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by Tony Roma
posted 13/12/2019

World Music @ Con Open Academy

Llew Kiek teaches World Music Ensemble class for the Conservatorium Open Academy. It is mixed instrument ensemble that covers a variety of different culture’s music each term from different parts of the globe. https://openacademy.sydney.edu.au/course/SCWMA

We interviewed him about his musical journey through life.

What do you teach for the OA short course program?  What do like about it?

I teach the World Music Ensemble course for the OA. It gives students the chance to experience a range of folk/ethnic/world music from diverse countries. We’ve played items from about 20 countries in the 3 years that the course has been running. One of the best things about the course is that ensemble members can try their hand at arranging the music for the group. Generally I suggest the repertoire, although several members have also suggested repertoire which we have played. The instrumentation changes from term to term, and several members have taken the course multiple times, so it is often challenging to work out how we are going to slot (for example) a ukelele into a Latin piece or a piano into a Turkish piece. It’s also really exciting for the members to hone up their improvising skills in a supportive atmosphere. Not everyone feels comfortable taking solos, some love doing that, but everyone has had the experience of new scales and unfamiliar rhythmic grooves to challenge their imaginations!

When did you start playing and was there a cathartic moment when you decided to be a professional musician?

I started on piano when I was five years old, gaining 6th grade AMEB, and took up guitar at 15 when piano became a bit uncool at my high school. I decided to study to be a professional musician after 3 years of an undergraduate course in drama at Flinders Uni, and I moved to Sydney to study with Don Andrews and George Golla. My heart was always in Rock and Folk though, but as time progressed, I became interested in early music and world music. I still have a really old Fender Stratocaster and a Vox AC30 amp, but am now the proud owner of more than a dozen long and short necked lutes as well as several acoustic guitars.

Where’s the most far flung or bizarre place you have performed?

Probably the European Broadcasting Union Festival in 2000 in Radost Pod Radhostem in the eastern Czech republic. The venue was the amphitheatre of a Wallachian open air museum, all wood structures (including the amphitheatre), in an outdoor area of a few hectares. It’s near Ostrava, and if you still don’t know where that is, it’s a long way from anywhere! It was recorded by Czech Radio mobile, telecast and broadcast across Europe, and the ABC’s Paul Petran (who arranged for us to play there) and our engineer Daniele di Giovannio recorded us to 2 track tape. That recording won our second ARIA: the album was called Live in Europe.

Describe a concert you have attended in the past that blew you away.

You can’t really beat an AC/DC concert for excitement and impact. Then again, one year at the ARIA awards I was totally blown away by the Australian Chamber Orchestra soloists (about 12 in the group). The commitment to the music of that group was exceptional that night.  I also loved Jimmy Page and Robert Plant on their first duo tour around 2005. I saw Led Zeppelin (amazing) in the 70s in Adelaide, but on the latter tour, an English friend of mine played hurdy gurdy and mandolin (he bought a house out of that 53 week world tour), and the audience seemed to have never heard a French Bouree played solo on a hurdy gurdy before, and they went nuts! Page played all 20 guitars that he had lined up in racks on the side of the stage. Oh and I remember seeing Keith Jarrett at the Opera House play just the note C in all octaves in very quick repetition with the sustain pedal engaged. In about 4 minutes of doing that, he set up a standing wave in the instrument which was just astonishing to witness.

Last book you read? What did you think about it?

My favourite recent book was Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens. A very political, emotional and gripping story.

What’s on your most recent playlist? 

I have very wide tastes – a typical playlist will include baroque, rock, heavy metal, classic pop, opera masterpieces, Turkish art music, piano sonatas, improvised music and contemporary jazz.

What are some of your top reminiscences or stand out moments in your professional musical life?

The lowest point was sleeping in a wet hedge after a day busking in Paris in 1983. I was in Europe by myself to meet promoters and agents to set up the first of Mara! group’s 30+ international tours. There were no ATMs etc then, it was the last day of the trip, and the only money I had was from busking or a few hundred pounds I had in deposit at London’s Aldwych Commonwealth bank, where you had to withdraw in person – which I did after the all-night Paris-London bus trip the following night.

Probably the biggest gig that the Mara! band ever did was at Canada’s Edmonton Folk Festival on a very hot summer night. We were on the bill that night with Sinead O’Connor, and we were told the crowd on the hill numbered about 100,000. It was massive.

Another great season was with Legs on the Wall with a show called Homeland featuring Mara! and Martenitsa Choir. It was on for 12 nights at Circular Quay during the Sydney Olympics, with the LOTW acrobats descending from the top of the AMP centre while the band and choir were playing our Sezoni suite on a massive soundstage at the foot of the building. Truly AMAZING. We had several seasons of that show around the world. In Berlin we performed it on a residential apartment block (only 30 stories high this time) for 6 nights with Mara! and 5 of Martenitsa’s principal singers augmented by 2 large Berlin choirs. Mara and I worked with the Berlin choirs for about 2 weeks before the company and the band arrived. It was part of the Berlin Poetry Festival that year, because the texts were written by an Bulgarian poet who had emigrated to Australia. You can see some of the Sydney show on youtube.

Name 3 of your favourite bands/musicians.

I have a lot of favourites, so this is very difficult. I think my colleagues in the Mara! group would be my favourite musicians. They are among the best in their fields in the world, and all are involved in lots of projects. I am in awe of them.

If you could go anywhere in the world where would it be and why?

Probably Antarctica. That would be beyond culture shock.