Fernando’s Kitchen at The Junction, Cambridge, 19 May 2011 (world fusion)


http://www.myspace.com/567017025 (Django’s Tiger)


There are not many completely independent bands that can pack out a venue the size of The Junction (which is not huge, but it’s a substantial venue); and a smaller subset of those which perform something as commercially challenged as ‘world music’. Fernando’s Kitchen are playing a good game (admittedly with a strong hand), and do all the right things to reach, engage and retain a loyal audience. Interestingly their efforts seem to be focussed on more traditional channels than is usual in these days of social media and digital music sales, but the crucial factor for audience building is to play a blinder every time you get in front of them.

Getting to bask in the glow of Fernando’s Kitchen’s considerable draw were local gypsy jazz quartet Django’s Tiger. I have to admit that my knowledge of this strand of European jazz is limited to the obvious, Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli, whose culturally specific assimilation of the idiom serves as compelling evidence that jazz was an international, transatlantic music from its early days. It’s good to see this stuff being played, since ‘early jazz’ is usually only taken to mean Dixieland.

This outfit take authenticity seriously, the guitarists using instruments that look and sound close to Reinhardt’s famous Maccaferri, and the entire band nailing the idiom: they swing hard, the blowing has classic antecedent-consequent phrasing, and their tone is spot on. The fiddle player in particular played some sinuous and convincing solos. As performers they seemed perhaps a little studious: not uncomfortable, but rather reserved. A little movement might have engaged the audience more, but they had an attentive and appreciative reception. I certainly enjoyed their set a good deal.

Stylistic authenticity is not really on the agenda for Fernando’s Kitchen, although they certainly show a great deal of respect for the various points they visit on the musical globe. They refer to their music as a ‘nu world fusion’, and it is fusion in the truest, finest sense of the word: they haven’t mashed up any unlikely combinations of styles, which can be an effective strategy, but have blended a number of related musical traditions, using a genuine appreciation of the different musics to forge a new alloy that is specifically their own. It never sounds like a mixture, because they have stirred the pot until they achieved a unity.

‘Nu world fusion’ recalls the various ‘Nu [insert musical tradition]’ compilations released by Manteca through the early noughties, a compilation series that could be very educational in the way that it highlighted similarities between traditions, and showcased artists that could tell you a story about the related musical histories of different countries. Fernando’s Kitchen have a tale to tell about how flamenco links North Africa to South America.

Flamenco is a specifically Andalucian music, and as an indigenous folk music it was not exported to the colonies in any organised way, but its influence can be heard throughout Latin America. It is certainly a strong enough influence, and Flamenco is stylistically robust enough, that the music of the new world can come home to Spain and be readily interpreted by Flamenco musicians. Flamenco is the centre around which Fernando’s Kitchen’s musical adventures revolve.

Sebastian Diez (guitar and vocals) and Heidi Joubert (cajón and vocals), the duo at the core of the band, clearly draw their technical skills from the flamenco tradition, but the band includes distinctly non-flamenco elements, such as double bass and oud, and plays material that draws on Cuba, latin jazz and many other sources.

Every musician (and tonight they performed as a septet) was possessed of their own distinct personality, and, importantly in live performance, their own visual style. Centre stage, Joubert is more or less the perfect front-woman: for one thing she is tall, blond and strikingly beautiful; she is also an extremely accomplished musician, who performs with such visual kinesis, and such an expressive range of facial gestures that her stage presence is among the most commanding I’ve witnessed; she is also a skilled and passionate singer, and articulates all the components of her performance as one. Beside her, Diez is a self-effacing, diffident figure, but a charismatic one: he lets his guitar do the talking, and flamenco guitar techniques are visually arresting in themselves, full of gesture and drama.

The chemistry between all of the players was visible from the off, and irrespective of their individual approach to stagecraft, each gave a committed and passionate performance (although Diez’s commitment was not enough for his bladder to last the whole set!). Individually, all of these musicians are extremely sharp, well practiced, and knowledgeable: as a group, they are telepathically tight. Empty technicalism never makes for a good show, but when the compositions are so good, and the arrangements so right, a display of instrumental skill is highly entertaining.

A recording is all about the band, but a live show is about the audience as well, about the relationship the band has cultivated and the dynamic between the two. Fernando’s Kitchen has cultivated the Cambridge audience in the best possible way: through generosity. They’ve been sharing their music for free by busking regularly in Market Hill (in stripped down configurations), and, in a few months, developed the following to fill Cambridge’s premier venue. It’s an object lesson for independent bands in developing a city: they capitalised only when they had built an audience that could fill a good sized venue, at a ticket price that made it worthwhile for them, but that didn’t undermine any of their goodwill. It was a win-win scenario. The audience in the hall was so supportive, warm and engaged that the band could draw on their energy and reflect it back to them; there is no faking the joy of performing to an appreciative audience, and Fernando’s Kitchen faked nothing. They put on an evening of musical entertainment that any performer would be hard put to equal, and if you get the chance to see them play, you should take it.

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