The Kora. The Ngoni. The Zheng Zither. Visitors to this year’s Harrison Festival of the Arts running July 11 to 19 in beautiful Harrison Hot Springs, BC will notice a particular type of diversity on display: an amazing array of string instruments from around the world. With sounds ranging from gentle to the intense, these unique, sometimes rare and historically significant instruments have emerged from cultural histories in Africa, China, the Middle East, North and South America, as well as Europe.
Cultural diversity has always been at the core of the Festival’s mandate. Harrison Festival Society Artistic Director, Andy Hillhouse, is very mindful to seek out international artists, but admits his own tastes have played a part into this year’s programming.
“As a string player my ear is drawn to music that involves interesting string sounds and textures,” Hillhouse explains.
However, he knows he is not alone as there is a large fan base for this particular family of sounds. For instance, the Malian Ngoni master Bassekou Kouyaté is someone with a broad appeal. Fans of the blues and rocking electric guitar will appreciate him as much as aficionados of West African music as he and his sons run their traditional plucked Ngoni lutes through effects and play them with virtuosic ability and soul.
“In short, they rock out on this ancient instrument,” says Hillhouse.
Also from West Africa, the now Vancouver resident Boujou Cissoko is a hereditary player of the kora, a string instrument that exists somewhere between a lute and a harp. Audiences will also enjoy the Chinese group Red Chamber as they play an assortment of string instruments including the plucked pipa and ruan, and the zheng zither. The traditional repertoire of their homeland is intersected with other world string traditions, such as bluegrass and Celtic music. The Persian family band Vashaan Ensemble play a wide variety of historically significant instruments from the Middle East, such as the ‘oud (from which the English word lute takes its name), the tar, ancestor to our word guitar, and the santour, a type of hammered dulcimer. For fans of the Western string traditions, the Festival will also feature some bands that use string accompaniment in beautiful and sometimes inventive arrangements to accompany song. The Once from Newfoundland is a deceptively simple set up – just a woman singing with two players accompanying her on guitar, bouzouki, and sometimes fiddle. However, the combination of her voice, one that goes right to the soul, and the simple sound of the strings is magical. As well, the young band The Bombadils are on the surface a bluegrass band with fiddle, guitar, upright bass and flute, however they create evocative soundscapes with their arrangements to accompany their traditional and original songs. Creating a one man band of string textures and percussive sounds will be dazzling acoustic guitar virtuoso Don Alder, who will be playing an instrument called the harp guitar.
The cross influences of musical traditions is what creates diversity through history and continues to do so at the Harrison Festival. The harmonies created by soft, strong or seductive strokes of these collective and distinct strings will surely strike a chord with this year’s Festival audiences.
Complete lineup and tickets for the 37th annual Harrison Festival of the Art are available online at www.harrisonfestival.com, by phone at 604-796-3664 or in person at the Ranger Station Art Gallery in Harrison. Early bird pricing available until June 26.