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Seven hundred years of isolation, a body clock-shattering climate and a white spirit called Black Death are a few of the many things that makes Iceland, well, different. Reykjavik’s new Rites of Spring Festival, too, is a bizarre concept. With just nine acts over four days, from Balkan Gypsy music to satirical Icelandic Calypso, it’s very much the younger sister to its established sibling Iceland Airwaves Festival, yet World Music at the top of the world somehow works.

Highlight of the first two days is the collaboration of local jazz trio Flis with Bogomil Font, the current alias of Sugarcubes drummer Siggi Baldursson (above). Their infectious rhythms and razor-sharp lyrics make a curious but engrossing spectacle. “Hello, I Want to Eat Your Car”, in particular, may have gained something in translation.

No less fascinating are big band Nix Noltes, drawing members from local hipsters Mum. Their blend of Balkan and Bulgarian folk is a riotous cacophony, as earthy and terrifying a sound as you can imagine. If Finland can enter a death metal band, Lordi, into the Eurovision Song Contest, Iceland should consider these guys’ chances (what self-respecting Euro-Zone citizen couldn’t vote for a band with a Sousaphone?).

Bringing the festival to a stunning close are scene-stealers Salsa Celtica. A glorious fusion of Cuban charanga and salsa with Highland bagpipe and fiddles, the multinational collective brings the entire audience to its feet with its swirling melodies and virtuoso musicianship. The combination is clearly greater than the sum of its parts, their performance an irresistible force and ecstatic experience.

Its location half way between Europe and the Americas gives Iceland a natural opportunity to showcase the best of both continents’ folk music. Just as Iceland Airwaves has become a spring board for mainstream success (just ask Franz Ferdinand, The Darkness or Keane), The Rites of Spring could provide exposure for a new generation of talent. The festival is still in its infancy but, based on its first year, it could well find itself a fixture on the international circuit in years to come.

Photo: Óskar Hallgrímsson

Posted by stuartwilliams at 03:00PM | Categories: Live