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Geographical mapping through music – Tunde Jegede

The Gulbenkian Theatre has hosted the world-renowned cellist and kora player, Tunde Jegede. By being one of the few composers in the world who has stepped in both Western and African music, Tunde Jegede’s music and perception of it forms a bridge where the two cultures meet. His musical performance becomes a journey to the listener, by capturing the most subtle and intrinsic feelings an individual carries within himself. His show in Canterbury has been based on the theme of travel and progression, the performance entitled New Worlds: Visions of a Traveller. As he himself stated at the beginning of the show, ‘the piece is actually the journey of two people.’ The act engages with the journey of two travellers, each different in time and space; that of the English writer D. H. Lawrence in Mexico and the other, of the Moroccan scholar Ibn Battuta in Medieval Africa.

Tunde Jegede, who switched between playing the kora and the cello, was accompanied by Rafael Guel who played the vihuela (an early Mexican guitar), the flute and percussion, and by Sunara Begum who danced to the music. The combination of these elements created a realistic experience which further invited the viewer to emerge into the stories of the travellers. The show was held in an area of the Gulbenkian café due to the insuficient ticket sale. The space was small, encased by curtains therefore giving the impression of a room. Despite the fact that the event was held in the café area, there were no noises which disturbed the performance and the proximity of the viewer to the performers alongside the projected images on the screen, create a more intimate and personal experience of the spectacle.

The first part of the show started with Rafael Guel, an excellent musician whose skill to play the vihuela and the percussion instruments, transported the viewer back in time. The pictures depiciting Mayan people and Mexican landscapes, alongside the music captured the most profound nuances of the Mayan culture. Guel mastered the instruments with such finesse that the versatility of the sounds created by one single instrument, had the ability to shift the mood entirely. He was soon joined by a covered figure surfacing from the crowd, Sunara Begum. A voice singing in the background accompained her movements as the images changed. She appeared to display a narrative of life, of women, harships and cheerfulness; her performance completely in sync with the background, almost as if she escaped from it. Tunde Jegede accompanied the two, with a most refreshing use of the cello. He managed to play the cello in such a way that it seemed surreal and impossible for the instrument to make such noises. It was subtle, deep, traditional and remarkably moving.

In the second part of the show, the kora was in the spotlight. This traditional african instrument with a multitude of strings, has an exceptional ability of producing sound. This part as well had a spiritual approach, with an intimate connection between space and sound. Tunde Jegede switched beteween the two instruments and for a few songs he has performed vocally as well. Again, he managed to surprised the crowd with a very raw, gutural and raspy voice of the cello. Guel accompanied him with the flute, producing an anthitesis between the soft, nostalgic sound of the flute with a rhythmical, almost warlike sound of the cello.

The three artists who commited themselves to a gargantuan task of substracting the essence from the sound, have fully managed to show the spiritual journeys of the two intellectuals. It was an absolute delight to watch them perform and I very much recommend this show. It has a unique position in how it was displayed and the structure of it, therefore I believe that even for those who wouldn't normally be interested in such events, it is a show worth seeing.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Written by Tímea Koppándi.


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