N&N Festival Diary: Monday, May 12

Ian Collins Catch Roberto Fonseca, the latest giant of world music, in Norwich tonight. He dedicates his entire career to Mercedes Cortes Alfaro – his mum, and the cappella singer who opened his recent hit album Zamazu.

Ian Collins

Forget the credit crunch and rumours of recession. Let's dance to a Cuban beat - and party on even if our world moves from the faintest crumbling to complete political and economic collapse…

What's kept blockaded Cuba going all these years isn't Castroism (with spies on every street, gays in jails and mass flight, but also a level of health care to shame mighty America). It's up-beat culture.

Witness the defiant genius of the Buena Vista Social Club - brilliant old boys pouring a love of life into rhythmic melody in a back-street bar and suggesting, in records conquering the world, that every Cuban household is naturally steeped in vital, vibrant music.

Well, this was certainly true for the BVSC's youthful pianist for a three-year spell, Roberto Fonseca. The latest giant of world music, in Norwich tonight, dedicates his entire career to Mercedes Cortes Alfaro - his mum, and the cappella singer who opened his recent hit album Zamazu. Catch a charming interview on YouTube.

Playing the drums from the age of four, the piano from eight and composing from 14, Fonseca has established a dazzlingly distinctive style as a percussive pianist roaming from Afro-Cuban roots across spirituals, soul, jazz and funk.

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It all seems to come together as if by magic but music and stage show are carefully crafted. Even the clothes are nothing like as casual as they appear. The star's cool black-hatted ensemble is by chic Parisian designer Agnes B.

If you miss him in Norwich, try Budapest, Beirut, Sofia or Toronto in the next few weeks - oh, or the Barbican on May 27.

Ace accordionist James Crabb plays a blissful programme of Bach, Piazzolla and Janacek - the latter our festival's featured composer - at the John Innes Centre tonight.

A professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and recent player with pop/rock stars Martin Hall, Neil Finn and Patti Smith, the versatile Mr Crabb criss-crosses the world in the course of his career. Like so many musicians he has to book two seats at a time on planes and trains.

When the booking agent asks the name of his companion he replies: “Mr Musical Instrument.”

And then there may come the supplementary question: is this fellow traveller under 26 and so qualifying for a discount fare?

Sadly not. The trusty Crabb accordion is definitely a senior.

I love the festival's regular lunch-time series of recitals at the Assembly House, and this year's tasteful line-up from the Royal Academy of Music makes for a very melodic feast.

Today the multi-award winning New Zealand clarinettist Ellen Deverall teams up with pianist Melanie Jones for a programme of works by 19th and 20th masters such as Weber, Ireland and Joseph Horowitz. It's a sort of zero-calorie banquet to blitz away any Monday blues.

Talking of soul food, and stomach food, don't forget the inter-active meal being prepared daily by Catalan theatre company Teatro de los Sentidos, a firm festival favourite.

While Delia has just shocked my conscience and digestive system with a tribute to tinned mince, concentration camp eggs and other unsavoury horrors, this merry band is unlocking the wholesome secrets of a very special bodega.

With wine also being served, it all makes for a heady and heavenly mix.

Festive tip: whenever a headliner event is officially SOLD OUT - as with tonight's gig by Roberto Fonseca at Norwich Playhouse - that does not mean you have missed the boat entirely. Return tickets are almost always available on the door 30 minutes before the performance is due to begin.

For a brochure with full listings of all events this year, phone 01603 877750 or visit www.nnfestival.org.uk

To book tickets call 01603 766400.


Today's two-for-one hot ticket offer is for the concert by virtuoso accordionist James Crabb, at John Innes Centre tonight from 7.30pm. Also includes the artist in conversation from 6.15pm. To bag this bargain call the box office - 01603 766400 - by noon.


1pm Royal Academy of Music: Ellen Deverall and Melanie Jones, Assembly House.

7.30pm James Crabb, John Innes Centre (with pre-concert talk from 6.15pm).

8pm Roberto Fonseca, Norwich Playhouse. SOLD OUT

8.30pm Teatro de los Sentidos, Indulge, Queen Street.