My son is very imaginative when it comes to buying presents for his parents and this year he excelled himself. One of the presents was a joint present between me and my husband. The pressie was a 6 day ticket to the Warsaw Cross Culture Festival for both of us. As he knew I was going to be away in the UK right up to my birthday he decided to give the tickets to his Dad first. So for a whole month I couldn't stop thinking about this festival and was so excited because two of my all time favourite International musicians were performing; Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Salif Keita. Because the tickets covered 6 days I was a bit concerned and worried about the actual process of how having one ticket would actually work. For example, if I went to see the act on the first day what would the organisers do with my ticket and more importantly would I be allowed in on the last day to see the final act which was the most important one to us. In the end it all worked out perfectly as I will now explain......
~~~~~A little background information~~~~
The Warsaw Cross Culture festival, is a very big event in Poland and eastern Europe and has been going for six years; altogether hosting over 120 artists from 45 different countries. I never knew anything about the festival but my son had been before and when he saw who was appearing this year he knew immediately that we would love to go and take part in the festivities. This year because of the acts taking part it has been included in the top 25 best International festivals.
~~~~~This year's theme~~~~~~
This year's festival was divided into theme segments; each day had been planned according to the artists' region of origin. Music derived from Iberian and Ibero-American tradition was at the centre of the programme, mainly because there is a huge following here in Warsaw for Latin American rhythms due to the fact that most young people under 30 love to dance and take dance classes. For stars such as Concha Buika from Palma Mallorca and Maria Andrade from Capo Verde Islands this was their first time appearing in Poland. Africa was represented by Ladysmith Black Mambazo who I dearly love and was thrilled to see live on stage. They did not disappoint and of course, the other super International star representing Mali was Salif Keita; someone I have followed for over 30 odd years. More about Salif later. The Chinese Day was very interesting featuring a classical quartet Quing Mei Jing Yue and the outstanding Mongolian group, Hanggai. Poland wasn't left out as one of the pioneers in world music, a group who have been together for 40 years, Osjan , appeared on stage to celebrate their time together.
Besides the evening concerts there were music workshops, children's concerts, documentary screenings, a Beijing exhibition and various multicultural events.
~~~~~Where did I see all this?~~~~~
At first I thought all the concerts were going to take place in the Palace of Culture and Science; Warsaw's favourite landmark and a present from Stalin built in the style of the Empire Building. A beautiful building in my opinion but one nearly all people from Warsaw dislike. However, it was not to be. Only the opening concert took place in the Sala Kongressa but I was still in UK then so missed that one anyway. All the other gigs were in the festival tent - a huge marquee placed just outside the Palace.
Films and documentaries were shown in Kinoteka which is in the Palace and other activities took place at the Festival Club which was situated in the Café Kulturalna very close to the palace on Paradise Square.
When I looked at the price of our 6 day tickets I really could not believe what I saw. For 6 days at the festival which included two evening concerts every night, being able to take part in all the workshops and see the films in the afternoon etc the price was 80 Zloty each. This is approximately £16. I think this is incredible and it's not as if the artistes were unknowns - they are all very successful and International stars.
You don't have to buy a 6 day ticket you can just buy a single ticket for one concert in the festival tent for 20 Zloty. Children's concerts cost 10 Zloty. Some of the movies were free and also some of the workshops. Prices for the opening concert because it was held in the Palace of Culture and Science varied from 30 Zloty to 60 Zloty.
~~~~~Where to buy tickets~~~~~~
From the main festival office. Address: Stoleczna Estrada, ul Marszalkowska
Or online www.eventim.pl
~~~~~How to find the Festival~~~~~~
The festival tent is placed in a very central position next to the Palace of Science and Culture - one of the tallest buildings in the city - so you can't miss it. Trams/buses/rail - leave and arrive from Centrum - 300 metres away.
Now I've covered all the basics let me tell you about the festival...........
We missed the opening concert because I was out of the city in the UK which was a shame because the performing artistes were Ivan Lin who is a very well known Brazillian composer and singer. Also Concha Buika from Palma Mallorca whose family were originally from Equatorial Guinea. I would have particularly liked to have seen her as her music is a cross mixture of gypsy music, Cuban, jazz, tango and bolero. Still, it wasn't to be.
The second night which was our first night was very exciting and I spent ages getting ready, trying different outfits on. I wanted to look good because Ladysmith Black Mambazo were appearing so I wanted to wear something colourful and African. Because I was faffing around we only just arrived at the festival tent in time. The tent was split into two halves - the first half was where the café was situated and a desk selling tickets to people who wanted to pay on the evening. Also, there were lots of publicity stands for each of the musicians taking place and a long table selling records, CD's T shirts etc. When we arrived there was a long queue to go into the main section of the tent which had been cordoned off with security guards checking all tickets so as the concert hadn't started I thought we would go and get a beer but there wasn't any beer - only herbal tea!!!
You could say I was a bit miffed. I couldn't believe it - NO BEER at a concert featuring a group from Mozambique and a group from South Africa. My first thought was - Boring!, then I thought - 'No dancing!' I mean, I don't mind a glass of herbal tea but not at a concert. It took me at least 10 minutes to calm down.
After we had our ticket scrutinised by the guards and given back to us with the end not torn off we went forth into the main auditorium which consisted of 4 sections filled with chairs. We did try to work out how many seats were available (just a nerdy thing to do) and I think we both came to the same answer - about 2,500.
We made a bad mistake on our first night - we chose seats which were right in front of a gap between chairs which meant that for the first 15 minutes after the concert had started people were walking past our row looking for empty seats. This Polish audience were a bit theatrical and very fussy - they had to make a big drama out of finding a seat. It really got on my nerves if I'm honest because I couldn't see the group properly and felt like shouting, 'For God's sake - just sit down!
After everyone had calmed down and found a seat I then began to enjoy the band, Cacique' 97,who were actually of Mozambique/Portuguese origins and a couple of members were from Lisbon. They were a lot of fun, very professional and the many dance rhythms were full of happy, positive vibrations. It was impossible to sit still although my husband managed too! He's not one for making an exhibition of himself. I was so pleased that the audience did get up and dance and a lot of people went down to the front to dance too which was fun.
Evening concerts started at 7pm and the first group played about an hours set. The ticket was an open one so you could leave after the first gig or stay for the top billing.
What was surprising was that this Portuguese/ Mozambique band had a huge following, even more than Ladysmith Black Mombaza and half way through the second concert people left while Ladysmith were still singing. I was a bit cross with the organisers allowing this as it disrupted the whole concert. Ladysmith must have been able to see from the stage people leaving and they seemed to lose their momentum for a while. I was a bit confused because I couldn't understand why people were leaving because Joseph Shabalala and his members were excellent. It was a joy to listen to the rhythms and harmonies of their native land. When they sang , 'Homeless' I thought my heart was going to burst. It was so emotional. By then the crowd had got going again, and there was a real buzz in the audience. They had obviously remembered the song made famous by Paul Simon. This was one of the acts I was looking forward to seeing and I thought they were brilliant. Such beautiful voices and lovely dance routines - the people who left obviously didn't like African music but then why buy a ticket in the first place?
The second night we managed to arrive a bit earlier and chose our seats carefully, more towards the front in a huge block so nobody could cross our paths in search of spare seats. It was actually a chilly evening and I did feel cold in the tent that night. Gas heaters were installed in the first tent but not in the main one so a good idea to go dressed appropriately for the time of the year.
We didn't go every night because of other commitments but we managed 4 out of the 6 and thoroughly enjoyed all the acts we saw. We particularly loved the band from Italy, Tamburellisti di Torrepaduli, with a beautiful girl dancer, Serena D'Amato, who danced like a spider to some of the most powerful tambourine rhythms I've ever heard. The tambourine section from Salento were amazing and these guys did things with a tambourine that I never knew possible. At one stage I thought I could hear a drum section as part of the group but it turned out it was both guys playing tambourines. If you like Flamenco music then you will definitely like this group only the dancing is more gentle and precise.
Another group who were interesting were from Argentina, Narcotango. Their music is classed as a mixture of electronics and tango. I thought in the first 15 minutes they seemed to not have an identity - it was a bit jumbled but eventually as they played more dance numbers and the crowd got going then they livened up a bit and in the end I really enjoyed the group. Nice to see people actually dancing the famous dance from Buenos Aires.
I won't tell you about all the groups because next year it will be a different bunch of groups and musicians but if you bear with me I will tell you about the musican/songwriter/singer who mattered the most to me. Salif Keita.
I was so excited at the thought of seeing this man having loved his music for so long and to make sure we got a good seat we decided to get to the festival tent an hour early. At first when we arrived they weren't letting people in and I did notice that security were out in force. Warsaw is a city that is very big on security and doesn't bother me most of the time but I thought they had gone over the top at this gig.
We were some of the first to have our tickets checked and able to enter the main tent first. As we walked in and looked round for seats we could hear Salif practising his vocals. We couldn't see him but his voice was so loud it filled the whole tent with sound. In front of the stage was a wall of security guards and then as normal the seats were arranged in rows. The concert started on time and there were only a few malingerers left looking for a space. It was packed out and a lot of people were standing.
I can't really express how I felt when the band came on except that I remember the cheers from the crowd were electrifying and when I saw the two African girl singers in their traditional Mali dress with full headgear - I could feel my face beaming and my heart pounding away. When Salif entered on to the stage I was just so excited and overcome with happiness, I cried. This little man with such a huge voice doesn't look any different than when I bought his first album. A little extra weight around the midriff but that's all. He spoke in English softly but with quite good diction and he asked us all to get up and dance. As soon as he said the word, dance - that was it - all the audience including my husband were on their feet moving to the South African rhythms.
The rhythm section and guitar sound was fantastic - a really tight band and the lighting for this gig was spectacular; lots of oranges and golden colours which complimented all the African prints the members of the band were wearing.
Half way through the set though Salif did have a bit of a tantrum and to this day we don't really know what happened but at a guess I think it was something to do with the security. He wanted everyone to dance and to come to the front but the guards wouldn't allow it and I really feel that this cramped his style and at one point he walked off and went backstage. He was off stage for about 5 or 6 minutes and this did cause a bit of a crisis as the rest of the band didn't really know what to do - whether to stay or follow. I think I was a bit disappointed as I didn't expect that from him and from that moment on he seemed to lose interest in the rest of the gig. Don't get me wrong he sang beautifully and I can't fault the band at all but there were moments in the last part of the set where he was away with the fairies. My husband noticed this to and we talked about nothing else on the way home. I kept thinking - 'Springsteen wouldn't do this on stage,' so as far as leadership qualities go I have to say Salif's weren't that good and overall, even though I was thrilled at seeing him live when leaving the tent a part of me was very sad and I'm sure I wasn't the only one that felt this way.
So to sum up :
* This is a very good festival for fans who like music from other countries.
* Ticket prices are exceptionally cheap and worth every penny.
* The festival tent is a good environment but can be a bit chilly at the end of September
* Sound quality and engineering was a bit muddy at the beginning but later improved. Salif's concert was the best for good sound quality.
* Organisation was a bit scatty for the first two days but then levelled out. I think people should be stopped from entering late whilst the concert is in motion - or at least until the end of a song.
* No beer - not a good idea
* Too many security guards
Just a few niggles there but on the whole I really enjoyed it and will probably go again next year. For £16 it's great value and one thing I have to say for Polish audiences is that they are very enthusiastic and welcome all these different cultures with open arms. Highly Recommended.