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World On The Beach FMM Sines is one of the European summer’s

main world music festivals. Judith Burrows took her camera bag to Portugal…


ess than two hours South of Lis- bon, a small coastal town of whitewashed, red-tiled build- ings, surrounds a 15th Century castle set high on a cliff. It over- looks a vast sandy beach and the wide Atlantic Ocean. This is Sines, centre of a very special world music festival, now in its nineteenth year.

A statue of Vasco da Gama, whose birthplace is attributed to Sines, looks down on the bay named after him, and to the dis- tant horizon where massive cargo vessels pass listlessly among the local fishing boats on their way to Portugal’s most important port. Perhaps it is da Gama’s inspirational legacy that roused a new generation of pio- neers in the guise of Carlos Seixas, artistic director, and Manuel Coelho, Mayor, to instigated the first world music festival here in 1999. Undoubtedly the spirit of the festi- val and its ideology reflect the same ethos of discovery, inviting to the stage a vast mix of musical genres from different geographi- cal and cultural backgrounds.

The new Arts Centre houses seated con- certs for an intimate acoustic experience. Notable are Medeiros & Lucas from the Azores who create an atmospheric combi- nation of poetic singing and lyrical guitar which is mesmerising. Maria Arnal and Mar- cel Bages sing Catalan folk ballads with a contemporary twist, while in colourful con-

The Beach stage

trast Parvathy Baul rouses the senses with Baul chanting, spiritual singing accompa- nied by the ektara chordophone.

The festival is notable for its inclusivity. Run by the municipality for the people of Sines, the beach stage is unticketed, and the very reasonably-priced concerts at the castle are screened on the beach for everyone to see and hear. FMM Sines attracts established artists who enjoy this ethos. This year the Castle Stage saw the legendary Nigerian saxophonist and singer Orlando Julius teamed with Bixiga 70, a Brazilian Band from São Paulo. I caught Orlando Julius at a morning music and dance workshop, where for an hour he charmed the children with his lyrical saxophone. In the evening I caught an energetic and politically rousing performance by the popular South African BCUC, seven musicians from Soweto with an interesting mix of styles and genres. They are followed by the more gentle balladeer, Fatoumata Diawara, collaborating this time with Hindi Zahra.

The Vasco da Gama Beach Stage, between the industrial skylines of cranes in the port and a distant petroleum refinery, is approached by a steep staircase. Here the tendency is for more experimental music and dance rhythms which prevail into the early hours. La Mambanegra are particularly noteworthy, as are the innovative and vis- ceral Ifriqiyya Électrique who mix ceremoni- al visuals, punk-like electric bass and guitar

with music sung and played by three banga musicians, derived from the spiritual dance traditions of Tunisia. At their workshop a ritualistic trance-like dance bewitches the children for nearly an hour.

The last night takes on a party atmo- sphere. Compelling Malian singer Oumou Sangare returns to the festival with a new album which speaks of freedom, dignity and tolerance. Her powerful voice and accomplished band stir the castle audience, packed to capacity. She is followed by Tiken Jah Fakoly who, like a mythic warrior, stalks the stage majestically, taking Jamaican reg- gae riffs, mixed with ngoni, balofon and kora, back to its African roots. Fireworks accompany the beginning of his set, light- ing up the castle ramparts. From the roof of the museum the atmosphere is of a vast medieval pageant. The Sines castle, a monu- mental symbol of defence with its cannons pointing out to sea to ward off marauders, takes on a new significance by opening its heart to cultural difference and by embrac- ing musicians from all over the world to promote equality and freedom.

In the words of Billy Bragg, which are painted on the castle wall next to his por- trait: “A festival like FMM Sines, where there is music from all around the world, it’s an opportunity to see more deeply into the great ocean of world music…” F

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