Kuranda Roots festival 2015

Promoting festivals is one of the hardest gigs going so it’s solid gold credit to Morgyn Quinn and Billy Dread for bringing this year’s sparkling wave of talent to Kuranda in spite of wet and unseasonal weather. And in massive acknowledgement of having that guts and vision is the fact that 2015 is Kuranda Root’s 12th year. Onya guys!

There was too much to see but we managed to catch some of the acts over the weekend. On the Friday night there was a showcase of Kuranda musicians at the Market stage that drew a crowd who did not let the rain dampen their enthusiasm or appreciation.

Zara and her very cool young band (with super youngster Kirk Steel on keys) played some tight upcountry rock and roots with a nicely sophisticated feel. It was a pretty slick and polished set amongst the mud and Roots madness but Zara’s bright clear voice gave the songs the emotional weight they deserved.

Bosko and Honey quickly pulled us into the sweet madhouse that is their show. With just eight strings and two voices they conjure up a bluegrass mountain frenzy, then fly us out into an epic universe before bringing us back with punked up tales of domestic mischief. King freak Mo Zach revved us up twisting minds with his cheeky lyrics and his genial mania, re-energizing us with surrealist bravado and twisted wit, and even finding time to live beat box with MC Wildfoot.

He’s living and performing down south now but Kuranda man Davy Simony brought it all back home for a superlative set of his songs. Davy is young dude but he plays and sings in a truly timeless fashion with a kind of ethereal magic as though channelling the troubadours of the centuries. With the gift of drawing his audience in and then holding them there I could see people listening to him not just with ears but with their hearts too. His guitar playing was lyrical, unhurried and totally sympathetic to his songs. The strong reggae flavour of his set felt tinged with jazz and Latin, even folk. And what a voice – beautiful and haunting, never forced or bulked up with excess baggage. Davy fills his lyrics with deep emotion in a most subtle way and that gives us space to get a little closer to him, and feel where he’s coming from.

By Saturday the rain had settled down, a bit, and the main Stage began to crank up with an array of talent that was more than well worth the day ticket price. New Cairns band King Pig lulled us into a keyboard washed fantasy with their first song and then unleashed some lovely nasty get-back boogie, with their massive sounding rhythm section turning our lower chakras into happy jelly. Singer songwriter Tim Wright has assembled an FNQ all star band and it sure shows. They genre-hop with ease but never let up with the ideas and classy playing.

Mid-afternoon and a young man takes the stage. He’s Chris Tamwoy and he’s 19 year old, hails from Torres Strait and he just blows us all away. His deceptively simple songs are very accessible – people start listening straight up. Then you see his unique playing style and begin to feel all the craft, dedication and complexity that is at the core of his material. He starts with two instrumentals and flies us to unknown places, the music sometimes hypnotic, sometimes percussive with great little rhythmic changes that keep us on our toes. Then after telling us he has only just started singing, he casts a beautiful vocal spell over the venue. Chris Tamwoy has the voice of an angel, sweet and strong, his tone and phrasing just so. It’s like honey -sweet as, but filled with the power of a good strong spirit. He’s not adding anything to please or wasting his breathe with tricks -it pours out of him with true honesty and soul. He sings an original ‘Ngaw Laag (My Home)’ that perfectly captures the yearning for one’s place and people that all travelling musicians must feel. Then with a dedication to the good strong women of the world he slyly covers Girls Just Want to Have Fun making the pop classic totally his own, even slipping in lines about girls hanging at Earlville shopping town.

Chris Tamwoy is an intriguing mix of lovely young guy and deadly seriousness. You feel he’s on a mission, highly aware of the inequalities of the world and deeply involved in learning his craft. But he’s smiling from ear-to-ear and loving every moment. After his set Chris told me he had been nervous but it sure didn’t show. His on-stage patter had been sharp, very conscious and funny too -he looked most relaxed in fact. He’s just finished studying music in Brissie, has made his first E.P and is working on songs for an album. Although fully formed as a solo act he’s open to playing with others and I reckon we’re going to hear a lot more from this very talented and charming man. It certainly was a coup for Roots to have him.

Its back to the old school original sounds when Koahlition drop their sugar-cane sweet, mountain bass deep set on us. Their songs in early reggae and ska style are performed with much love and appreciation for these roots. They’re just digging it as they lay out tasty up stepping beats and melodies sparkling in the groove. It’s fluid skankin’ to a rock-steady beat topped with the soaring power of their three vocalists.

Progressive Tan kept us the good foot going island style easy on us at first. Love their song ‘Cool Like That’ with lyrics like “you need a shoulder to cry on -well I’ve got two.” Then the tempo came up and they pulled out the stops. With Kaz-man and Rudekat fronting vocals the Tan got the crowd pumping.

It would be easy to pigeon-hole The Dialers as a party band. And it’s true -they’re as funky as hell. They have an MC (the irrepressible Robbie V) as a frontman, and they want you to dance your bum off.  And their set sure accomplished that. But they’ve got something else going on. It’s a bit rock and even a bit prog! Amongst their relentless grooves this spacey thing simmered away adding a unique dimension to their good time sound.

The audience was full of many international and southern groovers having the big wet jungle time of their lives and local heroes Zennith blasted them into a dancing frenzy. Zennith rock hard with the most perfect organic grooves. Its like the rhythms are coming out of the earth or the river and flowing through them into the audience. They are tapping into something elemental and deep and releasing it for us to party with. You know these guys rehearse a lot but their playing seems effortlessly natural like they are just breathing and dancing. The Brim family are the heart of this band but they have a few new players tonight including that saxophone angel Luke Weston. Their sound is big, each instrument melded into a solid groove machine though from time to time Astro Brim pulls some wicked guitar solos out of the hat. Like good wine Zennith get better and smoother every time they play but without sacrificing any ruff-neck energy or heart-felt soul. And this sure was vintage set.

There’s a winning mix of classic and modern when Katya Demeester takes the stage backed by Skankstarz. The music was very modern a dub, ska, reggae hybrid, and although newly rehearsed, the band was thrillingly tight, lean and on the money. Miss Demeester’s rich emotional voice was the classic part – she was phrasing in the reggae stylee but it was full of soul and jazz recalling a century of strong women singers. Someone said she sounded like Amy. I could hear Billie and Nina too. But this lady has definitely got her own thing going on and it was great!

Back for their second year head-liners Bullhorn bring the noise, the funk, the jazz and the dance. playing bust-out original dance music that takes in anything that will move your rumpa mega. JBs funk, afro-beat, reggae, 60s spy movie soundtracks, hip-hop and much more. And marvelously made with 7 horn players and a drummer. The unison playing of the horns is diamond sharp with breakneck changes and jaw-dropping power. This is top-shelf stuff from the clever arrangements to the madly inventive soloing. Their full-tilt energy is matched perfectly by their hugely effervescent front man Roman, who charms us even as he works us, double-timing lyrics and hyping the crowd of dancing fools into a frenzy.

Gawain Barker

© Copyright 2024 | NQ Music Press