- Miles Hedley
GFMA COMMONWEALTH FESTIVAL at Charlton Park
As a nation we love a good party – just look at the thousands of public and private beanos to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. So a huge shout-out to Greenwich-based charity Global Fusion Music and Arts for staging a festival to celebrate both her decades as head of the Commonwealth and Britain’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games.
The event, on a glorious sunny afternoon in Charlton Park, was marketed as a family fun day. And so it was, with dozens of stalls offering arts and crafts, games, food and face-painting. But GFMA has a long history of putting on brilliant music from around the world - and this was no exception.
Artists from every continent except Antarctica were on the bill. Free workshops running in tandem with the gigs were run by experts from Namibia, Canada, Australia, Papua New Guinea and Singapore. You could learn dance moves from the Caribbean, India and the streets of Britain’s cities.
And you could be entranced by storytellers from Guyana, Bangladesh and Fiji.
As for the music, it was simply wonderful. Tabla player Hanif Khan and sitarist Pete Yelding opened with a programme of classical Indian music, followed by the bazouki-rich Cypriot sounds of the Exelixis Rembetiko Band who brought the timeless ambience of the Hellenic world to Charlton.
Isobel Kimberley offered a fascinating tour in folk music of the British Isles and, from the other side of the planet, New Zealand’s Toa Haka demonstrated traditional Māori dance.
A tribute to the Windrush generation brought together music from Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Barbados before the park throbbed to the sounds of South African township jazz brought to us by Mbaqanga – with acclaimed south-east London drummer Corrie Dick sitting in.
The festival was rounded off in grand style by the Lagos Palm Wine Band (top), who hypnotised us with the mellow vibe of Nigerian highlife music, and finally by Kenyan giants Them Mushrooms (below), whose headline slot also marked the end of their current tour.
It was a festival that encapsulated GFMA’s creed – to bring together communities and cultures. And, as ever, they did it magnificently.