Freedom to Roam: The Rhythms Of Migration – Folk Radio UK

A swallow awakens in Africa, its journey northwards knows no borders.A green shoot bursts from the ground, reaching upwards towards the sky.A child leaves home, seeking safer shores.

The rhythms of migrations have no boundaries.Freedom to roam is nature.Our humanity, wildlife and biodiversity undeniably connected.

Freedom to Roam: The Rhythms Of Migration

Goatskin Records 26 November 2021

Sometimes a piece of music transcends being merely a listening experience, however excellent a listen it may be, and The Rhythms Of Migration, certainly far in excess of being merely excellent, is one such creation. The album is one element of a triptych, the two other components being a film documentary by multi-award-winning director Nicholas Jones (A Greenlander, You Are Here) and an album launch concert, hosted by, and in aid of, the Born Free Foundation, whose founder, Virginia McKenna, along with her son Bill Travers, have been its champions.

The Freedom To Roam project is the brainchild of Eliza Marshall, flautist with Ranagri, whose genre-crossing work has seen her perform with the likes of The Divine Comedy, Paul McCartney, The Who and a plethora of orchestras in a variety of shows such as The Lion King, Les Misrables and Miss Saigon, together with recording numerous soundtracks for the likes of Ridley Scott, Peter Johnson and David Attenborough. Originally conceived just over a couple of years ago from the germ of an idea during a visit to the Isle of Coll in the Outer Hebrides, music was to be used as a platform, harnessing fresh ideas related to the environment, wildlife and humanitarian concerns. The COVID 19 lockdown provided both the catalyst and opportunity for time to focus on it and the pandemics associated lost freedoms gave even more resonance and poignancy to the projects title.

As a result of discussions with musicians and others, there was a realisation that there was an interconnection between the, often enforced, migration of humans seeking to cross borders to ameliorate their lives, and the unbridled migration of animals in the natural world, and that the two impacted upon each other, although not always symbiotically. To reflect this as a soundscape in The Rhythms Of Migration, Eliza has garnered the talents of eight leading exponents from the realms of folk, classical and world music and between them, they have created a migratory musical masterpiece.

Given the circumstances under which the album evolved, physically getting the musicians together for rehearsals proved problematic, despite a supportive St. Georges in Bristol, which necessitated learning new technical skills and adapting to different working patterns, not least the use of the internet to collaborate. Perhaps ironically, this is perfectly in keeping with the central tenet of the album, for as Eliza says, online there are literally no borders. Kickstarter funding ensured that the project could proceed, and the album was eventually recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales.

In addition to Elizas own contributions on flutes, whistles and Indian bansuri, which underpin the album, the award-winning record producer, pioneer of the British Bhangra sound and breaker of boundaries of the Indian tradition, Kenyan-born Kuljit Bhamra MBE, plays tabla and electronic tanpura and is joined by diverse percussionist Joby Burgess, with additional bodhran from Evan Carson (Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys, and more recently Ranagri). Catrin Finch, with whom Eliza studied at the Royal Academy of Music, former Royal Harpist to HRH The Prince of Wales, and more recently no stranger herself to the theme of migration with her 2018 SOAR collaboration with Seckou Keita, provides harp and piano. Other strings are provided by another award-winner, Robert Irvine (Director, Red Note Ensemble, Da Vinci Piano Trio, Kyle Quartet) on cello and Lydia Lowndes-Northcott, who has vast experience in the orchestral sphere and is currently a member of the English Chamber Orchestra, on viola. Andrew Morgan adds additional percussion and synth and is also the albums producer, whilst Dnal Rogers (much sought after multi-instrumentalist, lead singer and writer in Ranagri), contributes bass guitars, piano and percussion. Completing the octet on violin and piano is another Royal Academy graduate, Jackie Shave, leader of The Britten Sinfonia, a musician with vast experience who also toured alongside Eliza with Peter Gabriel.

With such an array of talent pooling their resources, it is hardly surprising that the result is a totally mesmeric hour-long aural experience of transcendent quality, in which African, Celtic and Indian influences coalesce as classical fuses with folk, with just a hint of electronic. The soundscape created is widescreen and cinematic in its effect, akin to the visual equivalent of a painter utilising a vast palette of colours. The fourteen tracks on the album, some of which flow seamlessly from one to the next, are all original tracks composed by Marshall, Finch, Shave and Rogers. Their compositions pretty much appear in that order, a reflection of the fact that rather than just a set of disconnected tracks, there is a story threading through the whole album, a little like the aforementioned Peter Gabriel with his Last Temptation Of Christ.

Our journey begins, appropriately, with Awakenings. Elizas piece perfectly captures the quietness of the dawn, with its peaceful tranquillity suggesting that both time and space are standing still, before a change of tempo and mood is introduced with the title track, The Rhythms of Migration, in which the movement and rhythms suggest the awakening world is moving on, a journey is about to begin. The melding of the various instruments creates an immensely uplifting, joyous feeling, but one which, reflecting the reality of life and the fragile eco-system, is to be immediately shattered in Arctic Lament. An improvised piece, melting ice caps, disappearing landscapes, and the vast expanses of ocean are explored in a sobering, melancholic track. However, is there a ray of hope to be found in Catrins solo, which concludes the track?

The following two compositions, both by Catrin, possibly allude to tentative optimism. The former of these, Turning Tides, certainly has within its title the possibility of being interpreted as an indication that with appropriate action from humanity, the raising of awareness and a more altruistic approach, then a change for good could be affected. In terms of sentiment, I am drawn to make a comparison with Ian Andersons What-ifs, Maybes and Might-have-beens from Thick As A Brick 2. Musically, the introductory harp melody is gorgeous; before other instruments weave their magic; there is no escaping the rippling tide evinced by the sound created. The latter track, Freedom, a word encapsulating one of the albums central themes, not only for humanity but also for nature and wildlife, initially with piano and strings to the fore, embrace interesting chords changes, intriguing vocalisations and a tremendous electric guitar solo from Dnal, and immediately transported me to Attenboroughs Serengeti and the great migration of wildebeest and zebra.

Our journey pauses, momentarily, with A Quiet Place, the first of Jackies seven compositions, as we are given a brief opportunity to collect our thoughts, possibly unaware of the gathering rain clouds, before the rain finally comes, by way of Rain Coming. Another joyous, upbeat, celebratory offering, the violin and cello parts reflecting the life-giving energy and relief felt by those in Africa when it arrives. The rain passes, and the sun sets. Below, the growth of tiny shoots, above the desert sky. Green Shoots and Galaxies, written for the tabla, initially gentle and lilting, before, at around one minute thirty seconds in, it bursts into percussive, rhythmic life before returning to a calm serenity reflecting the awe and wonder of the stars above.

The haunting cello which underscores Leaving My Homeland creates a mood that echoes the grief, fear, hardship, and often terror that accompanies having to flee ones home because of climate change, conflict, famine or persecution, but this hardly prepares the listener for the following track, Brutal. Appositely titled, mans inhumanity to his fellow humans, and indeed the earth is perfectly encapsulated in this angry, relentless, aggressive piece, which runs straight into Run Wild! Again the title is pertinent, as the ferociously fast, Moroccan influenced tune, exhilarating, feral and raw, suggests escape, flight and freedom. In complete contrast, the gentle, delicate Cherish creates the impression of calm after the turbulence of the preceding three tracks; safety, refuge and a safe haven have been attained.

The two remaining tracks, credited to Dnal, reflect optimism and enthusiasm. Jazz-tinged piano introduces Seekers, an open, uplifting composition which, to these ears, continues the journey incorporating different influences and flavours, Cuban, South American, Middle-Eastern, Indian sub-continent, pastoral Britain, before the destination is reached in the final track, Coming Home. Partially inspired by watching the Perseverance Rover landing on Mars, five minutes of cheerful, musical ebullience give a reminder of the importance of home to both man and beast and the percussive beats that conclude the album affirms the heartbeat of compassion and hope for a sustainable planet Earth.

The Rhythms of Migration is an outstanding album. If academics, or others, wished to exemplify the power and ability of music to touch and affect the range of human emotions, then they need look no further than this release.

A drink from this global watering hole will leave you enriched, enlightened and, hopefully, a more altruistic, compassionate being.

Watch the accompanying video to The Rhythms of Migration:

Freedom to Roam Launch Concert: 18 December 2021 at Cecil Sharp House, London (Tickets)

Freedom To Roam is released on 26 November 2021. Pre-Order here:

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Freedom to Roam: The Rhythms Of Migration - Folk Radio UK

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