SXSW: Around the world with Alvvays, Mai Dhai and AFC

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Mai Dhai ensemble, at the Driskill.

Indie buzz bands and hip-hop superstars tend to get the attention, but SXSW truly is a global fest, both in terms of attendance at the conference  and exposure-seeking bands that come to Austin from all the world. 

Without planning it that way, I hit three straight showcases on Wednesday evening featurng non-American headliners. Okay, so maybe the first, the indie pop band Alvvays, who headlined the Hype Hotel showcase curated by Yvynyl, the influential music blog run by Philadelphian Mark Schoneveld, don't really count because they're only Canadian. Nevertheless, the Toronto quintet fronted by singer Molly Rankin, are of significant note, They write sunny sounding pop songs as crafty as any I've heard in Austin this week, and they put over the tunes on last year's self titled debut album, including the catchy calling card "Archie, Marry Me" with cheery enthusiasm.    They open for the Decemberists at the Academy of Music on Philadelphia on April 7.  (Hundred Waters, which preceded Alvvays on stage at the Hype Hotel, are also of note for their way with moody atmospherics that build to chilling intensity. But they're from Gainesville.)

After a pork sandwich break, I then started my evening at the Victorian Room at The Driskill, the 129 year old 6th Street hotel that ooozes with history: It was where Lyndon Johnson traditionally awaited election reults while running for statewide and national ofifce. On Wednesday it hosted an entire slate of Pakistani bands, which a drew a crowd of Austinites of South Asian descent who sat cross legged on the floor, just as the musicians did on stage. 

The group I saw was called Mai Dhai, named after the female singer pictured, who plays the hand drum known as a dhol also employed by Sunny Jain of hip Brooklyn ensemble Red Baraat. Employing three dhpls (one player is not pictured) and a harmonium, the group from the Tharparker desert region in Sindh province, cast an incantatory spell. The harmonium player on the right wails on his instrument, and while the music has classical complexities, it also pushes ofrward rhythmically is a raw folk manner that sounded like a distant cousin of zydeco.Transporting stuff.

From Pakistan, a decided t stop in at Speakeasy on Congress Avenue, where Uruguayan bands were playing all night. The one I dopped in on was called AFC, and were a live insturmentation hip-hop band, pure and simple, with a guitar player stellar on the wah wah pedal, and two high energy with rappers in backwards ball caps rhyming in Spanish about I don't know what. The last track hit hard in a rap-rock fashion that was a little too Limp Bizkitian, but on the whole it was a pretty convincing demonstraton that yes, they do have real hip-hop in Montevideo. 

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