Four days of Le Guess Who is a musical world journey packed with pure wonders


Lol MontoyaPicture Lisanne Lentink

On Friday evening, a magical musical moment occurs in the beautiful Jacobikerk, which the visitor will never forget – it will turn out to be one of many. The Japanese singer and keyboardist Hinako Omori here plays heavenly melodies and lets a chorus of chirping birds sing along in the background. She herself lays sonorous, unintelligible vocal lines over her soothing sound world, from which all unrest or tension is forbidden.

And what a visual spectacle now takes place in the church. Soft green drops pass towards the columns and groin vaults high above the audience, to calm the atmosphere even more. And behind Omori, five dark blue rays of light pierce the nave of the church. Where the six halls in TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht form the hectic heart of the festival, one slowly falls into a trance here, far away from it.

Mimi Parker

This year, the American band Low would not only perform, but also be the curator of Le Guess Who. But a few weeks ago they had to cancel; drummer Mimi Parker was seriously ill. She died of cancer on 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 strikes 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 moves 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. In the company of two guitarists and three female singers, the singer lets her plaintive flamenco be performed next to swirling violins, out and the spiritual Arabic vocals of orchestra leader Ahmed El Maai. Goosebumps up to the ears, especially when Morente walks slowly and singing out of the church after a thunderous applause on the arm of El Maai. The audience follows in a procession and is almost moved to tears – a miracle has happened in Jacobikerk.

Dry cleaning.  Figure Jelmer de Haas

Dry cleaning.Figure Jelmer de Haas

In recent years, the Utrecht-based Le Guess Who has grown 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 big headliners in the program to sell tickets. And it no longer wants to program by genre to attract a singular audience. Le Guess Who wants to be more of a quest and lets artists from all corners of the world meet to experience a kind of shared musical journey. The public knows and appreciates it: Le Guess Who 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 biggest venue of the festival, is full for the British post-punk band Dry Cleaning. The band with Florence Shaw’s beautifully hypothermic monotone voice and icy guitar lines exorcise for an hour the 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, creating connections between old and new music by programming folk music and other folk music from around the world: this is what makes the festival unique.

Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids figure Jelmer de Haas

Idris Ackamoor and the PyramidsFigure Jelmer de Haas

The audience understands this and is completely silent to experience the Turkish folk music Derya Yildirim in Ekko. And then end in the Grote Zaal with an entertaining show by the American conductor and saxophonist Idris Ackamoor. Ackamoor, who celebrates the 50th anniversary of his orchestra The Pyramids, does not set the bar too high in the full Great Hall. From Afrobeat to free jazz via a piece of R&B à la Sun Ra: assisted by two additional horn players and a string quartet, it goes smoothly. Nice to watch, but big moments of height are missing.

There are plenty of them in the half hour that the American gospel family Brown performs in 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 brother ARC’s guitar almost make you rise from your chair with euphoria. Before you know it, you’ll be waving and singing along. Ecstasy in a church, that’s gospel, and that’s it.

The Staples Jr.  Singer character Jelmer de Haas

The Staples Jr. singersFigure Jelmer de Haas

The contrast could not be greater with another highlight, the solo performance on Sunday by the South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (88). He stitches together the most beautiful pieces of improvisation, motifs and melodies for an hour without interruption. And after the applause, he sings two more hymns standing up, and you leave the hall for the eighth time this festival with the feeling that you have experienced something incomparable.

Abdullah Ibrahim statue Maarten Mooijman

Abdullah IbrahimPicture Maarten Mooijman

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