Joy and sadness came all at once at Germany's largest world music festival. Some of the finest concertina players in the world had arranged for a joint concert, rehearsing together for a week ahead of time. One of them was 84-year-old Horst Foit. Before his appearance, he had said that he simply could not believe that so many people wanted to hear his music.
But he suffered a heart attack while standing overjoyed on stage. The concert had to be cancelled, and Foit went to the emergency room. The other musicians decided to make up the concertina program the next night, devoting it to their colleague.
The concertina, a baby cousin of the accordion, was one focal point of the 22nd Dance and Folk Festival in Rudolstadt (TFF Rudolstadt), which ended this week after hosting 85,000 visitors at 20 festival stages. With 163 acts, bands, ensembles and artists from 40 countries, the festival again offered its special blend of traditional and contemporary global and local music, from folk and reggae to hip-hop, country and Chinese opera.
Diverse genres from China
There are probably two things that spring to mind when people in the West think of music from China: cheesy pop songs at a local Chinese joint and the often inaccessible Chinese opera with its dramatic effects and shrill vocals.
But that's far from all China has to offer musically, as festival-goers this year could discover. There was opera, but there was also music of the Uyghur, a Muslim ethnic minority. The band Er Shou Mei Gui offered contemporary rock music, and singer Gong Linna appeared with the first Chinese folk music choir, DaBaiSong. Gong Linna also took part in an orchestral project featuring the Thuringian State Symphony Orchestra, whose members have appeared at the TFF Rudolstadt for several years.
Dancing in the streets
Even for seasoned TFF fans, it's a welcome surprise each year to see how engaged the audience is at the events. There are countless street music ensembles that play everywhere in the city, and numerous visitors also bring along their instruments. They like to jam out wherever they please, or they can head to the various concerts and workshops where there are chances to dance and play along.
Street dance styles ranging from folk to hip-hop are still an important ingredient in the Rudolstadt music mix. The amateurs in Rudolstadt perform at a high level. Providing the backdrop around nearly every corner are the sounds of solo guitarists, percussion ensembles, cajon players and even entire Balkan combos.
When the weather permits, the street music is often as big of a draw as the stage programming.
Ruth is the name of the world music award presented annually to three musicians at TFF Rudolstadt. This time, protest singer Hannes Wader from Germany received the award for lifetime achievement. Wader confessed that he had not yet received a single prize in his 50-year career as an artist and that at his age he prefers to write songs about death or women than about current political affairs.
The Al Andaluz Project, a consortium of German, Spanish and Moroccan musicians, was also awarded a prize, as well as the Strottern, who now play their modernist, blues-filled Viennese songs with backing from wind players.
There are very few big names in Rudolstadt, even among the prize-winners, but the festival doesn't live from star power. There are, however, a few exceptions in each year's program, like German reggae superstar Gentleman or American singer-songwriter Alison Krauss in 2012.
The draw of Rudolstadt lies much more in the discovery of the new, and in being part of a spring-up community that is singular in Germany's festival season.
Author: Matthias Klaus / gsw
Editor: Kate Bowen