghaliya
Buried in the fields of death
Suddenly the world plunges into darkness and destruction.
You look up
your father’s voice reaches you
a faint moaning wail from the midst of the wreckage.
You follow it with eagerness.
Your mother and your brothers
are lost in the womb of eternal silence
they have breathed their last asleep.
Alone, you continue to search wondering:
Where is your doll?
a few moments ago, she was here.
The doll lies
cast beside an unexploded bomb.
Her head is split open, her limbs mangled into the sand;
the doll who gave you endless joy.
You combed her hair, talked to her.
A bomb plummeting from the sky
missed its target.
What does it mean?
It doesn’t matter
Did it kill someone?
It doesn’t matter.
This you will never understand.
Your lifetime is just six years
your brother’s bones lie amongst fire, smoke, wreckage,
and other bones.
You carry your doll’s head, dreaming,
You shake off the shrapnel and dust,
and you wonder why they carved up her hands and legs
yet you don’t understand.
Alone in a wasteland
the head of the doll cupped in your hands
your small head cannot grasp it.
You remain bemused:
Where is your mother’s head?
Where are your father’s remains?
The distorted features, the ugly images
are etched in an innocent memory.
The terrible odour of death chokes you.
You scan the scene, taking photographs with your eyes
Silence covers the earth.
Carrying your doll, you run away.
They ask you where the remains of your doll are
and you cry.
They amputated her hands, her legs
only her head remains,
witness to a minor tragedy.
The tragedy of uprooting –
uprooting human beings
their memory, and their identity
the swallowing of earth
the sucking of blood.
The past remembers the past
joins the present…
…and you grow older.
The volcano threatens to erupt
the shameful images
are burnt into the little girl’s memory.
Twenty years on, the girl and the doll’s head remain
Anger will not surrender.
Mother earth, the whole earth
belongs to everyone.
Love, true love
belongs to those who give it.
No borders, no passports are needed.
Our mother earth gives abundantly of all her wealth
of everything, joyfully
gratified when we meet our needs
angry when we become greedy.
Then she is sickened, and throws out lava
crying a torrent of tears.
Overwhelmed with fear
she shakes into an earthquake.
Yet we feel no shame
you, I, us, them
all are responsible.
Blinded by our avarice
we pushed our mother earth to destruction.
(Huda Ghaliya: a 7 year-old Palestinian girl who lost her entire family to an Israeli missile while picnicking on the beach.)
La Folia musicians:
Howard Moody – harpsichord
Jeff Moore – violin
Robin Michael – cello
Fiona Kelly – flute
Adrian Zolotuhin – guitar
Buster Birch – drums, percussion
Bashir Al Gamar – oud, poet, composer
Jamal Alsakka – tar, bongos, tabla
Edith WeUtonga – singer, mbira, bass guitarist
A note from Howard:
When Gareth Machin invited La Folia to take part in this year’s Salisbury International Arts Festival, he mentioned that Shakespeare’s The Tempest would be having some influence in his programming. This led me to think about how Shakespeare’s drama could in some way be reflected in a concert programme with a small group of musicians.
Caliban’s speech from Act 3, scene 2 became the haunting starting point: “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs that give delight, and hurt not”. It is the musical offering of the island itself that becomes the point of refuge for Shakespeare’s exiled characters who have been brutally evicted from their own land, washed up and isolated on the beach.
The next step was to place Bach’s great masterwork The Musical Offering into the centre of the programme. Bach visited King Frederick II the Great of Prussia on 7 May 1747. The King, himself a musician, showed Bach a new delicate musical invention called a fortepiano that was to develop over the subsequent 100 years into something that we now recognise as a modern piano. The King gave Bach a theme on which to improvise a fugue. After astonishing the King with his improvisation, Bach took this ‘royal theme’ home, transcribed his own improvised fugue (that will start tonight’s concert) and composed a sequence of canons, a trio sonata and the most extraordinary array of other fugues (at the work’s high point, the “ricercar’), all based on King Frederick’s theme.
Coming back to Shakespeare’s drama, I then began to wonder how the “sounds that delight and hurt not” of Shakespeare’s characters and Bach’s music could be put together in order to bring something of the true spirit of Bach’s improvised music making whilst wars were raging through Europe. (Only nine months before meeting Bach, King Frederick had activated the Seven Years War by sending his troops into Saxony, substantially funded by the British. Nearly a million people were killed during the seven-year conflict).
In today’s world our own musical interactions are increasingly being touched by the diversity of musical heritages. An increasing number of these interactions are with musicians who seek refuge on our shores. Thanks to the connection of Phill Minns’ visionary charity ‘Best Foot Music’, I had worked a couple of years ago with the Sudanese refugee poet and musician Bashir Al Gamar. Bashir’s poem A Child and a Doll had made a strong impression on me. It resonated with Shakespeare’s The Tempest, finding a central place in this musical offering. Phill also connected us with Jamal Alsakka, a master musician from Syria. More recently I heard Edith WeUtonga sing. Knocked out by the way that her music making felt like “sounds that hurt not” I asked her immediately if she would be part of our musical coming together. The next requirement was to find classical musicians who improvise as well as play written music for Bach’s demanding score. Jeff Moore was willing to travel from Orkney for the experience, Robin Michael could manage to get to Salisbury in time from Copenhagen and Fiona Kelly had a couple of days free from her constant international schedule. And of course, what La Folia event would be complete without Buster Birch and Adrian Zolotuhin bringing their extraordinary diversity of jazz styles into the mix. To cap it all, master instrument maker Robin Jennings had just finished making a new harpsichord in his Shaftesbury based workshop. He was willing to supply it for this unique Bach outing.
A precise programme order of events is not possible, since that is not the nature of such a collaboration, but I hope this description of the process of bringing us together explains why surprise and invention must lead the way (as the title of the group La Folia implies). Bach’s canons and fugues will be played by various combinations of flute, violin, cello and harpsichord. The Trio Sonata will bring all the Western classical instruments together, as will the mighty six-part Ricercar, hailed as one of the greatest manifestations of human invention. Bashir’s poem A Child and a Doll will find a place in Sudanese and in English alongside songs and instrumental pieces by Jamal and Edith. One thing can be sure, we will all end up where Bach began – improvising.
Thank you to the Festival for giving us this opportunity to make music that will express both inner and outer conflict as well as, like Bach’s crafted music, becoming just music itself – a musical offering. Howard Moody (Artistic Director, La Folia)
With grateful thanks to :
Andrew and Catherine Johnson
La Folia Patrons, Friends & Supporters
La Folia Trustees
About Best Foot Music:
Best Foot Music Collaborations with musicians & communities who have moved to the UK from around the World. Art and music are important avenues through which the questions of identity, social cohesion and integration can be explored and stereotypes can be countered. Working collaboratively with musicians with diverse heritages from around the World. Supporting and documenting music projects made by people from refugee and migrant backgrounds. Established in 2009, Best Foot Music is an intercultural music and art organisation. We aim to encourage social inclusion and cultural diversity by supporting, promoting and documenting the music and arts of communities and individuals who have moved to the UK from around the World.