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Jazz Festival day 1: We are all Shibusa Shirazu Orchestra!

The 50th Molde International Jazz Festival is officially up and running ... in bright read underpants!

It all started grandiosely, but soberly and official-like, in the beautiful surroundings of the outdoor museum (brilliant idea, that; I hope they repeat it next year) with speeches from the usual suspects:

Mayor Jan Petter Hammerø's speech was pleasantly and unusually short and not packed full of figures for a change. He may have been touched by the moment. He referred to the history of the festival, plugged the new book on the festival and the new Theatre and Jazz House, and shortly after left the stage to the infinitely more deserving Jan Ole Otnæs (the festival director).

His credentials are indisputable, having hitch hiked here from the dark depths of Northern Norway at the tender age of 15, and having spent the last 10 years leading the festival to ever greater fame and fortune. Strangely, he was the one to mention money, but that is allowable when he does so in order to inform us that the very first festival, on 3 August 1961 had at their disposal the astronomical sum of 15.000 NOK. He also spent some time demonstrating the centrality of this festival in the development of key international musicians, including (but not limited to: I started taking down the names half-way through the list) Nils Petter Molvær, Daniel Herskedal, Hayden Powell, Ola Kvernberg, Ytre Suløen and Jan Garbarek.

Foto: Tor
The third speaker, who officially declared the festival opened, was the Norwegian Minister for Culture (though technically not a minister, per se), Anniken Huitfeldt, who made sure to mention the 800 volunteers who make the festival run smoothly, how Moldejazz as a festival is the giant upon whose shoulders other Norwegian festivals have stood, the groundbreaking effect of the festival on the perception of jazz in Norway, the changing criteria for government support for this type of culture, and the importance for the development of a whole generation in having the first black people they ever see in real life be the stars in jazz concerts ... the usual.

In addition I think all three speakers managed to mention that after ``Kikkan'' and ``Pingen'' had dreamt up the idea of a jazz festival a whole day's journey from Oslo (one wet night?), and ``Kikkan'' went to the Jazz Society in Oslo to propose it, he was almost laughed out of the room. There was a certain sense of ``Who's laughing now, eh?'' and nobody objects to that.


But the real story begins after the speeches (as is always the case, I think), when everyting went nuts:

Jørgen told us it would be unlike anything else we'll see this year (and probably any other year as well). And I dare say Jørgen was quite right. It was insane. In a good way. I find I lack the words to try to explain it properly. The festival programme describes it as, orkester med glitrende musikere, hvitsminkede buthodansere [sic], tyggegummi-fargede discodansere, og polkaprikkede banandansere, malere, videokunstnere og en ballongmaker

( orchestra of brilliant musicians, white painted butoh-dancers, bubblegum-coloured disco-dancers, and polkadotted banana-dancers, painters, video artist and a balloon-maker)

We did not see any balloon artists, but, considering how hidden the painter was, he may have been lurking under the stage. Or, possibly walking randomly among the audience. It feels like the sort of surreal thing they might do: the banana dancer, for example, baffled all members of the public within range of this intrepid Calcuttagutta reporter.

Are: Jeg håper du har tenkt å tolke banandama. (I hope you will interpret the banana lady)

Ingvild: Det var utrolig kult med han ropemannen ... men jeg lurer på formålet med hun banandama. (The shouting guy was very cool ... but I wonder what the point of the banana lady was)

Johannes: [indistinct mutterings concerning the everpresence of the lady when the cool butho dancers were offstage occasionally]

Due to popular demand, I therefore present my interpretation of the Banana Dancer. I half-promised Johannes something shocking and Freudian, but the more I think about it, the more I suspect the lady is simply there to signify the lack of signification. She is a token of absurdity. The point of the banana dancer is that she has no point.

Foto: Tor
My Japanese is very, very limited, and I must therefore trust wikipedia when it says that Shibusa Shirazu translates as ``we do not understand/are unaffected by cool'', but the name fits the band to a t. It is a total rejection of that hipster indie cool which suggests the artist really couldn't care less -- the man in the red pants and the wonderful jacket (dubbed ``ropemannen'' by Ingvild) cared whether we joined in or not. As he said,

This is not a concert! We want to party with you!
Music is fun! But many people together, more fun!

At first I thought (well, ``hoped'' may be a better word -- I dread audience participation) he was referring to the impressive number of musicians (and other artists) on stage, but when it came time for the Japanese Fishermen's Groove, there was no escaping the fact that the man wanted 5000 people in his party. Hence the title. We are now all Shibusa Shirazu Orchestra. Even Tor, who seemed quite startled at the thought.

The man even made us do it all again when the first attempt did not satisfy his expectations. But I am not complaining. It was fun.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that I am failing miserably at communicating the strange and impressive craziness that is Shibusa Shirazu Orchestra. It felt a little like what I have always imagined certain types of hallucinogens must work: all impressions were strong impressions, and nothing was left to stand alone -- there were constantly competing sensory impressions and my eyes and ears never knew exactly what to land on.

Foto: Tor

I admit the butoh dancers managed to hold my attention fairly steadily. Their body control had me gaping. I have since had reason to be annoyed at Dagbladet (which means the Jazz Festival has really started), which captions an image of the female dancer with

Spesielt en danser i det japanske Shibuza [sic] Shirazu Orchestra trollbant publikum med sitt yndefulle, hvitmalte kroppsspråk.

(Especially one dancer in the Japanese Shibusa Shirazu Orchestra bewitched the audience with her graceful, white painted body language.)

That was not the point. I am not entirely sure what the point is, but I am sure that isn't it. Yes there were boobs. Yes, she was graceful (although "yndefull" has different connotations -- you would never use it about a man). But they were also damned impressive, borderline alien, definitely animal-like at times, and it was not the woman alone (or, indeed, first and foremost) who caught our attention and held it. (I am giving Mosnes the benefit of the doubt, hoping he is not responsible for captioning the photos.)

Foto: Tor

This guy had Johannes grumbling about his absence when he was off-stage (even while the woman was doing her most impressive dancing, clothed). He was bewitching with slow, measured movements of which he was in complete control. Here is another picture for good measure:

They also provided us with a mystery that needs clearing up (see the picture to the right). Tor thinks that is supposed to be a fish (and I think Are agreed?), but I couldn't shake the feeling of having seen something similar in Princess Mononoke.

Having now checked up on this, I find that I was thinking of kodama, a type of forest spirits (I think), and that I may be wrong (it happens). And maybe Tor was right after all and it was a fish. Any other suggestions?

There is also the mystery of the identity of the piece of music that they incorporated on regular intervals. I have checked my two original suspcts, Zatoichi and Seven Samurai, and I could not find the original. But since we all recognised it from somewhere, it should be possible for us to identify it if we put our minds to it. Come on, people. It is driving me nuts.

Foto: Tor
There is more to say. I haven't scraped the surface of the creative anarchy of it all. There was a theremin with funky sounds, ladies in sexy dresses and green, yellow, orange or blue hair, depending on the occasion, oh, and musicians. I haven't even described the music. Because I can't. It was a strange mix of free jazz, poppishness and something that felt very Japanese in a mix of the traditional and the new crazy-tv-ness of it, mixing all my contradictory ideas of the country into one happy snappy crazy anti-cool insane carnival of colours, sounds and movement, keeping my mind occupied throughout yesterday and into the early hours when it made my dreams weird.

Those who left early, due to boobs or unfamiliar music, missed out on an experience they are not likely to have again. And those who stood in front of people sitting... I lack the words for the hell that awaits them once their souls are weighed in balance.


Jørgen,  21.07.10 22:49

Thank you, Camilla. This was really a fun read, and for a while it made me forget that I missed the concert. What you wrote about the concert, and more importantly how you did it, left me with a nice amount of 物の哀れ. I have been waiting for this concert to show up in the program since Finn Frode first told me about Shibusashirazu back in 2005 and showed me some of their performances. And now I have this bittersweet knowledge that I probably would have liked this concert quite a lot, and remembered it for quite a few years, but in the end, I didn't get to see them play and dance. It makes me sad in a nostalgic way. And I kind of like that, actually. Weird.

On another note, I think that ‹‹never be cool›› is a better translation of shibusashirazu, since it also implies a movement away from the music and mentality of Miles Davis and jazz musicians of his ilk.

Are,  22.07.10 00:17

Thank you for a great review!

It was a weird concert, but really, really spectacular and enjoyable. I like the idea of starting (for me personally) the festival with Shibusa and closing it with Break of Day.

I did not partake in the figurine-is-it-a-fish-discussion. Ingvild thinks it looks fishy, though.

Da - da - da -daaaaaaaaaaaaa - dadada - da - da - daaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.
Da - da - da - daaaaaaaa. Da-da-da - da - da - daaaaaaaa.

Are,  22.07.10 00:17

Also: Thanks for great photos, Tor.