Respectful Child, N3K, Hailu Mergia @ King Eddy Hotel 6/23/2017 #SledIsland2017

Respectful Child, N3K, and Hailu Mergia played Calgary’s King Eddy building last Friday as part of Sled Island Festival.  The King Eddy (Kind Edward) is one of Calgary’s oldest still-standing structures.  Constructed in 1905 as a hotel, it had a reputation for attracting a devious sort of crowd and by the 1970s (still maintaining its wild spirit) had transformed hotel to a blues venue as well.  In recent times, deemed decrepit and ready for demolition in, this historic space was holding onto existence by a thread until it was fortunately saved and re-vamped by the National Music center.  Given its vibrant musical history, it seems only fitting to have had these three particular groups play its stage and continue its legacy.

 

Saskatoon artist Respectful Child is a composer of ambient, spine-tingling pieces that have the otherworldly effect of elasticizing time in the way of a pious chant. Their primary instrument, the violin, is played in a number of original ways and then fed through looping pedal.  Not only were there layers of beautifully bowed, articulate melodies, creating this constant, soft, reverb-y shimmer, but Respectful Child also plucked, tapped, scratched, blew, and sang into their instrument to create a complete phantom orchestra out of one single musician.  Respectful Child is the literal translation of this artist’s Chinese last-name, Gan, and it suits their sound perfectly, both in the emotiveness of their music, and the intention behind these compositions to convey a deeper commentary; one of displacement, of intersecting identities, of acting as a fulcrum between cultural worlds yet belong to none (an experience many Canadians can identify with).  Only beginning their journey of writing and performing songs under this artist-identity, and recently signed to Rae Spoon’s label, Coax Records, I am very excited to see to what the next few years hold for Respectful Child’s musical journey.

 

Next up, Edmonton’s N3K hit the ground running, erupting into an insane set of jazzy, hip-hop goodness.  Each song a blend of suavity meets chaos, and just when then you think you have the rhythm or melody figured out they throw out something totally unexpected, some weird chord progression or polyrhythmic detour that leaves you feeling disoriented and wanting more.  A trio (as their name suggests) of drums, upright bass, and electric piano, NK3’s on stage chemistry is amazing to witness, as they quite literally seem to feed off each other until they have lifted off into some collective alternate state.  The energy they conjure is irresistibly contagious, and by the end of the first song, the crowd had compacted itself as close to the stage as possible to be part of the magic.  It was all I could do to hold still long enough to snap photos.

 

Finally, the famed Hailu Mergia finished off the night.  A past member of the infamous Ethiopan Jazz group, The Walias, Hailu has been playing his songs worldwide for decades.  Well-versed both keys and accordion, and accompanied by two equally talented band-members, Hailu’s set was a funky fusion of traditional Amharic music with an extra dose of 70s flare.  It’s always interesting to me what artists Sled Island chooses to group together for a performance.  There is a certain unifying theme that emerges out of back-to-back sets, even perhaps if it is not an intentional thing, and even though the genre, sound, and execution can vary so much, as it definitely did with these three.  If I had to lump these three acts under a cohesive umbrella term it would be hypnosis.  Whether this was due to the lack of conventional songwriting, the unpredictability of it all, or in Hailu’s case, his traditional beats and looped words, spellbinding is an understatement to this particular group of performances.  I had to leave Hailu’s set a few songs before it ended to catch my train, and was tickled to see how many people had also gathered outside the King Eddy to listen to tunes echo through its brick and peer through a single tiny window into the now sold-out show.  Toes tapping beneath the neon glow of the original King Eddy sign, it seemed a perfect homage to the buildings untamed history, this spectacle of being alive, and well, and dancing.