Spring season at the Howard Assembly Room is rich in musical dialogues, from a celebration of centuries of shared history in AfroCubism Revisited, to Maarja Nuut’s marriage of traditional Estonian music and contemporary electronics. Brad Mehldau and Sounds of Palestine bring their own distinctive accents to the jazz tradition, and there’s an unmissable visit from the group that brought awe-inspiring Zulu vocal music to the west: Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
The original AfroCubism album was recorded by an ensemble of Malian musicians and Cuban Buena Vista Social Club veterans in 2010. AfroCubism Revisited promises both a return to the music of the original album and further explorations into its fertile territory, with a veteran of the original sessions, n’goni master Bassekou Kouyaté, joined by the great kora player Seckou Keita and a trio of Cuban virtuosi.
Bassekou’s countryman Vieux Farka Touré unveils his new album, a masterful distillation of desert rock and blues, reggae and electric funk, on 15 June.
The music of the Caribbean is the starting point for Jazz Jamaica, the renowned 10-piece band who appear on 26 April as part of Leeds International Festival. Their instinctive, irresistible fusion of the rhythms of ska, mento and reggae with improvised jazz has brought favourable comparisons with the Buena Vista Social Club.
There’s a very rare chance to see South African vocal legends Ladysmith Black Mambazo in an intimate setting on 1 August. Brought into the mainstream with their work on Paul Simon’s Graceland album, they were dubbed “South Africa’s cultural ambassadors” by Nelson Mandela as their distinctive, uplifting sound broke through apartheid and onto international stages.
Some younger musical ambassadors, Nai Barghouti, Mohamed Najem and Friends, bring Sounds of Palestine to the Howard Assembly Room on 27 July. Having stopped off at the Town Hall last year on the Palestine Youth Orchestra’s rapturously-received UK tour, singer and flautist Nai returns to Leeds with her band of international musicians. Paris-based Mohamed Najem leads his group on clarinet and nay, and both ensembles move effortlessly between Arabic music and jazz in an exhilarating new musical language.
Brad Mehldau has been expanding the jazz lexicon with influences from pop, rock, and classical music for over two decades, and he returns to the venue on 16 May with his Trio (Larry Grenadier, bass and Jeff Ballard, drums) and their witty articulations of standards from their latest album Blues and Ballads.
On 26 May, Acid Jazz legend and formidable songwriter Carleen Anderson performs Cage Street Memorial, her moving chronicle of a century of family heritage, fusing jazz, soul, gospel and chamber music.
Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi classic Metropolis is screened with the original chamber orchestra version of its score by German composer Gottfried Huppertz on 6 May. Its jaw-dropping production values and modernist grandeur remain as powerful as ever and this big screen outing, with a live performance by the Orchestra of Opera North, is sure to be an unforgettable event. Having conjured a few memorable dystopias of his own, fantasy writer China Miéville shows another string to his bow in this season’s Liberty Lecture, presented in association with the University of Leeds. October: The Story of the Russian Revolution (10 May) picks up the themes of his latest non-fiction book, a gripping history of the momentous events of 1917 that draws on his considerable gifts as a story-teller.
In an atmospheric Twilight Concert on 13 May, Estonian fiddler and singer Maarja Nuut combines traditional dance tunes, songs and stories with live electronics in an intricately layered soundscape.
Further unorthodox takes on folk come from Newcastle’s visionary avant-troubadour and raconteur Richard Dawson on 9 June, joined by a full band for an airing of his latest album Peasant.
The two surviving members of seminal 1970s DIY trio This Heat, Charles Bullen and Charles Hayward reunite with guest musicians as This is Not This Heat to perform new interpretations of their brilliant, category-defying material on 27 May. Following an ecstatic reception at London’s Barbican in March, the Leeds appearance of this hugely influential group is not to be missed.
The longest day of the year (21 June) is marked with a Solstice concert in association with South Asian Arts UK, beginning with a talk on Indian music, followed by performances on sitar, mridangam, tabla, and the otherworldly and rarely-heard vichitra veena, with Indian snacks served in the interval.
Follow the links to book tickets, or call Box Office on 0844 848 2727 (calls cost 7p per minute plus your telephone company's access charge).
Image credit: Maarja Nuut photographed by Renee Altrov