Have you ever heard American folk blues songs accompanied by a Chinese sheng (a mouth organ) and Siberian mouth drums? Or listened to a joint concert of a German jazz keyboardist and a kora master from Gambia? Or seen bagpipers from Scotland, Austria, Hungary, France, Spain, Latvia and Iran, supported by the wild rhythm of bongos? These concerts were so thrilling that I got goose-pimples right on those hot summer days when temperatures were around 80°F. Since then, the Tanz & Folk Fest (dance and folk festival) in Rudolstadt, Germany, has become a fixed date in my diary.
Every year on the first weekend of July – to be exact, from Friday, 6 p.m. to Sunday midnight – you can hear world music and get in touch with cultures from all around the globe. The 1232-year-old Thuringian town of 26,000 inhabitants invites up to one thousand artists and musicians from about 30 to 40 countries and hosts up to 67,500 folk and world music fans (last record) from Germany and its neighboring countries.
Always being a highlight of the festival, this year’s “Magic Concert” was dedicated to keyboard instruments. The 79-year-old, Jewish-Algerian pianist Maurice el Medioni, the harmonium player Janne Strömstedt from Sweden, the French composer Hector Zazou on electronics, the 29-year-old accordion player Lulinha Alencar from Brasil, the German Markus Zell on percussion, Wayne Sharp from Louisiana on the Hammond organ, and Alan Bern on accordion, keyboard and melodica met only one week prior to the festival to create a unique concert, which put a spell on the audience and over the market square, where several broadcast stations reported live from Rudolstadt.
The festival, presenting music from all parts of the world, featured several American styles of music and dance this year. The Crooked Jades, Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, Hayseed Dixie, the Degenerate Art Ensemble, Laurie Anderson, Balkan Beat Box, Yerba Buena, Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas, the Navajo punk band Blackfire, Eleni Mandell, the trio of Alan Bern, Paul Brody and Michael Rodach, as well as Tim Duffy and the blues veterans of The Music Maker took the audience literally across the ocean to the small and big stages throughout the United States. And the musicians and dancers of Vanaver Caravan gave workshops in Appalachian clog and line dancing.
Every year you will find something new. You might watch some stomping and jingling Morris-dancers from England, powerful drummers from Burundi, fiery conga players from Venezuela, graceful dancers from Bulgaria, or aborigines with their didgeridoos from Australia – to name just a few of about two hundred seventy performances that take place on twenty stages, scattered all over town, from 10 a.m. until far after midnight.
On the "Street of Instruments," you can buy bongos, piccolos, guitars, or fiddles. You may try panpipes, accordions, and other German and foreign instruments. You can also look for cassettes, CDs, and old records at the stalls or browse through numerous books about folk and world music. Children enjoy building huts from mud and willow rods, painting on sidewalks, splashing in the fountain in the market place, or playing games at their Kinderfest (children’s party) in Heinrich Heine Park.
When you get thirsty and hungry from the hustle and bustle of the festival, you can have a steak or a genuine Thuringian sausage, grilled over a charcoal fire, or exotic cuisine from Turkey, India, and other countries of the world. And of course, you should not miss a swig of Thuringian beer with new friends and drink to the charm and hospitality of Rudolstadt and its annual Roots Folk World Music Festival – the festival’s official name in English.
The German Woodstock of world music will take place again from July 4 to 6 in 2008.