No pressure –Tropical Pressure! With affordable ticket prices that welcome everyone it was refreshing to see a truly mixed audience enjoying an incredibly varied selection of top-quality world music acts in this glorious location on the north coast of Cornwall. The main stage was positively sizzling with good vibes throughout the weekend.
But while Tropical Pressure is small, no one could doubt the quality of the lineup. Each of the three days was themed – Friday Latin, Saturday African and Sunday Reggae, making it easy for festival-goers to get exactly what they want – and most want it all! Arriving on Saturday morning for the African day I immediately relaxed into the party spirit. I’d seen three of the mainstage acts previously, but each one put on a brilliant performance, visibly enjoying the vibe, and the new discoveries made the festival special. Brighton-based King Nommo from Senegal /UK and Guy One and The Polyversal Souls from Ghana and Germany in particular wowed with outstanding musicianship.
And yet you know you’re in Cornwall. An old tin mine looks across the valley to the festival site. The air is clear with a scent of sea, and a shimmering blue triangle is visible behind the main stage. On that stage seven African-themed acts were spread over the day and into the balmy coolness of the evening. As the music flowed we danced in that Cornish field – one that Afrobeat supremo Dele Sosimi later declared to be his ‘second home’. Talented youngsters Project Jam Sandwich got the day off to a start followed by political activists TwoManTing from the UK/Sierra Leone. Following that the sparkling sounds of Gambian Jaly Bakary Konte’s kora wafted out, with his supercool band Bafula. London-based Vula Viel was up next with their experimental interpretations of Ghanaian balafon music. King Nommo followed with his Baifal look, soaring vocals and rocking brass section. Then Dele Sosimi from Nigeria, with his jocular manner and brilliant musicianship, put on a wonderful show that no one wanted to end. But promising he’d be back at Mount Pleasant Eco Park soon (they do a year-round series of world music events), Sosimi made way for the last live act.
Guy One is a kologo player (a kind of West African lute/banjo) of the Frafra people on his first visit to the UK. The Polyversal Souls who played alongside him are a German group led by inspirational drummer Max Weissenfeldt plus keyboards and saxes (one of whom, it was announced with some hilarity, bears the unfortunate name of Boris Johnson). Polyversal Souls began with a brilliantly funky Ethiopian tune before Guy One was introduced, stunning the audience with his vocal prowess and and off-the-scale groove factor.
But that wasn’t all. The main stage bands were complemented by a program showcasing Cornwall-based acts in the home-made amphitheatre (of re-cycled tyres), which boasts one of the best views of any festival I’ve seen. Meanwhile, from the Rambunctious Boogaloo Bayou drifted some fine vinyl & African dance tunes from DJs such as John Warr (check out his Afrobase radio show). The night seamlessly merged from the main arena into Madame Juju’s and Fandangos night clubs – ‘dancing obligatory, rum optional’.
Throughout the day no less than twenty-one workshops and activities took place, from Ghanaian and Afro-Brazilian rhythm to foraging for medicinal plants, and there was even a fire pit (with a real fire!) for storytelling and children’s campfire cooking. Site decorations were a delight, especially a small field of cacti near the creative yard (where we were told to watch out for nesting weasels). There were the usual massages and circus games taking place in the well-being area, and for food, the 100% vegetarian Cantina Café & Global Street Market in the main arena wafted their delicious aromas around the site. Unfortunately for late-night munchers these closed at 11.30 pm, but the bars remained open until 2am.
Tropical Pressure is child-friendly, but it wasn’t just middle-aged parents and their teenagers. A healthy cohort of enthusiastic twenty and thirty-somethings were in attendance, in contrast to some of the more up-market festivals. Although it’s a small site there were plenty of secrets to be discovered in hidden corners – and you know a festival is good when you continuously overhear happy festival-goers saying how well-organised and fun it is. Tropical Pressure reminded me of the early days of WOMAD at Carlyon Bay on the opposite coast of Cornwall. There’s an easy-going friendly atmosphere in this part of the country. People seem to have come to the festival because it’s here, and that is what is missing from so many of the bigger world music festivals these days – a community feeling. Long live Tropical Pressure! May you not get too big!