sat 15/06/2024

Songlines Encounters, Kings Place review - moments of magic | reviews, news & interviews

Songlines Encounters, Kings Place review - moments of magic

Songlines Encounters, Kings Place review - moments of magic

A night of immersive polyphonic magic with Georgia's Ialoni and the Persian-West African fusion of Constantinople

Ialoni on stage at Kings PlaceSimon Broughton

These encounters are ones that may lead to lifelong relationships, with the halls at Kings Place this coming weekend filled with music from Mali, Colombia, Turkey, Georgia, Estonia, Tibet and a woodland in Sussex.

Friday’s double-headed line-up features Malian blues-rock guitarist Vieux Farka Toure returning to his roots on his recent album, La Racines, with a focus on Songhai music from northern Mali, while in Hall Two the all-female London-based Mariachi band Las Adelitas reverse a few macho stereotypes.

Saturday will be a high point, with not only a surround-sound remote connection with Sam Lee and Georgia Ruth’s Singing with Nightingales in the Sussex woodlands, adding some human DNA into the nightingale’s code, in the halls, psychedelia and liberation from the forces of control fuels the music of Turkey’s retro-futurist Gaye Su Akyol, on her Anatolian Dragon World Tour. In dramatic contrast, the “zombie folk” of Estonian duo Puuluup sees them exploring the music of the bowed lyre, or talharpa, in Hall Two.

The Estonian Male Choir, alongside Bogata’s Meridian Brothers, are Sunday night’s star Encounter, and the festival bows out in spectacular style on Wednesday with the return of the monks of Tashi Lihunpo Monastery for a night of Tibetan Sacred Music and Dance. The mighty dungchen long horn joins forces with skull-drums, cymbals and bells, to draw back the veil of illusion. Already, some of these – including Vieux Farka Toure, Gaye Su Akyol and the Tibetans, are sold out.

For the opening Thursday’s Encounters, the Georgian women’s polyphonic song ensemble Ialoni filled Hall Two, while the larger Hall One promised the trio of Kiya Tabassian on setar (Persian lute), Ablaye Cissoko on kora and percussionist Patrick Graham performing as Constantinople. However, an encounter with visa issues meant that Cissoko was sadly not able to enter the UK, leaving them to perform as a duo.

Ialoni, from Tbilisi, comprises six singers, led by Nino Naneishvili. They come to the stage dressed in red and green. One of the singers has hair like Rapunzel, extending almost down to her feet. They open with a Christmas Song in two versions from different monastery schools, the latter a trio of crystal clear voices coming together in a slightly abrasive sympathy of parts. They then veer away from the monastic repertoire into older ritual songs, beginning with one featuring solo voice with a sparse lute accompaniment, its impact one of intense melancholy – the rakia of melancholy – a full-strength, voluptuous melancholy, one to get drunk on, one you could carve into marble or stone.

Group polyphony, ring dances, circle singing, solo voices rising and fulling through the polyphony – they all have the impact of spells woven and cast, but perhaps none is so sure, and subtle, as the remarkable set of lullabies – “a very strong ritual in our country” – that conclude their first set.

Over in Hall One, Constantinople’s opening piece clocks in at around 45 minutes, without pause. While as a trio, they combine the music of Persia and West Africa, here as an enforced duo, Tabassian’s setar journeyed more down the silk road of Persia, albeit reeling in some of the mellifluous kora melodies from Cissoko’s Senegal, with percussionist Patrick Graham was in command of a panoply of instruments, from little cymbals and bells to rain sticks and frame drum, punctuating, anticipating and adding drama to Tabassian’s protean string work, the two weaving flights of exquisite filigree, casting out and reeling in over the course of their set.

These were two distinct and unique musical worlds, each an encounter expanding to envelop their audiences in immersive musical experiences that transport as surely as any warp drive. And this is the promise of these Encounters, as they unfold over the weekend and into next week. Dystopian times require moments of magic, and release. Here they are.

Book tickets to Songline Encounters here or call (020 7520 1490


These Encounters encompass audiences in immersive musical experiences that transport as surely as any warp drive


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article


What a spellbinding concert from Ialoni! Beautifully structured it took us on a film-like journey through Georgian life, spiritual traditions and rituals - and across regions and centuries. The voices of these women are by turns pure and light, haunting, wild, peaceful, healing - and always with those extraordinary Georgian polyphonic harmonies. A magical event!

What a beautiful, poetic review that perfectly matched the mood created by Ialoni. Thank you Songlines Encounters Festival for hosting this magical evening. Susan Thompson co-host Voices of the Ancestors podcast

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters