Manu Delago is an impressive drummer and percussionist whose career has seen collaborations with the likes of Bjork and Anoushka Shankar. He’s also famed for his ability in playing the hang drum and creating new sounds with instruments built out of every-day-life objects. This would have been enough to expect a compelling show, but when it’s a collaboration festival – one he founded in 2013 – that sees him performing in a Church with some of the most interesting musicians on the European scene, it turns out an event that any music lover would probably kill for.
The festival was initially supposed to take place inside the Brunel Museum in the London area of Rotherhithe, but eventually ended up being relocated to St. Mary’s Church, a few feet away from the museum. Delago was joined by Christoph Pepe Auer, from Vienna, at the bass clarinet and alto sax; Isa Kurz, a multi-instrumentalist who delighted the audience with her voice and violin; Alex Mayer, whose Didgeridoo and Tuba filled the church with their overwhelming vibrations and the dazzling duo CatchPopStringStrong made up of Jelena Popržan (viola, voice) and Rina Kacinari (cello, voice).
The show was divided into two one-hour sections with a 20 minute interval during which the audience and the musicians shared a merrymaking moment at the museum cafe drinking wine while Porzan and Kacinari improvised a brief performance in the courtyard.
Both moments of the show were a mesmerizing no-time-no-space experience. Though completely acoustic it never got boring as the musicians were very careful at always maintaining a certain whimsical mood. Music was the real queen all along the show, and boundaries of experimentalism were often pushed far with Mayer creating techno-house sounds just blowing in the Tuba or Auer having the bass clarinet almost whispering and Popržan “tricking” the audience into believing we were listening to the viola while it was actually her definitely perfect overtone singing. Delago looked completely lost in the rhythm and the sounds while stroking and beating the hang, almost losing his identity to the surroundings, as if his spirit had been absorbed by the drum under his hands.
At some point the performance seemed an effort to discover how objects sound if beaten or blown or plucked in a way rather than the other, just like what our ancestors probably did out of intuitive curiosity when they realised everything can make a sound. Such ancestral fil rouge mixed to world folk music, the unquestionably monstrous talent of the musicians and the hypnotising, relaxing effect of the hang made the festival a show that we wish Delago will bring to London for many years to come.