The second two-day Timbre Rock & Roots festival in Singapore’s Marina Promenade delighted regional music fans again with a terrific line-up of established and emerging artistes (see my coverage of the first 2010 festival here).
Timbre Rock & Roots is a joint collaboration project between Timbre Music of Singapore and Bluesfest, the organiser behind one of the world’s most prominent music festivals, East Coast Blues Festival — also known as Bluesfest in Byron Bay, Australia.
The festival, held on Friday and Saturday evening April 15-16, opened with Raw Earth, a band of Singapore blues and rock musicians including Danny Loong and Francis Chan (Ublues), Victor Chen, Surath Godfrey and Hanrong. The band performed 50s-70s blues, rock and roll, funk, and soul.
I first heard the tracks “Reggae Got Soul” and “Funky Kingston” as a grad student in the US in the mid-1980s, and it was terrific for me to see the legendary pioneering band from Jamaica, Toots & The Maytals, perform live in Singapore almost 25 years later!
Their first album was released way back in 1964, and the band is also credited with coining the word “reggae” with a hit single in 1968 called “Do the Reggay.” Lead singer Frederick “Toots” Hibbert was joined by his daughter on vocals in the Singapore set.
Legendary poet and singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, with over 50 albums recorded across 6 decades – followed with timeless classic songs including “Like a Rolling Stone.” Dylan also played keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars and harmonica, to the audience’s delight. He has played roughly 100 shows a year for the last 22 years, and his current Asia tour includes China and Vietnam.
Interestingly, Bob Dylan’s music opened up a path where music was used as a weapon to oppose the US war in Vietnam and fight injustice and racism, according to Tran Long An, vice president of the Vietnam Composers’ Association in an Associated Press report.
“Music is something you can’t hold in your hands, smell it, taste it or even see it, yet somehow just coming together and feeling these little vibrations that tickle our eardrums can somehow lift us all up out of our most difficult moments in life to unimaginable heights,” says Michael Franti, who closed Day One in fine style.
His unique blend of funk, reggae, jazz, rock and hip-hop clearly showed how “music gives us new energy and a stronger sense of purpose.” He played a number of danceable tracks from his latest album, “Sound of Sunshine.”
Day Two opened with a 30-minute set of covers and originals containing a mixture of folk, blues, soul and rock performed by The Sets Band. They started out in early 2009 in Singapore with Josh and Marcus doing covers after school, as an acoustic duo. Bassist Jin and drummer Ramos signed on later. 53A – consisting of musicians Alvin and Sara who were later joined by Hidir and Irwan – followed with a set of pop and rock; their debut album is called “Settle the Kettle.”
Innovative singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Imogen Heap followed with her trademark “eclectronic-style,” blending voices, beats and digital media with an overlay of folk. Described variously as “organic electronica” or “heaven on a disc,” her albums have won wide acclaim.
The next blistering high-energy set by Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue had everyone up on their feet. Troy ‘Trombone Shorty’ Andrews started early, learning how to play drums and “the world’s smallest trumpet” at the age of three. At age six, this prodigy was playing trumpet and trombone in a jazz band led by his older brother James, himself a trumpet player of local renown. Troy’s latest CD ‘Backatown’ features guests Lenny Kravitz, Marc Broussard and Allen Toussaint. In Singapore, Troy played with his accomplished band Orleans Avenue in trademark “supafunkrock” style.
The festival ended on a high note with six-time Grammy award winner John Legend, whose most recent album release is 2010’s Wake Up!, with socially-aware songs like “Wake Up Everybody” and “Little Ghetto Boy.” John Legend has also lent his support to green causes and to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, Millennium Promise and the Millennium Villages Project.
Unfortunately the seating arrangements and sound system at the festival left a lot to be desired. Unlike the previous festival which was “free standing,” this year there was a separate section for foldable chairs right in front of the stage, with corporate booths just behind. Fans with general tickets found it impossible to get a good view of the stage, and the music did not sound good at all unless you were right in front of the stage.
“Too bad the VIP section really killed the atmosphere. Lets hope the artists aren’t left thinking Singapore fans are boring,” lamented one fan in an online post. “The organisers seemed more interested in sponsors and the lawn chair area. Everybody I talked to despised the venue,” complained another fan.
The event was staged at the waterfront near the F1 Pit Stop, with Singapore’s stunning skyscrapers, world’s largest ferris wheel and new casino as backdrops (though I miss the lawns and picnic blanket atmosphere of greener venues like Fort Canning). The T-shirt design this year was superb, with branches coming out of a guitar, captioned “Music = Respect. Know Your Roots.” The branches were labelled with the various genres of music, ranging from rock and blues to drum&bass and reggae.
We eagerly look forward to next year’s Rock&Roots festival already. Last year’s festival featured Buddy Guy, Gypsy Kings, Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club and Jools Holland. Fans can also check out great live music at Timbre’s three music venues, three restaurants and its own music academy in Singapore. Timbre hosts the annual Beerfest Asia festival, now in its third year.
Other good music acts to follow in Singapore this month at the Esplanade are Gilberto Gil, a legendary tropicalismo superstar from Brasil), and the Tapestry of Sacred Music.
See more pictures:
[flickrset id=”72157626532216942″ thumbnail=”square” photos=”” overlay=”false” size=”medium”]
Surfboard: Timbre Rock&Roots 2011 on the Web and Twitter
Written by: Madanmohan Rao
Editor & DJ; World music & Jazz
-Global Correspondent for Jazzuality.com-
Photos courtesy of Jonathan Lim and Aloysius Wong, used by permission