A look back on 2019 at Real World Records

As 2019 draws to a close, we look back on another busy twelve months for the record label, a year in which we celebrated our 30th birthday.

The year began with the release of two new acoustic session tracks by Bokanté’s Michael League and Malika Tirolien. In sharp contrast to the original orchestrated recordings, they deconstructed the songs Bòd Lanmè Pa Lwen and Don’t Do It to create sparse, mesmeric versions using an oud and a few drums lifted from the instrument cupboard at Real World Studios. The songs first featured on their 2018 album What Heat, a collaboration with the Metropole Orkest and Jules Buckley.

Bokanté - Bòd Pa Lanmè lwen (Duo Version)

Bokanté also embarked on their first headline tour of the UK in January, which included a gig at Celtic Connections and a show at St. George’s Bristol, at which many of the Real World team were in attendance. We were blown away by the band’s incredible energy and musicianship, but there was no time for hanging out with the band after the show— a severe weather warning and heavy snowfall called for a quick exit, and made for a tricky journey home for us all!

Bokanté at St. Georges Bristol, January 2019. Photo credit: York Tillyer.

In February, we said goodbye to one of our artists and our friend, Ayub Ogada, who had been battling a long-term illness. Ayub had a long association with Real World Records and WOMAD, beginning with his first appearance at WOMAD Festival 1988 in Cornwall after being discovered busking in the London Underground. He took part in the famous Real World Recording Week in 1991, and released his first album En Mana Kuoyo for the label in 1993. He toured extensively with WOMAD in the USA, and performed as part of Peter Gabriel’s Secret World tour in the early 1990s.

Later in 2019, Ayub’s most famous song is Kothbiro, which has featured in The Constant Gardener (2006) as well as the Rio 2016 Olympics Opening Ceremony, was sampled by Kanye West on his track Yikes.

Photo credit: Andrew Catlin.

March saw the release of The Gloaming’s third self-titled album. Recorded at Reservoir Studios in New York City, the album once again featured a mixture of traditional Irish music and newly composed material. Singer Iarla Ó Lionáird paid homage to his friend, the late Irish poet Liam Ó Muirthile, on the stunning opening track Meáchan Rudaí (The Weight of Things). Using an extract of Ó Muirthile’s prose poem of the same name, the song is a moving tribute to the poet’s mother following her death. In this video, Iarla talks about creating the song with Thomas Bartlett:

The Gloaming's Iarla Ó Lionáird talks about the inspiration behind 'Meáchan Rudaí'

Following the release of the album, The Gloaming performed seven sold out shows at their annual residency in the National Concert Hall, Dublin as well as a three-night sold out residency at Union Chapel in London. Later in the Spring, they embarked upon a tour of the USA, including a prestigious concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Having announced that they would take a break after the release of their third album and their 2019 tour, the band performed their final show at The Theater at the ACE Hotel in Los Angeles in April.

The Gloaming at Union Chapel, London, on 27 February 2019. Photo credit: York Tillyer.

Following a highly successful tour in 2017, Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali returned to the UK in March, which included a sold-out show at The Barbican, and a concert at St. George’s Bristol. It gave us the opportunity to revisit their very first album, which they released on our WOMAD Select imprint in 1998, called Attish: The Hidden Fire. In the middle of their tour, the Qawwali group made a detour to visit Real World Studios, treating us to a private performance in The Wood Room.

Rizwan Mujahid Ali Khan at St. George's Bristol. Photo credit: York Tillyer.

In April, Real World and the wider music community were saddened to learn of the sudden death of Alan James. Alan was an early founding member of WOMAD— his eclectic musical taste perfectly suited the visionary ideas of the festival’s musical programming. He was instrumental in bringing many wonderful artists to the festival and also worked closely with the record label for many years as the manager of Spiro and 9Bach.

Read: Remembering Alan James

Alan James in The Big Room at Real World Studios with Spiro and Real World Records' Amanda Jones. Photo credit: York Tillyer.

In April, The Breath released Only Stories: Let the Cards Fall Revisited, a collection of acoustic versions of songs mostly drawn from their second album. Recorded on a dark December evening in The Wood Room here at Real World Studios, the songs feature Ríoghnach Connolly’s vocals front and centre, delicately backed by Stuart McCallum on acoustic guitar.

“An acoustic recording that unfolds like a paper flower… The acoustic setting pushed Connolly to the fore, the dense atmospherics of the previous albums melting away like mist.”

★★★★★ Financial Times

The Breath - Only Stories (Acoustic)

In the Spring of 2019, Les Amazones d’Afrique, the all-female West African musical collective who released their debut album République Amazone on Real World in 2017, carried out an ambitious writing session in Paris involving 18 singers from countries spanning three continents. They wrote the song ‘Amazones Power’, a bold statement speaking out against female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual violence, forced marriage, and lack of education for girls. The single was released in May ahead of a tour of summer festivals, and would become the basis on which they created their second album of the same name (due for release in January 2020).

Les Amazones d'Afrique - Amazones Power (Official Video)

On 5th June 1989, Peter Gabriel launched Real World Records with the release of his album Passion, alongside the companion album Passion Sources, and albums by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Orquesta Revé and Tabu Ley Seigneur Rochereau. 30 years later, on 5th June 2019, we gathered in The Big Room at Real World Studios to celebrate three decades of the label, and raised a glass to the continued success of the record label. We marked the thiry year milestone with the release of a new compilation, Worldwide: a window into 30 years of Real World music.

Real World & WOMAD staff celebrate 30 years of the Peter Gabriel's Real World Records. Photo credit: York Tillyer

At the end of July, we released a live album of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s seminal performance at WOMAD Mersea Island 1985— a remarkable record of a magical event that changed the perception of Sufi music to a wider audience and set Nusrat on a path to the international recognition of his genius. Unheard for 34 years, the recording was carefully restored from the original analogue tapes. WOMAD Festival in 1985 was the first time the legendary Qawwali singer had performed in front of a mainly non-Asian audience, and marked the beginning of his relationship with Real World Records and Peter Gabriel. Paired with this, the earliest recording Khan made for Real World Records, we also released his final album Night Song on vinyl for the first time, which was a Grammy-nominated collaboration with Canadian producer Michael Brook.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - Live at WOMAD 1985

We were pleased to have the opportunity to launch Live at WOMAD 1985 at this year’s festival in Charlton Park, Wiltshire, with an album playback session in the d&b audiotechnik Soundscape tent— a stage at which audiences are treated to a 360° listening experience. A special multi-track mix of ‘Allah Hoo Allah Hoo’, the album’s opening track, was created to capture the essence of the original performance at the festival in 1985. The tent was packed to capacity, with several attendees reliving an experience they had witnessed first hand on Mersea Island in 1985, including Mohamad Ayub of Oriental Star Agencies, who had played a pivotal role in the development of Nusrat’s career in the UK.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan listening session at WOMAD Charlton Park 2019.

In August, we were proud to add 9Bach’s self-titled debut album to our catalogue, releasing a 10th anniversary edition with new artwork and two previously unavailable bonus tracks. The album drew predominantly from the Welsh folk singing tradition, with the band giving the old songs innovative, contemporary arrangements.

Read: 9Bach on keeping the Welsh folk music alive, fresh and evolving

9Bach's Lisa Jên Brown and Martin Hoyland revisit 'C’Weiriwch fy Ngwely' from their debut album in The Writing Room at Real World Studios

Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett, both members of The Gloaming, made a beautiful collaboration recording which we released on 13 September. The self-titled album, a largely improvised musical dialogue between Hardanger fiddle and piano, had a wonderful response from critics, including a five star review in The Irish Times:

“The music that Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett (Doveman) make has a reverie-like quality that is similarly elusive. It flows into the ether untethered by time or any notions of categorisation.”

★★★★★ The Irish Times

Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh & Thomas Bartlett - Kestrel

As we entered the autumn, we were delighted to receive news of nine award nominations in recognition of music released on the label by The Breath and The Gloaming at the BBC Radio 2 and RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards ceremonies. Ríoghnach Connolly (The Breath) and Iarla Ó Lionáird (The Gloaming) went on to win the Folk Singer of the Year award at the BBC and RTÉ ceremonies respectively. In addition, Bokanté’s album What Heat received a Grammy nomination in the Best World Music album category, the winners of which will be announced the awards ceremony in LA in February 2020.

L-R: Ríoghnach Connolly on stage at a gig in Belfast earlier this year, Stuart McCallum receives a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award on Ríoghnach's behalf from Miranda Richardson, Iarla Ó Lionáird at the RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards.

Finally, after 32 years working at Real World Studios for Peter Gabriel, we bid farewell to our much-loved colleague Annie Parsons. She had wonderful send-off with a party here at the studios in December, with many current and former colleagues there to wish her the best of luck in her future endeavours.

That’s it for 2019! We’ve got lots of exciting new projects underway for 2020, the first of which has already been announced: Amazones Power, the highly anticipated follow-up to Les Amazones d’Afrique’s 2017 debut album. It will be released on 24 January to coincide with a European tour, including dates at The Jazz Café in London and Celtic Connections in Glasgow.

Featured release

  • Worldwide

    Various Artists

    Released 25 July 2019

    Celebrating 30 years of discovery and enlightenment, this window into Real World music traces a path from Tanzania to China, Ireland to Tibet, Colombia to Papua New Guinea. We have chosen tracks that opened our minds and hearts to sounds from all around our planet— an enriching and joyous experience.

By Oran Mullan

Main image: Real World and WOMAD staff gather in The Big Room to celebrate the label's 30th birthday. Photo credit: York Tillyer.

Published on Wed, 18 December 19

Further reading

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The song, 'Maaimä', is about the controversial relationship between humans and nature.

Exploring Colombian artist Savan’s music inspired by Yagé medicine ceremonies

The new Real World X release is an eight-track aural journey to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Sheila Chandra: The pursuit of radical vocal expression

Sheila's trilogy of albums for Real World is being re-issued on CD, and on vinyl for the first time.