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Get ready for some “bums off seats” Samba music

A band from Gwynedd have taken Latin American Samba music and infused their own blend of folk, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, to create a uniquely Welsh combination.

The group, Banda Bacana, will be among the star attractions at Bangor Music Festival where organisers say they guarantee a “bums off seats” experience as their music is so infectious concert-goers find it almost impossible to keep still.

Formed more than 20 years ago, they have built up a strong reputation amongst fans of world music and will take to the stage in the opening concert of the festival at the Pontio’s Arts Centre’s Theatr Bryn Terfel on February 15.

The concert also features the acclaimed, Cardiff-based Afro Cluster for an evening of music from two continents.

Vocalist Ceri Dalton said Banda Bacana’s music comes from a range of influences and cultures with an emphasis on having fun.

Ceri, who also plays the congas, the tall, narrow, single-headed drum from Cuba, said: “We play a mix of funk, afrobeat, Latin, reggae and ska and we’ve written most of our own songs.

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“It’s the sort of music we like to play and it seems our audiences like it as well. We encourage people to get up and dance and they don’t need to be asked twice. We’ve even seen people in wheelchairs try to get up and dance.”

Drummer Owen Hughes joined the band about 15 years ago – initially just for one gig!

He said: ” Banda Bacana are pretty unique because the band members have all brought their styles and influences to it. I’ve played in folk bands like Cajuns Denbo, Bwchadanas and rhythm and blues with The Jukes and Steve Eaves’ band. 

Trumpet player Neil Browning is also folk orientated but saxophonist Jochen Eistntraut is more into jazz.”

Owen, who ran Cob Records, the well-known record shop in Bangor for many years, believes Banda Bacana have developed their own unique style and added a Welsh flavour to their music.

“There is nothing Welsh about Samba music but we have developed our own style. Our first album was about half and half original songs and covers but our second was all our own compositions and we have continued to write our own material since that album was released.

“Our set contains three songs we have written and arranged ourselves in Welsh so that is pretty original but we are primarily a dance band,” he said.

While focusing mainly on contemporary music, Bangor Music Festival has been a cultural highlight on Wales’s cultural calendar for more than 20 years and will be staged within Pontio at Bangor University from February 15 to Sunday, February 18, 2024.

Festival organiser Guto Pryderi Puw, who has been involved with the festival since it was launched in 2000, said the theme of the 2024 festival is “New Music, New Experiences” and in addition to a series of major concerts also features a range of discussions, lectures, workshops and educational projects.

Guto, a Reader in Music Composition at Bangor University s School of Music, Drama and Performance said: “We are always keen to bring new music to the festival as well as new experiences and we thought this year we could make that the official theme of the festival.

“Banda Bacana and Afro Cluster are two bands who will bring the music of Africa and Latin America to Bangor and it will be an evening of new musical experiences for many.”

He said the auditorium seats at Theatr Bryn Terfel will be replaced by tables and chairs for the occasion with plenty of space for dancing.

“The music is made for dancing and the cabaret style setting will make it more of a gig than a formal concert,” he added.

A remarkable 15 brand-new compositions will be premiered at the festival. Some have been especially commissioned by the event and many have been written by young composers based in Wales.

The Showcase concert on Saturday, February 17 will feature three brand new pieces.

The concert, which starts at 7.30pm, also features music by well-known international composers John Adams and Olga Neuwirth.

A pre-concert talk with the three composers in the company of festival chair Rhiannon Mathias will take place at 6pm. 

An award-winning piece will be one of a number of new works to be featured in a lunchtime concert at Pontio’s Studio theatre.

Performed by an ensemble from Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias the piece by Gwydion Rhys, who is from Rachub near Bethesda and a student at the Royal College of Music in London, won the Composer’s Medal at the Urdd National Eisteddfod last May.

Other pieces include festival commissions by Niamh O’Donnell and Cardiff-based Tayla-Leigh Payne.

Later in the afternoon talented performers currently at Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias performing an eclectic mix of music for soloists and ensembles in Pontio’s Bar Ffynnon.

The Bangor New Music Ensemble will present works by student composers In various public spaces in the Pontio building.

At 3pm on Sunday, February 18, Electroacoustic Wales will take part in a live performance in Theatr Bryn Terfel at Pontio with the SOUND/IMAGE Research Centre at London’s University of Greenwich and Luxi Tian, a PhD student at Bangor University, who plays the Guzheng, a Chinese plucked zither.

Earlier, at 12.30pm, Electroacoustic Wales, directed by Andrew Lewis, will present a selection of pieces written by Bangor University student composers. 

During the festival Marie-Claire Howorth will host sessions introducing music to children aged six months to  seven year, in collaboration with Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias (William Mathias Music Centre).

Further information about the festival can be found online at www.bangormusicfestival.org.uk  and tickets are available from the Pontio website at www.pontio.co.uk or telephone 01248 382828.

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