On Friday evening, a magical musical moment will arise in the beautiful Jacobikerk that the visitor will never forget – it will turn out to be one of many. The Japanese singer and keyboardist Hinako Omori plays heavenly melodies here and lets a choir of chirping birds sing along far in the background. She herself lays sonorous, unintelligible vocal lines over her calming sound world, from which all unrest or excitement is banned.
And what a visual spectacle is now emerging in the church. Soft green drops pass against the columns and groin vaults high above the audience, to calm the mood even further. And behind Omori, five dark blue beams of light pierce the nave of the church. Where the six halls of TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht form the hectic heart of the festival, you slowly fall into a trance here, far removed from it.
This year, the American band Low would not only perform but also be a curator at Le Guess Who. But a few weeks ago they had to cancel; drummer Mimi Parker was seriously ill. She passed away from cancer last Sunday; a great loss for the festival and for rock music in general. The band Divide and Dissolve dedicated their show to her on Thursday.
And a day later it hits again, with two breathtakingly beautiful Spanish concerts in the same church. Singer Lole Montoya, a seventies flamenco singer with undiluted hippie ideals, sings fragile but moving next to a searching and profound guitar. Montoya’s voice still has that youthful innocence, especially when it comes to her old flamenco hit Todo es de Color sings with a chanson-like melancholy.
After her, the great Estrella Morente takes the stage, with the Amsterdam Andalusian Orchestra. The singer, in the company of two guitarists and three female singers, lets her plaintive flamenco be performed next to swirling violins, the ud and the spiritual Arabic vocals of the orchestra leader Ahmed El Maai. Goosebumps up to the ears, especially when Morente strides slowly and singing out of the church after a thunderous ovation on the arm of El Maai. The audience follows in a procession and is almost moved to tears – a miracle has taken place in the Jacobikerk.
The Utrecht based Le Guess Who has grown in recent years into one of the most innovative festivals in the world and is therefore also visited by a very international audience. The four-day festival no longer wants major headliners in the program to sell tickets. And it no longer wants to program by genre in order to attract an unambiguous audience. Le Guess Who wants to be more of a quest and lets artists from all corners of the world come together to experience a kind of joint music journey. The public knows and appreciates it: Le Guess Who was sold out this year.
Although there are also new bands that can also be seen at regular festivals. On Friday, the Ronda in TivoliVredenburg, with a capacity of two thousand visitors, the largest room at the festival, will be full for the British post-punk band Dry Cleaning. The band with the beautifully hypothermic monotone voice of Florence Shaw and icy guitar lines exorcises for an hour that part of the audience that also wants to hear a more familiar sound. And then the American trio Clipping explodes the same room with an insanely beautiful hip-hop show, and the very sharp raps of Daveed Diggs.
Le Guess Who likes to excite by presenting the most extreme sounds. But no matter how deafening the Norwegian trio Supersilent was on Sunday: the roots of their hard music, with a striking role for Arve Henriksen’s piercing trumpet, lie in the avant-garde and jazz. An eye for tradition, making connections between old and new music by programming folk and other folk music from all over the world: that is what makes the festival unique.
The audience understands that and is completely silent to experience the Turkish folk of Derya Yildirim in Ekko. To then end up in the Grote Zaal with an entertaining show by the American orchestra leader and saxophonist Idris Ackamoor. Ackamoor, who is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his orchestra The Pyramids, does not set the bar too high in the packed Great Hall. From afrobeat to free jazz via a piece of R&B à la Sun Ra: assisted by two extra horn players and a string quartet, it goes off smoothly. Nice to watch, but great moments of elevation are missing.
There are plenty of them in the half hour that the American gospel family Brown will perform in the Janskerk on Friday. The Browns began fifty years ago as The Staples Jr. Singers, out of respect for The Staple Singers. The voices of Edward and Anna and the guitar of brother ARC almost make you rise from your chair with euphoria. Before you know it, wave and sing along. Ecstasy in a church, that’s gospel, and that’s it here.
The contrast could not be greater with another highlight, the solo performance on Sunday by the South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (88). He strings together the most beautiful pieces of improvisation, motifs and melodies for an hour without interruption. And after the applause he sings two more hymns while standing and you walk out of the hall for the umpteenth time this festival with the feeling that you have experienced something incomparable.