Vula Viel electrify Elgar Room

What do Swaledale in North Yorkshire and Western Ghana have in common? It's not a rejected pub quiz question – both are in fact sources of inspiration and spiritual affirmation for Vula Viel's core songwriter, Bex Burch (above). Admittedly, the sounds that this trio produce are much more Africa than Swaledale, centred as they are on the entrancing tones and rhythms of the Gyil, a Ghanaian variety of xylophone.

Burch, originally from Yorkshire, spent three years living in Ghana – a period from which she emerged as a skilled player of the Gyil, complete with a real enthusiasm for the instrument. We see this in the small bounds she performs while playing, an extra outlet for the vibrant energy that builds up during the set. For this event, in the plush Elgar Room of the Royal Albert Hall, Vula Viel were joined by singer Gwyneth Herbert for a preview of their upcoming album, Do Not Be Afraid.

MSJ 7970

Vula Viel have a masterful grasp of dynamics, easing from the hypnotic, harmonic bass solos of Ruth Goller into the polyrhythmic ordered chaos that defines their sound when they're in full flow. The Gyil occupies that sweet shade between tonal and percussive instrument, allowing maximum scope for kaleidoscopic interaction with both bass and drums. Jim Hart provides a poised and inventive performance on percussion, producing additional African traditional instruments that add yet more texture to these compositions.

Many of their songs are rooted in spiritual sentiment – exhortations to not be afraid of what we believe, hope and love. Elsewhere, they can be heard straying into more jagged, almost punky territory. Other compositions draw from traditional Ghanaian funeral songs and ballads, though this is the most rousing and rhythmic funeral music you're ever likely to hear. As Burch drily notes midway through the second half of the set: "you may want to close your eyes for this one, though it is mainly loud drums."

– James Rybacki - @james_rybacki
– Photos by Monika S. Jakubowska

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