Review of Ishtopia

Ish: Ishtopia-Hawke's Bay Arts Festival, 25.10.21 


Under the shadow of Covid and its' potential impact, organisers of the Hawke's Bay Arts Festival have, in the face of adversity, pushed on and persisted with the endeavour, albeit in a bijou, socially-distanced format. This has necessitated a considerably reduced lineup of events from that originally planned, with some of the larger shows deferred until later in the piece. 

In these diminished circumstances, wherein there are significant constraints, at best, against venturing into the wider world, the ensemble known as Ish are a welcome diversion from the everyday, with their melting pot of influences calling to mind a diversity of cultures and countries, covering the folk music of multiple continents. The six members bring a wide variety of inspiration and experience to the table, creating a rich and heady musical brew.

The brainchild of flautist/vocalist Dana Parkhill, the combo’s repertoire covers territory from Saint-Denis to Scandinavia, the Balkans to Barcelona, while demonstrating the elements that many of these styles have in common. Perhaps the best illustration of their multi-faceted nature can be found in the form of multi-instrumentalist Phill Jones, who, it was said, continually amazes and surprises his fellow members with the diversity of instruments he brings to rehearsal, many of which he has made himself, in his day job as owner of Tukituki Instruments. The most exotic instrument of the night must surely have been his N’goni (or hunter’s harp), which is of Western African origin, and has a beautifully mellow, mesmerising tone.

Dana’s husband Johnny Goodhind also covers many bases, playing guitar, bouzouki, mandolin and saxophone.

Louise Ward’s violin, Chris Beernink’s acoustic bass and percussion maestro Joe Dobson round out the contributors.

The diversity of both instruments and repertoire provided for a set that would’ve had many audience members on their feet, were dancing compatible with Level 2! Instead there was the need to make do with much vigorous foot-tapping and dancing on the inside, dreaming of a more footloose set of circumstances. Regardless of whether or not there was the ability to throw shapes, the crowd clearly enjoyed the experience, as was befitting of such an entertaining and enthusiastic performance. Material ranged from traditional pieces through to original tunes, a particularly noteworthy example of which being “50 Shades of Greytown”, which offered nearly as many flavours as the town’s famous chocolatiers! Dana’s first ever piece of writing, “Sirocco”, captured the changing nature of this atmospheric phenomenon, as it makes it’s way over, and between, two continents.

A cover of a song by Reunion Island’s Danyel Waro (which unfortunately I didn’t catch the name of-the joys of trying to make notes in a darkened auditorium!) introduced some rhythms that were almost African, while another piece borrowed from the Barcelona Gypsy Balkan Orchestra was every bit as varied as that sounds.

As much as I could list song titles and the like though, the essential point is this: this is a hugely talented band, going from strength to strength since their formation just over a year ago. Tonight they provided a set that fully justified the perseverance of Festival organisers in steering a course through uncharted waters, bringing a taste of far-away lands to this foreshortened showcase, while whetting the appetite for future Festival delights.

As things eventually open up again, the band will no doubt get to share their talents with a wider portion of the country, but for now, they’ll just have to be our little secret, and what a folkin’ beautiful one it is!

Reviewed By Rob Harbers originally published on Ambient Light 

Photos by Ankh Photography

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